Genealogical research has become very popular recently, especially since the Internet has made searching for records so much faster and easier than in the past. Not only can you find surprising information about your family and ancestors, but you can make connections with other genealogy researchers. It isn’t uncommon to find a distant relative in this way, but at the very least, you can obtain tips from others with more genealogy experience.
Still, it can be daunting when you begin to research your family ancestry. Of the many genealogical research websites available, how do you decide which ones to try? After careful review of the most popular genealogy sites the following ten are my top picks. These genealogy websites have great features and reach and are also exceptionally user-friendly.
1. Ancestry.com. With an estimated four billion names in its database and counting, Ancestry.com is probably the best known genealogy website and a favorite of many users. Its Family Tree Maker software is one of its main draws, and there are video tutorials, a monthly newsletter, and access to other researchers available.
While most of the site’s search capabilities are not free, you can access scans of documents and images, such as birth certificates, court records, and photographs. Obituaries are available, as well as census and military records, land office records, and school yearbooks from the U.S. You can store what you find in what is called the “Shoebox” so that you don’t have to search for it again, and you can sort the list of databases on the site in a number of ways to make it easier to find what you need.
Membership options allow you to choose from only U.S. records or from the worldwide database, which allows you to narrow down your search based on location within a particular country. You can also apply filters to the genealogy databases, such as the type of record you’re seeking, if you have that information available. Rankings are given to the results via stars so that you can see the data that matches your search best.
2. Genealogy.com. Another well-known genealogical research website, Genealogy.com is actually a “sister” of Ancestry.com. Primarily for people in the U.S., the site includes information on 300+ million names. In excess of a quarter of a million records are added weekly.
Family Tree Maker is also available on this genealogy search site, and it merges your family tree with others who are related, allowing members to assist one another in building their genealogy. You can also search for the family trees of others to find relatives and connections, and there are photos of gravestones as well. One of the more fun features of Genealogy.com is a list of celebrity family trees.
Genealogy.com offers a free 14-day trial. Then, you can choose from three levels of membership – Basic, Deluxe, or Gold. The Deluxe membership includes the World Family Tree, and Gold membership gives you full access to the entire site.
3. GenealogyBank.com. This genealogy website contains information from all 50 U.S. states from the 17th century forward. One of the advantages of GenealogyBank.com is that it includes access to a large number of digitized historical documents, newspapers, pamphlets, and books that are not available elsewhere, so if you have been unable to find a family document or clipping, try searching this site. To make your search even more convenient, the digitized clippings can be saved as PDF files on your computer.
The complete American State Papers produced between 1789 and 1838 are included on GenealogyBank.com, making for some very interesting research possibilities even if you aren’t looking up your own family’s history. The site contains African American and Hispanic American newspaper collections for those researching ethnic ancestries. The U.S. Social Security Death Index is also available for free on the site, along with additional information, such as the day of the week of birth and death dates. Access to the subscription-only areas of the website is available via an affordably priced 30 day trial.
4. FamilySearch.org. If you want to begin your genealogy research without spending any money, this free genealogy site run by volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a great place to start. It boasts in excess of 36 million family names, but it also links you to the International Genealogical Index with over 600 million names of the deceased, as well as pedigree charts in the Ancestral File database. African American and Latino records are included, and you are given access to the church’s Family History Libraries.
The census records on the site begin in the late 1800s and include the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Research centers that focus on genealogy are listed as well in case you wish to visit one of these locations. Thousands of free articles by experts in the website’s Wiki are a major perk because you can learn a great deal about genealogical research that you can take to other paid membership genealogy sites later, if you wish. Despite its free status, FamilySearch.org also offers help and support services.
5. Archives.com. One of the newer genealogy search websites, Archives.com has already amassed thousands of members. While it is not free, the site is less expensive than many other genealogy sites and offers a 7-day free trial and family tree-building tool. With a large database of resources, the site includes information about the living so that you can potentially find relatives.
