Top Websites for European Genealogy

By David A. Fryxell Premium
For most genealogists of European heritage, a key research goal is to make the connection between your ancestors and the “old country.” Once you’ve “jumped the pond,” however, all too often what’s waiting on the other side is a brick wall—or, at best, an eye-blurring pile of microfilm. For genealogists spoiled by the ready access to so many stateside records via the internet, European research can be daunting. Even if someday you dream of pursuing your ancestors to the old country in person, being able to do some of the research in advance online can spell the difference between a successful trip and an expensive ticket to frustration. How do you find the best sites for researching your roots over there?

Allow us to lend a hand with your European online surfing expedition. While the quality and quantity of genealogy sites varies widely across the continent, we’ve identified the best of what’s available—from Ireland to Russia, Norway to Greece. Researchers with roots in the British Isles and Scandinavia will find a wealth of online records, and it may actually be easier to trace your ancestors from your computer at home than on the ground in those countries. But even ancestries with sparser online resources, such as in Eastern Europe, can get a jump-start with these sites (those requiring payment for most content are marked with a $). They don’t call it the World Wide Web for nothing, after all.

British Isles and Ireland

Ask About Ireland <>
If you’ve been paying for access to Griffith’s Primary Valuation, a key resource for 19th-century Irish research, it’s past time to discover the free version on this website (see the March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine for a tutorial). You’ll also find free e-books, online services for libraries and cultural info. 

Deceased Online <> $
In this central database for UK burials and cremations, you can search registers by country, region, county, burial authority or crematorium free of charge. Registered users, with a paid voucher system, can access full data including cremation and burial records, digital scans of cremation and burial registers, photos of graves and memorials, cemetery maps showing grave locations, and even data on other occupants in the same grave. <> $
This lesser-known paid site ($40 a year, or pay per view) offers more than 850 million records, mostly from England and Wales plus other English-speaking countries worldwide. Search records including parish, probate, military and civil registration data. <> $

Although this site has an increasingly global span, including US censuses, it began as a resource for British civil registration records (its original name was 1837online, for the year those records began). Today it still boasts civil registrations, but has added parish records, UK censuses, passenger lists, military records and English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish newspapers back to the 1700s. Full access costs $16.66 a month.

FreeBMD <>
Don’t want to pay for your UK research? Maybe the tireless volunteers at this birth, marriage and death (“BMD”) transcription site can save you a few pounds. They’ve posted more than 235 million records created between 1837 and 1983. Sibling sites offer transcriptions of UK censuses <> and parish records <>.

This volunteer virtual reference library will get you going with all you need to know about GENealogy in the UK and Ireland: church history, heraldry, land records, manors, occupations, poorhouses, tax records, even how to decipher your ancestors’ handwriting. Regional page links lead to county-by-county pages (pick from a list or click on the map) with in-depth local info.

Historical Directories <>

Stumped in your search for families in England and Wales? This digital library of local and trade directories (1750-1919) from the University of Leicester might hold the answer. Find the directory you want by location, decade or keyword.

National Archives of Ireland <>

Irish researchers will think they’ve stumbled upon a leprechaun’s pot of gold at this free site, which hosts databases of the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses, Tithe Applotment Books (1823-1837), soldiers’ wills (1914-1917) and the Calendars of Wills and Administrations (1858-1922). The censuses cover all 32 counties and are searchable by all information fields. Still to come are 19th century census survivals (1821-1851), Valuation Office House and Field Books (1848-1860) and more census searches.

National Archives–UK <>
Pursue any of three different paths at this official site: Read how-to info and guidance; search the 11 million documents in the Discovery online catalog; or click over to Access to Archives <>, where you can comb the holdings of more than 400 other record offices and repositories. If you happen to have black sheep in the family, don’t miss a new fourth option—an online collection of historical criminal records from England and Wales.

Ordnance Survey: Get-a-map <>

Try this site for free customized (“bespoke”) maps of your UK ancestors’ old haunts, up to 1:25,000 scale. All you need to do is enter a place name, full postal code or National Grid reference. With a subscription, you can print as many maps as you like.

Origins Network <> $
This subscription site (about $90 a year for unlimited access) specializes in unusual, hard-to-find old British and Irish genealogy records. English kin can be found among burials, will indexes and probate documents, while Griffith’s Valuation and the 1851 and 1901 Dublin city censuses can ID your Irish ancestors. A new free search tool lets you search any collection or the whole site without committing to register or subscribe, paying up only to view the actual records.

ScotlandsPeople <> $
This definitive site for Scottish research has free databases of wills and testaments (1513-1925) and coats of arms (1672-1913). Most of the other treasures here are pay-per-view, including vital records from parish, Catholic and statutory registers, censuses (1841-1911), and recent additions of the 1905 and 1920 valuation rolls.

Central Europe
The French Genealogy Blog <>
Anne Morddel, author of the book French Genealogy From Afar (self-published), gets you started on finding French ancestors and keeps you up to date on the increasing number of French archives putting records online.

