In genealogy, seven years is nothing. As you trace your family tree back several centuries, you may reach the point where seven years or so seems like an acceptable margin of error. If you can establish an ancestor was born sometime between 1530 and 1537, say, that seven-year span may be the best you can do.
As time is measured on the Internet, however, seven years is an eternity. In seven years, Web sites can pop to prominence, generate buzz and fade away to HTTP Error 404 – File Not Found. Technologies take center stage only to give way to the latest Next Big Thing.
Consider online genealogy. When we launched our annual 101 Best Web Sites roundup seven years ago, we included many sites that – although noteworthy for their time — might not be laudable today. A list of five steps for getting started in genealogical research? A handful of articles and a few dozen links? Nice way back then, but in 2007, we’re looking for databases with entries in the millions, digitized original documents or at least links running to six figures. (Perennial honoree Cyndi’s List, for example, has ballooned from 85,000 categorized sites in 2000 to nearly 300,000 by the time you read this.)
Face it, we’re spoiled. Online genealogy has evolved at the hyperspeed of the Internet, to the point where what appeared magical in 2000 would elicit yawns today. A few of our original 101 honorees have kept pace, expanding their offerings in ways unimaginable back then. Other sites have fallen off the list, gone dark or simply been supplanted by exciting new places to extend your research with a few mouse clicks.
So, for our eighth annual 101 Best Web Sites, we’ve decided to revisit our “classic” compilation and present not the best new sites or the best undiscovered sites or what have you, but the best of the Web – period. The sites listed here represent our picks for the 101 most valuable spots to spend your genealogical time online. As usual, those charging some sort of fee for any portion of their content are denoted with a $.
Depending how you count, only about a dozen of our original 101 list also appear on this year’s list (and many of those have different URLs). Don’t blame the proverbial “seven-year itch” for this apparent fickleness, though – that’s just life in the Internet fast lane. Hang on tight! Here’s what makes the list – for now:
MEGA DATA SITES
INTERNATIONAL AND IMMIGRATION DESTINATIONS
Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies
Conquer the challenges of Eastern European research with the tips and databases collected here, including the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia’s new Save Our Ancestral Records database of obituaries <www.ahsgrsoar.org>. And don’t miss the data from this side of the Atlantic, such as the index of newspaper records extracted to replace those lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
This site — called 1837online.com until 2006 – formerly focused on the civil-registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales (begun in 1837). But its scope has broadened to include the 1841, 1861, 1871 and 1891 British censuses, military records and, most recently, outbound passenger lists from the United Kingdom. Eventually the records will cover emigration up to 1960; those from 1890 to 1919 are already online. Various per-unit subscription plans range from about $14 for 90 days to $200 a year.
This volunteer-staffed site includes not only transcriptions of nearly 131 million birth, marriage and death records from England and Wales, but also images of many of those records. Affiliated sites are now tackling censuses <www.freecen.org.uk> and parish registers, with more than 1.7 million church records to date at <www.freereg.org.uk>.
This free Dutch treasure trove of 9.4 million records from the civil register – the most important source for Dutch genealogical research – documents 39.2 million people going back to 1811.
Swedish researchers willing to pay – starting at about $29 for 20 days – can forget scrolling microfilm and browse more than 16 million pages of church records, the most valuable Swedish genealogy resource.
Follow this Family Tree Magazine reader favorite (in our fifth-anniversary poll) through UK and Irish research with tips, FAQs, user-contributed databases, maps, newsgroups and bulletin boards.
This Library and Archives Canada site searches more than 65,000 images in collections across the country, or you can follow an Image Trail or view a Photo Essay.
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild
If you’re stymied by the Ellis Island and Castle Garden sites, turn to this Family Tree Magazine readers’ pick, where volunteers have transcribed passenger lists from a variety of ports totaling 3.4 million entries.
Institute of Migration $
Finnish records here include passenger lists (318,000 records), passports (197,000), farm names (227,000) and North American Finns (146,000 people). You can search emigrants for free; full access costs about $40 for a year.
The widest-reaching online Jewish genealogy network offers the Family Finder database of 400,000 surnames and towns, ShtetLinks for 250-plus communities, the ShtetlSeeker database of Central and Eastern European town names and the Family Tree of the Jewish People, with data on more than 3 million individuals.
