Richard is a professional writer and author. When he's not creating, he's actively pursuing his goal of becoming a handsome billionaire.
The United States is a melting pot like no other country ever. For that reason, tracing one’s family history is one of the most popular hobbies among Americans. In the pursuit of this hobby, Ancestry.com has established itself as the world’s largest online resource for genealogy aficionados.
Ancestry is a great place to start your search and if you’re willing to pay their subscription fee ($20 - $45 per month) then go for it. But if you’re like me and know you’re doing the research on the ‘information superhighway’ then doing so should be free.
For that reason, I have assembled 10 genealogy sites that can greatly help your family history search. You will have to register at these sites, or at the very least give up your email address, and some sites may choose to charge for access but for far less than Ancestry.
1. Family Search
Family Search claims to be the world’s largest genealogical organization. Family Search has been gathering and preserving genealogy records worldwide for over 100 years. As an arm of the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they also claim to have access to over 4 billion names, 4700+ FamilySearch Centers worldwide, and also offer 24/7 expert phone support. The best part, they are a non-profit organization and provide all of this to the public for free.
Once you create a fee account, you will gain access to their multiple search tools, a family tree maker, and the ability to preserve photos as well as collaborate with other members.
Getting Started with Family Search
Archives, not to be confused with the National Archives, is a private genealogy company and is actually a member of the Ancestry.com family. Here you can receive nearly all the benefits of the parent company for half the cost. Not only that, you will gain free access to hundreds of genealogy articles to help guide you in the right direction for your family search.
With over 507 collections, Archives.com grants you access to billions of records but more importantly, they grant access to a community of highly knowledgeable researchers who are ready and willing to impart their expertise just for asking.
Getting Started on Archives
3. National Archives
Archives.gov The National Archives is probably the most valuable resource for genealogy research available to everyone for free. It is a government agency and is funded by our tax dollars. Here you will find thousands of genealogical related articles and guidance to help with many types of searches, such as census records, US Military records, Immigration records (Ship Passenger Lists), Naturalization records, and land records.
While this is the online portal to the National Archives, there are physical locations nationwide. They have subscriptions with Ancestry and Heritage Quest and at the physical locations you will gain free access to those services.
Using the National Archives
4. The USGenWeb Project
The USGenWeb Project was born in 1996 from a shared vision of a group of genealogists that wanted to bring genealogy research pathways to every county of every state. These pathways are now maintained by thousands of volunteers.
Here you will be granted access to localized records, maps, research tips, and Special Projects, such as the “Tombstone” project that aims to record and transcribe data from local cemeteries. Since the USGenWeb Project is dependent on a volunteer force, it is encouraged to participate and make corrections to data found to be in error.
The best part; it is all free.
5. WorldGenWeb Project
WorldGenWeb Project is the sister to the USGenWeb project and as you might have guessed, it’s goal is to have every country in the world represented by native or localized volunteers to assist in maintaining genealogy websites.
Currently, this project is divided into 11 regions. Each region is then divided by countries and then by provinces, states, or counties. There is a long way to go but with over 400 websites currently being maintained by volunteers, researching international family histories will become increasingly more accessible.
Just remember that when taking your research international, it would be a good idea to brush up on family research “best practices” which will greatly advance your investigation.
6. Cyndi's List
Cyndi's List is not so much of a dedicated research site as it is a “jumping off” point for doing family research. It is a huge site that is full of links to related genealogy sites. More than being a “jumping off” point,” it is a valuable resource for anyone planning to do any type of family history search.
I found this site many years ago when I was researching on how to best present my own family history in the form of a book. Through this site, I found a blogger that writes family history and hundreds of other valuable tips that I still use in my presentations.
If you’re new to genealogy, then Cyndi’s List is my recommended site to learn the ins and outs of doing any type of research.
7. Access Genealogy
Access Genealogy is another huge database for genealogy researchers. Having been online since 1999, they have become one of the largest free resources for genealogists. Access Genealogy has one of the largest databases for Native American and Black research. Besides that, you can find access links to vital records in just about every state.
You will also find links to census records in the US, Britain, and Canada as well as US cemetery records for each state. But one of my favorite databases is the military records with information dating all the way back to the Indian wars of 1614 and up to Vietnam.
8. Genealogy Today
Genealogy Today Like some of the other sites mentioned, Genealogy Today aggregates many genealogical search tools into one place but you will also find hundreds of original articles and research tips contributed by its members. And while many of the resources here are free to users, they do have a paid subscription to get deeper access to some unique collections.
Of course I would prefer it all to be free but if you’re willing to pay their subscription rate of about $2.75 per month then it would be advisable to use their free surname search option to ensure there are enough results to justify the fee.
9. Family Tree Searcher
Family Tree Searcher Unlike the other sites mentioned, this site aggregates many family tree sites and allows you to do one search instead of going to all of them and trying. It’s a good thing to do a search just to see if anything comes up. You never know, you may have other relatives working on the same family history and if so your workload can be greatly reduced.
10. Olive Tree Genealogy
Olive Tree Genealogy While this site may be a bit hard to navigate, it is an invaluable resource for all things related to genealogy. After a few clicks around, I found a link to the top 100 Genealogy blogs which can also be a treasure trove of information for people that are serious about genealogical research. It may not be of much value to the casual researcher but the pros will much appreciate it.
Olive Tree is one of the first sites to offer primary sources for family history searchers with databases on ship passenger lists and naturalization records. And, if you’re a writer of family histories like me, you might find interest in the owner’s blog.
I have used most of these sites for my own personal research and without paying for any subscription fees. I was able to track down my paternal family tree to the 1400’s (father’s mother) and 1600’s (father’s father) but have had difficulty following my maternal family tree past the early 1800’s (mother’s mother.) I actually came to a dead end trying to follow my mother’s father but I expected as much. He immigrated to the US from Italy when he was around 4 years old but his parents split up as soon as they made it through Ellis Island and left my grandfather on the doorstep of one of his father’s cousins. The cousins raised him as one of their own along with their other 8 children and he had a wonderful and fruitful life.
While I would like to learn more about my Italian heritage, I am more than content to research the other branches of my family. My Italian grandfather and my Irish/French grandmother produced my mother and my Welsh grandfather and German/Native American grandmother produced my father. I’m the true epitome of an American “mutt.”
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Stacie L on August 26, 2015:
This is a nice list to use if one wants to research their past. I have hesitated due to fear of identity thief. Has anyone experienced this, I wonder?
jan on August 13, 2015:
Do you know the easiest way to transfer your tree from ancestry to one of these sites?
peter on February 26, 2015:
This is useful information but for UK famiky researchers there is FreeBMD which has a rather clunky interface but works well once you get used to it.
Richard Bivins (author) from Charleston, SC on February 16, 2015:
Thank you Jim for advising us on that site. I'm sure many will benefit from it.
Jim Heddell on February 16, 2015:
Thank you for this great list. In addition to these wonderful sites, you should also contact www.genealogists.com. They are the world's largest family history research firm with over 1,000 professional genealogists, historians, DNA experts, university professors, scholars, and archivists working worldwide to connect you to your past. FamilySearch estimates that over 90% of the records needed for family history are not online. The fastest, easiest, and indeed best way to access these records is through professionals on the ground working in those archives. To submit your request, go to: www.genealogists.com.
Richard Bivins (author) from Charleston, SC on February 14, 2015:
You're welcome Pat... Glad I could help.
Pat Richardson on February 14, 2015:
Thank you for this wonderful information.