Question of the Week: What are your favorite free genealogy resources?

+44 votes

One of my favorite things about WikiTree is that it's FREE ... and we are always sharing freely accessible resources to help document our family histories.

What are your favorite tips for getting the biggest bang for your genealogical buck?

in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (440k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Wikipedia has come in handy any number of times, and Google Books which has scanned a large number of family genealogy volumes. is excellent.  The US Census are easily accessed and for free.  It is very user friendly and they also give free hints for information they find for you. It is very easy to add relatives and update information from these hint sources.  Also Very low fees and some free info,  such as full free access to the 1940 census
What do you mean by a library access for ancestry?  I'm taking that to mean you can use your local library and access ancestry dot com that way.  Is that correct?  That would be awesome if I'm understanding it correctly.
ancestry does have library access you can use on site IF your library subscribes.  But be advised, the library version is NOT the same as the private pay version.
Wow, I find these sites a wealth of information.  I looked into some of them and found that they are very accurate. I will def. be using them for my sourcing. Thank you Gaston for supplying them to us!
Living relatives can be a good source. They may have old books with genealogy information, military records, and other historical information.
Find A Grave is great I use it and I volunteer for them also. But remember we are sometimes setting up memorials for non family members. Human error happens I found where my great grand father had the wrong woman added as his wife. Both women had the same birth name and married last names, different death dates and states. You have to verify the information. I contacted the owner of the memorial and we got it fixed.
i only use free resources. My familytree is almost completely dutch and there are a lot of free sources. All the provicial archives have free access to family data. Wiewaswie is a  well known one. and lots more.
WIKIPEDIA: Remember they need $3. annually in donations! I give them more because I can to help pay for those who can't or don't.

42 Answers

+21 votes is also a free site with histories of 50,000 surnames. 


If you go to   surname origin ricketts    or other surnames  you can get free information about ships that sailed to the USA from Europe. You have to page down to Ancestry   For example:

 Ricketts Family Origin

from the New York Passengers List

If you click on ENGLAND & WALES  or on SCOTLAND, for Scotland, you can see where the surname is most concentrated between 1841 and 1901. I suspect that the changes in concentration by county is partly the result of the highland clearances of 1841. 

by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
I must thank you for this one Frank. I knew that Ellingsen basically meant Son of Elling. Now though if Ancestry is correct Elling is from the Old Norse first name Erlingr which means 'son of an earl.' Gives me some hope I could possibly find a direct connection to royalty.
+20 votes
Bergen County, NJ Genealogy Society...........great for Dutch Ancestry.
by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.5m points)
+27 votes
There so many free resources!  Check out your local library!  Ours gives you access to Ancestry for Library Use, Heritage Quest for census, National Bigraphy, 19th Century Newspaper Archives, Fold3 and more!  All you need is a valid library card.  Plus the headquarters in both our city and the county (here they are two separate government entities) both have fully staffed with licensed genealogists genealogy departments with books focused on every state plus multiple countries.  Plus local microfilm for churches, cemeteries and civil records.  It makes research affordable and you get really valid sources!
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (730k points)
+20 votes
I spend much of my time researching on the French municipal and departmental online archives, which are always free of charge.

I've also had very good luck finding Belgian civil registrations and Ukrainian Greek Catholic records on (again, free of charge).  One exciting recent find is that the site is starting to digitize its 18th century parish registers in Belgium.  I was able to break through a couple brick walls just this week due to the recent uploads.  I'll be checking back regularly to find out when other villages will have their parish registers uploaded.
by Greg Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (347k points)
My wife's family is from Bruges, Belgium. She is barely first generation American (born a few months after they arrived). She also has found the recent work on Belgian church records very helpful.
Ah Greg, you beat me to it!
+22 votes
Well there's Family Search dot org for starters. That is the Mormons database which is based in SLC in Utah and is of course totally free to use.

My personal most favourite free resource - especially when I am doing the Saturday Sourcing Sprints - is the NZ BDM (births, deaths and marriages) database which is part of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) in NZ.

I guess you can call the DIA the Kiwi equivalent to the State Dept or the Home Office.

The BDM database is the source that the Kiwi Crew will be mostly using during the up coming Source-a-thon!!
by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
I'd like to add another free resource that noone has mentioned and that is GENUKI for the British Isles. GENUKI stands for GENealogy UK and Ireland.