Origins Network $
Total access to this umbrella site for Irish, British and Scottish data runs about $92 annually. Irish Origins <www.irishorigins.com> includes the Griffith’s Valuation tax enumeration, the 1851 Dublin census and a wills index for 1484 to 1858. British Origins <www.britishorigins.com> has the 1841 and 1871 censuses, plus indexes to marriages (1538 to 1840) and wills. No need to pony up for the free Scots Origins <www.scotsorigins.com>, which taps FamilySearch’s IGI. The Origins Network also revamped the Burke’s Peerage <www.burkes-peerage.net> site, though it requires a separate subscription.
Programme de Recherche en Demographie Historique $
Quebec researchers, commencez ici! This 759,400-record database draws largely from 153 parishes’ registers spanning 1621 to 1799, plus 45,000 burial records from 1800 to 1850. You can search for free, but results cost about $19 for 150 records.
Search 50 million records at this official site, including banns and marriages (1553 to 1931), deaths (1855 to 1956), births and baptisms (1553 to 1854) and censuses. The wills and testaments (1513 to 1901) database is free; others cost about $11 for 30 “page credits.” The sibling Scottish Archive Network <www.scan.org.uk> adds a wealth of digitized historical documents.
Another excellent place to find immigrant arrivals, TheShipsList serves up 2,000-plus free pages of passenger lists and other ocean-crossing info.
Though spottier than USGenWeb, this international version of the volunteer site is nonetheless a worthwhile starting spot for foreign family history, with more than 400 sites under its umbrella.
STATE AND REGIONAL RESOURCES
Alabama Department of Archives and History
Your Alabama Civil War soldier awaits in a database here, along with online files of WWI servicemen, photos, and 1867 voter rolls for a growing list of counties (it includes 11 as of this writing). The Local Government Records Microfilm Database <www.archives.state.al.us/localrecords/search.cfm> tells you where to look next.
Archives of Maryland Online
Since last we looked, the hidden treasures at the Maryland archives were brought out from behind cumbersome URLs and revealed in this online trove of 471,000 historical documents. These gems range from especially rich collections of city directories and probate records to land, military and early Maryland resources.
Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates
We wish other states would follow Arizona’s example of posting searchable indexes to birth (1887 to 1931) and death (1878 to 1956) certificates, linked to PDFs of the original documents.
Colorado’s Historic Newspaper Collection
This collaborative project aims to create a statewide historical newspaper database, spanning 1859 to 1923 and a total of 1,639,000 pages – all fully indexed. You can view articles individually or in the context of the entire newspaper page.
Digital Library of Georgia
Discover your Georgia roots, y’all, in this gateway to 500,000 digital images, documents and films from 60 institutions and 100 government agencies. Finds here include 50,000 aerial photos, the New Georgia Encyclopedia, books, manuscripts and newspapers.
Florida Memory Project
Besides 130,000 images in the Florida Photographic Collection <www.floridamemory.com/photographiccollection>, this handsome site serves up such genealogical morsels as digitized Spanish land grants, 13,000 Confederate pension applications and WWI service cards.
Illinois State Archives
It’s hard to top this collection of indexes and databases for Illinois research. Besides a wealth of military and veterans’ files, the statewide marriage index (1763 to 1900) and dual death indexes (pre-1916 and 1916 to 1950) are essential tools, as is the Illinois Regional Archives Depositories (IRAD) index for locating other records in the Land of Lincoln.
Kansas State Historical Society
Highlights of this Jayhawk history resource are a searchable index to the 1895 Kansas state census <www.kshs.org/genealogists/census/kansas/census1895ks.htm>, plus the Kansas Biographical Names Index <www.kshs.org/genealogists/individuals/nameindex.htm>. The guides to researching your Kansas kin also are top-notch.
Kentucky Historical Society
Browse the Kentuckiana Digital Library, search the online catalog and statewide virtual library, then see where your Kentucky cousins wound up in the cemetery records database. It’s all a pleasure at this spectacularly good-looking site.
Library of Virginia
This site is a must for anyone with Confederate soldier kin, whether or not from Virginia, for its ability to search names published in Confederate Veteran magazine between 1893 and 1932. You also can find ancestors in 6,000 scanned family Bible records, the death register index (1853 to 1896), wills and administrations (to 1800) and Confederate pension applications.
