Question of the Week: What are your favorite free sites for research?

+25 votes
2k views

What are some of your favorite free sites for research?

Besides WikiTree, of course.  laugh

in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
I've spent many many hours on the Irish Genealogy site instigated by the Department of Culture Heritage and Gaeltacht...

I think it is a fantastic resource for researching your Irish ancestors and I love the fact you can view and download the registers...  

And if it wasn't for Wikitree, I'd have nowhere to enter all the info found to try and make family connections...
Moving from comment to answer.
The digitized Chancery Causes from the Library of Virginia has been a gold mine of local history and genealogy for me. So many of these files contain depositions, original documents as well as plats and surveys, that cannot be found anywhere else.
My general-interest sites have already been mentioned, and the others I use are blogs and docurments for a very specific region or name.  Nowadays, all my research is free.  

The last time I regularly spent money on research was in pre-internet days, when I would go the FHC (family history center) in the local LDS (Mormon) temple, and would spend a couple dollars to order microfilms and microfiches.  Then 2 weeks later I would get a postcard saying my records were ready for review.  There have been occasional one-time purchases, and some gas money spent since then, but overall I'm pretty thrifty.
Thank you for the info on the Virginia Chacery Causes, Daniel Bly.

Terri Clawson-1056
I use many, Ancestry, Familysearch, BMS2000.

36 Answers

+23 votes
I find all the records that FamilySearch has in their database to be an extremely useful resource. A ton of those records even have images so you can double check what the source actually says.
by D. Botkin G2G6 Mach 2 (26k points)
I'll second that, it's invaluable.
I will third Family Search!!  :)
I will fourth on FamilySearch!  I love it!
Brilliant site full of free useful information.
Agree with all - Family Search is a marvelous resource.  As a caveat, though, one should note that FS also has loads of unsupported user-submitted family trees and several highly dubious databases (ditto Ancestry.com, which is definitely NOT free).  Still, the vast collection of solid historical records makes FS an invaluable free service for the genealogy community.
I use the family tree and record searching to find clues,not use as sources.  The real finds are the copies of the actual documents, church records, Census records.  I find so much more detail reading the originals. Most of my time on that site is spent searching through microfilm.
I agree with your comments about unsupported items and highly dubious databases.  For these reasons I do not find Family Search very helpful.  It seems that too often the majority rules and thus can change better researched answers found by fewer people.
I think believing unsupported family trees and dubious databases is a typical beginner's mistake.  We all know about this because we were all once beginners.  I've had to revise much in my lineage since those days.  The important thing is to understand exactly what you're looking at.  If you can do that, Family Search, and even Ancestry, have some excellent resources.
+10 votes
I like Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.
by Elizabeth x G2G6 (9.9k points)
I second that too!!

 And the National Archives of Canada  :)
Definitely a favorite! BAC-LAC also.
+9 votes

With half of my ancestors coming from Friesland it's no surprise that my go-to site for information is AlleFriezen.nl.  I'm particularly impressed with their search matches, it's far superior to Soundex.  I've never seen another search engine that automatically returns such wide spelling variations as "Sijtze", "Sietze", and "Sytse".  The record scans are in high-res color and you can download copies in pdf format.

by Erik Oosterwal G2G6 Mach 3 (30.4k points)
I agree AlleFriezen realy works great with spelling variations. When the indexes where created standerdized names where added. For female names there are about 600 standardized names with  over 23.000 variations.
+6 votes

I’m a big fan of the British Columbia Archives. There’s direct access to tons of records! 

by Alex Stronach G2G6 Pilot (100k points)
+9 votes
FamilySearch is indispensible, especially the hard-to-navigate and tedious to comb through unindex images of wills and probate records for Maryland and Kentucky. Geographically-specific but very useful for anyone with substantial colonial-era Maryland ancestry: the Maryland State Archives at https://msa.maryland.gov and the "Miles Files" database of Eastern Shore genealogies hosted by the Eastern Shore Public Library at http://espl-genealogy.org
by C Handy G2G6 Mach 2 (22.4k points)
+7 votes

The Norwegian Digital Archives, Digitalarkivet, of course. They've got a humongous amount of scanned and transcribed original sources online, all for free.

