Here's How: Genealogy Research Online

Category: Genealogy

Are you interested in learning about your relatives and ancestors, or creating a family tree? Are you looking for good software or websites where you can do genealogy research? You've come to the right place! Read on for some of the best online genealogy tools...

Research Your Family Tree

Roots, the 1977 television mini-series based on Alex Haley's book, sparked a renewed interest in genealogy for many people. Back in the 70's, learning about your ancestors was a tedious job. But now, personal computers and the Internet make it MUCH easier.

A few years ago, I started digging into my family history, and with the help of some software, I was able to trace my father's family line back to a Rankin relative in Scotland, who was born in 1744. I was also able to find an ancestor of my grandmother who was born in 1620, and came to New Amsterdam, a Dutch settlement at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, around 1640. Fascinating stuff! Here are some of the best online resources for doing genealogical research and charting your family tree.

Ancestry.com is probably the first site you'll find when you search online for tools to help you research your family tree. It's a great resource, which I have used myself. But it's not free. The "U.S. Discovery" membership costs $189 for one year, or $99 for six months. The "World Explorer" package adds international records for an additional fee. You may also be able to access Ancestry for free at your local library.

CYNDI'S LIST

family tree genealogy

...is a comprehensive index to over 300,000 genealogical resources on the Internet. Cyndi Ingle has maintained this website for over 21 years, as a labor of love. You'll find a list of links that point you to genealogical research sites, all categorized and cross-referenced. It's like a "card catalog" to the genealogical collection in the immense library that is the Internet.

https://www.CyndisList.com

FAMILYSEARCH

The LDS Church operates FamilySearch, an organization that gathers and shares genealogical records worldwide. FamilySearch.org is one of the most popular genealogy websites, ofering free access to over a billion records. FamilySearch also offers personal assistance at over 4000 family history centers around the world.

https://www.familysearch.org

ROOTSWEB

The oldest and one of the most extensive genealogy sites on the Internet. It's purpose is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research. You'll find message boards, genealogy search engines, and much more.

https://www.rootsweb.com

Human DNA can also be used as a tool for determining ancestry. DNA is passed down through the generations, leaving telltale markers of family relationships that can extend back a thousand years. A simple DNA test can reveal ethnicity, show whether two people are related, if they are descended from a common ancestor, and may even give clues about future potential health risks. As more people participate in voluntary DNA testing, new links in family trees are discovered. Services such as 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and others offer DNA testing for a fee. But there are questions about the reliability of the results, and privacy concerns too. See my article Is Someone Searching for Your DNA Online?

USGENWEB

An outstanding project that has pages for each state and each county in each US state with extensive links to applicable resources, query boards, surname lists, and most anything else imaginable. You can get to the county pages from the state pages, and to the state pages from the main page shown above.

https://www.usgenweb.com

WORLDGENWEB

A project similar to USGENWEB that has sites for every country other than the US. WorldGenWeb is a non-profit volunteer organization that is dedicated to the free use and access of public domain genealogical information. Resources include query pages, message boards, mailing lists, census records, cemetery records, biographies, bibliographies, and family/surname registration websites.

https://www.worldgenweb.org

ONE-STEP WEB PAGES

Steve Morse's One-Step Web Pages help you drill down into genealogy databases—passenger records, census collections, vital records and more—and let you search them from a single, flexible yet simple interface.

https://stevemorse.org/

ELLIS ISLAND

If one of your ancestors came to the USA by way of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, search their name and you can access his or her records in some detail. I was impressed that the database allows you to search using last name, ethnicity, name of town they left, year of arrival and more. You can even see a copy of the ship's manifest listing their names!

https://www.ellisislandrecords.org

RELATIVE FINDER

If you're looking to fill out your family tree? Go to the Relative Finder site, a database of several million dead and living persons, and their relationships to one another.

https://www.relativefinder.org

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEATH INDEX

You can also check the Social Security Administration Death Index to search for information on deceased persons. You can find data on over 80 million individuals with US social security numbers whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration, from 1937 to the present. Information includes Birth Date, Death Date, Last known Residence and user-added content such as memorials, comments, pictures, and more.

https://go.fold3.com/ssdi/

Genealogy Software

One final thought... have you ever been asked to provide "Mother's maiden name" or "Father's middle name" as a "security question" on a website, or anywhere else? There's a very good chance those answers are easily found with online genealogical search tools. If you ever are REQUIRED to use such a security question, make up a name you can remember and use it everywhere.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. What tools have you found helpful when doing family tree research? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Here's How: Genealogy Research Online"

Posted by:

Serge
17 Mar 2020

Be aware that the Ancestry site has been hacked and personnel data stolen.


Posted by:

Lucy
17 Mar 2020

Yes, it is much easier now, with so much information available online.

Our family did it the hard way decades ago, and there is still something you can do that I promise will touch your heart.

Our family went to England with all our research, did some more at St. Catherine's House, where British records are kept.

Then we located the churches our families had attended, and at each church the pastor was more than happy to dig out the baptism records. We were able to touch the page with the handwritten records of our family baptisms going back a couple of centuries.

