While subscription genealogy websites have a lot of information that can’t be found anywhere else, not everyone can afford a membership, even to the cheaper sites. With the economy the way it is, people have to prioritize their budgets, and as much as genealogy is important to you, it may not be practical to pay between $40 and $400 a year to join such subscription sites as NewspaperArchives.com, Fold3.com, GenealogyBank.com, and Ancestry.com. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be looking for sources of reliable free information online, especially if you’ve been a member of a subscription site in the past and are used to that quantity and quality of information.
The good news is that there are some free genealogy websites that offer records that are as good as the ones offered on the subscription sites, or almost as good. You can continue doing your genealogy research while you are waiting for your budget to support a subscription membership again. Even if you are a member of one or more subscription sites, the quality free sites make excellent adjuncts to them. Here are the four best free genealogy websites you should be using, whether you have access to a membership site or are waiting until you are in a financial position to join one.
This is one of the original free genealogy websites and has been in existence since the late 1990’s. Each state has its own section within the U.S. GenWeb project’s site, and each state has a page for each of its individual counties. The information on these pages is all user-contributed, so it can vary in quantity and quality. Some places may have a ton of information, while others may have very little. You’ll just have to get on there and see what is available for the places your ancestors lived. You may find such things as old newspaper records, census records, land records, family Bible records, tax records, cemetery records, old journal and diary records, old photographs, and more. Some of these records are not on any of the subscription sites, because they are submitted by users from their private collections, or from their own local research discoveries.
This totally free website has records, photos, and sometimes even biographical information from hundreds of millions of graves around the world. The database is fully searchable by name, location, and even individual cemeteries. This site is excellent for finding previously unknown burial locations for ancestors, as well as birth and death dates you may not have known. If there is a photograph of the headstone and/or biographical information associated with a grave entry, you might find out a lot more about the person and their family background, and fill in excellent personal information on your family tree. Search by last name in one cemetery where you know an ancestor is buried, and you may find the burials of other ancestors you didn’t know were there, and find interesting new information on them. All information on this site is user submitted, so information included with each entry varies, as does the completeness of the records for each cemetery included on the website.
Organized and managed by the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons), this website is almost on par with the quality of Ancestry.com with its records. There are millions of records from all over the world here, all for free, and more are being added all the time as the church collects them. Some records are found on subscription sites, while others are found nowhere else online. Most are indexed and searchable, while a small number are only browsable. The site is totally free for anyone to use, and you can really get a long way in researching your genealogy using this site alone. It will also give you a good start if you’re just beginning. Even if you’re a member of a subscription site, this is an excellent one to include in the sites you always go to when you do your online genealogy research. It’s that useful.
4. Fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html (aka Old Fulton Postcards)
If you have ancestors from anywhere in New York state, and sometimes from the surrounding states, you’ve got to look at this site. Run by one intrepid and enthusiastic person, it has scanned newspapers from the area going back 200 years and sometimes more. The scanned pages are attached to a search field that will find any name or other words you put in it, making searching for articles on your ancestors easy. You will discover all kinds of previously unknown family information on this website.
In addition, Ancestral Findings offers free lookups from a large selection of resource books.