Family Tree Magazine’s Best Free Genealogy Websites

By David A. Fryxell Premium
People sitting and having coffee while looking at a free genealogy website on an iPad.

Finding your ancestors for free seems like an impossible task. Everywhere you turn, subscription-based access seems to be the only way to gain the information you’re desperately seeking. But before you take out that second mortgage, take some time to do research on some of these totally free genealogy websites. Each of them has been reviewed and selected by our experts, and at some point winning our annual coveted “Best Websites” award.

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it entirely made up of “genealogy” websites. Instead, we’ve provided links and resources to sites that will be most valuable to you as a family historian. Browse the entire list, or jump right to the topic you’re looking for using the handy table of contents below.

Table of Contents

Free General Genealogy Websites
Free Newspaper Archives
Free International Genealogy Websites
Free UK Genealogy Websites
Free Canadian Genealogy Websites
Free Irish Genealogy Websites
Free Danish Genealogy Websites
Free Norwegian Genealogy Websites
Free Central and Eastern European Websites
Free French Genealogy Websites
Free German Genealogy Websites
Free Jewish Genealogy Websites
Free Dutch Genealogy Websites
Free Genealogy Technology Tools
Free Websites for Sharing Your Genealogy
Free Resources from Libraries and Archives

Free General Genealogy Websites

Access Genealogy 

This grab-bag of free genealogy records keeps growing. Click the Databases tab to search data from Southern states, military records, small-town newspapers and the Guion Miller Roll index to Cherokee tribal members. The latter supplements what was already a must-bookmark site if you have Native American roots.

FamilySearch 

More than 2,200 online collections (and growing) make this the internet’s largest home to free genealogy data, with recent updates spotlighting Italy, South America and US vital records. You can share and record your finds in family trees and a “Memories Gallery,” and get research help from the wiki.

HeritageQuest Online 

Free to your home computer courtesy of your library card via participating institutions, HeritageQuest is now “powered by” (but not owned by) Ancestry.com. This partnership has dramatically expanded its half-dozen collections to a sort of “Ancestry.com lite,” including the complete US census, military and immigration records, and city directories. Click Search and scroll all the way to the bottom to unlock more US records as well as selected foreign databases.

Olive Tree Genealogy  

Since its launch in 1996, this modest website has grown into a useful collection of how-to help and databases. It’s strongest on passenger records, heritage groups such as Palatines and American Indians, and less-familiar records, such as those for residents of orphans and almshouses.

RootsWeb 

This venerable free site still serves up how-to articles, databases of surnames and US locations, mailing lists, pedigree files and much more—making it an oldie but a goodie.

USGenWeb 

This volunteer site recently celebrated its 20th birthday with a mobile-friendly update. Its state and county pages and special projects remain as vibrant as ever. Just found an ancestor who lived in, say, Stone County, Ark.? There’s a page for that, as for almost every other place your family may have landed.

Free Newspaper Archives

California Digital Newspaper Collection

Read all about your California kin in this fast-growing collection that (at last count) contains 199,925 issues comprising more than 2.1 million pages and 17.5 million articles. The University of California, Riverside project can be searched or browsed by tag, county, date or title.

Chronicling America

Now topping 11.9 million pages from coast to coast, this Library of Congress project digitizes US newspapers from 1789 to 1924 and offers a directory to help you find newspapers in libraries.

Elephind

One click seeks your ancestors in 175 million-plus items from more than 3,300 newspaper titles. Elephind searches big collections (including the aforementioned Chronicling America) as well as small, such as academic archives, and goes overseas to include plenty of Australian papers.

GenDisasters.com

This specialized site will have you perversely wishing all your ancestors had died in train wrecks, fires, floods, shipwrecks, plane crashes or other disasters. Search by keyword or browse by type of disaster, state or province, or year to find transcribed newspaper accounts of the events.

Online Historical Newspapers

Though still a work in progress, this website is worth bookmarking for help in answering these key questions: Are newspapers from my ancestors’ town online? And if so, where?

Free International Genealogy Websites

WorldGenWeb

The global counterpart to USGenWeb, this volunteer site has some gaps, but some of its country-specific sites are the best in their class.

