Free Genealogy Websites

by Marc McDermott on

Free access to genealogy information is just a few clicks away – no membership required!  You might find anything from copies of your grandparents’ death certificates to a newspaper article about your great-grandfather’s business. Your free ancestry search starts here!

Check out these 26 totally free genealogy websites to help you explore your family history and grow your family tree.

1. Family Search – The largest free genealogy website in the world.

2. National Archives – Federal military, census, immigration, land, naturalization records and more.

3. Library of Congress – Access free digitized images of newspapers, books, films, maps, personal narratives, photos, prints, and drawings.

4. MyHeritage – Search over 10 billion global historical records, birth, marriage and death records from 32 countries, 25 million pages of historical newspapers dating back to 1803, and more than 6.3 billion names – all with a 14-day free trial. Use it free for two weeks and cancel if it’s not for you.

5. Chronicling America – Part of the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America has searchable images of US newspapers from 1792-1963.

6. Allen County Public Library – Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library has one of the largest genealogy collections in the United States.

7. Ancestry Free Indexes – Want to do a free Ancestry search with no subscription? Ancestry.com has a number of free collections which include census records, immigration records, military records, prison records, wills, biographies, and a large number of Jewish records from eastern Europe.

8. Ancestry Free Trial – You can get access to all of Ancestry.com records for a 14-day free trial.

9. FindAGrave – Over 170 million burial and cemetery records have been submitted to Find-A-Grave.

10. Ellis Island – Through this website, you can explore the history of Ellis Island, get tips on genealogy research, and search the 65 million Ellis Island database entries for your immigrant ancestors.

11. Castle Garden – Records for 11 million immigrants to New York from 1820-1892 can be searched online.

12. USGenWeb – County and state resources, compiled and maintained by volunteers, the USGenWeb sites can provide historical information about places, local cemeteries, local birth, and death records, obituaries, and links to other genealogy resources related to the area and its people.

13. Fulton History – A searchable repository of old newspapers published in the United States and Canada, Fulton History has historical photos and newspapers from 1795 to 2007, with new data added weekly.

14. MyHeritage Family Tree Builder – This free software gets high ratings in its features, ease of use, and customer support.

15. David Rumsey’s Historical Maps – With over 90,000 maps and related images viewable online, this map collection can help you see where your ancestors lived and how boundaries and place names changed over time.

16. Sanborn Maps – A map collection within the Library of Congress, this collection of fire insurance maps published by the Sanborn Map Company can be used to see how cities evolved over time.

17. Google Maps – Google Maps can help you find places, look at the distance between places, and see topographical or satellite images of geographical areas.

18. Free BMD – If you have ancestors from England or Wales, Free BMD may help you find birth, marriage, or death records.

19. Google Books – Many out of print books have been scanned and can be read for free on the Google Books page.

20. Internet Archive – This is a good place to look for a family genealogy book or local history book.

21. Reclaim the Records – An activist group of historians, genealogists, researchers, and open government advocates, Reclaim the Records identifies information that should be in the public domain but has been restricted by the government, archive or library that holds it.

22. Jewish Gen – If your ancestors were Jewish, this website has more than 20 million records from all over the world to help you trace your Jewish heritage.

23. AfriGeneas – This site is dedicated to genealogy research for African Americans.

24. DeadFred – A free genealogy photo archive, Dead Fred lets you search for photos of your ancestors, and provides a forum to post photographs for other researchers to find.

25. Cyndi’s List – Cyndi’s list doesn’t have genealogy records. It tells you where to go to find records and other genealogy-related information on the internet.

26. DAR – The Daughter of the American Revolution website has a genealogy section with information on starting a family tree.

The best free genealogy websites reviewed

Family Search

An arm of the LDS Family History Library, this site has genealogy records from all over the world that you can search or browse, and the collection grows daily as more records are digitized.  You can print or save records, or add them as sources to your online tree that you build within their site.

Look for genealogies and family trees that others have added to the site, find books on your ancestors, and search the FHL holdings, and find a library near you where you can access more information.  

FamilySearch

National Archives

The United States National Archives holds many genealogy records of genealogical importance.  Most of the records are not available online, but you can use their website to identify records you are interested in and educate yourself on the records that are available.  

When you identify a record of interest, you can view it by ordering a copy of the microfilm, accessing it at a regional National Archives research room.

