A Growing Source for Free Genealogy: Digital Public Library of America

What’s better than a website that gives access to more than 16 million digitized items? A website that does it for free. That’s just what the Digital Public Library of America does. DPLA is constantly growing and fast becoming a "must visit" website for free genealogy resources.

What Is the Digital Public Library of America?

Digital Public Library of America - DPLA

DPLA is a project involving more than 1,600 libraries, archives, and museums across the U.S. They range from the big ones, like the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library, all the way to the little ones, like the Starke County (Indiana) Historical society. Together, these libraries have contributed more than 16 million digitized items, such as photographs, newspapers, posters, and diaries.

Did I mention it's free?

DPLA doesn't have just an index of the items. It has links to where you can find the items online. If you find it on DPLA, there will be a link to the image. Just look for the "View Object" link and it will take you right to it.

Finding Hidden Gems

One of the neat things about DPLA is that you can find items in places that you wouldn't think to look. Would you think to look in the Tennessee State Library & Archives for a letter from someone in the 7th Ohio Cavalry? It wouldn't be my first place to look, that's for sure. But a simple search on DPLA turned up this gem.  

It also turns up items that you likely won't find in a regular Google search.

What to Look for

Look for things that you would look for in any library. Don't limit yourself to just searching for your ancestor's name. Think about:

  • Where your ancestor lived​
  • Events in his/her life
  • Organizations (fraternal, military, etc.)
  • Occupations
  • Religion

You never know what you'll find!

Here's a short video to introduce you to using DPLA:

DPLA is a site that you'll want to add to your list of "regular" websites for your genealogy. Give it a try and let me know what you discover!

Want more free genealogy resources? Download my guide "10 Essential Free Genealogy Resources":


18 thoughts on “A Growing Source for Free Genealogy: Digital Public Library of America

  1. Thanks for telling us about this. So far, I’ve only scratched the surface by finding a published history of the 25th Ohio Infantry. It provides a search-within-the-book feature that seems very fast, and I was able to find my nth cousin’s name.

    • Yes, there are closed captions on the video. After you click the arrow to start playing, hover your mouse over the video and you should see the YouTube controls. At the bottom of the video, click the “CC” button to turn captions on.

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  5. Thank you so much. I was pulling my hair out trying to confirm a certain genealogy. I went to the site, typed in my mothers maiden name, and came up with a book written in 1965. The book traces part of my line to a person that was with William the Conquerer, confirms the relationship I was looking for, and even included my Father, Mother, and sister. They had no clue.

  6. Can Canadians use this site to find their American ancestry info?
    Mary Jane Crow was my great grandmother. 1856-1934. Married Alexander Hunt. Daughter Bessie Mae married Henry Angus Henson. They immigrated to Canada. Are we related?

    • Hi Sherrill. The Digital Public Library of America is free for anyone to use, no matter where they live. As far as relations, I don’t think so. The Crows I research are firmly in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    • Give it a try. They’ve added several million records since I recorded this tutorial. The cool thing about DPLA is that it’s essentially a giant card catalog, so there are all sorts of topics you can find. Good luck!

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