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25 Best Genealogy Websites for Beginners

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

If you’re just starting to research your family history, you need a search strategy. There are so many places to go for online genealogy records and websites to learn about your heritage. You want resources you can find online that are the most current, richest with ancestral information and the easiest to use. Our list of 25 beginner-friendly websites will get you started.

Jump to:
Websites for building your family tree
Websites for DNA tests
Websites for learning more about genealogy
Websites for exploring regional and ethnic resources
Websites for beginner-friendly records

Don’t worry—you don’t need all 25 of them! We’ve broken them down into several categories, and in some you may only need to pick one. For example, to begin with, choose just one family tree-building website and DNA testing company. Then choose what sounds most interesting or relevant to you from your options for learning online, exploring regional and ethnic resources, and digging into beginner-friendly newspaper and tombstone records.

Keep this list bookmarked, because at some point, the websites you’re using may run out of answers for you. That’s when you’ll come back here and look for another. Even those that seem similar often have very different records, trees, or tutorials that might supply just the thing you’re looking for next.

Websites for building your family tree

Ancestry.com

This powerful subscription website is home to more than 11 billion old records, 100 million family trees and more than 15 million DNA profiles. Be sure to check out Ancestry Academy and Ancestry’s YouTube channel for beginner-friendly tutorials. Many U.S. libraries offer Ancestry Library Edition free to patrons.

https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/10-easy-tips-for-using-ancestry-com/

Archives.com

This is a budget-friendly, scaled-down version of Ancestry, its owner. The core historical record collections are for the United States, so this may be a good option for beginning researchers who believe their families have been in the United States for several generations.

FamilySearch.org

The world’s best all-free genealogy website, with more than 7 billion global, name-searchable records and billions of additional ones to page through. Learn research skills with the Research Wiki (under the Search tab). The Catalog tab takes you to the most extensive genealogy library catalog in the world. Join the world’s biggest shared family tree—or just mine it for information about your ancestors. The modest learning curve is well worth the effort.

Findmypast.com

If you have roots in England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, consider subscribing to gain access to millions of parish records, censuses, military and criminal records, and millions of British and Irish newspapers. Under the Help menu, explore the Getting Started section; come back to access Expert Advice and Top Tips as you’re ready for them. DNA tests offered through Findmypast offer especially detailed geographic origins reports within Britain and Ireland.

https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/how-to-search-free-collections-on-findmypast/

MyHeritage.com

If you have more recent immigrant origins or are especially interested in finding overseas cousins, consider subscribing to MyHeritage, home to more than 5 billion historical records and DNA testing. This Israeli website is strongest for continental Europe, Scandinavian countries and Jewish research. You can pay just for family tree-building tools or historical record access or combine them.

Websites for DNA tests

23andMe

Best known for its health reports, 23andMe also has an enormous pool of DNA testers: over 10 million. This makes it a great place to look for DNA matches (relatives) who may know something about your origins that you don’t. It doesn’t have as many tools to help reconstruct your family tree using DNA as AncestryDNA or MyHeritage DNA, but its genetically-oriented Family Tree is unique and helpful.

AncestryDNA

More than 15 million people have taken DNA tests here, making it a prime place to connect with genetic relatives. Powerful tools help users compare their family trees with each other and figure out how they might be related. The proprietary Genetic Communities help reveal ancestral migration patterns.

Family Tree DNA

This DNA testing company offers more than the standard autosomal DNA test provided by others. Customers can also choose various levels of YDNA testing, to look at paternal-line ancestry (for men only), and mtDNA testing, to look at deep maternal ancestry (both women and men can take this test). Join different kinds of DNA projects to compare your DNA with others of the same geographic, cultural or surname origin.

Living DNA

The newest of the major genetic genealogy companies, this one is best known for offering the most detailed breakdown for ancestral origins in Britain and Ireland. It doesn’t yet have as robust a customer base as the others (limiting your options for finding DNA matches) or robust tools for determining the nature of relationships to genetic matches.

Editor’s Note: In February of 2020, Living DNA announced the addition of 72 new sub-regions to their African ancestry breakdown. Read the press release here.

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MyHeritage

Marketed widely in Europe, this DNA testing company may be a good option if you’re looking for DNA matches who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Online tools help testers compare their family trees and even provide theories about how they may be related.

Websites for learning more about genealogy

Cyndi’s List

Consider Cyndi Ingle’s free site your table of contents for online genealogy. You’ll find lists of sites dedicated to researching particular places, types of records, ethnic and religious groups, and more. Check out the Beginner’s category for guides and tips just for newbies. But also watch for topics you’re interested in, like military research or DNA.

