There are so many websites now for genealogists of all levels of expertise and experience. But for the beginner, it can be rather confusing to wade through paid advertising cluttering up the landing page of a website, or to try to figure out how to search for the exact information needed. With the explosion of information and documents online over the past 10 years, it can be much easier to search for information than in the past, with "snail-mail" taking weeks! Remember that your local Library may well carry a version of commercial fee-based program(s) for you to use FREE! Also, your local Genealogical Society may also offer free access to certain programs or websites, as well as books and other helpful information. Much is available if you ask.
Here are some of my favourite free websites for beginners. I suggest you go to the site, immediately click "Help" and read through that section, plus look for other sources of information on how to use the site. Each site can be accessed by typing 'www' before the name, and a '.com' after the name. Or, just type the name of the site in a search engine on your computer (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, etc.), and let it find the site! Then bookmark the site so you can find it easily next time.
#1 Cyndi’s List – My personal favourite site. This list is highly categorized, and is also cross-referenced, so you will find the same sites showing up under various categories, if relevant. Not only will you find information and web links for genealogy of your county, country, documents, books, ships, etc., you will also find wonderful hints for beginners – on the first landing page, under “Beginners”. The Search box at the top right corner can be specified for searching only on Cyndi’s List (recommended), or if you are coming up blank on a very specific topic, specify the web instead. Cyndi is a real person who has put this site of web links together with brief explanations, and she updates it on a regular basis! You will also find helpful forms, message boards, and tips on researching in over 180 countries! Start here.
#2 Family Search – The genealogy library of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or Mormon Church). This is by far the largest collection of genealogy resources and material available online, and the resources are held in huge underground safe vaults near Salt Lake City, where the main Library is housed, free for all to access. Very helpful hints for beginners, the FamilySearch site will guide you through your searches. There are Family History Libraries all around the world, and likely there is one near to you; they have access to the entire library, and can request specific microfilms of particular countries and records to be sent to the local F.H.Library for a minimal fee (roughly $6 per film). Every day, over 100 cameras are taking photos of documents and records all over the world for FamilySearch, so if your ancestors came from Germany, France, England, Scotland, or went to Australia or elsewhere – there is likely to be excellent records available online, or at the F.H.Libraries.
#3 Find A Grave – Just as it says, this free site allows you to find gravestones or burial information on ancestors; mainly for North America and the U.K., but it is expanding with submissions from volunteers. I have been thrilled to search for ancestors in the north-east part of the US and find whole families buried there, with photos of stones and information added as well. You can search for specific surnames, with or without maiden names, or you can do a separate search for the name of specific cemeteries around the area where your ancestors lived. A very helpful genealogy resource. Volunteers in the region are happy to take photos of your ancestors’ graves for you, if they are not available on the listing, and as they are local to the area, they may be able to offer further interesting information. Example: my greatgreatgreat Aunt Uncle were buried in a smallish cemetery (about 40) behind a well-kept building – which the volunteer explained had been their original home. Several photographs from him showed me their individual stones, an overview of the cemetery showing placement of their stones, and including the home. What a satisfying and interesting set of photos!
#4 Automated Genealogy – Note that there is no ‘www’ before the name, when you are trying to get on the site. If you have ancestors in early Canada, you will be thrilled to find this site, with censuses from 1851/1852, 1901, 1906, 1911 records available for searching. Volunteers have transcribed these records, and a few errors in reading handwriting etc. have crept in of course. However, you can also look at the specific image on a split screen with the typed list as well, for each page. This is so helpful to look at possible ancestors with variant spelling of their surnames, and first names as well! Look over the landing page to see how many other Canadian records are also available for you to search. One fascinating and helpful part of the site: if you find your ancestor in an early census, their name may be linked to later censuses, making your searches so much easier, as you find them across time in Canada.
#5 Free BMD (birth, marriage, death) – This is a site for the U.K., covering England and Wales, with a great search function for names and places, for their birth records, marriage, or death records from 1837 to. The actual records would have been registered at the local government office or GRO (General Register Office), and by clicking through the Information button, then scroll down the next page to Certificates – what they are and how to order one. Once you are sure you have your ancestor’s record, you use the page and volume information to go offline to the local GRO to order a registration record. The cost for each one is less than $18 which is quite reasonable. And the registration record contains a great deal of helpful information for genealogists to use in further research. FreeBMD is part of a larger group which includes FreeCEN (free census), and FreeREG (free parish registers), and more information is added to daily!
#6 Google Book Service – There is no ‘www’ before the name, instead type ‘’ into your search engine and you will find this fascinating site will keep you searching for “just one more” book, page, name, county, village, etc. I immediately came across a book called “A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England by James Savage, published 1861. Oh my, that kept me busy for over an hour, looking up several of my ancestors’ names. Make sure you are looking in the center section, as the right hand column is for paid advertisers, and they will take you away from the book section. If you find helpful information, go back to the very first page or so, and copy out the Source information (name of book, author, date published, by whom; plus the page numbers of any information you copied). I usually copy info to the Notepad sheet on my computer desktop, then decide to copy to individuals in my family tree – or into a sheet of information on a family line. Don’t lose your Source and Citation material details!
Enjoy these six helpful free sites – each has much to offer. And, the more you use them, the easier it becomes to find exactly what you are looking for on your ancestors’ lives. Happy searching!