The site is divided up by counties and then by parishes.

Volunteers (exactly like you and me)  who use the site, have transcribed some records and some directories and also written articles, and have sent them to the webmaster. Those transcriptions and articles are then placed onto the Genuki database.

Some of these records are real gems. I just found one today that I had not seen before!!

The site is currently being updated so some pages may sometimes not be accessible.
+18 votes
Well, someone beat me to - but that's a treasure trove of sources that are free. They've definitely had some issues both with indexes that need a little work, and source photos that seem to never load properly, but overall it's a very good site. And the member trees, while not always perfect, can give you clues that may lead to breakthroughs, so I always check the trees, ancestral, and pedigree resources to see if there's something interesting that I can use as a starter to follow up on.

Along those same lines, I'm always looking for a way to generate ideas about which way to look for ancestors. While they're not perfect, I've been known to use rootsweb and geni as ways to see what other research has been done and whether or not they've been kind enough (rarely, I know, but sometimes it does happen) to supply some real sources for their information. 95% of the time, the source is non-existent or something like "ancestry ft", but once in awhile they'll mention a book or actual sources that can be verified. So I try not to count them out.

Being involved with Notables, I often find myself spending time with peripheral sources, like ethnicelebs, Wikipedia, and IMDB. They often have little tidbits or starter information (birth/death date/place, marriages, sometimes parents, real name, etc.).

Find A Grave and Billion Graves are always good research sites, although I've found you can't always take for granted that everything is completely accurate. Even if the record is properly indexed, I've found at least once where the picture said one thing - and the index said another. I try to always recheck my data, just to be on the safe side.

And in the US while at a public library, access to Ancestry is FREE - so if I'm in a pinch and need some Ancestry resources, I set aside time to make a trip to the library and make the most out of what resources I can gather that are unique to this site. You have to be on their WiFi to get the free access and have a library card, but that's usually not too difficult to obtain. Or you can sometimes use a guest account on one of the library computers.

I'm sure there are a bazillion more, but those are the ones I use the most.
by Scott Fulkerson G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
+20 votes
An incredible free resource for Australian research is Trove ( maintained by the National Library of Australia. My favourite section of the site is the digitised newspapers dating back to the 1800s, which can be searched thanks to OCR. There's some great information in there such as birth, death and marriage notices as well as some shipping lists which can be helpful when trying to determine how ancestors migrated to Australia. Definitely worth checking out if you have any ancestors in Australia!
by Derek Whitten G2G3 (3.2k points)
Thanks for that one, I have used it to help source some NSW orphans I picked up. A couple of obituares were great help in finding out married names for the daughters.
+17 votes
I don't pay for any specific genealogy site so everything I use is a free resource. But even though I don't pay for the site, I sign up for it, for those weekends that they have free access!

I usually use Ancestry through my library! Greatest thing ever. Also in conjunction I use FamilySearch because they give the sources in a better format than Ancestry, so when I know a certain source will be on FamilySearch (such as census records) I'll search for it on there.

Another big one I use is FindAGrave - I always check to see if the person I'm looking for is on there, usually it gives clues (maybe not always accurate ones) to more information!

Also, I always suggest doing a simple Google search for the person, you never know what you'll find!
by Sarah Callis G2G6 Pilot (116k points)
You are so right about Google, Sarah!  After I do all of the typical searches, I head to Google.  It turns up all sorts of interesting things such as church brochures, community newsletters, other genealogy websites, etc.
+25 votes

My favourite free sites are those created by people with no motives other than to provide access to original sources or transcriptions of those souces 

Here's just a few.

The  charity (freebmd, freereg, freecen)

The various OPCs particularly whose for areas I tend to be involved with such as and 

 Individuals such as a lady with a fantastic, well sourced,  one place study based on my grandfather's home town

The one  UK local authority  that I know of that  has put images of their parish records freely online Lincstothepast.