The trip, expensive. The experience PRICELESS!


Posted by:

Cho
17 Mar 2020

Good job Bob


Posted by:

Ken H
17 Mar 2020

Serge, while technically true, very little personal data that was current was stolen. They seem to take far better care of customer data than the 'big guys" whose websites are often hacked with credit card info stolen.

https://www.hackread.com/ancestry-rootsweb-breach-plaintext-accounts-leaked/


Posted by:

דניאל אביחי קרמר
17 Mar 2020

I appreciate your extra-dry humor.
Greetings from almost locked down Israel.


Posted by:

BillK
17 Mar 2020

According to Firefox the site https://www.ellisislandrecords.org/ has an invalid certificate and Firefox thinks it is dangerous.


Posted by:

Ted
17 Mar 2020

You missed one of the BIGGEST DNA websites - it's Family Tree DNA, and it's got HUGE resources and links to most other DNA sites. That's at www.familytreedna.com


Posted by:

Ahmad
17 Mar 2020

Many happy returns of the day to the author.


Posted by:

Pete
17 Mar 2020

Here, I thought you were going to say you were Irish! Oh, well, Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
you are doing a great job! Thanks!!!


Posted by:

Robert
17 Mar 2020

Be very wary of the accuracy of the records. Ancestry.com and the Mormon church sites contain a lot of inaccuracies due to people guessing about their histories. My mother physicall researched the records for part of my family and they did not match many of the records people were getting from the ancestry sites. We contacted the source people and they said they were using best guesses so not good data.


Posted by:

jim
17 Mar 2020

That would be nice to be able to use some of those resources. However, for those of us who happen to be adopted, it's really pointless. I was adopted at birth in N. Carolina. When my wife was pregnant with our first, I wrote Raliegh HHS just to find out if there were any physical conditions of which we should be aware. I received a terse response on the order of 'we don't give out information to adoptees, and that the pregnancy was normal as was the delivery. People like me simply don't exist.


Posted by:

Moishe
17 Mar 2020

I didn't notice Geni.com mentioned.


Posted by:

Sarah L
17 Mar 2020

Jim, if you get a genealogical DNA test and if your birth parents had other children, you may connect that way. Respect that your birth parents may not want to be found. Yet you may still learn the information you want to know. I know other adopted people who learned their ancestry that way.


Posted by:

Tom F.
18 Mar 2020

A word of caution about using someone else's family tree for your information. Such as found on Ancestry. It may be wrong. Many people take the first thing they see and copy it as true.
Many sites are good sources for clues. Get a copy of the document.
Please verify the information you find. Good Genealogists site their sources for proof.


Posted by:

JimM
18 Mar 2020

I've been doing genealogy work now for over 40 years. I started back before internet at a time when you mailed off letters and actually visited people to get information. What I have noticed with the popularity of the internet is the abundance of misinformation people have collected with Ancestry being the worse. Ancestry is the simplest to use but also the most expensive. Your success will depend largely on what states you are doing research. With some states such as Oklahoma your extremely limited on what you can get. Family Search is absolutely free and has essentially the same information as Ancestry but is a bit more complicated to use. Other sites generally refer you back to Ancestry and you may catch yourself running in circles. Usually each state will have a genealogy page on Facebook and can be a great source of information.


Posted by:

JoeH
18 Mar 2020

Many libraries have online resources (accessible from home) with links for local and general genealogy sources. Another reason to keep your library card and support a threatened treasure.


Posted by:

RandiO
18 Mar 2020

Thank you, BobRankin.
I don't much care for my genealogy but I sure would like to find a way to get a fast notification, when relatives/friends pass-away.
This may sound pretty morbid but is due its own app!


Posted by:

ronald Hargarten
18 Mar 2020

Nice jjob, but you left out a major genelogical site namely "myheritage.com". Yhis site also has a software producr called "Family Tree Builder" which you can download for free. FTB keeps you family tree data on your computer synced with an online version. My Heritage is free for smaller trees, but if your tree gets to large you will have to subscribe and pay a fee. Check it out.


Posted by:

Citellus
19 Mar 2020

1. Rootsweb is no longer functional (as of Mar 2, 2020. But it is in an archival state and can be searched.
2. Find-a-grave (www.findagrave) can be a very valuable source of information.
3. Ancestry is better than portrayed above. No, you cannot trust their unsourced trees, but they have extensive images available of documents - census - vital records - histories. Images are necessary.
4. Always record the source of your information
5. It is not all on the internet. You can get a long way, but over half the useful records are not on line.
(Another pre-PC genealogist)


Posted by:

Dave
20 Mar 2020

Thank you, Bob, for this article! I've been doing ancestry research for 13 years now and I've been a member of ancestry.com the entire time. It is money very well spent, but yes, you cannot go on other people's info or even ancestry's "hints" alone. Use several different sources and you will get a great picture of dates and places, although exact dates and women's maiden names can be tough. It's a challenging hobby but very rewarding. And you can keep branching out (pun intended) for as long as you want!


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