Books from Your Ancestor’s Past: 15th-19th Century Books Digitized

Godfrey’s Book-Shelf is an amazing collection of books reproduced digitally and freely available for download, representing books from the 15th – 19th century.

Read books popular during your ancestor’s life. Explore the ways of thinking, living, and politics from your family’s past.

Some of these books are technical, but many are fiction and lifestyle books, helping you learn more about fashion trends, political and popular notions, as well as what books motivated a country or two. There are music books, sheet music, culture guides, religious text, hobby books, and plenty of how to books, in addition to fiction.

The books are scanned copies of the originals and require Adobe Acrobat Reader or an equivalent for reading. The files range from just under 1 megabyte to 15 megabytes in size, though most hover around 3-6 MB. The quality of the images are fairly good, allowing you to see the actual pages and read them.

Some popular books include:

These are the originals, so do not expect them to be easily readable by today’s English standards. Old style words and phrasing are to be expected, and welcome by many historians.

To use and read these books, do not read them on the site. Download the file to your computer and then double click them to read them. This saves the host’s bandwidth and allows you to take the time you want and may need to read through the ancient pages.

I couldn’t find a search function on the site, which is sad, but the books are sortable by title, author, subject, date, most recent, and most popular.

So when I wanted to go looking for topics related to handiwork and handcrafts, as I know my ancestors worked with their hands a lot, I clicked the Sort by Subject tab and found books on art, beekeeping, calligraphy, dance, needlework, recipes, and wood engraving.

This is a passion of the author, who admits that the original intension was to convert these books into searchable text files, but explains:

The Bookshelf started as an attempt to reclaim some space, by scanning filing cabinets full of old books and broadsides to electronic format. Once upon a time, I had high hopes of converting them all to searchable plain text, but as the archaic letters and ligatures gave my OCR software fits, and the idea of typing them all in by hand was hardly worth entertaining, I gave up and simply scanned the images into PDF files.

While not the same as holding these ancient books in your hands, this is the next best thing.

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About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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