FamilyTreeMagazine.com

Our own website offers abundant tools and how-tos for beginners. Under Free Resources, find downloadable forms, ebooks, cheat sheets, our podcast and more. The cheat sheets can be especially helpful for beginners: don’t miss our Genealogy Essentials downloads, Record References, ethnic research aids and top online genealogy tricks. Join our Premium membership for access to articles on many topics for beginners and beyond or take an online class from one of our experts (find these under the Shop menu).

Google

Clues about your ancestors’ lives may be as close as your next Google search. In addition to the ability to search for names and places, Google offers several genealogy-friendly tools. Google Translate helps you translate text and websites into or out of English. Google Books includes an online library of out-of-print resources such as local histories and compiled genealogies. Google Maps and Google Earth help you locate ancestral addresses and virtually visit them.

ThoughtCo.com

Click the free site’s Humanities tab, then History & Culture > Genealogy to dive into dozens of free how-to articles covering genealogy research basics, online searching, and sharing and preserving the past. You won’t do actual research on this site, but you’ll learn a lot. Because each article leads to more detailed and related articles on the same site, it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve read. Refer back frequently to the main topics tabs (Basics, Surnames, Genealogy Fun and Vital Records around the World) if you want to read systematically through everything offered.

Your DNA Guide

A hands-on, try-this-now approach to finding answers from DNA testing–whether you’ve tested already or not. Under Resources, find easy-reading introductions to specific questions you can ask your DNA, such as ethnicity and geographical origins; finding biological relatives; and identifying unknown ancestors on your family tree.

Websites for exploring regional and ethnic resources

AfriGeneas

Providing education and resources for those researching African-American roots, this unique site hosts regular opportunities for users to communicate with one another. Start with the Beginner’s Guide under the Records tab, then search marriage, death, surname and slave data databases under the same tab. Browse the Forums and Resources tabs to learn about African American newspapers, family reunions, Caribbean research and more. Under Chat, find opportunities to socialize with and learn from other researchers.

https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/african-american-genealogy-research-guide/

Irish Genealogy

An online research portal run by the Irish government’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Search General Record Office holdings for historical birth, non-Catholic marriage and death records. Under the Research tab, find a Getting Started guide and a description of available Irish records.

JewishGen

Make this your first stop for tracing Jewish roots. Under the Beginners tab, choose First Timer for an intro to Jewish research and the site. Free tutorials and paid classes are available. Search databases of Jewish surnames, family trees, towns, Holocaust victims and burials. Contribute your data to the centralized “family tree of the Jewish people.”

New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors

Start exploring your New England roots at this website, run by the region’s premier research facility. Its collection of 1.4 billion online records does include national and international records, but its core strength is unique documents and educational materials dating back to British colonial times.

Websites for beginner-friendly records

BillionGraves.com

Search an enormous, free GPS-tagged database of tombstone images, or upload your own with the companion app. Users can add personal history information to individual photos and link them to other tombstone images. Subscribers can access premium features, including cemetery maps showing plot locations, enhanced GPS mapping and alerts for your previous searches.

https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/top-cemetery-websites/

Chronicling America

The Library of Congress’ portal to historical newspapers has two important areas of content: digitized newspaper pages (1789-1963)—and a comprehensive index to all known newspapers published in the United States and where to find them today. Check back frequently for new content. To learn more about using the site, including what’s on it and what’s not, click on the Help section.

Find a Grave

Dig up ancestral burial information from millions of free tombstone images here. Search by an individual or cemetery name. Users are encouraged to upload additional tombstone photos and submit biographical information for memorial pages. You can even create virtual cemeteries to connect loved ones buried in different places.

https://www.familytreemagazine.com/websites/find-a-grave-how-to/

Fold3.com

This is the go-to source for digitized US military records from the Revolutionary War forward. Under the Help tab (which you can access without a login), learn basic finding strategies and how to add ancestral memorials or even organize a gallery of family content. This section may help you decide whether to subscribe, so you can search and see a lot of records that used to be accessible only through the National Archives.

GenealogyBank

GenealogyBank is home to more than 11,000 big-city and small-town newspaper titles; the site claims 95% are exclusive to their site. Search results are labeled as historical or modern obituaries, marriage notices, immigration records, and the like, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Scroll to the bottom of the site for tutorials on researching various ethnicities and a portal to 250 million obituaries.

NewspaperArchive

Access more than 120 million digitized newspaper pages dating to 1607. The site is easy on the eye and easy to navigate. Browse newspapers by state and city (and for other countries), or enter names and other keywords along with desired dates and locations. Click on Help to take tutorials on using the site.

Newspapers.com

This subscription website is home to more than 566 million digitized newspaper images: more than 16,000 newspapers dating back to the 1700s. A bundled subscription with sister site Ancestry decreases the cost and allows users to easily attach virtual news clippings to ancestral profiles in their Ancestry family trees. Scroll down to the Get Started box for beginner-friendly videos and other tutorials (no subscription required).

A version of this article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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