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Finding your ancestors for free seems like an impossible task. Everywhere you turn, subscription-based access seems to be the only way to gain the family tree information you’re desperately seeking. But before you take out that second mortgage, take some time to do research on some of these totally free genealogy websites. Each of them has been reviewed and selected by our experts, and at some point winning our annual coveted “Best Websites” award.
This list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it entirely made up of “genealogy” websites. Instead, we’ve provided links and resources to sites that will be most valuable to you as a family historian. Browse the entire list, or jump right to the topic you’re looking for using the handy table of contents below.
Free General Genealogy Websites
This grab-bag of free genealogy records keeps growing. Click the Databases tab to search data from Southern states, military records, small-town newspapers and the Guion Miller Roll index to Cherokee tribal members. The latter supplements what was already a must-bookmark site if you have Native American roots.
More than 3,000 online collections (and growing) make this the internet’s largest home to free genealogy data, with recent updates spotlighting Italy, South America and US vital records. You can share and record your finds in family trees and a “Memories” gallery, and get research help from the wiki.
Free to your home computer courtesy of your library card via participating institutions, HeritageQuest is “powered by” (but not owned by) Ancestry.com. This partnership has dramatically expanded its half-dozen collections to a sort of “Ancestry.com lite,” including the complete US census, military and immigration records, and city directories. Once logged in via your library, find Search and scroll all the way to the bottom to unlock more US records as well as selected foreign databases.
Since its launch in 1996, this modest website has grown into a useful collection of how-to help and databases. It’s strongest on passenger records, heritage groups such as Palatines and American Indians, and less-familiar records, such as those for residents of orphans and almshouses.
This venerable free site still serves up how-to articles, databases of surnames and US locations, mailing lists, pedigree files and much more—making it an oldie but a goodie.
This volunteer site recently celebrated its 20th birthday with a mobile-friendly update. Its state and county pages and special projects remain as vibrant as ever. Just found an ancestor who lived in, say, Stone County, Ark.? There’s a page for that, as for almost every other place your family may have landed.
Free Newspaper Archives
Read all about your California kin in this fast-growing collection that (at last count) contains 640,000 issues comprising more than 7.3 million pages and 44 million articles. The University of California, Riverside project can be searched or browsed by tag, county, date or title.
Now topping 18 million pages from coast to coast, this Library of Congress project digitizes US newspapers from 1789 to 1924 and offers a directory to help you find newspapers in libraries.
One click seeks your ancestors in 200 million-plus items from more than 4,300 newspaper titles. Elephind searches big collections (including the aforementioned Chronicling America) as well as small, such as academic archives, and goes overseas to include plenty of Australian papers.
This specialized site will have you perversely wishing all your ancestors had died in train wrecks, fires, floods, shipwrecks, plane crashes or other disasters. Search by keyword or browse by type of disaster, state or province, or year to find transcribed newspaper accounts of the events.
Though still a work in progress, this website is worth bookmarking for help in answering these key questions: Are newspapers from my ancestors’ town online? And if so, where?
Free UK Genealogy Websites
Volunteers for this site’s three online transcription projects have made available 274 million birth, marriage and death records (1837–1992); 49 million records from parish registers (1500s and later); and entries on 39 million individuals from census data (1841–1911). Before you pay to find your UK kin, check here.
Get your British Isles genealogy questions answered in this virtual reference library of genealogical information about the UK and Ireland (GENeaology + UK + Ireland = GENUKI). Maps, how-to’s, a church database, FAQs and more will jump-start your research.
Free Canadian Genealogy Websites
Do your one-stop “shopping” here for free Canadian censuses, immigration lists, vital records, land and military files at this umbrella site.
Free Irish Genealogy Websites
Explore your Irish ancestry in this collection that includes 1901 and 1911 census records, census survivals (1821–1851), census search forms (1841–1851), Tithe Applotment Books (1823–1837), Soldiers’ Wills (1914–1918), and the Calendars of Wills and Administrations (1858–1922).
The pot of gold here is the free collection of images of birth, marriage and burial registers from the majority of Catholic parishes in Ireland and Northern Ireland, dating from the 1700s to about 1880. You can browse them by parish; click on the map at registers.nli.ie to get started.
Free Danish Genealogy Websites
Find the Danes in your family tree with this English-accessible collection of all Danish censuses plus some probate and emigration records.
Free Norwegian Genealogy Websites
The fully scanned 1875 census adds to this comprehensive collection of Norwegian enumerations, church records, emigration information, historical photographs, land and probate records and more. Click the link for digitized archives to get started.
Free Central and Eastern European Genealogy Websites
The map library is the star of the organization’s site, but you’ll also find databases and how-to guides.
Search nearly 2 million pages relevant to Central and East European family history here, including historical directories, Holocaust memorials, military lists and school sources.
