Starting out your genealogy search can be daunting, especially when you look at all of the many paid and unpaid options out there. There are dozens of sites that claim to be the singular source for all of your genealogy needs, many of which charge various fees to use their software. Because we know that starting the search can be stressful, we decided to list five of our favorite sites. These are not listed in any particular order, though we can admit to being particularly fond of Find a Grave (shh… don’t tell the others).
1. Find a Grave is a user-friendly archive of graves around the world. With an easy to use search function, you can find ancestors' graves quickly by searching their names. This site can be particularly helpful for genealogy because many of the graves’ pages include the obituaries with details about other family members, as well as links to those family members’ graves. Some graves even have genealogical information engraved into the stone, so a picture can literally be worth a thousand words!
2. WikiTree is a collaborative family tree website aiming to create "an accurate, single family tree." This site also has easy to use search options, as well as allowing you to upload trees you have already created. What started as one family historian’s personal family website, WikiTree was intended to allow multiple people to contribute to growing family trees. WikiTree’s free model is “absolutely essential to what the mission is”, according to the site’s founder, who hoped that opening this website up to the public would make genealogy free and accessible to everyone.
3. Family Search has access to more archives than either of the above websites. In fact, this site claims to give users access to the "largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world." This website is maintained by a non-profit organization, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka, the Mormon church). It is important to note that the Mormon church happens to own or have access to more genealogical archives than just about any other organization in the world. Because of this, you can be reasonably assured that Family Search’s claim is almost certainly true.
4. Similar to WikiTree, US Gen Web is a collaborative genealogy website. Anyone can add information to the website, so the amount and accuracy of info can vary from page to page. The website is broken down by state and then further by county, so it is important that if you are using this website, you know where your ancestor lived. It would be very difficult to find the information you want otherwise.
5. Ancestry is likely the most famous genealogy website and while they do have subscription services, you can use a limited version of the site for free. There is a lot to be learned from the archives that you can use for free, not to mention that ancestry allows you to see other trees in hints, as well as allows you to reach out to other people. The Ancestry forums can be particularly helpful if you have specific questions, need tips, or are stuck behind a tricky brick wall.
It can certainly be a challenge to get started discovering your ancestry if you don’t want to spend your whole budget all in one go, but it is possible with free websites like these. Most people find that genealogy research, even with the help of a service like Ancestry, can be very time consuming and difficult to stick to when they also have other responsibilities. Starting out for free is a good way to judge how much time you will actually be able to commit to your search so you can decide to move forward with a subscription or if hiring a professional genealogist would be the best way to go for you.
Give it a try and let us know what you think!