Best Free Genealogy Websites
Looking to research your family history on a budget? In this article, we look at the free genealogy websites that you can use to find records, photos, and information about your family past.
Years ago if you wanted to research your family tree you needed to visit libraries, repositories and records offices. It was labor-intensive and took a great deal of commitment. These days, however, there are vast online resources and websites that can help us do much of the work from the comfort of our own homes.
The old saying that nothing worth having is cheap is somewhat poignant with genealogical research though. This is because many of the top genealogy websites require a subscription to use and, of course, research can take a long time.
This initial expense can sometimes scare off a few potential genealogists. But never fear, because if you know where to look there are some free websites out in the world that can help you in your family history search.
This website is completely free to use and is the most similar that you will find to any of the main paid sites such as Ancestry or MyHeritage. It is a non-profit organization that was created by the Latter Day Saints Church.
You can build your tree through this site and have access to a wide variety of records from their library. It may not be as user friendly and slick as the big sites but its resources are extensive. In fact, a lot of the content found on Ancestry, findmypast and MyHeritage originates from a deal they made with familysearch.org.
The search functions are similar to sites like Ancestry but you do have to sometimes browse through images of records in search of the one you are seeking. If you do not mind a little extra leg work this is likely the best free site for genealogy research.
Started in 1999 by Fulton, New York native Tom Tryniski, Fulton History was originally a site for postcards of the Fulton area. Very quickly Tom started to scan complete runs of the local newspapers around Fulton.
Today this archive boasts full runs of over 1000 New York based newspaper publications with well over 50 million scanned pages. There are also select papers from other states and Canada included in this free database.
It is a very location specific site but if your research target area matches up this could be a great free option to find obituaries, family announcements and other interesting historical events.
The site still maintains its original name of Old Fulton New York Post Cards but if you search their archives you may well find some gems. Although the site is free they do accept donations to help further the project if you are willing.
Those who have used Ancestry in the past may have seen some hints for their ancestors' graves, usually from Find-a-Grave. This is its own free website which relies on volunteers to photograph and find grave locations globally.
Started in 1995 by Jim Tipton, it was originally intended to support his hobby of visiting celebrity graves. It quickly grew to be much more as the database expanded. In 2013 Tipton sold the site to Ancestry.com who revamped and improved the site markedly.
This is a completely free site to use that is intended to help people locate the graves of their ancestors and potentially find out some important helpful details. There is also an aspect of memorial to the site as well. It allows users to leave messages to their ancestors' memories.
In terms of accuracy, it needs to be noted that this is user-created content so sometimes information may be wrong or may have been embellished. People have complained in the past that memorials were created for their recently deceased family with very inaccurate details attached. The biggest issue is that once someone starts a memorial for a particular burial they own the right to modify it any way they see fit.
US National Archives
This is a wonderful site that has a wide array of resources to assist in family history research. They offer a select collection of records including census, military, immigration and legal.
If they do not have access to certain records they will often be able to direct you to a site that may have them. Although it’s not the easiest to navigate it is certainly worth a visit to see what they may have that can help you.
If they do not have what you need digitized the archives may be able to supply you with microfilm copies of the records. These do cost money to order, however, and you will need access to the right equipment to be able to view the microfilm.
This website is completely free to use but does not itself contain searchable records. Created by members of the Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society in 1995, in a little over a year this grew to a database of over 10,000 web links.
Today, visitors to the site can type in search questions and be given an array of options as to websites that can assist in their searches. It is designed to be a starting point for anyone beginning their online quest to discover their family history.
As of February 2022, the site boasts just over 318,000 genealogy links under 227 different categories. Described by former users as a sledgehammer to break through brick walls it is an invaluable tool for those who are seeking free information.
Ellis Island and Castle Garden
A lot of early immigrants came through New York first through Castle Garden and then later Ellis Island. There are two websites, castlegarden.org and statueofliberty.org, that are dedicated to the history of these immigrants.
