Various websites provide access to digitised copies of books. Most are free. Online books can contain a wealth of useful material with the added bonus of often having the ability to search the text. You will find many links to online books across the FIBIwiki. Use the Search at the top of this page to locate pages of interest.
Please note that links to historical books are provided as an information and research tool and FIBIS cannot verify the accuracy of such works nor guarantee they are free from bias. Readers are advised to note the date of any historical books and assess the material accordingly.
- Category:Online books including
- Recommended reading
- 1 Google Books
- 2 Archive.org
- 3 HathiTrust Digital Library
- 4 British Library Digital Collection
- 5 Project Gutenberg
- 6 Pahar-Mountains of Central Asia Digital Dataset
- 7 Digitised Books from GIPE, Pune
- 8 National Library of India Digital Collection
- 9 Central Secretariat Library (CSL) Digital Repository
- 10 Digital Library of India, now closed
- 11 National Digital Library of India
- 12 DSpace at West Bengal State Central Library
- 13 Panjab Digital Library
- 14 Sani Panhwar.com
- 15 Tamil Virtual Library
- 16 Kerala State Central Library Rare Books Online
- 17 Archaeological Survey of India, Central Archaeological Library, New Delhi
- 18 Asiatic Society of Mumbai, Granth Sanjeevani. Pay/subscription
- 19 National Library of Singapore: BookSG
- 20 Cornell University Library: South East Asia Visions
- 21 FamilySearch Digital Library
- 22 Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek
- 23 Bayerische Staatsbibliothek - Bavarian State Library
- 24 Savifadok- Heidelberg University
- 25 South Asia Open Archives (SAOA), part of JSTOR.org
- 26 Gallica
- 27 Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection
- Website. A link to the Search.
Google Books is an online repository of digitised books scanned from libraries around the world. Books that are labelled 'Full View' can be read in their entirety and pdf copies can be saved to your computer.
There are thousands of books that have content relevant for family history research including directories, civil lists, biographies and military histories. As well as reading around a topic or finding out about a place, it is worth searching on an ancestor's name in inverted commas e.g. "John Doe". You may have to try various combinations of the name. This is particularly successful for ancestors of a certain social class living in the first half of the nineteenth century, but you never know what you may find. Try tracing an officer's career via listings of promotions, look for births/marriages/deaths or find the postings of an apothecary. Using the Advanced Search to narrow down the time frame of publication can be useful.
Books may be viewed in a one page, or two pages side by side, format. The icons are in the top left hand corner. If you are viewing a book in the two pages side by side format, you may not be able to scroll through the book. If this occurs, you will need to change back to the one page format to scroll.
Currently (2018/3) Search Help includes links to Advanced Search and information about how to download a book if you want to save a copy rather than read it online. If you want to download a book file, look for "eBook - Free" on the left hand side of the webpage. Sometimes the Google Books Search or Advanced Search may not locate a book and you may find a Google Search using the search terms site:books.google and the book name may locate the book file. If still unsuccessful and you have full details of the book try browsing in Google Books Sitemap/Unclassified Select year of publication, then the first letter of the exact title. There are also other categories in the Sitemap.
- "Using Google Books for Family History Research" by Ed Storey FIBIS Journal Number 25 (Spring 2011), pages 44-48
FIBIS on Google Books
FIBIS has a Google Books library with books on topics related to its aims.
- View the FIBIS Google Books Library
You can search within the books in the library, a useful technique for eliminating results unrelated to historical British India topics. The FIBIS Webmaster advised (April 2012): "Placing a search term within speech marks asks the search engine to look for exact matches. If there are no exact matches it appears that the library produces results as if you hadn't searched for an exact match. If there are exact matches then only the exact matches are shown. I experimented with searching for "Samuel Smith" and only exact matches were shown, but searching for "Collett Smith" produced hits only for Collett and Smith separately as there were no exact matches". As Google Books frequently changes its website, this may change from time to time.
Copying Information from Full View Google Books
The following is the situation at April 2012 but could change from time to time as Google Books frequently changes its webpages
The following is not available if the book is labelled 'Limited View' or 'Snippet View' or 'No Preview'.
When you are reading a Full View book you can click:
- ”Plain Text” to copy the text to a Word or similar document. This heading is hidden under a circular icon at the top right hand side of the page. What you copy will not be fully accurate, so you will need to check your copy against the original wording.
- Click once on the scissors icon as a first step to copying a part of the actual page. The icon from the mouse connection then appears as a cross. Next left click on your mouse and draw a rectangle around the paragraph you require. Click within the paragraph which should then become blue. Then copy the link which appears under “Image” and paste in a document. You can subsequently use this link to view the paragraph you have saved. You can also use programs such as Powerpoint to make a slide of the paragraph you have clipped.
