Out-of-Print Books – Genealogy Gold

Older woman sitting with her hands folded, out-of-print books

Out-of-Print Books May Hold the Key to Research Gold

I have been using out-of-print books in my genealogy research for years. In some, I’ve actually found mention of family members and even pieces of their dialogue. In others, there have been incredibly detailed descriptions.

Some of what you can find include period:

  • food
  • travel
  • crops
  • church
  • regimental histories
  • political thoughts
  • everyday occurrences

Recently, a reader of this blog was looking for a regimental history from the Civil War. Fortunately, she was able to find a free one online rather paying for a pricey history written by another member of the regiment.

Since I’m all about saving ancestral stories, there are few things that add flesh to bones more than period books, or books written within or close to the lifetime of ancestors.

So What Exactly Can You Find in an Out-of-Print Book?

If luck is with you, you’ll find an ancestor mentioned by name. I’ve found this to be true for North Carolina, Missouri, and Kansas ancestors. I’ve also found my ggg and gg-grandfathers by name in a Civil War regimental history.

I’ve read about the political discord and extreme violence of the Bleeding Kansas period just prior to the Civil War – a time when my family was right in the middle of all of the conflict. I also found a Ballard ancestor mentioned by name in a book about Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. But even if I hadn’t found him by name, I loved reading about the church and the many (now famous) colonial Virginians who also worshipped there.

Does this mean out-of-print books only hold meaning for United States researchers? Not at all. If you’re researching European ancestors, you’ll find books relevant to your search as well. And, all of the sources for old books listed below are free.

How to Use the Information?

If you have genealogy software (which almost every does), use the stories in these books to add depth to your ancestral stories.

For example, some of my family lived in Lincoln, Kansas just after the Civil War. At the time there was a lot of unrest between settlers and the Cheyenne. Pulling from one of the out-of-print books, I was able to add quite a bit of detail about a particularly gruesome raid that involved my family. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers struck with extra fury settlements along Spillman Creek, a tributary entering the Saline River near present-day Lincoln. On May 30 they shot and killed two sons of Thomas Alderdice, one of the celebrated Forsyth scouts, seriously wounded a third and kidnapped his wife Susanna and eight-month-old baby. They also abducted Maria Weichell and murdered her husband George as well as Mr. and Mrs. Erkild Lauritzen, Otto Peterson, Fred Meigerhoff, 15-year-old Harrison Strange and a 13-year-old boy named Smoots.

Can you see how much interest this will add to my family information when I print out a narrative report?

Where to Find Free Out-of-Print of Period Books

Making of America: is a digital library of primary sources in American social history primarily from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology.

Smithsonian Libraries: Browse this collection by Subject, Author or by newly added in the past three months. You’ll find a wide range of topics. (Some books can be read online, others can be downloaded)

Internet Archive: This site also houses the Way Back Machine, which lets you see a website changes over the course of several years. You can narrow your search by record type. As you can see in the icons on the  image below, choices are Web, Text, Video, Audio, TV, Software, Image, Concerts, Collections.

Screenshot of Archive.org

Google Books: A favorite of mine but be sure to use an Advanced Search so you can find full texts that are downloadable. You’ll have to perform a search before Google lets you get to an advanced option. Google has gotten very tricky at where they tucked the Advanced Search.

First, do a search from the Books home page. THEN on the next time, go to the Books tab (it’s underlined in blue in the graphic), then Settings. Under Settings you’ll find Advanced Search. Once on the Advanced Search page, select the Full View so you’ll be sure to find books that you can actually read the entire text.

screnshot of Google Books search

USGenWeb This is probably my favorite site for U.S. research. Because the entire site is manned by volunteers, what you’ll find is dependent on the volunteer coordinator. That said, I’ve found some amazing book texts as well as newspaper transcripts. The site is categorized by State and then County.

Gutenberg Here you’ll find 56,000 free books on just about any topic imaginable. Most books give you the option of downloading a Kindle  version, an ePUB version and a text version. Just use the search box in the left column and type in the subject you’re seeking.

One thing I particularly love about these books is that they really are period. If you want to know what kids in 1800 were reading, you’ll find a book here. Or, learn about fashion, politics, food, homemaking, travel, and the fiction books your ancestors were probably reading.

Out-of-Print Books Could Hold the Key to Great Family Stories

If you’re as invested as I am in saving stories or narratives about your family’s life and times, using out-of-print books is a must. Of course I enjoy finding dates of an ancestor’s life but even more I love reading about the times in which they lived.

Give these sites a try and let me know what you think. And, if you have other resources to add, please leave a comment below.

I receive several requests a day for assistance with genealogy research. If you would like to receive research pricing information please contact me using the Contact link at the top of the page. I look forward to working with you.

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  1. THANK you for this information and for watching out for us with your post on how to opt out of advertising we don’t want

  2. Thanks so much. I recently found an old military book about the regiment that my husban’s grandfather was attached to but hav been unable to download it. This will give me another avenue.

    1. Hi Glenna,

      I hope this idea works. Sometimes all it takes is putting the name of the book into Google and up it pops! Hope this is how it works for you.


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