The Massive Free Genealogy Resource You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

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Thank you to family history writer Tony Bandy for this helpful article.

What if I could show you a free online family history resource with over 13 million digitized books, magazines and other types of materials? Would you be interested? What about a continually growing service with free access and downloads to high-resolution scans, PDF documents and plain text? How much would this benefit your family research?

Interested? Then let me share with you a bit more information about the project known as HathiTrust. This one-stop library archive can quite possibly help you find ancestors and break through your long-term genealogical brick walls. Lets take a closer look!

About HathiTrust

The project brings together multiple libraries, both public and academic, and their respective digital holdings into a single online collection. From universities such as the Ohio State University, Harvard and others, you can also find the New York Public Library, the California Digital Library and others.

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MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access to their extensive collection of 18 billion historical records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information about your ancestors.

Freely available for use and research, the focus of this massive treasure trove is multiplexed, seeded with digital books, magazines and other scanned items, but also sound recordings, maps and other ephemera. With multiple methods of search, PDF, image and plain-text downloads, theres a lot to consider for the genealogy researcher. A few examples of some specific titles I’ve encountered for my own research include:

  • Resident and business directory of Carver, Plympton, Halifax, Pembroke and Hanson, Massachusetts, 1910.
  • Rand, McNally & Co.’s Chicago city railway directory and street number guide.
  • Album of genealogy and biography, Cook County, Illinois.
  • The Genealogical quarterly magazine: devoted to genealogy, history, heraldry, revolutionary and colonial records.

In all, the wide variety of types, time periods, and collections will prove fruitful for most family researchers!

Search HathiTrust

Searching the Site

One of the hallmarks of any digital resource is search. If you cant search it, you cant find it. However, with HathiTrust, there is a veritable cornucopia of methods to consider, including:

  • Full-text
  • Index
  • Material type
  • Time period
  • Author

Given the size and vast scope of the collection, full-text searching can return thousands of results, even more if youre searching for surnames or common historical themes or locations. Index searches are the best way to search for broad themes or specific time periods of history. If you retrieve too many results, then use the material type, time period, or author to winnow down your results to a manageable stack.

Search HathiTrust 2

Viewing Your Results

Once youve found a specific title or resource, then youll find many ways to use the information. This includes flipbook, individual pages, thumbnail views (great for illustrated documents) and more. You can also export individual pages in PDF, image format or plain-text.


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Get two full weeks of free access to more than 18 billion genealogy records right now. You’ll also get the MyHeritage discoveries tool that locates information about your ancestors automatically when you upload or create a tree. What will you discover about your family’s past?

More Information

HathiTrust is an amazing resource and with this introduction, Ive had the opportunity to show you a few of the basics. However, theres much more to consider. Try the following links go in depth and help you with your research:

Researching our familys history is always exciting. From tales and stories to facts, births, and marriages, its a tapestry that’s continually growing and changing. If youre looking for that long-lost fact or just wanting to know more about the history and culture in which your ancestors lived, HathiTrust is a great place to start!

Image: “U.S. soldiers getting library books from truck, Kelly Field Library.” bet 1909 and 1920. Library of Congress

23 thoughts on “The Massive Free Genealogy Resource You’ve Probably Never Heard Of”

  1. HathiTrust may be all well and good, but it requires you to log-in with a partner institution account. How do you know what a partner institution is? There is nothing in this article about that. Who are the “partner institutions”? Do you have to have a subscription or membership through the “partner institutions”?

  2. Looking for Parents of Henry Grattan Knape 1517-? His wife was Jyllian 1517-1552 of Barking Suffolk England.

  3. I am trying to find The birth records of our 2nd great grandfather James Turnbull 1821-1914, born in Ohio. I have been told his father was Robert and his Grandfather was William Robert Turnbull but no one has any proof or records to prove it.
    I don’t want to add information that has no records attached.
    Thank you.

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