The Norwegian government found that they actually were able to save money by putting it all online, because they could reduce the staff at the archives.

by Leif Biberg Kristensen G2G6 Mach 2 (27.1k points)
That was very smart of the Norwegian government.
+9 votes

Cornwall (UK) has some excellent free sites, I only wish all English counties had the same. Especially the Cornwall Online Census Project and the Cornwall Online Parish Clerks database.

by Deborah Pate G2G6 Mach 2 (28.4k points)
I totally agree about the OPC database, I give it a lot of work. I didn't know about the census project, thanks for the tip.
+9 votes
I also really do like FamilySearch. I have used DAR for Revolutionary War Patriots and their descendants. It is free, and on the website you just go to Library. The headstones on Find a Grave have been good.  My local library is small, but the people that work there are wonderful, and they have given me land records and access to newspaper articles. WikiTree has really been the best of all, as I have learned a great deal from being a part of this community, and WiKiTree always holds my interest. Doing 52 Photos and 52 Ancestors has made me go though materials that I actually have access to in my own home.
by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Mach 3 (37.9k points)
+7 votes
Due to where my ancestors came from (the Netherlands) I have a lot of free sites to choose from. All the state, provincial and regional archives are free. I like Geneaknowhow because they link to most genealogical sites in the Netherlands and you can select the part of the country you are searching.

I also love Topotijdreis (translated: topotimetravel) where you can find maps of the Netherlands from 1800 till now. you can adjust the year you want to see and choose any part of the country. You can zoom in and see the smallest hamlet. Very helpfull to understand where and hos ancestors lived.
by Eef van Hout G2G6 Mach 4 (44.1k points)
The Netherlands records are wonderful. Thank you for the map site. I didn't know about that one.
+5 votes
My favourite Kiwi free sites to use are the Govt Vital Index records (BDM DIA Historical Records) and also Papers Past - the free NZ Newspaper archive managed by the National Library of NZ.
by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (539k points)
I would also like to mention the NZ Archives Archway as well.

Very good for Military records and also Index of dates of Divorces and Probate records.
How do I UNflag this answer?  My fat fingers never go where they're supposed to.
+16 votes
My first free go-to site is Family Search. Going beyond the records that automatically pop up, I use the catalog to find wills, probates and other records that have not yet been completely digitized.

Another fun free site is Genealogy Gophers. It can produce some interesting tidbits from books and other published material.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Mach 6 (60.3k points)
Thank you, Nicole for the Best Answer Star. I appreciate it and glad my answer was deemed worthy of some interesting information!!!
+6 votes

For Sweden: the National Archives, Riksarkivet.

I have been writing a bit about their resources on a WikiTree page or two.

I would like to emphasize that although FamilySearch is a great place to search for Swedish ancestors, the FamilySearch records, when there is no image available, should only be used for ideas where to look up the original at Riksarkivet.

The FamilySearch transcriptions are all too often inaccurate about names - notably, they often give women a male patronymic ending in -son when they should have a -dotter name.

FamilySearch, on the other hand, has the advantage that you can search for individuals (particularly births) at a much earlier time than Riksarkivet provides searches for. At Riksarkivet before (roughly) 1880 you have to go to the archive for a parish, find the book for the correct period of time, skip to the right year and read the old chicken scratch. The advantage is that looking at the actual record you usually get other clues to the family.

by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (284k points)
+7 votes

Washington State Digital Archives tons of free records with lots of information, available to download or a small amount to purchase a certified copy.

by Azure Robinson G2G6 Mach 3 (30.4k points)
Hi Azure. I had just made the same recommendation (Washington State Digital Archives) when I noticed you already posted it! I agree, it's a great little site. I have found MANY family records there. I hid my comment so I didn't duplicate yours.