Generally, the records include the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. You will find war records such as World War II enlistment data, as well as birth records from England and Wales and the Dictionary of American Family Names. For African Americans, the website includes an African Heritage page with advice from Henry Louis Gates, the director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
At a discounted rate through your Archives.com membership, you can order vital documents that you may not have been able to find elsewhere through Vitalchek.com or newspaper clippings from NewspaperArchive.com. You can also order an in-person search in a particular location for court records. Within a matter of hours for a nominal price, you can have your document.
6. USGenWeb.com. Run by volunteers, this genealogy website is free and contains a page for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, which is then divided further into counties and towns. Marriage, birth, death, census, immigration, and church records are available, as well as an extensive database of maps.
The ability to search each state’s information can sometimes provide you with data you may not find on other genealogy sites. It is especially helpful when you have geographical information for the family members/ancestors you wish to locate. You may need to search more than one page to find what you’re looking for, but the results are well worth the effort.
The site is working on a number of projects such as the Archivest Project to transcribe many public records, and the African American Griots Project to assist African Americans in researching their family histories. The Genealogical Events Project lets you know about events where you can gain information about ancestry research and meet others involved in genealogy. Yet another project called the Kidz Project teaches children about genealogical research.
7. WorldVitalRecords.com. A genealogy records website that charges an amount for membership that is less than Ancestry.com but more than Archives.com, WorldVitalRecords charges less if you want to search only U.S. records rather than the worldwide database. If you choose the international option, however, you will have access to more than 11,000 databases.
The site’s pioneer collection contains nearly 14 million names in more than 500 databases, including passenger lists, and there are about 300 million military records available. The school yearbook database boasts over 70 million names. The genealogy research site now also contains a card catalog that allows you to search with a title keyword. Locations are provided with a map with zoom capability.
A monthly newsletter is provided, and there are articles and tutorials to assist you. Help is also provided for scrapbooking your results, and the message boards allow you to connect with other genealogy researchers. Besides telephone support, there is an online store. You can try the site for free for three days, and you can get your money back after 30 days, if you choose.
8. Footnote.com. What makes Footnote unique is that individuals can post documents for others to see. So, if someone has a document or record in a private collection that is not otherwise available, you may be able to find it on this genealogy site, which includes in excess of 85 million documents and images starting in the 17th century and organized by era. Even if you simply want to find documents not related to your family, this site can be infinitely interesting. An item is featured on the home page, and you can look back at previous featured items on the Spotlights page.
There are numerous documents and photographs from wars in which the United States fought, starting with the Revolutionary War. You can also create a memorial page for someone or a footnote page to show off your own documents.
A basic membership to the website is free, and quite a few of the documents are available with this option. Paid membership allows for complete access and is still quite economical with a seven-day trial available.
9. MyHeritage.com. This free website has its own family tree builder and family webpage functionality, allowing family members to have a central place to build their family records, making it a combination of genealogy search and social network. You can choose to make your information private or public. If you want unlimited storage capabilities, you must pay a nominal monthly fee.
While the genealogy website does not contain its own databases, its search engine is quite comprehensive, bringing back results from more than 1,500 places. These include archived medical records and telephone books, as well as newspapers and the usual official records, some of which are international.
You can search for foreign language names, for example, and if you are uncertain of the spelling, you can choose to research it using Megadex, a technology that MyHeritage.com developed to fill the gaps of Soundex, a more limited technology that was developed before the invention of computers and searches for names that “sound like” the name you entered.
10. AncestralFindings.com. Much of the information on this genealogy website is free, and it contains some unusual international inclusions, such as records of people who were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. The database also contains records from Sweden and Germany, as well as English-speaking countries, and it includes a list of cemeteries in both the United States and United Kingdom.
The help provided on this site is extensive with a list of genealogy books and numerous articles. Email assistance is also available, as well as a listing of other genealogy websites. A guide on the website helps you get started, and a blog allows you to ask questions of other family history researchers.
Genealogy research can be exciting, fun, and rewarding, connecting you with your history, as well as others who are discovering their family backgrounds. Nothing brings the reality of “six degrees of separation” more to the forefront than researching your ancestry. You may very well find relatives in unexpected places or even a lineage that leads to royalty. These top ten genealogy website reviews should have you well on your way to finding the best information to discover your family history.
Best 10 Genealogy Websites for Ancestry Research