The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization that is building a free, online library. It’s goal is to offer everyone permanent access to historical collections. It’s doing this by digitizing just about anything.
Their collections include documents, books, music, movies, images, software and more. The Genealogy Collection contains more than 122,000 text items from a number of impressive sources. Here is their description of this collection:
The Archive’s ever-expanding collection of genealogy resources includes items from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Robarts Library at the University of Toronto; the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Library; Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah; the National Library of Scotland, the Indianapolis City Library’s Indianapolis City Directory and Yearbooks Collection, The Leo Baeck Institute Archives of German-speaking Jewry, and the Boston Public Library.
Resources include books on surname origins, vital statistics, parish records, census records, passenger lists of vessels, and other historical and biographical documents.
It costs you nothing to use Internet Archive. You don’t have to create an account to use the archive or download items, but having an account allows you to build your own library. Log in and start favoriting things you like. They not only show up in your library, but Internet Archive even indexes all the things you’ve collected so you can easily find them when you need them. See a view of a personal library in the example below. The topic index is on the right.
For text items, you can read the item online or download a copy in the format you prefer. This example shows a published genealogy for the Fant family from the Family History Library. Notice the download options box at the bottom right. The quality of any document depends on a number of factors including the condition of the original publication and the scanning process used. Often a downloaded PDF copy is the best reading option. One big advantage of the online reader is its seach feature. Click the magnifying glass icon to build and activate your search. Once the search is complete, a timeline appears at the bottom of the reader with bookmarks for each find matching your search. Hover your mouse over a bookmark to display the found text.
The genealogy collections include a surprising number of local and regimental histories along with periodicals from genealogical and historical societies.
The Internet Archive is enormous, but don’t let that intimidate you. Start by visiting the Genealogy Collection. The Help section offers lots of useful tips. It won’t take long to learn how to take advantage of this amazing resource. And, it’s not just for research either. Internet Archive also hosts the Open Library of free public domain ebooks.