Other local and National authorities which have good free resources   include those in France (parish and civil  records all over the country provided by local archives  ) Canada(census)  and  in Australia  NSW, and Tasmanian Archives plus    Trove  Newspapers  are ones that  I have found really useful

And then  are those academic institutions and others who have put  ranges of more specialist sources online eg: (I keep finding things on there that I didn't realise they had) 

Better give up now, there are of course many others.

edit, didn't give up. I have to add  and  (both for Visitations,  and all those publications from 19th C antiquarians and local history societies)

by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (411k points)
edited by Helen Ford
+17 votes
Having a thick branch of Norwegians in my tree I have found The Digital Archive ( to be very helpful. They even have a button to change basic information from Norwegian to English.
by Denise Johnson G2G Crew (730 points)
+16 votes
My boring true answer would be Google Books, and HathiTrust are great for old out-of copyright books.
by Marty Acks G2G6 Pilot (134k points)
edited by Marty Acks
I love the old print sources.  WikiTree, the old-fashioned way: a shelf of dusty books.
+17 votes

Of course, the French Archives Départementales. They are a bit hard to navigate, take some patience because they're not indexed, but what can beat hundreds of millions of numerized primary sources (contemporary birth, death, marriage, baptism and burial records), ranging from 1560 to 1916 ? If you want to know more about them, check out the France genealogical resources page and its accompanying How-to guide (yes, this is a shameless plug for the French Roots project!)

For Belgium and Luxembourg, Familysearch.

And for older lines I use the Gallica search engine (the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website), it has lots and lots of genealogy books in its collection. 

I also recommend the Léonore database for French Notables - it is very helpful for 19th century Légion d'honneur recipients. The Archives Nationales has other great resources which I'm only beginning to explore.


by Isabelle Martin G2G6 Pilot (503k points)

What an absolutely fantastic Resource you have created there!

It took me just a few minutes to track down the birth record for a distant ancestor from the Landes. 

Félicitations !



Thank you! The compliment is much appreciated and has inspired the team to complete the list of departements.
+15 votes
For those in the US is a wonderful free resource.   As part of my local historical society we have done transcriptions of pioneer cemeteries that are not on FindAGrave, we are slowly putting them on FindAGrave, and we have done transcriptions of local data that has yet to be digitized.   You will find transcriptions of wills and obituaries, all kinds of wonderful items that are just not anywhere else on the web.
by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (768k points)
+14 votes for passenger lists to the US.

In England/UK: for births and deaths   For marriages for wills and probate has free Leicestershire parish records.

I also like parish history websites such as this one: and has all sorts of interesting stuff in it's collections, for instance documents relating to the sale of property, indexed parish records etc is good if you are stuck and need to ask for a look up
by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (267k points)
Thank you for mentioning the Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island Foundation!!  I see the ship manifest records available there "only" go back to 1879.  Does anyone know if they are working their way backwards in time??  Otherwise, I LOVE the detailed searching options.
+13 votes

Most of my work is in Bohemia and to a much lesser extent Austria. Austrian records are at Icarus/Matricula Online. All of the Czech Republic is covered by regional archives, all of which to a greater or lesser extent are publishing their material online for free. My favorite archive is Třeboň. I'd encourage verybody to check this website out, even if you don't have Bohemian ancestry, just to see what can be made available online for free. I wished we would have a way to recognize outstanding free websites in some way.

by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (559k points)
+11 votes
Family Search and Free BMD
+14 votes
I use more than my subscription site.  

Genealogy groups on Facebook are very helpful and great for making connections. for DNA

I also enjoy and learn a lot from free genealogical podcasts like Genealogy Gems, The Genealogy Guys, Genealogy Connections, Extreme Genes, and Ancestral Findings.
by Beth Blankenship G2G1 (1.8k points)
+12 votes
One answer I did not see is the genweb projects for each state and the US genweb archvies.

For those in Middle Tennessee, (Well sourced),, Google is great to find family surnames. Many trees out there are not reliable, but often family researchers do source well on their personal websites.

Another good resource is church histories/school histories. They often list pastors/members and marriages/funerals. Finally, I heartily recommend elderly relatives. Some of them have memories like steel traps and can point out information that is hard to find or non existent in the usual sources.
by Living Knight G2G6 Mach 3 (35.9k points)
+13 votes

1.  Allen County Genealogy Center Many resources for Allen County and beyond.

2. National Archives

3. project of The Battery Conservancy


5. - many historical books to reference

6. Google Books  

by Natalie Trott G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)

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