Louisiana State Archives Confederate Pension Applications Index
This index covers more than 49,000 names from pension applications soldiers or their families submitted to Louisiana’s Board of Pension Commissioners.
Maine State Archives
Online indexes for marriages (1892 to 1996), deaths (1960 to 1996) and Revolutionary War land grant and pension applications are just for starters. The archival database at <www.informe.org/sos_archives> will tell you whether your Maine ancestors’ records are available in the state archives – in which case you can order them online – or at other state agencies.
Center stage on this Web site goes to the database of birth and death indexes (1841 to 1910), searchable by first and last names, year and town or city. Each entry provides the location of the original certificate. The other star attraction here – even if you don’t have Massachusetts kin – is the ongoing project to transcribe more than 1 million records of immigrants who arrived on Boston shores between 1848 and 1891.
Minnesota Historical Society
Even Paul Bunyan would be hard-pressed to get his arms around all the resources here: indexes to deaths (1904 to 2001), births (1900 to 1934), veterans’ graves, place names <mnplaces.mnhs.org/upham> and microfilmed newspapers; digitized photographs <collections.mnhs.org/visualresources>; Sanborn fire insurance maps; original public-land survey plats; and even a directory of Gopher State photographers who may have captured your kin on film.
Missouri State Archives
Show me the records, including 185,000 pre-1910 births and deaths, a death-certificate database (1910 to 1956), naturalization records (1816 to 1955), court papers and land patents. You’re really in luck, though, if you want Missouri military records: 576,000 in all, from the War of 1812 through World War I, many linked to images of the originals.
Nevada State Library and Archives
No need for subscription census sites if you’ve got ancestors in Nevada, the first state to post all its federal census data – 310,000 entries total from 1860 through 1920 (minus the missing 1890 census) – online, with powerful search tools to boot.
New Jersey State Library
The Garden State library’s site is especially worth harvesting for Revolutionary War and Civil War records, as well as African-American history in New Jersey. Get a guide to the state’s city directories, too.
New York State Civil War Soldier Database
This database of more than 360,000 New York soldiers encompasses those who donned Union blue in state volunteer and US sharpshooter units, as well as three regiments of US Colored Troops.
Membership does have its privileges if you’ve got family in New England. A $75 annual fee lets you scour more than 110 million names from the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s resources, including censuses, vital and church records, voter and tax lists, Sanborn maps, the Great Migration study of immigrants between 1620 and 1633, newspapers from Colonial days to 1920, and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies
Researchers in both North and South Dakota will appreciate the Dakota Territory 1885 census here. You’ll also find naturalization records, a biography index and a database of obituaries from the Fargo Forum newspaper.
Ohio Historical Society
New here is an online index to records from the state’s boys and girls industrial schools (1858 to 1915). It joins such databases as the Ohio Death Certificate Index <www.ohiohistory.org/dindex> (1913 to 1944) and the roster of Ohioans in the War of 1812. You also can search the society’s 230,000-item library catalog or jump over to Ohio Memory <www.ohiomemory.org>, a digital history drawing on 26,000 primary sources from 330 repositories.
Online Archive of California
Drawing on materials from a variety of California museums, historical societies and archives, this compilation encompasses more than 120,000 images; 50,000 pages of documents, letters and oral histories; and 8,000 guides to collections.
Oregon State Archives Genealogy Records
The Oregon Historical Records Index searches more than a half-million entries in documents at the state archives. If your ancestors’ records aren’t there, the Oregon Historical County Records Guide or the Provisional and Territorial Records Guide can probably tell you where in the state’s 36 counties to look.
Pennsylvania State Archives
The Quaker State’s archives belie Pennsylvania’s pacifistic founders with some 1.5 million online military records. Databases include the Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File, Militia Officers Index Cards (1775 to 1800), Civil War Veterans’ Card File and WWI Service Medal Application Cards.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Delve deep into the heart of Texas history with databases of 54,634 Confederate pension applications (1899 to 1975), Texas Adjutant General Service Records (1836 to 1935), the Index to Republic Claims (1835 to 1846) and more. Search the local records index to see the archives’ microfilm holdings for your ancestral county.
Utah History Research Center Index Search
Search this index to more than 250,000 1905-to-1954 death certificates (with later years in the works), and your results now link to digital images of the originals. Various county and court records are also searchable here, including some births, divorces and probate files. There’s a wealth of digital photos, too <history.utah.gov/utah_history_research_center/digitalcollections.html>.