GeneaNet <>
Databases here for finding your French families include user-submitted trees, municipal and departmental archives, civil status records and more. Start on the right foot with help from the genealogy encyclopedia, blog and forums.

German Genealogy Home Page <>
Since 1998, this site has been serving up German genealogy how-to along with data on surname studies, passenger lists, military records, vital records and more.

German Genealogy Server <>
Don’t overlook this site from Germany’s Association for Computer Genealogy just because it’s in Deutsch. It includes more than 100 mailing lists, the largest and most active German-language genealogy forum, home pages for more than 35 genealogical societies, digitized books, a gazetteer, a WWI casualty list database, research aids and a wealth of getting-started FAQs. The databases in the affiliated GEDBAS
<> do have an English interface.

National German Military Grave Registration Service <>

Search free for the names of more than 2 million German soldiers dead or missing from World Wars I and II.

Register of Swiss Surnames <>
This free database containing almost 50,000 entries covers all the families holding citizenship in a Swiss community
as of 1962, with information on the place of origin, naturalization and previous place or country of origin.

Trace Your Dutch Roots <>
This helpful how-to site and companion blog <> will get you started finding ancestors in the Netherlands and keep you up to date on all things Dutch, genealogy-wise.

Wie Was Wie <>
This is the successor to the late, lamented Genlias site that served up Dutch civil registration records. The 86.5 million records here, including church registers and user-submitted family trees, are the go-to source for finding kin in the Netherlands. (The original Genlias records, not updated since 2011, are on the subscription genealogy site <>

Access to Russian Archives <>
This free database contains digital descriptions of 80,000 archival record groups from more than 20 guidebooks on Russian federal archives and 40 regional archives published from 1987 to 2004. It provides the most comprehensive access to the holdings of the entire Russian archive system in one place, with English transliteration.

American Historical Society of Germans from Russia <>
A network of village coordinators can help you find what’s available for your ancestral stomping grounds, from census lists to rare surviving church records.

Avotaynu <>
This and other Jewish genealogy sites will obviously be useful to researchers beyond Eastern Europe, but should be of special interest to those seeking ancestors in this part of the continent. Here, Jewish genealogy publisher Avotaynu offers the free Consolidated Jewish Surname Index, covering 699,084 surnames in 42 different databases totaling more than 7.3 million records. For $38 a year, you also can access how-to articles from the journal Avotaynu.

Federation of East European Family History Societies <>
Click the Map Library link to get started using the online resources of this essential organization, from maps to how-to guides to databases.

JewishGen <>
Databases here that are specially helpful for Eastern Europe include memorial books (Yizkor), Holocaust victims, Russian Empire business directories and Russian religious personnel. All together, JewishGen’s global resources total 21 million records, including surnames, Jewish communities (shtetls), burials and much more.

Poland GenWeb <>
This World GenWeb site has a records-transcription project, surname list, translation tools, a guide to using Family History Library microfilm, and links to other online resources (such as town locator tools and message boards).

PolishRoots <>
Covering not just present-day Poland but all the areas historically part of the Polish Commonwealth, this site shines with its getting-started guide, maps, links and back issues of the Gen Dobry e-zine.

This database from the Polish State Archives can help you locate archival holdings at nearly 100 institutions within the current boundaries of Poland. Start by entering a town name in the “Title of Fond/Name of Creator” blank, then you can limit by type of archive and date range.

Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe <>
Focusing on the genealogy of Germans from Russian Poland and Volhynia, with some help for related regions, this society offers parish records, surnames and scanned maps. Join the society to access even more.

The Mediterranean and Iberia Italian Genealogy Online <>
This site offers message boards, tools, a guide to naming patterns, links, FAQ and tips on how to find your family’s place of origin.

Italy GenWeb <>

Another useful starting place and one of the many country sites under the genealogical umbrella of the World GenWeb <>, this volunteer site varies in its resources depending on which ancestral place in Italy you’re investigating. But it’s definitely worth a look for its guides to different record types and general how-to.

Genealogía Española <>
Spain’s home in the WorldGenWeb since 1997, this site is in Spanish—but Google Translate <> can help you with that if your high school Spanish is a little rusty. How-to information and links range from old-fashioned heraldry to newfangled DNA research.

Greek Genealogy <>
Start your search for Hellenic kin with Lisa Catsakis’ guides to Greek research, a gazetteer and maps, a transliteration chart, links, and info on microfilmed records.

Hispanic Genealogy <>
Get the inside scoop on FamilySearch’s ever-growing collections of Spanish records (as well as those from Latin America) with this in-depth blog from Lynn Turner. No amateur blogger, she holds a degree in family history and genealogy from Brigham Young University and works for FamilySearch as a records specialist.

LusaWeb <>

This online community celebrates Portuguese ancestry, history and traditions around the world. Databases let you connect with fellow researchers, share trees and explore passenger lists, and how-to guides help you get started.

Name Changes of Settlements in Greece <>
Find your ancestral town, which likely changed its name in the 20th century due to war, a coup and/or Greece’s switch to a republic, with this handy tool. Check not only the current town name but also the municipality (dímos), district (eparchia) and county (nomos).