Expanding a Google Books Snippet view search result
A researcher was seeking further information on Colonel Warren Francis Trotter, born in India The first Google Books search result stated The Near East, Volume 11 1916 Snippet view "Colonel Warren Francis Trotter, Royal Marine Artillery, died at Briery Close. Windermere, on Monday. ... district preferred, and rough idea of fees should be given".
The link inside the book was not helpful, and the wording from the search result could not be seen on the snippet view of the page inside the book.
One method is to focus on less common words at the end of the search result wording and carry out a new search for these words. The next Google Books search was Artillery, “Briery Close” which resulted in the wording “Colonel Warren Francis Trotter, Royal Marine Artillery, died at Briery Close. Windermere, on Monday. He joined the RMA in 1876, and had seen service in China, Esquimault, and Egypt. He was awarded the Egyptian Medal. ...”. The next Google Books search result for "China, Esquimault, and Egypt" resulted in the wording “He joined the RMA in 1876, and had seen service in China, Esquimault, and Egypt. He was awarded the Egyptian Medal. 1882, and the Khedive's Bronze Star. At the time of his death he was in command of a howitzer and antiaircraft brigade. ...”. A final search using the words "Khedive's Bronze Star" howitzer resulted in the wording” 1882, and the Khedive's Bronze Star. At the time of his death he was in command of a howitzer and antiaircraft brigade. Captain Henry Needham Knox, RN, who took part in the Crimean War, died in Bournemouth ...”
The final wording appears to be Colonel Warren Francis Trotter, Royal Marine Artillery, died at Briery Close. Windermere, on Monday. He joined the RMA in 1876, and had seen service in China, Esquimault, and Egypt. He was awarded the Egyptian Medal 1882, and the Khedive's Bronze Star. At the time of his death he was in command of a howitzer and antiaircraft brigade
Searching for and reading books in The Internet Archive site
The Internet Archive and Open Library offers over 8,000,000 fully accessible public domain eBooks. These notes aim to help you retrieve what you are looking for.
Go to the website https://archive.org
On the home page you will see a row of icons and two search options below:
If you hover the mouse pointer over each icon you will see the range of media included in the database.
It’s probably always best to use Advanced Search, so that you can specify more precisely what you are looking for. Don’t be put off by the apparent complexity of the page!
As you can see from this example, it’s usually only necessary to fill in two fields. Be prepared to rephrase the search if you have no luck. In this case, entering “journeys india” found nothing.
To the right of the Results screen you will see something like this:
Choosing a Collection gives you a better idea of what is available. For example, in the present search, clicking on European Libraries gives page like this:
Click on any page image to see the full document.
On the page where the first page of the document is displayed notice that at the top right, on the black background, you have these choices:
If you choose the one indicated you will be able to read the text in book form. Use the icons at the bottom right of the screen to move between pages or change the layout.
If you now choose the lens icon you can search for words in the text (the search can take a minute or two).
Finally, notice that above the book there is the title in lower case, underlined. That is a link which, if you click on it, will take you to the earlier screen. Notice that in the lower half, in the white section and to the right, there is a choice of download options. The PDF choice is usually a good bet if you want the whole text for future reference.
If you have any problems please email John Carpenter
Internet Archive Help Center (Archive.org page). For texts, click on the section Archive.org
- Scroll to "Search" for Search Tips which includes the section "How do I sort search results", the latter in Search - A Basic Guide
- Scroll to "Books and Texts Information"
- Scroll to "Borrowing From The Lending Library". Some books are only available to read using a system similar to a lending library - only one person at a time is able to read the book. Includes information about signing up for an archive.org account, which is necessary to read books in the Lending Library.
- Not currently covered (2020/06/21), but recent changes have altered the "default" borrowing time period to one hour. However, for some books, there is a downward arrow icon on the "Borrow for 1 hour" heading, which can be clicked on to show a 14 day borrowing option, which can be selected if required. For books which can only be borrowed for 1 hour, if no one else is on the waiting list, the book may be re-borrowed.
- Archive BitTorrents. Some books are available to read using this format. See Files, Formats and Derivatives/Archive BitTorrents
HathiTrust Digital Library
The website has in the past advised :
- "HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future."
Many of the online books originate from Google Books, but there are some volumes available which are not available on the Google Books website.