Washington State Digital Archives
The nation’s first archive dedicated specifically to electronic preservation of records, this site keeps adding to its already amazing array of databases. Newly online are the state’s 1910 census and an image-linked index to pre-1930 marriage records. That brings the total of records online to 23.6 million – and counting.
Western History and Genealogy
The Denver Public Library is your host for a variety of obituary databases, a guide to Colorado place names, indexes to Centennial State pioneers, the 1887 Denver city directory, military records (including Nebraska Civil War records) and the Western History Photography Collection <history.denverlibrary.org/images> of more than 120,000 digitized historical images from the American West.
Western States Marriage Records Index
Now under the aegis of the Idaho Falls Regional Family History Center, this project has information from 490,000-plus marriage records to date, with more added daily (notably, New Mexico records from the 1700s). You’ll find most pre-1900 marriages for Arizona, Idaho and Nevada, plus significant numbers from California, western Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, eastern Washington and Wyoming.
Wisconsin Historical Society
Milk these Dairy State databases for all they’re worth: more than 150,000 obituaries and biographical sketches; 1 million-plus births, 400,000 deaths and 1 million marriages in the Pre-1907 Vital Records Index; 1,000 articles, memoirs, interviews and other primary sources covering early Wisconsin history; Civil War rosters; vintage images; and 16,000 historical and biographical articles.
This classic collection of links continues to grow – with 264,800 links in 180-plus categories at last count – and remains our favorite stop to find family history sites.
This nifty gizmo lets you add sticky notes to Web pages to mark your family history finds, then you can share your discoveries and notes with other researchers.
Lost Cousins $
A fascinating new application of technology to genealogy, Lost Cousins takes your relatives from FamilySearch’s 1880 US, 1881 Canadian and 1881 British census transcriptions and matches them to other researchers investigating the same folks. The catch: Only a subscriber (about $20 annually) can initiate contact with a “lost cousin,” though there’s no charge to register or reply to a message.
The face-recognition gimmick will get you here – upload a photo and find out which celebrities look like they belong in your family tree. But don’t overlook the free MyHeritage Research genealogy search engine, which looks for ancestors (with spelling variations) in hundreds of genealogy databases. And try the free, visually oriented Family Tree Builder genealogy software, which runs in 12 languages.
One-Step Web Pages by Stephen P. Morse
Cut to the chase in a few dozen genealogy database sites, including Ellis Island, CastleGarden.org, Automated Genealogy and several SSDI destinations. This Web magician’s clever tools let you search them in a single step (see our guide in the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine).
Who needs YouTube when we’ve got Roots Television, the Internet TV channel for genealogists? Programs include how-to footage, lectures, storytellers’ recollections, tips from leading researchers and even some genealogy humor.
Not just another place to share pedigrees, this free site lets you share, document, chart and illustrate your family tree online. To date, TribalPages has more than 100,000 trees and a database of more than 80 million names and 1 million photos.
This “wiki” project, which recently allied itself with the Allen County (Ind.) Public Library’s genealogy department <www.acpl.lib.in.us/genealogy>, lets you scour 6 million family history-related Web pages, create and collaborate on pages, and build an online tree — all for free.
Search the catalogs of 10,000-plus libraries worldwide – more than 1 billion items, all told – from your Web browser’s toolbar with WorldCat’s free plug-in.
Tap this site’s wealth of battle maps, detailed timeline, 5,500 photos and searchable text of the Official Record (OR for short), the account of the Civil War from the commanders on the ground.
Another spot to search the OR <ehistory.osu.edu/osu/sources/records>, this Ohio State University site also offers timelines, 100,000 pages of historical information, biographies, maps and old photos.
Library of Congress
Besides offering the library’s online catalog <catalog.loc.gov> of almost every book in existence as well as the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections from 1986 to date <loc.gov/coll/nucmc>, this site excels at making history come to life. Its American Memory Project <memory.loc.gov> has collected more than 9 million treasures from our nation’s past and exhibits many of them online. For still more images, search the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog <lcweb.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html>.
Making of America
This dual site continues to serve up a rich swath of US history with digitized versions of thousands of 19th-century publications. Between the two portals, holdings total 4.7 million pages in 13,000 volumes. Cornell’s portion offers yet another searchable version of the Civil War OR.