National Archives

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress website lets you access digitized images of newspapers (mostly from the 1800’s and 1900’s), books, films, maps, personal narratives (mostly from the Veterans History Project),  photos, prints and drawings from a variety of sources. Go to the library catalogs for archival finding aids and search engines to find out what is available.

Library of Congress

Chronicling America

Were your ancestors in the news?  You may be able to find out on this site. Part of the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America has searchable images of US newspapers from 1792-1963.  

You can search for a newspaper and browse the available images or use the advanced search function and search by state or newspaper, keywords, and dates.

But what makes this one of my favorite free websites is the newspaper directory which shows you what papers were published where your ancestors lived, and where you can access their archives.

Chronicling America

Allen County Public Library

Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library has one of the largest genealogy collections in the United States.  Their website has good information on starting your family history research. Online, you can access their free searchable database, links to digitized copies of books, and search their catalog for items you may be able to access at the library.

Allen County Public Library

Ancestry Free Indexes

Not everything on Ancestry.com is behind a paywall.  Free genealogy records include census records, immigration records, military records, prison records, wills, biographies, and a large number of Jewish records from eastern Europe.  There’s a good representation of international records, as well as those from the United States. These free collections are a great way to get started in genealogy.

Ancestry Free Indexes

Ancestry Free Trial  

You can get access to all of Ancestry.com records for a 14-day free trial. This requires a credit card, and you have to cancel before the 14 days are up to avoid getting charged.  It’s a great way to try before you buy, and have access to Ancestry’s billions of genealogical records.

Ancestry.com Free Trial

FindAGrave.com

One of my favorite free genealogy websites, FindaGrave has over 170 million burial records.  In addition to birth, death, and burial information, many submissions include names and vital information for spouses, parents, and children.  Some even include an obituary or biographical information.

FindaGrave

Ellis Island

Passenger lists can be a great resource for your research – especially the ones from Ellis Island. Between the 1890s and the 1920s, many immigrants to the United States were processed through Ellis Island.  Through this website, you can explore the history of Ellis Island, get genealogy tips for your research, and search the 65 million Ellis Island database entries for your immigrant ancestors.  

Ellis Island

Castle Garden

Before Ellis Island, Castle Garden was the main immigration processing center in New York.  Records and passenger lists for 11 million immigrants to New York from 1820-1892 can be searched online. The results may include information such as the ship they arrived on, the person’s age, birthplace, origin, destination, and who paid for their passage.  

Castle Garden

USGenWeb

County and state resources, compiled and maintained by volunteers, the USGenWeb sites can provide historical information about places, local cemeteries, local birth, and death records, obituaries, and links to other genealogy resources related to the area and its people.

USGenWeb

Fulton History

A searchable repository of old newspapers published in the United States and Canada, Fulton History has historical photos and newspapers from 1795 to 2007, with new data added weekly.  You can browse the folders of digitized documents or search for specific words and phrases on the search page.

Fulton History

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder Software

This free software gets high ratings in its features, ease of use, and customer support.  You can download and use the program for free. This software provides you a template for building a family tree and lets you sync the tree with your MyHeritage online tree.  

You can publish charts, view maps, and get hints using this software. Advanced features are available for purchase, but the basic software is useable without the upgrades.

MyHeritage

David Rumsey’s Historical Maps

Family history is linked to world history.  With over 90,000 maps and related images viewable online, this map collection can help you see where your ancestors lived and how boundaries and place names changed over time.  

Explore timeline maps, or look at aerial photos of places. This collection is searchable or can be browsed by what, where, who and when. The maps date from 1223 to current day.

David Rumsey’s Historical Maps

Sanborn Maps

A map collection within the Library of Congress, this collection of fire insurance maps published by the Sanborn Map Company can be used to see how cities evolved over time.  

There are over 25,000 sheets from more than 3,000 cities in the USA. The maps show types of construction for buildings in the city, whether buildings are residential or commercial, as well as listing the main buildings within the city and their use.

Sanborn Maps

Google Maps

For current day geographical research, Google Maps can help you find places, look at the distance between places, and see topographical or satellite images of geographical areas.  

When you’re traveling to do genealogy research, you can use its navigation functions to find businesses, cemeteries, historical museums, and libraries in the area. Sign in with your Google account and you can make personal maps with dropped pins for areas of interest.

