September 26th, 2009

Review of the Top 40+ FREE Online Genealogy Websites Where You Can Start Your Ancestry Search

(Update: September 26, 2011: To celebrate the two year anniversary of this post, we have added 40 more free links to a new updated post. Now there are 82 free genealogy resources that you can use right now to start your searching your family history. Check the new post out here.)

There are a million websites that have information about genealogy, census records, and family tree research. Some are free and some expect you to pay a membership fee. When you are just starting your family tree research or when you are a little strapped for cash and don’t want to make an investment for something that might just be a hobby, there are alternatives to subscription genealogy websites.

Don’t sign up for a subscription genealogy website just yet, get your ancestry search started at these resources first. Besides, some subscription genealogy sites are worth the price of admission and others, not at all. Look for an honest evaluation of these subscription sites in the coming weeks. A lot of that same information is available for free, you just have to know where to look.

Here are the best free genealogy websites where you can get some good solid information about your family tree, ancestors and get your genealogy research off on a running start. With these resources, you could be researching for months!

It bugs me when websites claim to be free, only to have a hidden cost involved, or expect you to pay to view certain document.

I’ve eliminated so called free websites that have a free index but you have to pay to read the original scanned document, I’ve even eliminated free websites that are simply a list of links to other paid websites. If there is any cost involved to view the information online, you won’t see that website on this list. The only thing you’ll have to pay for is if you want original or certified documents sent to you. In that case, you have to pay postage, copy and other administrative fees.

What you are getting here are truly FREE genealogy websites with no strings attached. I’ll tell you about some of the other ones in another post, the ones with strings, and I’ll let you know what I think of them too.

Update October 22, 2010: Before you get started checking out these websites, you’ll want to download a family tree template to fill in your ancestors’s names. I’ve updated my free printable family tree template pages to include over 20 different styles and generations of family trees.  Plus there is a helpful guide that teaches you how to research your family history.

Here are the best of the truly FREE genealogy websites in no particular order:

1. Family Search

Family Search is one of my favorite genealogy websites. It is maintained by the Latter Day Saints (LDS) and they are committed to keeping genealogy free. It is completely run by volunteers so there is no hidden fee or cost to join or access their database. You can even volunteer your time to enter data into their archives.

2. Our Timelines

This is a really cool website where you can find out what was happening historically during the lifetime of one of your ancestors or yourself. Just enter the person’s name and the years of birth and death and the program generates a timeline of historical events that happened during that person’s lifetime. It’s a great way to find out what life was like back then.

3. Archive.org – The Way Back Machine

This website lets you search old websites that may have moved or been taken off line. They have over 150 billion cached copies of old archived websites. For Genealogy search, you can find free scanned copies of family and local histories. Just click on “Texts” and then click on “Additional Collections” then choose “Genealogy”

4. U.S. Geographic Names Information System

Search documents pertaining to over 2 million geographic locations in the United States. Federally recognized locations, National Parks and geographic coordinate, by state, or by county.

5. Native American Genealogy

Free information about America’s Native Americans and Canada’s First Nations People. This database includes several Roll Indexes as well as DNA and Tribal Histories. An excellent free resources for genealogists and historians.

6. AfriGeneas Library

This is a database of transcribed records if African-Americans including marriage records, directories, family histories, newspaper articles, slave records and more.

7. JewishGen Family Finder

This is a free searchable database of ancestral towns and surnames currently being researched by Jewish Genealogists worldwide. The site is maintained by JewishGen which is a not for profit corporation that accepts donations to keep running. However, using the database is completely free once you create a profile and register.

8. Japanese Immigrants to the United States 1887-1924

Much of the data in this collection focuses on first generation Japanese immigrants to Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho and has been transcribed from census, cemetery records, obituaries and local histories.

9. Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records

This is a free government website that allows you to research about parcels of land. For example, if your ancestor obtained a piece of land from the U.S. government any time between 1820 and 1908, you can find that original document here. This is one of those websites that you’ll have to pay for a certified copy of the document, however, viewing the document online is free.

10. Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild

Dedicated volunteers are tirelessly transcribing ship passenger lists with a million passenger records to date. All online, all free.

11. Ellis Island Free Port of New York Passenger Records Search

The free Ellis Island Free Records Database allows you to search immigrants who entered the U.S at Ellis Island or the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924 with links to transcribed records and digital images of those documents. You can search by names, year of arrival, year of birth, town of origin and the ship name.

12. Bremen Passenger Lists 1920-1939

All other passenger lists from 1875-1908 were destroyed and any other lists were lost in World War II. But these lists were hidden in a salt mine during the wars and have been transcribed and are available online for you to search.

13. Civil War Soldiers and Sailor System

Find basic facts about United States servicemen who served in either Union or Confederate Armies during the Civil Wars. Search millions of soldiers by name, regiment, cemetery, battle, and even if they were a prisoner.

14. Commonwealth War Graves Commission

This website is an amazing resource for anyone who had ancestors serve Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom in World War I or World War II. You can search records, they call it the Debt of Honour Register, for casualty records and cemetery records. And all the information is free.

15. DAR National Society

Daughters of the American Revolution Society will do free look-ups for you! If you want to know if your ancestor is recognized by the DAR as a Revolutionary Patriot, complete the form online and their volunteers will look up that information plus, names, spouses, rank, service, state and pension information too.

16. Free Genealogy Lookups – One per day

The Ancestral Findings website of North Carolina allows you to request one free search per day. Follow their rules and be nice about it and they will search birth, marriage, census, military, state and other historical records for you, absolutely free.