Each site holds a vast database of incoming immigration records that can be searched for free. This is a great way to try and discover when your ancestors arrived in the new world. Using information such as full name, approximate date of birth, nationality, and ship name you may be able to locate your ancestor on a ship's manifest and maybe find out more about them.
Produced in partnership with the Library of Congress, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov is a free online database of United States newspapers. This website boasts a select collection of newspapers and publications from all 50 States.
They are very selective about what media they have digitized and this is a source that reflects more of a historical story of the country rather than that of individuals. Those seeking family stories will not likely find them here.
This site still has value to the family historian, however, who is seeking to perhaps understand the world in which their ancestors lived. We always like to flesh out the lives of these people we will never get to meet.
African Heritage Project
The African American community face a real struggle tracing their family history beyond a handful of generations due to slavery. During this terrible period of history, their ancestors were viewed solely as property and therefore were not really recorded as people in records.
Thanks to the hard work of the African Heritage Project, however, there is a slowly growing free database that can perhaps help further the knowledge that African Americans can find regarding their ancestors. It is the mission of this project to rediscover documents and records that may give names to enslaved individuals.
The current database holds extensive records of births, slave manifests, plantation journals, legal documents and even some sound recordings. It is a completely volunteer-run non-profit project which charges nothing for you to search their records.
This project is supported by the University of South Florida and could be an invaluable source for African Americans looking to learn more about their ancestors.
SAR and DAR
Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) are two societies formed by descendants of notable soldiers of the American Revolution. Each society has its own website which can be used to help make connections between us and our potential war hero ancestors.
Membership into these societies requires a fully fleshed out and provable family link to recorded soldiers who took part in the conflict. You do not have to be a member to search the listings on this site which may help you discover if you are eligible.
Records are available of members' connections to war veterans which may assist in making the final connections you need.
This is a free-to-use site that does not hold records itself but does contain a list of websites that can be used to locate specific record types. Among their categories are African American, Native American, military and cemetery records.
All of the links provided by the site lead to free sources of records. The site itself does specialize in Native American history which can be greatly beneficial for those searching for potential Native ancestors.
This is an interesting website that offers server space to county websites that have transcribed information from local records. Featured on this site are links to information from all 50 states and their respective counties.
The information volume and content varies depending on the society submitting so you may or may not find this useful for your personal searches. It should also be understood that what is available are not original records but rather transcriptions. This may mean that some information may not be accurate.
It is still an interesting site and worth checking out. There may be some golden nuggets to be found in their database.
NativeWeb is not a solely genealogical based site rather it is a resource hub to help Native Americans with a number of important web-based issues. It does, however, have a gradually increasing database of external links that lead to records and resources to research Native Ancestry.
As of February 2022, there are only about 21 links but the site is committed to expanding upon that. They understand that one of the biggest fields or inquiry Native Americans have is the subject of their ancestry and heritage.
Stevemorse.org is the creation of Stephen P. Morse who is probably best known as the architect of the Intel 8086 chip. In Stevenmorse.org, Morse has created an impressive database of genealogical tools that has quickly become very popular.
Completely free to use, you can search immigration information from throughout the United States. You can also use this site to locate census records from the US, Canada and the UK as well as a host of other vital records. It is a truly astonishing site that is admittedly sometimes a little difficult to navigate.
Those with perseverance will likely find that a little trial and error will be greatly rewarding when it comes to this website. In many ways, it’s a one-stop shop of records and important genealogy tips.
Final Wrap Up
There are many more free sites out there on the web, these were just a few. The key to avoiding membership fees is knowing what you are looking for and getting creative with your searches.
In terms of free one-stop family tree and record websites, Familysearch.org is likely the best. The majority of the other sites are specific in their focus or have far less in terms of database size. These are still perfect, however, for more focused searches.
Try and make use of sites like Cyndi’s List and Access Genealogy. Others have already done the hard work for you and found a list of useful resources.
Another thing to remember is that some libraries have digitized their entire newspaper collections so always check library websites. Also, check out local historical societies or small museums, they are a vital source of potential records.
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