Bart

Camano Island WA
+7 votes

Hathi Trust (https://www.hathitrust.org/) has a surprising amount of useful stuff that can be viewed in full for free, not only familly genealogies but also a lot of more primary sources.  For the specialized area of Nantucket Island, 1650-1850, the Barney Genealogical Record (https://www.nantuckethistoricalassociation.net/bgr/BGR-o/index.htm ) is great. And, as others have mentioned, FamilySearch and Find A Grave.

by John Hodson G2G6 (6.5k points)
+6 votes

Being from Kentucky, I still find much data on KyGenWeb County sites. Other states in the USGenWeb network are also often helpful. It's unfortunate that many newer researchers are unaware of those sites, and similar sites which are maintained by local genealogy groups. Site in the USGenWeb network are regrettably variable in content and usefulness. One county may be a treasure trove of local data, whereas the next county may be relatively useless.

Also, there are often many insights to be gathered from older posts in the archives of the former RootsWeb Message boards. In years past, many serious and experienced genealogists discussed and debated the importance and relevance of data which is now confused and misinterpreted in personal family trees. In that way, the genealogical wheel is invented over and over again.

Other specific sites i use are those maintained by county court clerks in Kentucky, specifically those of two counties:

More sites I use are listed as sources in the WikiTree Spaces I created for three Kentucky Counties:

by Bill Vincent G2G6 Mach 7 (74.6k points)
edited by Bill Vincent
+3 votes

I use the The American Pomeroy Historic Genealogical Association site https://www.americanpomeroys.org/pomeroy-family-tree

It has information from the books published on the Pomeroys and has been updated. You can also confer with people from the association if you find questions or discrepancies or want sources.

Since I try to connect Pomeroys I use this a lot. The biggest tree belongs to Eltweed but there are trees for Richard from Maine and George from Pennsylvania. There is also a 'tree' for branches that have not been connected yet.

by Sue Hall G2G6 Pilot (102k points)
Thanks for sharing this treasure basket.
+6 votes

Here's a few of my favorite backups to Family Search and the Hathi Trust: 

Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection - https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/

Nebraska Newspapers Digitization Projects http://wnfrhc.org/nebraska-newspapers-digitization-projects/

Nebraska Access http://nebraskaccess.nebraska.gov/people.asp   and  http://nebraskaccess.nebraska.gov/GenealogyNebraska.asp

Illinois State Archive databases https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/databases/home.html

Missouri Digital Heritage  https://www.sos.mo.gov/mdh/

Library of Congress - Historical American Newspapers https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

and the National Archives - https://aad.archives.gov/aad/index.jsp

by Sondra Marshall G2G6 Mach 1 (11.1k points)
+1 vote
Chasing my ancestry around Canada has been fairly easy. I've hit a few brick walls, but managed to get through them! All of my ancestry originated in England, Scotland and Ireland, so I've spent lots of time going through Free BMD and Free CEN, two UK sites, but my absolute favourite, and first go-to has to be FamilySearch. I've found so much information about various ancestors there - sometimes just a hint - often more!!!
by Linda Hockley G2G6 (6.8k points)
+2 votes

I love jurisdictions which make their records freely available online:

Manitoba lets you search, and shows the results (well, only transcriptions, but that's better than nothing), but they don't provide a URL that you can use in a source to point people straight to what you've found. They will need to do their own searches, which is kind of annoying.
by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (218k points)

I also love the Internet Archive, because it's got tons of scans of old books that I need access to, like Lloyd's Register of Shipping, Alumni Cantabrigienses, old genealogies, and so on.

I have also found The Gazette extremely useful for tracing the careers of people in the British military, or anybody who has been awarded honours from the Crown.

I have also searched the passenger lists at Castle Clinton and Ellis Island from time to time, because not all of my ancestors came directly to Canada. Some arrived in New York and then hung a right.

Oh my word! How could I have forgotten Trove? It's wonderful for tracing people in Australia, but more than that, I think it's a terrific model that other online archives should emulate. At least with old newspapers, what they've done is put up scans, and accompanied them with transcriptions done using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software. If you create an account (which is free), you can edit the transcriptions to fix errors. I always fix the article I'm referencing, plus the articles immediately before and after it, as a "thank you" for letting me access the information. The more people use Trove, the more accurate the transcriptions get. It's awesome.

+2 votes

For Australian research you can't beat TROVE, a project of the National Library of Australia, with over 200 million Australian newspaper articles digitised and available for free. 

by Mark Gibbons G2G Crew (410 points)
Not forgetting the Ryerson Index as well.

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