The books are available to read online, but can only be downloaded to your computer if you are associated with a participating institution. An advantage is that the pages may be rotated, which is a handy feature for the pages in some books, particularly Army Lists
There are some books which are Searchable, but are not generally available to read online due to copyright issues, unless you are a member of a participating institution, but note some members may not have access to in-copyright material. Most of these institutions are located in USA, but other institutions (at 2020/09) are: Australia: Australian National University, Canberra ACT; Monash University, Clayton Campus, Vic; University of New South Wales, Sydney and University of Sydney, NSW; University of Queensland, Brisbane; New Zealand, University of Auckland; Spain, Complutense University of Madrid; Lebanon, American University of Beirut. Enquire whether visitors are able to access the HathiTrust Digital Library database, and whether that includes in-copyright publications. HathiTrust Members
British Library Digital Collection
Over 30,000 free electronic books to download. The books available are out of copyright, so there are many dating from the 19th century. They are available in Plain text (.txt) format, having been OCR scanned and carefully checked by volunteers.
Pahar-Mountains of Central Asia Digital Dataset
This dataset consists of a collection of books, journals and maps related broadly to the Himalayas and its outlying attached ranges, available as pdf downloads. The categories include "Indian Subcontinent", Afghanistan, Nepal, "Tibet And China", and books, journals and maps are listed according to date of publication.
Examples of books available to download include Gazetteer of Kangra District-Parts II to IV Kulu, Lahul and Spiti 1897, Official Account of the Abor Expedition 1911-12 1913, both listed under "Books-Indian Subcontinent" and under "Journals" many editions of The Indian Forester.
From c July 2020 the website has been unavailable mid/end of the month with a message "Bandwidth Limit Exceeded" but has been available from the beginning of the next month.
Digitised Books from GIPE, Pune
Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), Pune (Poona). Pdfs to download.
The website contains a number of Gazetteers which may be located by using Gazetteer as the search term. Other books available to download include Chronicles of the East India Company trading to China, 1635 to 1835 by Hosea Ballou Morse 1926. Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
National Library of India Digital Collection
The Library is located in Calcutta and administered by the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India.
There are a number of Collections including Gazetteers and Government Publications. Most of the other English language books appear to be in the categories Monographs or E-Books, but not in Rare Books (as at 2020/06/30)
Pdfs to read online.
The digital collection appears to be a selection of the Library's Collection only, and it is unclear whether the digital collection will increase.
There is perhaps a possibility that the digital collection will be uploaded to the Internet Archive, in the same way as happened with Central Secretariat Library digital collection, (but this had not happened at 2020/06/30).
Central Secretariat Library (CSL) Digital Repository
The Central Secretariat Library (CSL) is one of the oldest libraries of the Government of India and is now located in Delhi, although originally established in 1891 as the Imperial Secretariat Library in Kolkata (Calcutta). It is administered by the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India.
There are five main collections being Rare Books, Gazetteer Reports including modern publications, but none in respect of Burma; and Committee Commission Reports, Settlement Reports, Statistical Abstract.
Pdfs to read online.
Many volumes have been uploaded to the Internet Archive, Archive.org, commencing 28 February 2020 (but currently 9 March 2020 not all) in the collection "Central Secretariat Library".
Digital Library of India, now closed
The Digital Library of India appears to have been closed down.
In January 2017 many (but not all) of the book files, from the then Digital Library of India were uploaded to the Internet Archive (Archive.org). An example of the URL for an Internet Archive book file is https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.97227
Noted in October 2020, files are currently being uploaded to the Archive.org which are files from the previous Digital Library of India. An example of the URL for an Archive.org book file is https://archive.org/details/dli.ernet.238435
The Digital Library of India had many interesting books which were unavailable online elsewhere.
A new website was introduced in the latter part of 2015, where all the digital book files were Adobe pdfs. Previously the website had used TIFF format.
January 2017. Roughly 80% of the books from the Digital Library of India became available on the Internet Archive (Archive.org). These books may be read online, in addition to the download options.
c May 2017. Digital Library of India website no longer available due to maintenance and other issues. The last message on the website advised the website is closed to remove books still in copyright.
June 2017. A large number of DLI books added to Archive.org appeared to have since been delated. Roughly 67% of the total DLI books appeared to remain.
September 2017. Further DLI books appeared to have been delated from Archive.org, and the collection was renamed the "Public Library of India" Collection.
c September 2018. DLI website is available with reduced content, with no books published after 1900. It is now necessary to register to download books.
c October 2020. Files originating from DLI are being uploaded to Archive.org. These appear to be files which were not previously uploaded.