Free UK Genealogy Websites

FreeUKGenealogy 

Volunteers for this site’s three online transcription projects have made available 333 million birth, marriage and death records (1837-1983); 38 million records from parish registers (1500s and later); and entries on 32 million individuals from census data (1841-1891). Before you pay to find your UK kin, check here.

GENUKI 

Get your British Isles genealogy questions answered in this virtual reference library of genealogical information about the UK and Ireland (GENeaology + UK + Ireland = GENUKI). Maps, how-tos, a church database, FAQs and more will jump-start your research.

Free Canadian Genealogy Websites

Library and Archives Canada 

Do your one-stop “shopping” here for free Canadian censuses, immigration lists, vital records, land and military files at this umbrella site.

Free Irish Genealogy Websites

National Archives of Ireland 

Explore your Irish ancestry in this collection that includes 1901 and 1911 census records, census survivals (1821-1851), census search forms (1841-1851), Tithe Applotment Books (1823-1837), Soldiers’ Wills (1914-1917), and the Calendars of Wills and Administrations (1858-1922).

National Library of Ireland 

The pot of gold here is the free collection of some 373,000 images of birth, marriage and burial registers from the majority of Catholic parishes in Ireland and Northern Ireland, dating from the 1700s to about 1880. You can browse them by parish; click on the map at registers.nli.ie to get started.

Free Danish Genealogy Websites

Danish Demographic Database

Find the Danes in your family tree with this English-accessible collection of all Danish censuses plus some probate and emigration records.

Free Norwegian Genealogy Websites

Digitalarkivet

The fully scanned 1875 census is the latest addition to this comprehensive collection of Norwegian enumerations, church records, emigration information, historical photographs, land and probate records and more. Click the link for digitized archives to get started.

Free Central and Eastern Europeean Genealogy Websites

Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies

The map library is the star of the organization’s site, but you’ll also find databases and how-to guides.

Genealogyindexer.org

Search 889,000 pages relevant to Central and East European family history here, including historical directories, Holocaust memorials, military lists and school sources.

Free French Genealogy Websites

GeneaNet

Find your French families with this site’s guides to archives, a genealogy encyclopedia, uploaded trees and beaucoup links.

Free German Genealogy Websites

German Genealogy Server

Yes, this site from Germany’s Association for Computer Genealogy is in Deutsch, but Google Translate can open the door to its mailing lists, forum, society pages, digitized books, gazetteer, WWI casualty database and research aids.

Free Jewish Genealogy Websites

JewishGen

The dozens of databases here include the 500,000 surname and town entries in the JewishGen Family Finder, 6 million names in the Family Tree of the Jewish People, a database of 6,000 Jewish communities, a 54-nation gazetteer, and 2.7 million entries on victims of the Holocaust.

Free Dutch Genealogy Websites

Wie Was Wie

This updated home to 130 million entries about Dutch ancestors puts civil-registration records at your fingertips, along with population and church registers and family trees and biographies.

Free Genealogy Technology Tools

Backupmytree.com 

This free online backup service works with GEDCOM files and files from genealogy software including Personal Ancestral File, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic (version 4 or later), Family Tree Builder, Family Tree Legends, Ancestral Quest, Reunion for Mac, GenoPro and more. It even saves previous versions in case you accidentally delete Great-aunt Mildred’s entire branch of the family.

Evernote 

This digital scrapbook lets you save web pages and genealogy finds on one device—tablet, PC, Mac, even your phone—and then access them on all your gadgets.

GEDMatch 

Match your autosomal DNA (atDNA) results with genetic kin who’ve uploaded their data from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA or Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder.

International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki 

Learn all about genetic-genealogy technology from the experts at this informative wiki, founded in 2005 by DNA project administrators.

WordPress 

Build your own family history website with the most popular platform, complete with thousands of free themes, or host a blog-style site at the companion wordpress.com.

Cyndi’s List 

Launched in 1996, Cyndi’s List remains the go-to resource for carefully categorized links to genealogy websites—more than 332,000 in 213 categories, last we looked.