17. National Archives Research Catalog

This is the online catalog of the U.S. National Archives. There are thousands of resources available online, scanned documents, transcribed documents and where to find the originals. These records include birth, death, military, maps and more.

18. Australia’s World War Two Nominal Roll

You can view transcribed service records for Australia’s men and women who served in World War II. They will even reproduce a certificate for you that you can print, but it’s not the actual document.

19. Free Genealogy Translations

This website is in French but is still easy to use. Choose the language you need translated and you’ll be taken to a form that’s in both French and English.

20. Library and Archives Canada

Collections Canada has assembled all Canadian archived databases and records for births, deaths, marriages, census, immigrations, land, military and other records. Enter the data you know into the search boxes and view actual records online.

21. GeneaBios

GeneaBios is is a small website that genealogists have used to post biographical information about certain individuals. To date their records include free biographies that visitors have posted and links to other free biographies on other websites. It isn’t a huge database, but it’s growing. If you can find an ancestor there, you’re in for a treat because there is lots of detail included in most bios.

22. National Archives of Norway

Digital Archives of parish registers, real estate registers, photos, and tips on how to trace your ancestors in Norway. This website is available in English or Norwegian and information dates back to 1801.

23. British Columbia Vital Event Indexes

This website contains summaries or scanned copies of original documents in the archives. If you need to see the original document, download a price list. But you can access a lot of data without having to pay for it. The data dates back to 1872 when BC became a province.

24. Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Here you can see digital images of maps created between 1874 to 1881 of Ontario Counties. Included with the maps are the names of subscribers and their businesses and in some cases their portraits.

25. Australian War Memorial

Australian War Memorial is an excellent place to locate information about the part Australia played in the world wars. This is the official website of the Australian War Memorial Museum, so you have access to documents and artifacts online. There is a description and a transcription of each document online but if you want to see the actual document up close, you have to pay for a reprint.

26. National Archives of Australia

Search for records and then view the record online. This is an online catalog of the National Archives of Australia where you can search records, photographs, maps, and recordings with digital images online for the public to view.

27. Library of Virginia Online Catalog

Contains images of land patents, land grants and surveys online. They have an online catalog of land patents issued prior to 1779 and some records dating as far back as 1692.

28. Le Dictionaire Genealogique

This is a seven volume French Canadian Genealogy published by the Reverend Cyprian Tanguay. His work includes the genealogies of early French Canadian families dating from 1608 to about 1760.

29. Kentucky Vital Records

This compilation of state records are available for free search online. Search the Kentucky Death Index for 1911 – 1986, Kentucky Marriage Index for 1973-1993, and the Kentucky Death Index for 1987- 1992.

30. Canadian Genealogy Centre

Several free genealogy databases are available for search online. This website also serves as a gateway to other genealogy websites containing Canadian Genealogy Search Information.

31. German Military Grave Registration

This free database contains the names of missing and dead soldiers from both World War I and World War II. You will be required to register before you can search and view your results. Registration is free. Oh and you’ll have to be able to read German.

32. Utah Cemetery Burials Database

Free searchable database of over 650,000 burials in over 350 cemeteries. Search online to find the burial details of your family in Utah.

33. Index to the Enciclopedia Heraldica Hispano-Americana of Alberto and Arturo Garcia Carraffa

Over 15,000 names with their genealogical histories are included in this 88-volume work. You can do a comprehensive search of the list of Spanish and Spanish-American names to find out exactly where in the work the article about your Spanish heritage exists.

34. Distant Cousin

View scanned images of historical documents and search the online archive of genealogy records from several sources including newspaper obituaries, census records, city directories, school yearbooks, military records and more.

35. Danish Emigration Archives

Over 350,000 records of Danish emigrants is available online. You can search their database and read transcribed records that include names, dates, occupations, ticket information and more. It helps if you can read some Danish.

36. Greenville County Government Historical Records Online

A really well organized online database of records that go way beyond the usual birth, death, marriage records to include deeds, district court records, wills and probate records. Most are scanned and viewable online, but others are transcribed or their indexes are searchable.

37. FreeREG Search UK Parish Registers

Find baptism, marriage and burial records transcribed from parish and non-conformist church registers in the UK. The transcribed records are viewable online.

38. GenCircles

Upload your GedCom file and connect with others researching other branches of your family tree. If you don’t have a GedCom file, you can still register for free and contribute information and find information about your genealogy.

39. A Very Grave Matter

This is a website contains a collection of photographs and historical information about cemeteries and gravestones in colonial New England. New England, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont Cemeteries are featured in this free database. Donations are welcome, but use of the site is free.

40. Pennsylvania State Archives

Scanned or transcribed card files of veterans, service medal applications for National Guard, Civil War, Mexican Border Campaign, World War I, Spanish American War, Revolutionary War and Militia Officers.

41. Historical Directories

This is a digital library of high quality reproductions of rare books online. These books are local and trade directories for England and Wales from 1750 – 1919. You can search directories, browse or read pages from the books or print selections for your genealogy search.

42. The Olden Times

This website has scanned images of actual newspaper clippings of announcements of births, deaths, and obituaries. There is a lot of extra stuff that is interesting too like vintage recipes and such.

You can also search your local Provincial or State Vital Records and your local libraries. They also give you a place to start your genealogy search, and to find published family histories.

If you know a really good website out there that didn’t make it on this list, email me (melanie at obituarieshelp.org) so I can include it, but make sure it is completely free – for this post, I’m not interested in sites that have lists of links to subscriptions sites or lists of indexes that you have to pay to see the document. I want free information available online. I’ll talk about great paid websites soon, but for now, I want everyone to get started without investing a dime.

Leave your comments below to let me and others know what you think of these resources.

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