Best Websites for Exploring Your Ancestors’ Lives

By David A. Fryxell Premium

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This project by Israeli interactive designer Matan Stauber draws on Wikipedia entries to picture the past on animated timelines. You even can compare different types of events—to see, for example, what your ancestors might have been reading and what scientific discoveries affected them at the same time.

HistoryLines $

This new site promises to put your ancestors’ lives in historical context by generating personalized timelines and “biographies” based on when and where an ancestor lived in history. Create a family tree on the site, or pull in your family tree from FamilySearch. You can try the site for free by creating two ancestral stories, or subscribe for $59 a year.


It’s easier than ever to search and contribute to this collaborative project of “pinned” historical photos, plotted on Google Maps <> and matched to modern street views. Contributors include 65,000 individuals
and community groups, plus 2,500 libraries, archives and museums in 2,600 cities around the world.


Look for the old family farm—and perhaps the old family—in this innovative Yale tool for organizing, searching and visualizing the 170,000 photos (now housed at the Library of Congress) that the US Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information created from 1935 to 1945. You even can search a map that plots the approximately 90,000 photographs that have geographical information.


Since 2003, this nonprofit has recorded the stories of ordinary people for posterity. View and listen to many of the stories in this online oral-history home, and become part of the project yourself.