New York Public Library Digital
A recent winner for Best Research Site at the annual Best of the Web awards, the New York Public Library’s digital incarnation includes more than a half-million manuscripts and books, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and printed ephemera.
The Oregon Trail
Bring to life the journeys of the hundreds of thousands who went West on the Oregon Trail. If you don’t have Oregon-bound ancestors, try the companion sites for the Gold Rush <www.isu.edu~trinmich/home.html> and “trailblazers” <www.trailblazers101.com> such as Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.
We love the color-coded timelines of world events this site generates for ancestors’ lifetimes. You also can insert up to 10 personal events, such as schooling, marriages, employment and military service, and create a list of famous people born the same year as your ancestor.
Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online
Turn to this gazetteer for its flexible search and its helpful ability to tell you what any of the 912,000 places in its database used to be called.
Ireland’s History in Maps
This site uses geography to trace the history of Ireland’s residents from the BC era to the 1840s.
Find and map any place in the United Kingdom simply by entering its name, postal code or National Grid reference. The resulting maps are detailed and easy to save or print.
USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
Don’t be put off by the new home page for these government geographic tools: You still can search for nearly 2 million names of places – inhabited or not – in the United States, including obsolete and variant names. Once you’ve found an ancestral locale, your mapping options include the customizable USGS The National Map viewer, Google Maps, TopoZone and TerraFly.
Though this site doesn’t cover as many places as the Global Gazetteer, the accompanying facts for each city are even more useful, including census population data for the past 40 years and name variants. Links make it easy for you to download GoogleEarth data.
SPECIALIZED RESEARCH RESOURCES
Cemetery Surveys Inc.
When a transcription isn’t enough, try this collection of more than 170,000 gravestone photos, most from the southeastern United States. North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia researchers also should check the thousands of county court records here.
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System
Start your search for Civil War ancestors here, with this easy-to-use database of 6.3 million soldier names. Another click takes you to the basics about your ancestors’ regiment and descriptions of 364 significant Civil War battles.
Find your old family photographs or reunite other researchers with their pictures in this site containing nearly 70,000 images (including a selection of school yearbooks) and 14,000 surnames.
Family Tree DNA
This leading DNA-testing company also boasts the most test-results databases and surname studies, with more than 140,000 records online. That includes 4,000-plus surname projects and nearly 100,000 Y-DNA records in Ysearch <www.ysearch.org>, the largest worldwide public Y-DNA database. You can even test to see how close your Y-DNA is to Thomas Jefferson’s.
Find a Grave
Search 15 million grave records, find a cemetery or browse by location at this Family Tree Magazine reader favorite. Add your relatives’ burial data, too.
Nationwide Gravesite Locator
Search for burial locations of veterans and their dependents in Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries and other Department of the Interior and military cemeteries. For service members buried overseas, turn to the companion site for the American Battle Monuments Commission <www.abmc.gov>, which encompasses 24 overseas military cemeteries with 125,000 American war dead, plus Tablets of the Missing memorializing more than 94,000 members of the US military.
Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation
Get started in the fast-changing frontier of genetic genealogy at the site for this volunteer project, which combines DNA data with genealogical info — billed as the foremost collection of genetic genealogy data in the world. You can search by test results or surname in two databases of DNA profiles and family trees from around the world: The Y-chromosome search contains 17,000 samples, and the mitochondrial database includes 15,000 samples.
Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter
Why do we have a feeling our first-ever 101 Best Web Sites blogs category won’t be our last – or that next time we’ll find even more worthy entries? This one, updated almost daily by the knowledgeable Dick Eastman, is a good place to start. It’s packed with news and product reviews, and you can jump from here to the reader-created Encyclopedia of Genealogy <eogen.com>.
When you need genealogical tech support, turn to Denise Olson’s blog, where she solves problems and shares “ways for home users and family researchers to take advantage of the latest technology.”
For a cheekier personal update on the genealogy universe, try this blog, which includes postings such as Top 10 Signs Your Ancestors Were Irish and Top 10 Ways to Make Money From Genealogy.
The Practical Archivist
You’ll quickly get addicted to this blog of “archiving tips and geeky tidbits for genealogists, history buffs and keepers of the family photo album. Plus reviews of entertaining history and tricks for improving your Google IQ.”