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Start Here: 25 Websites for Genealogy Beginners
6/2/2017

You'll find these 25 genealogy websites indispensable as you begin your journey of family tree discovery.

Family history is one of the most popular online hobbies in the world—and not just because everyone has ancestors. At some point, we desire to start looking to our family roots for identity, emotional connections and a better understanding of how we got to where we are today.

The growth of genealogy websites means that family history answers may be just a few clicks away. The problem: Where do you start? If you Google beginning genealogy, you’ll find more than 6 million search results. It’s easy to be put off by all the options, especially if you’re not sure how to evaluate them.

Truth is, family history newbies need access to four essential online services. In this article, we round up 25 sites that offer at least one of the four services—and we even note which essentials each site has with the following code: 

H - how-to instruction geared for beginners

R -  records that may be about your ancestors

S -  sharing platforms to connect with other researchers, such as searchable family tree builders, message boards and other social environments

T -  tools to help you find answers, such as online directories, free genealogy forms and DNA testing services

We’ll also tell you at a glance whether access to a site’s core content is free (*), fee-based ($), or both */$. The latter is the case for large commercial genealogy websites, which run on a “freemium” model: Their how-to tutorials, family tree builders and content sharing services are generally free, as is the ability to see a list of records that may pertain to your ancestors. A few record collections may be free to view. But viewing most old records requires your subscription dollars—or visiting a library that offers access to an institutional version of the site. So also watch for L, which means you should check whether your local library offers patrons use of the site for free.

About.com: Genealogy H*

Veteran online educator Kimberly Powell has packed this genealogy website with dozens of how-to articles, many of them appropriate for the true beginner. From the home page, scroll down, click How to Trace Your Family Tree on the left, and peruse the categories and articles. Work your way through other how-to articles that relate to your family-finding experience. 

Ancestry.com HRST*/$ L

The most popular genealogy website in the United States is packed with everything you need to start your family history: how-tos, historical records, online tree-building with built-in collaboration tools and DNA tests that link you genetically with others. Some of these resources are available for free and some require purchase:

Create a free guest account to build your family tree online, explore the free databases, watch online tutorials, and communicate with relatives and fellow researchers. Find beginner instructions at support.ancestry.com/s/gettingstarted.

Use Ancestry Library Edition at a participating library to gain access to billions of historical records—many more than you’ll be able to see with a guest membership. The downside of the library edition is that you can’t use your guest login to attach records or data to your tree. Instead, you’ll have to download any records, then upload them to your tree from your own computer.

Purchase a DNA kit to test your (or a relative’s) autosomal DNA. You’ll receive information about your ethnic makeup and a list of your closest genetic matches. If you build or upload a public family tree, you’ll also be able to compare your tree with the trees of your genetic matches—but you also need an Ancestry subscription to view matches’ family trees.

Purchase a subscription to streamline and maximize your use of the site. Build a tree; search for and attach historical records to your tree; order DNA tests that will be connected to your tree. From the home page, click Subscribe to see your options.

AfriGeneas HRS*

Providing education and resources for those researching African-American roots, this site hosts regular opportunities for users to communicate with one another. Start under the Records tab with the Beginner’s Guide, then search marriage, death, surname and slave data databases under the same tab. If you have questions or want to take your learning to the next level, browse the topics under the Forums tab.

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