National Digital Library of India
A portal sponsored by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, with the aim of providing a single window search facility. It is not immediately clear which other digital libraries have contributed content, but include West Bengal Public Library Network, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) and South Asia Archive, the latter usually a subscription website, so its status here is unclear. It is understood that the viewing of content is via the website of the contributing institution.
DSpace at West Bengal State Central Library
DSpace at West Bengal State Central Library is the Digital repository of the ‘West Bengal Public Library Network’ which is a joint effort of public Libraries of West Bengal. The texts are available as searchable pdfs to download.
The most useful volumes appear to be those under the heading Gazetteers and Gazeeters. Browse ‘Subjects’and select ‘Gazetteers”. In addition to various Gazetteers, there are editions of the Calcutta Gazette, 1846 and 1872- 1942 (broken range) and the Gazette of India 1877-1918 (broken series). The site also hosts the Bengal District Gazetteers: 24-Parganas 1914 by L.S.S. O'Malley
Some of the digital files from West Bengal State Central Library are now available at the Internet Archive (archive.org), refer above, as part of the Public Library of India Collection.
Panjab Digital Library
The website advises "The mission of the Panjab Digital Library (PDL) is to locate, digitize, preserve, collect and make accessible the accumulated wisdom of the Panjab region, without distinction as to script, language, religion, nationality, or other physical condition".
It is necessary to register to read more than the first few pages of each online book. The collection includes a number of Punjab District Gazetteers (The spelling also includes Gazeteer/ Gazetter/ Gazeetter)
- Website Scroll down to collection of books on Sindh and Vicinity, and General Books. With link to
- Rare Books including Administration Reports on various topics.
This link is part of the website Panhwar.com about Sindh. Many books on Bombay and Sindh. Pdf format.
A few books (as at 2020/10/17) from this collection have been uploaded to the Internet Archive (Archive.org) by member panhwar including While Memory Serves by Lieut.-General Sir Francis Tuker. Digital reprint edition reproduced by Sani H Panhwar, originally published 1950.
Tamil Virtual Library
Tamil Virtual Library, a Division of Tamil Virtual Academy.
Some, but not all, books from this Digital Library are also available as mirror versions on the Internet Archive (Archive.org). However, none of the previously mentioned publications are currently (2019/07/13) available on Archive.org.
Kerala State Central Library Rare Books Online
Click on 'Archives' and then 'Titles' to browse the books available. Many editions of the Travancore Almanac 1880-1925, Travancore Almanac and Directory 1911-1944 and Travancore Directory 1939-1946 are available.
It appears that the Search facility can be used to search for titles, or for keywords.
Many, perhaps all, of the book files are now available on the Internet Archive (Archive.org), refer above, added c September 2018, as part of the Public Library of India Collection.
Archaeological Survey of India, Central Archaeological Library, New Delhi
- Central Archaeological Library with a link to a List of digitised books, which may however be incomplete, and a
- Book Search which however at a recent access (2020/07/27) was not working.
Previously there were pdf files to download, but it is not clear whether this is still possible directly from the website. If however you have the ASI catalogue reference, you can derive a pdf URL in the format http://ignca.nic.in/Asi_data/31295.pdf
Some of these digital files are now also available at the Internet Archive (archive.org), see above, a collection subject:"Archeological Survey" as part of the Public Library of India Collection, with a Internet Archive URL in the format https://archive.org/details/in.gov.ignca.31291
Some editions of Bengal, Past and Present from the ASI Library are available online at the Government of India website Indian Culture, see the Fibiwiki page Bengal, Past and Present, Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society.
Asiatic Society of Mumbai, Granth Sanjeevani. Pay/subscription
The Asiatic Society of Mumbai, Granth Sanjeevani database currently includes over twenty thousand digitised books in English from its own collection, including some not apparently online elsewhere, in addition to digitised newspapers, including an almost complete run of the Bombay Chronicle (1913-1959). Also included are some editions of The Pioneer, Allahabad.
A paid personal or institutional membership is required to access the contents.
Note however, in 2020 mirror versions of many books were uploaded to the Internet Archive (Archive.org), a free website, in the Granth Sanjeevani Collection, part of the Public Library of India Collection. It appears editions of The Pioneer, Allahabad were not uploaded (as at 2020/10/22)
National Library of Singapore: BookSG
See the Fibiwiki page Singapore for examples of some of the digital books available from BookSG.
Cornell University Library: South East Asia Visions
The website says: South East Asia Visions is a collection of European travel accounts of pre-modern Southeast Asia from Cornell University Library's John M. Echols Collection. The site provides online access to more than 350 books and journal articles written in English and French. The works in the collection were selected for the quality of their first-hand observations and, together, provide a comprehensive representation of Southeast Asia.
