I'm still on the National Academies Press mailing list -- relic of a former life -- and today received this email. Anything that's free is worth a look, right?
And it turns out that they have a section of "Biographical Memoirs" -- more than 90 volumes. I sampled George Ledyard Stebbins (who shares a surname with a distant ancestor of my wife) in Volume 85 (2004). His biography included useful mention of his parents. It was one of 20 in that volume. The description of the series is also hopeful:
As of June 2, 2011, all PDF versions of books [URL added by me] published by the National Academies Press (NAP) will be downloadable free of charge to anyone. This includes our current catalog of more than 4,000 books plus future reports published by NAP.*
Free access to our online content supports the mission of NAP--publisher for the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council--to improve government decision making and public policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health. In 1994, we began offering free content online. Before today's announcement, all PDFs were free to download in developing countries, and 65 percent of them were available for free to any user.
Biographical Memoirs is series of essays containing the life histories and selected bibliographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Sciences. The series provides a record of the life and work of some of the most distinguished leaders in the sciences, as witnessed and interpreted by their colleagues and peers. They form a biographical history of science in the United States.Even if NAP has nothing else for genealogists and historians (which I doubt -- happy hunting!), this looks like a resource for people with accomplished ancestors or relatives.