Free French Genealogy Websites
Find your French families with this site’s guides to archives, a genealogy encyclopedia, uploaded trees and beaucoup links.
Free German Genealogy Websites
Yes, this site from Germany’s Association for Computer Genealogy is in Deutsch, but Google Translate can open the door to its mailing lists, forum, society pages, digitized books, gazetteer, WWI casualty database and research aids.
Free Jewish Genealogy Websites
The 2 million-plus records in this collection range in date from the Ottoman era to the early 1950s, and cover Jewish communities both in Israel and elsewhere, including North Africa and Middle Eastern countries.
The dozens of databases here include the 500,000 surname and town entries in the JewishGen Family Finder, 7 million names in the Family Tree of the Jewish People, a database of 6,000 Jewish communities, a 54-nation gazetteer, and 3.6 million entries on victims of the Holocaust.
Free Dutch Genealogy Websites
This home to 220 million entries about Dutch ancestors puts civil-registration records at your fingertips, along with population and church registers and family trees and biographies.
Free Genealogy Technology Tools
Launched in 1996, Cyndi’s List remains the go-to resource for carefully categorized links to genealogy websites—more than 332,000 in 213 categories, last we looked.
This digital scrapbook lets you save web pages and genealogy finds on one device—tablet, PC, Mac, even your phone—and then access them on all your gadgets.
Seriously, if you’re not already using the search, mapping, translation and other tools here, you probably shouldn’t be reading this article.
Learn all about genetic-genealogy technology from the experts at this informative wiki, founded in 2005 by DNA project administrators.
The long list of collections here ranges from millions of library items to specialized collections for California and Portugal. Plus the Wayback Machine can find vanished genealogy sites from the early internet. (Remember Geocities?)
Clever Steve Morse has figured out how to dive deep into genealogy databases—notably censuses and passenger records—with flexible search forms. (Matches in subscription websites require payment to view.)
Build your own family history website with the most popular platform, complete with thousands of free themes, or host a blog-style site at the companion wordpress.com.
Free Websites for Sharing Your Genealogy
Not just for posting political rants and pictures of your kids, the world’s biggest social networking site is also a useful tool for finding cousins and sharing research finds. All your favorite genealogy organizations (including Family Tree Magazine) have pages as well.
Start your own online tree here, look for matches among 114 million individual profiles and invite family members to collaborate.
Sort of like Facebook for images, this online scrapbook/digital tagboard has proven a valuable tool for family historians, who share everything from records to old photos.
Winner of the Developer Challenge at FamilySearch’s 2013 RootsTech conference, Treelines takes a narrative approach to online family trees, helping you turn your pedigree charts into ancestral stories.
This wiki-style project from the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy has pages for more than 2.8 million ancestors of its members.
This shared family tree includes more than 28 million profiles contributed by more than 850,000 genealogists from around the world. Don’t let the sharing scare you, though: Modern family histories are private; as you go back in time, the privacy controls open up.
Free Resources from Libraries and Archives
Though based in Indiana, this library’s online reach extends much further—reflecting its status as the nation’s second-richest genealogy library. Special collections focus on Native American, African American, military and family Bible records.
An offshoot of 101 Best Websites fave WorldCat, ArchiveGrid searches more than 7 million descriptions of archival records from 1,400 different institutions. Learn about historical documents, personal papers, family histories and other materials that may mention your ancestors. A clickable map makes it easy to find archives near you.
This University of North Carolina at Greensboro project compiles sources including extracts from court and legislative petitions, slave “deeds,” insurance registries and “wanted” ads for escaped slaves. The focus is North Carolina, but data relate to all slave states.
One click searches more than 45 million digitized items from libraries, archives and museums, or you can navigate via interactive timelines and maps. Your searches also include FamilySearch’s growing free digital historical book collection.
Smart, intuitive searching is the hallmark of the partnership with FamilySearch here, which quickly combs 80,000 digitized books.
Log in with credentials from a participating institution such as a university to get the most out of this digital library’s almost 17 million total volumes and 6 billion pages. But there’s plenty here accessible to the general public, too.
Though not specifically focused on genealogy, the nation’s library has plenty to offer online, including the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections and its own comprehensive catalog.
Read all about the genealogical treasures stored at the National Archives, order military and other records, and browse historical maps and photos. Access to Archival Databases serves up files ranging from WWII enlistments to passenger lists for millions of German, Irish, Russian and Italian immigrants.
This site from the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Mo., taps one of the nation’s largest genealogy collections. Online extras include an index to US Railroad Retirement Board pension records.
The cool factor is off the charts at this handsome home to more than 900,000 digitized prints, photographs, maps, manuscripts, videos and other items. The site’s maps and atlases alone are worth a visit.
Find your family history in 2 billion items at 10,000 of the world’s libraries, then click to see holdings nearest you.
Last updated, October 2021.