What are the best free genealogy websites?

Marc McDermott
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Genealogy can sometimes be an expensive hobby depending on how many paid subscription sites you belong to. While I like to think of these subscription sites as the “cost of doing business” for my genealogy obsession, there are also many free websites to help grow your family tree.

Here are just a few of my favorite free genealogy websites.

1. Family Search

FamilySearch.org is a non-profit family history website owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is by far the biggest and one of the best free genealogy websites. There are countless records and collections from all over the world including census records, military records, church records, vital records, passenger lists, immigration records, and many, many more. Searching on Family Search can be a bit overwhelming, so I recommend going to the Catalog section first and entering your geographic area of interest. From there you’ll see a categorized list of all the available collections. You should consider what type of record you’re searching for and what jurisdiction would have been responsible for creating and/or holding that collection (ie the town, county, state, country, etc). Family Search also has an amazing digital library of family history books, as well as a Wiki which is a goldmine for locality research.

2. USGenWeb Project

The USGenWeb project is another volunteer-based website that has been around since 1996. It’s similar to the Family Search wiki in that it’s a directory of available sources by location. You first drill down by state, then by county, then in some cases by town. Unlike the Family Search wiki, this website links out to thousands of individual “microsites” which cover counties and towns in more detail. The USGenWeb Project should be one of the first sites you consult when taking on a new project. Sites like this are invaluable in the initial stages of any genealogy project so you know what sources exist, and where you can access them. This group of websites also has other advantages such as message boards and various educational resources to help grow your family tree.

3. Chronicling America

This is a free website by the Library of Congress most noted for its growing collection of digitized newspapers. Searching this site initially can be overwhelming, so I strongly suggest you use the advanced search mode to narrow your search by time period and/or location. If you can’t find a digitized newspaper for your time period and area of interest, there’s another great feature to this site called, “US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present.” This is actually the feature of the site I use most often in my research. This section will show you what newspapers existed in the exact time period and your area of interest so you know what to look for. If a paper went out of business, changed its name, was bought out, merged with another paper, etc, you’ll be able to see that too. What’s more, is that they’ll also tell you what repositories/libraries have copies of the paper’s microfilm.

4. FindaGrave

FindaGrave.com is a free “virtual cemetery” which contains the burial details of hundreds of millions. It is a crowd-sourced website that was acquired by Ancestry.com in 2013. FamilySearch and Ancestry, among others, actively index these listings so you might have already seen links to FindaGrave while researching on other sites. This website makes it easy to find the exact burial location of your ancestors – down to the actual plot location. And if you’re lucky, someone may have already photographed the grave marker allowing you to see inscriptions or who else is buried in the same plot. Because this site is crowd-sourced, you can add your own information to someone’s “memorial page” such as photos, obituaries, or any other pertinent genealogical information for that individual. You can also do keyword searches for entire cemeteries to see who else might be buried there that could help with your research.

Bonus

I also wanted to point out that both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer free trials to their entire collection of records.

Even if you don’t think you can afford a monthly subscription, it might be worth signing up for a free trial then canceling before it ends if it’s not for you.

Both companies offer a 14-day trial which can sometimes be enough to work through a specific genealogical problem.

I hope this guide to free genealogy websites was helpful. To learn more about genealogy, read our guide “Genealogy for Beginners“.

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