For US-based genealogists researching their roots, generally, it is quite simple depending on where your family has been residing. If your family has resided in the US for generations, online documentation may be plenty. However, when we get back to our ancestral country of emigration, the trail sometimes becomes a bit trickier to navigate. Whether you have roots in the United Kingdom or are a UK researcher beginning research of your own, this article is for you!
Though our google searches for UK databases may be heavily based on top research companies like Ancestry or MyHeritage, it is important to realize that this is only the case because those companies pay to become top of the search algorithm. This puts people under the impression that those are the best companies to do research through. However, there are many other websites where UK research can be conducted. Free ones at that! The top free websites to utilize research in the United Kingdom will be discussed below.
Related: Free General Genealogy Websites
The UK National Archives
The UK National Archives is a wonderful place to do research, whether in real life or online. Some of their collections are free to access, but others might not be. Their collection can be searched online.
The archives maintain a large collection of national records, which range from war records to land maps. There are guidance tips throughout the online collection to help the user understand the intricacies of the searching algorithm. The UK National Archives also offers paid research which would help those who might not be having any luck online and who may not be able to afford the travel to go and research in person.
Free UK Genealogy
Free UK Genealogy is a charitable incorporated organization (CIO) that oversees FreeBMD (Free birth, marriage, and deaths), FreeREG (free registers), and FreeCEN (free census records). All of these were separately founded companies that came together in 204 under their new name and, still to this day, work to compile online records and make them free to users. They have been compiling records since 1998, and volunteers have contributed over 400 million records!
Free Uk Genealogy’s records range from 1837 (birth, marriage, and death records), and their collections contain free REG records and census records from 1841-1891. Free UK Genealogy manages several projects, and you can read about these many projects in their bi-monthly newsletters.
GRO (General Register Office)
The General Register Office is an index of birth, death, and marriage records free to the user. They also hold civil partnerships, stillbirth, and adoption records in England and Wales. Users can order physical copies of records, but to do so is not free and requires payment. The GRO site does not offer indexes for Northern Ireland or Scotland.
National Library of Scotland
One of the top collections of Scottish Ancestry, most known for its collection of maps, this website is among the top free sites for Scottish specific genealogies. Scotland’s People is another site heavily used by Scottish researchers. Though it is free to search, they do have a pay-to-view rule. The national library is among the largest across the UK. As such, they have incredible digital resources available online to international researchers and many physical collections that cannot be found anywhere else.
GENUKI (Genealogy for the United Kingdom and Ireland)
As you can tell from the name, this site is mainly for English and Irish genealogy, though they have smaller collections for records in Scotland and Wales. GENUKI is a non-commercial site that volunteers and donors maintain. Therefore, they do not require payment to explore their digital database.
Their homepage offers insight into how to use their database and begin your UK research, and it also offers insight into the company’s trust deed and its contributors.
FamilySearch is, of course, another free website with an extensive amount of records from the UK. View their FamilyWiki pages for UK-specific regions to find out what they have to offer. You can also browse their collection of UK records by viewing their search catalog and selecting the specific county you wish to begin researching in.
FamilySearch is a non-profit organization run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly referred to as the LDS church or the Mormon church). They currently have thousands of ongoing projects consisting of digitizing and indexing records from all over the world, including the UK. As these projects are run by volunteers (mostly church members), collections are added and indexed every day.
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey (1674-1913)
The Proceeding of the Old Bailey is another great resource to utilize. This website is hosted by The Digital Humanities Institute, and the collection contains free court proceedings from London’s Central Criminal Court from 1674-1913. The site is funded by grants from both profit and non-profit organizations. These collections offer incredible insight into life in London from the seventeenth century into the twentieth century and the interworkings of their criminal justice system throughout that period.
National Archives of Ireland
The National Archives of Ireland offers free access to marriage license bond indexes (1623-1866) and Tithe appointment books and other probate records. Maintaining a large collection of online and offline holdings, the national archive is the largest in Ireland.
David Rumsey’s Historical Maps
David Rumsey began map collecting over 30 years and, since, his collection has grown exponentially. Currently containing over 150,000 maps spanning over five centuries, this site is a collection of those free digitized maps worldwide. Many of these maps are from the UK and offer great insight into where your ancestors may have lived.
Having offices in London and Dublin, are also well versed in their UK databases. How
Ancestry offers two-week free trials for all of its membership options. Be sure to cancel your account before the trial period is over; otherwise, you will be charged the full amount of the subscription you selected. You won’t be able to access international records unless you specifically subscribe to the World Explorer membership.
The Ancestry subscription options are as follows:
- $24.99/month for US records or $16.50/month for a six-month membership.
- $39.99/month for the World Explorer (All records) or $24.83/month for a 6-month membership.
- $49.99/month for All Access (World Explorer plus Newspapers.com and Fold3.com) or $33.16/month with six-month membership.
The monthly membership includes records to US-based collections and therefore won’t be beneficial for UK research. You will want to subscribe to The World Explorer membership for UK records.
Much like Ancestry, MyHeritage can be best utilized under a 14 day free trial period. Again, like Ancestry, do note that if you do not cancel your free trial before its end date, you will be charged the full amount for the subscription. Their subscription levels vary exponentially, and their primary focus is DNA, so keep that in mind.
I would recommend their Data subscription for UK records and tree building, which runs for $189/year but costs $129 for the 1st year. Do note that this subscription only allows your family tree to reach a maximum of 250 people.
If you are a big tree builder, their ultimate package is their ‘Complete’ subscription. This subscription runs for $299/year but only costs $199 the first year and allows full access to their record collections and an unlimited number of people in your family tree.
Whether you conduct research on a free trial or through the other websites above, it is important to know your other options. Each of these sites will offer something that others will not, so don’t be shy in sticking with just one of the sites. Expanding our research is something that can only benefit us in the long run.