Everybody at some point wonders how far they can trace back their family lineage.
Free genealogy websites exist no matter where in the world your ancestors lived—well, just about anywhere!
While many Internet companies offer pay-for-play services that coordinate searches for you, if you are willing to put in some time and effort you can learn quite a bit about your family tree without spending a penny.
1. The World GenWeb Project.
This website is actually a conglomeration of websites and hosted pages offering detailed ancestry information to anyone who’s seeking information. The home page offers a world map that you can click on for lists specific to your search.
Before you can use this site, you must learn how to use it; and it is a bit daunting, just because of its sheer size. Try clicking on the map for Europe, for example and you will see an arrow labelled “Next” that takes you to a page with all kinds of advice about conducting a genealogy search.
Obviously, no matter which site you are using, the more information you have about your ancestors the more likely you will be to find information on them. The World GenWeb recommends as much as possible of the following, and you really need this kind of information no matter what site you visit:
- Full name of ancestor (given name, middle name, and surname)
- Country as well as city or town of birth. In some places it’s more useful to have the county or parish.
- The religion of your ancestor, if known, can open up additional resources for you.
- Date of birth or at least the decade of birth.
- Names of spouses, parents, or children may be helpful.
In many countries, Internet birth and death records simply are not available. The World GenWeb Project does its best to direct you to the appropriate address to contact. If you must write a letter, your first one should be a request for the proper procedure and the costs of obtaining information. You will then hopefully receive a response indicating how to proceed.
2. The US GenWeb Project
If you are searching for someone in the United States, this is a website that provides links and addresses for counties in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. Like the World GenWeb Project, it is run by volunteers who work hard to direct people to the information they are seeking. However, once you click on the specific links for your state or county, it’s up to you to follow through by using the appropriate forms and doing the work necessary. Keep in mind that since just about all Americans have ancestors from other countries, you will find links to many places on this website.
This website, incidentally, has a great resource if you need to learn HTML formatting. This could be useful if you want to upload records of your own, either for this place or some other website.
3. My Heritage Genealogy
This is a website that offers free downloadable software to build a family tree. Many of its links lead to subscription services—meaning they are not free—but you will also find things like Social Security records, census data, college alumni resources, and other lists that include family names.
4. Family Search
You’ll find that this website is somewhat less formidable than many of the others. As soon as you access the site, click on Learn at the top, and you will find step-by-step videos that give you tips for searching and tell you how to use the site. There are additional courses you can take—they are both free and short—to help you learn about family search tips and how to create a family timeline in Excel. You might be interested in basic Italian research or learning about immigration commissioners and agents of the mid-1800s.
When you access the family search centres, you can enter your family names, city, and postal information, and then land on a page that directs you to organizations in your locale that might have the records you seek. There is actually a Family Search indexing program that will extract digitized information from the records you find so that you can move forward with your search.
5. Your Local County / Shire Website
Oftentimes you can access the website of your local county or province and click on birth and death records. However, in most cases you will have to either visit or write to the courthouse. Remember, too, that once you access someone’s birth certificate or marriage certificate, that document will list the name and birthplace of that person’s parents, giving you the ammo you need to dig back further. Other places offer access through public libraries. Sometimes the library will allow you access only if you are a library card holder. If you don’t want a library card, you can access the records if you visit the library directly.
Some of these sites as well as other free sites will often link you to a subscription genealogy service such as Ancestry.com which isn’t such a bad thing, but remember that you will have to pay for its service.
If you are going to pay anything, you might want to try the GenServ System, which will give you full access to their data without the genealogy server (called GedCom) for just 20 bucks a year.
In the end, that may be a small price to pay for the loads of information you’ll find.
Don’t forget that your best resource may be the older relatives in your family. When holiday times or family reunions come about, question your elders closely about who was related to whom and whose parents lived where. Your relatives will enjoy sharing family stories with you, and as you begin a genealogy search on the Internet, their information will certainly pay off!