Google 

Seriously, if you’re not already using the search, mapping, translation and other tools here, you probably shouldn’t be reading this article.

Internet Archive 

The long list of collections here ranges from 2.4 million library items to specialized collections for California and Portugal. Plus the Wayback Machine can find vanished genealogy sites from the early internet. (Remember Geocities?)

MooseRoots 

Moving beyond its “Google for genealogy” origins, this site uses sponsor Graphiq’s “semantic technology to deliver deep insights via data-driven articles, visualizations and research tools.”

One-Step Web Pages 

Clever Steve Morse has figured out how to dive deep into genealogy databases—notably censuses and passenger records—with flexible search forms. (Matches in subscription websites require payment to view.)

Free Websites for Sharing Your Genealogy

Facebook 

Not just for posting political rants and pictures of your kids, the world’s biggest social networking site is also a useful tool for finding cousins and sharing research finds. All your favorite genealogy organizations (including Family Tree Magazine) have pages as well.

Geni 

Start your own online tree here, look for matches among 114 million individual profiles and invite family members to collaborate.

Pinterest 

Sort of like Facebook for images, this online scrapbook/digital tagboard has proven a valuable tool for family historians, who share everything from records to old photos.

Treelines 

Winner of the Developer Challenge at FamilySearch’s 2013 RootsTech conference, Treelines takes a narrative approach to online family trees, helping you turn your pedigree charts into ancestral stories.

WeRelate 

This wiki-style project from the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy has pages for more than 2.8 million ancestors of its members.

WikiTree 

This shared family tree includes more than 13 million profiles contributed by more than 400,000 genealogists from around the world. Don’t let the sharing scare you, though: Modern family histories are private; as you go back in time, the privacy controls open up.

Free Resources from Libraries and Archives

Allen County Public Library 

Though based in Indiana, this library’s online reach extends much further—reflecting its status as the nation’s second-richest genealogy library. Special collections focus on Native American, African American, military and family Bible records.

ArchiveGrid

An offshoot of 101 Best Websites fave WorldCat, ArchiveGrid searches more than 4 million descriptions of archival records from 1,000 different institutions. Learn about historical documents, personal papers, family histories and other materials that may mention your ancestors. A clickable map makes it easy to find archives near you.

Digital Library on American Slavery

This University of North Carolina at Greensboro project compiles sources including extracts from court and legislative petitions, slave “deeds,” insurance registries and “wanted” ads for escaped slaves. The focus is North Carolina, but data relate to all slave states.

Digital Public Library of America 

One click searches more than 16 million digitized items from libraries, archives and museums, or you can navigate via interactive timelines and maps. Your searches now include FamilySearch’s growing free digital historical book collection, thanks to a new agreement.

Genealogy Gophers 

Smart, intuitive searching is the hallmark of the partnership with Family­Search here, which quickly combs 80,000 digitized books.

Harvard Open Collections Program 

With more than 2.3 million digitized pages, including more than 225,000 manuscript pages, this online collection focuses on materials not available elsewhere. Themes include the history of working women, US immigration, and epidemics and disease.

HathiTrust 

Log in with credentials from a participating institution such as a university to get the most out of this digital library’s almost 14 million total volumes and 5 billion pages. But there’s plenty here accessible to the general public, too.

Library of Congress 

Though not specifically focused on genealogy, the nation’s library has plenty to offer online, including the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, the American Memory collection and its own comprehensive catalog.

National Archives and Records Administration 

Read all about the genealogical treasures stored at the National Archives, order military and other records, and browse historical maps and photos. Access to Archival Databases serves up files ranging from WWII enlistments to passenger lists for millions of German, Irish, Russian and Italian immigrants.

Midwest Genealogy Center 

This site from the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Mo., taps one of the nation’s largest genealogy collections. Online extras include an index to 1.5 million US Railroad Retirement Board pension records.

New York Public Library Digital Collections 

The cool factor is off the charts at this handsome home to more than 700,000 digitized prints, photographs, maps, manuscripts, videos and other items. The site’s maps and atlases alone are worth a visit.

WorldCat 

Find your family history in 2 billion items at 10,000 of the world’s libraries, then click to see holdings nearest you.

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