Open Archives <>
Explore 68 collections and almost a half-million records from Greek archives, universities, religious organizations and other institutions. Click EN to view the search options in English.

Portuguese Genealogy Home Page <>
Doug da Rocha Holmes is based in Sacramento, Calif. (home to a large Portuguese-American community), but his site will help you get started researching on the other side of the Atlantic. You’ll find a photo gallery, DNA info, some marriage databases, genealogy how-to articles, a passenger ship master list and more.

Scandinavia Arkivalieronline <>
The Danish State Archives Filming Centre is digitizing parish registers (with images of census pages up next). Almost all Danish parish registers up to 1950 are now online. You’ll have to browse them, as there’s no search capability, and many show the signs of years of wear and tear.

ArkivDigital <> $
This subscription site (about $100 for six months) serves up color images of about 45 million Swedish historical documents such as church records, court records and inventories of estates. If you’ve seen only the black-and-white microfilm, these color images will be an eye-opener.

Danish Demographic Database <>
This free site lets you search Danish censuses from 1787 on, plus probate records from Thisted, Viborg, Aalborg and Randers. You can even check censuses from the Caribbean island of St. Croix, taken when it belonged to Denmark.

Danish Emigration Archives <>

Thank the Copenhagen police for this database of 394,000 names of emigrants from Denmark between May 1868 and 1908. They kept tabs on everyone leaving the country—and now so can you. Search the database by any combination of name, occupation, age, last residence, parish, county, destination (city, state, country), ticket contract number or date of registration. Besides these fields, hits also include birthplace (beginning in 1899), family status, name of the emigration agent and name of the ship. The collection combines direct emigration from Copenhagen and indirect, with a stop in another port, which must be searched separately on microfilm.

Digitalarkivet <>
This free site from the National Archives of Norway offers almost all the essential resource for finding Norwegian families, with an ever-growing collection of church records in addition to its censuses, tax lists, probate records and more. It’s also the most English-language-friendly of Scandinavian websites.

Genealogy Society of Norway–DIS <>
Click the British flag to see the English-language pages on this site. View a forum, database of researchers and searchable tombstone records with photos, links and maps.

Genealogical Society of Finland <>
In addition to a forum, publications and how-to, Finnish researchers should check out the society’s HisKi project. This ambitious effort is putting Finnish church records online, along with a search capability (still in the testing phase). There’s also a tombstone transcription project.

Institute of Migration <> $

It’s free to search this institute’s collection of 318,000 passenger-list records, 261,000 passport records and other emigration resources for your Finnish families. Full access to your hits requires an annual subscription fee of about $27. You’ll also find an online library of 9,000 publications about Finnish emigration; a database of 12,000 photos; and the Migration and Ethnicity Research Network, a database of 450 researchers and others interested in migration and ethnicity research in Finland.

Riksarkivet <> $
Here, Swedish researchers can explore the National Archives database and the Digital Research Room of digitized church archives and censuses. Full access requires a subscription to the SVAR e-service (about $150 a year).

Swedish Roots <>

This step-by-step site from the Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies will lead you through essential information from understanding patronymics to Swedish correspondence. Once you’ve got the basics, click on Our Forum to visit Anbytarforum. Posts are in Swedish, but most Swedes will be able to understand queries written in English.
Get off the Beach
Still stumped? Can’t find a site for some more obscure or records-challenged European ancestry? Don’t let your research get beached. Try these sites to get unstuck:
• FamilySearch Wiki <>: Click on your ancestral homeland for research tips, guides to records in the Family History Library and links to additional resources.
• <>: May we modestly suggest the compilations of articles on our own site, which over the years have covered ethnicities big and small? Also see our roundup of international genealogy blogs <>.
• The worldGenWeb project <>: This global counterpart to the volunteer USGenWeb aims to have sites for every nation. While some are better than others and some lack full-time stewardship, it still makes an ideal jumping-off point.
Surfing Standouts
In addition to these heritage-specific sites, don’t overlook major, multi-ethnicity websites with European resources. Crawl the following sites:
• <>: This subscription site is particularly strong on records from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Germany, France, Sweden (where it has incorporated the Genline parish-records site) and the Netherlands (with Genlias vital records).   
• <>: Though US-centric, this subscription site shouldn’t be overlooked for UK research, and has Griffith’s Valuation from Ireland.
• <>: An ever-growing collection of online records now covers most major and many minor European areas of origin, notably including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
• Find A Grave <>: This free and easy-to-use database of 112 million grave records has entries for European countries large and small, from Albania (six cemeteries) to England (4,308 cemeteries).
• MyHeritage <>: This family tree site has been rapidly adding to its data-subscription collections, most recently including more than 32 million records from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.
• World Vital Records <>: The global reach implied by the name is strongest in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but this subscription site is also worth checking for ancestors from France and other European countries.
Tip: Before subscribing to a site, do a free search or browse collection offerings to be sure the records cover the town, city or province in the country where your ancestors lived.
Tip: Website in a foreign language? Use Google Translate <> to translate the web page.
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