The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is totally free to use and open to everyone. You don’t need a library card, subscription or even a sign-in to access it. It is also an impressive research resource for genealogists and family historians. This library is totally digital and isn’t just limited to books. You can find photographs, audio and video files, manuscripts and even books from America’s libraries, museums and archives. Florida’s Sunshine State Digital Network (SSDN) has contributed more than 148,000 records to DPLA including a recent contribution of 62,000 new records from Florida Memory.
A good place to start is the Family Research Guide. It offers information on what kind of data is available (photographs, family Bibles, maps, correspondence, oral histories and more) and has a search box to get you started. There are even links to several recorded webinars on using DPLA.
It is likely that the actual records, photos, etc. you find using DPLA don’t actually reside in the DPLA. Your search results will send you to the institution that does hold the resource you want. Don’t be surprised if a search delivers the same item at multiple locations.
You will also find “exhibits” like those shown here. Called topics, they pull together items from libraries, archives and museums across the country. This is a relatively new feature at DPLA but it has already become quite popular.
Using the Baseball topic as an example, selecting it will present another screen with interesting baseball-related articles. It may not help your research efforts, but you will find it quite fascinating.
Make sure you visit The Family Research Guide to DPLA (https://dp.la/guides/the-family-research-guide-to-dpla). The search tips page is full of information on how to refine and narrow your searches to find what you are looking for. You will also find a number of collections – like family photographs, family Bibles and even family history/genealogy books.
On the Workshops page there is an hour-long webinar on using DPLA for genealogy and family history. It includes tips on searching for family names and exploring resources in your ancestor’s hometown. The speakers also walk you through some of the collections that have family research potential. This is a saved workshop but it includes links to the collections discussed in the webinar.
Don’t pass up Open Bookshelf, a digital library of popular books free to download. These are public domain books along with a number of Creative-Commons licensed publications and freely available textbooks. To get started, download the free SimplyE mobile app from either the iOS or Android App Store then add the Digital Public Library of America as an account. No library card is needed. You just start browsing. All books are free to download and keep. The reader app is deceptively simple. It includes features like font options, changing text size, screen background and brightness. You can highlight text, set bookmarks and even look up words or phrases.
The Digital Public Library of America is an impressive resource for family historians but it is also a lot more. Spend some time getting acquainted with the broad range of resources it provides. You will soon find it an important tool in your research toolbox.
There are an amazing number of regimental histories and other publications about the Civil War. Both sides wanted to document their stories so we have access to an amazing historical collection – many of them in the public domain. Since most of these publications were written soon after the war by the people who served, we have an opportunity to see this moment in history up close and personal. And, many of these publication are now in the public domain so we can download a copy at no cost.
Here are a number of sources for finding these historical publications.
Internet Archive. This is an amazing archive covering a broad range of documents, audio, video and images – most of them public domain. Their search feature is quite impressive. (See The Internet Archive for more information.)
WorldCat. Looking for a card catalog for libraries around the world? WorldCat will show you which libraries have the book you want.
Genealogy Gophers. This amazing search engine lets you search for a person, place or event and the results not only find the publication, but also points you to the page and paragraph where it is discussed.
Project Gutenberg currently has a library of 56,000+ public domain books available for download as ebooks. You will find a number of civil war publications here.
The Digital Public Library of America is a directory pointing to collections found in America’s libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions. Your searches will lead you to those institutions so you can download a digital copy at no charge.
Focused on the records of city and county governments from 1841 onwards, the the Halifax Municipal Archives also has records from families, businesses, and community organizations going back to the 1790s, which complement the municipal government records.