FamilySearch Digital Library
Previously known as Family History Books from FamilySearch
- "Is Your Family in the Updated Digital Library?" FamilySearch blog 5 April 2019. Details some of the functions available.
These books can also be accessed through the FamilySearch Catalog, which also contains additional books which are digitised FamilySearch microfilms from various sources. Note that is necessary to be signed in to FamilySearch to access the book files.
Hosted by FamilySearch, this is a searchable site containing many family history related books from a number of major US Libraries. In addition there are now many books which are mirror copies from the Internet Archive, Archive.org, (see above), (where you may prefer the online viewing format, and downloads are possible), added February 2019. This is an ongoing project.
If the catalogue reference indicates "Access Level Public", you can read the book online, and it is also possible to download, either a specific page, or the entire book file. If the catalogue reference indicates "Access Level Protected", it is not stated who, if anyone, can access the book. For members of the public, the access message is "Due to copyright restrictions, this book cannot be viewed online". There are limited number of books where the Access Level is "Member Permission" where the access message is "This book may only be viewed online at the Family History Library, a family history center, or one of FamilySearch’s partner libraries". The material is accessible on a Family History Library computer, see FamilySearch Centres.
Some books which which are digitised FamilySearch microfilms which were filmed in institutions such as the British Library, even if the books would otherwise not be subject to copyright restrictions, can only be viewed at FamilySearch Centres, or perhaps FamilySearch Affiliate libraries (See explanations on website for further details. However currently (2019/02/15) this page has not been updated to reflect recent changes)
An example of a "Public access" book available is the Indian Army List April 1921 which may be read online, or downloaded.
Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek
The website (at May 2014) stated "Please find here 2,115 institutions currently registered with the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek. The number of partners is rising all the time and, in the long term, all German cultural and scientific institutions are to contribute their contents". By August 2017, the number of institutions had increased to 4348.
Search results may be filtered according to Language, Media type etc
You can view a volume by clicking on either “Data provider's object view” or "DFG Viewer". The first option takes you to the contributing institution's website, where you will generally find a pdf download in addition to the online book file. The second viewer appears to be a "standard" viewer across all institutions.
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek - Bavarian State Library
Search for books and maps. The search result will indicate whether the item is available online. It is understood most of the online books are also available on the Google Books website. If searching for maps, use the search term plan in addition to map. There is a digital category Karten und Pläne. The search here is however limited to title words. Some maps were located using the words India, Calcutta and Indus. The maps (and possibly even the books) may use a TIFF format. If you cannot see the images, you will need to download suitable software.
Savifadok- Heidelberg University
Savifadok: English Books from British India collection, Heidelberg University Digital Repository, South Asian Studies. Currently (September 2013} consists of a small collection. The website also contains other items such as Burma/Myanmar Bibliographic Project: A Collection of Publications in West-European Languages by Siegfried M. Schwertner. An extensive bibliography, with separate downloads for each letter of the alphabet.
South Asia Open Archives (SAOA), part of JSTOR.org
South Asia Open Archives (SAOA) is hosted on JSTOR.org as part of the library-contributed Open Access collections on JSTOR.
While there are some digitised books, the main content appears to be official reports and journals. Those in English include Land Settlement Reports, Report on native papers published in the Bombay presidency and Berar, for the week ending... 1874-1880; Report on native papers for the week ending ... Calcutta, Bengal 1876-1916; Selections from the Vernacular Newspapers Published in the Panjab, North-Western Provinces, Oudh, Central Provinces and Berar 1881-1901; Selections from the native newspapers published in the United Provinces of Agra & Oudh 1903-1912. There are Census reports from 1871 to 1951, and trade related reports.
Gallica is the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. A researcher has advised:
There are a surprisingly large number of English books, especially scientific journals, and travelogues. Somebody in France was systematically collecting these throughout the early and mid 19th century. There was an earlier version of the "Great Game" going on between Britain and France. My 4 x great uncle John Croft Hawkins, a Bombay Marine officer, took the first steam vessel up the Euphrates to Hit in what is now Iraq. I knew he had done this, because it is mentioned in his obituaries, but do you think I could find an account of it in the British papers? No, either it was so "secret" that the papers were hidden away and lost, or the ants had got it. Yet I have found a nearly contemporary French account of his progess! I have found books in Galica that are not available in Google Books, and some that are only Snippet View in Google Books are available in Full View.
Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection
Digitized Afghanistan Materials in English from the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.