Google Maps

Free BMD

If you have ancestors from England or Wales, Free BMD may help you find birth, marriage, or death records.  Its goal is to transcribe and the Civil Registration Indexes from 1837-1992. The project is ongoing, and not all records have been transcribed, but there are more than 270 million records currently available online.  

The indexes can be searched, and the original index can be viewed, when available. Indexes give volume and page of the actual record held by the Registry office. The site has links to help you order a certificate. Once you pinpoint a date and place using this site, you can then go search the parish registers for church records on sites like FindmyPast, Ancestry, and FamilySearch.

Free BMD

Google Books

Books are a great source of information in genealogy research, especially if your family was a pioneer or early settler of an area.  Many genealogies, family or area history books, and biographies will give sketches of ancestors and more information than you might find in a birth or death certificate.  

It’s also very important to understand the local histories for the places your ancestors lived. Many out of print books have been scanned and can be read for free on the Google Books page.  For more recent books, you can find links to booksellers or to locate a library near you that may have the book.

Google Books

Internet Archive

A non-profit online library, Internet Archive contains books that can be read for free or borrowed online for up to two weeks.  This is a good place to look for a family genealogy book or local history book. Even school yearbooks and government documents can be found on this site.  

Internet Archive

Reclaim the Records

An activist group of historians, genealogists, researchers, and open government advocates, Reclaim the Records identifies information that should be in the public domain but has been restricted by the government, archive or library that holds it.  

They file a freedom of information (FOI) requests for documents and take the matter to court if the records are not released. All the records they gain access to are digitized and placed online and are available at no cost. Links on their page take you to the records that can be viewed and downloaded.

Reclaim the Records

Jewish Gen

If your ancestors were Jewish, this website has more than 20 million records from all over the world to help you trace your Jewish heritage.  In addition to a beginner’s page that provides information on how to get started, there is an online genealogy course, discussion groups, and family finder registration to allow communication between people who are searching for the same family.  

Their searchable databases include Jewish family trees, community data, burial registries, holocaust data, and country-specific information such as birth, marriage, death, military, and census records.

Jewish Gen

AfriGeneas

This site is dedicated to genealogy research for African Americans.  There is an online interactive guide for beginners, searchable online records, forums, chats, and links to additional resources.  

A unique approach this site takes is collecting slave data from descendants of slaveholders to help break through the lack of public records for African Americans prior to the Civil War.

AfriGeneas

DeadFred

Seeing the faces of your ancestors gives genealogy research a little extra excitement.  A free genealogy photo archive, Dead Fred lets you search for photos of your ancestors, and provides a forum to post photographs for other researchers to find.  

If the original photo is owned by the Dead Fred archive, and you can show you are a direct descendant, they will send you the original for free, all you pay is postage.

DeadFred

Cyndi’s List

Cyndi’s list doesn’t have records.  It tells you where to go to find records and other genealogy-related information on the internet – many of which are free websites. Categorized and cross-referenced, this comprehensive database is a great starting point when doing research.  

You can search for links by location (such as Minnesota birth records) or search by topic (such as Organizing your Research).  

Cyndi’s List

DAR

The Daughter of the American Revolution website has a genealogy section with information on starting a family tree.  There is also a Genealogical Research System (GRS) to search ancestors, members, or descendants. The results will give you basic information found in the records, and a link to purchase associated records.  

DAR

FAQ

What is the best free genealogy website?

The best genealogy website will depend on what you’re researching in terms of time and place. The biggest free site by far though is FamilySearch.org.

Is FamilySearch a free site?

Yes, FamilySearch is completely free to use and tops my list of free genealogy websites. It is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints. Note that some record collections have special licensing terms that require you to view the collection at a local Family History Center or affiliate library.

Can you view census records for free?

Yes, U.S. census records can be viewed for free on FamilySearch.org.

Are there any free genealogy websites like Ancestry?

The only free website like Ancestry for research and record access is FamilySearch.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for the list. I have taken note of the Congress Library in particular the Chronicling America for newspapers and tomorrow will look at the Sanborn Map Link.

    Reply
  2. Awesome information. I use Family Search and WikiTree, each works a bit differently than the other but are effective. Internet Archives, NARA, I use them for ideas but I’ll be more in depth there as well. Really excellent sites. Now if someone could please refile, organize and index my materials?

    Reply
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