Top 10 U.S. Websites to Search for Your Ancestors


There are literally thousands of Web sites available on the Internet to help you trace your family roots and stories.

This can become overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. But some sites really stand out at providing the best information and records to get you headed in the right direction. Here’s our list of the top U.S. sites.

familysearch-homepage1 1. FamilySearch org

www.familysearch.org

FamilySearch™ is one of the comprehensive, preeminent family history web sites on the Internet. It provides access to the Family History Library and the largest collection of free family history, family tree and genealogy records in the world. You can do significant research online and also discover what records you need to search to find your ancestors in record-breaking time. It provides easy access for the gathering and sharing of family history information.

Due to the free access to billions of records, their recent and ongoing projects to: improve their infrastructure, digitize and index their extensive collection of genealogical records held in the Granite Mountain Records Vault, partnerships with others in digitizing their records, expanding their new extensive collection of published family histories, upgrading their new Family History Library Catalog, adding new searchable maps, a digital image viewer, and their new wiki site, we’ve selected this as the number one overall site.

FamilySearch is in the early stages of designing the new replacement home page for the esteemed FamilySearch.org website.
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Here is what FamilySearch looks like now, and the current concept design (Alpha) for the new home page. The expected release date for the new site design has not been made public.

“New FamilySearch” Preview

A major project to improve FamilySearch has been in process for the past few years to upgrade the software and infrastructure. They have been developing ways to make organizing, viewing and sharing personal family histories online easier, faster and more accurate for more people. It is temporarily called “New FamilySearch” (nFS) and it is temporarily located at http://new.familysearch.org. But eventually it will be called FamilySearch FamilyTree and will be relocated to the regular website.

nFS is a single family tree that all of us share and work on in common. It provides a free, multi-language, internet-based environment for everyone to collaborate, and will eventually include capabilities to link scanned images of proof documents with each record. It has the option to dispute and provide alternative lineages with notes and proof documents. The links to images of documents is a key component to compiling accurate lineages. This ability to combine our genealogy data with online proof documents (for free) will revolutionize family history research collaboration and be a boon to tracing and sharing your family roots and stories.

FamilySearch has begun to implement the new system worldwide in gradual phases, and at press time have issued a very limited release to LDS Church members only  – which is a great way to work out all of the bugs with a small user group before the major world roll-out. Hopefully this means that we will be spared the disappointment of slow access and the usual major problems of a gigantic new release, and that we’ll be able to find support from experienced local Family History Center volunteers when nFS is available to everyone. Right now, it lacks many niceties considered standard in a genealogy product, but many exciting new features are coming.

Most of us are not be able to access nFS right now until the full roll-out, but as it becomes available and their new products and services are fully developed, they will be added to their Web site and announcements made. No release dates have been announced at this time.

FamilySearch Labs - http://labs.familysearch.org
Take a look at some of the new things FamilySearch is working on. They are testing a variety of products such as Records Search, Family Tree, Standard Finder and Research Wiki. You can sign up as a beta tester and help them develop even better products for future use.

FamilySearch Records Search - http://pilot.familysearch.org
You can search millions of new indexed records for your ancestors. More records are being added every month by volunteer indexers online. If you are interested in helping or want to see what projects they are currently transcribing, go to www.familysearchindexing.org.

FamilySearch Wiki - http://wiki.familysearch.org
Free family history research advice for the community, by the community. A large, on-line library where you can find thousands of articles and how-to instructions about doing family history or even ask a personal family history question. It assists you in finding your ancestors, and offers information on how to find, use, and analyze records of genealogical value for beginners, intermediate and expert researchers. Since this is a wiki Web site, you can add to existing articles or write new articles.

FamilySearch Community - http://forums.familysearchsupport.org/index.php
Unofficial discussion forums for new FamilySearch.org

Unlocking the Granite Vault

FamilySearch is also in the process of a new massive project called the Scanstone Project. They are scanning, digitizing and indexing their extensive collection of genealogical records held in the Granite Mountain Vault, and seeking volunteer help for the project (see Enlisting Your Help below). This is a climate-controlled, underground storage facility to safeguard master copies of all their microfilm records. The storage facility, built literally into a mountainside, is located about 25 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.

Records contained in the Family History Library (which are safeguarded in the mountain vault) and in FamilySearch databases have been gathered from a wide variety of sources worldwide in an ongoing collection effort that has been under way for more than a century. Most of the microfilm collection has been produced by microfilming original sources worldwide. There are more than 5 billion documents (with untold billions of names) on 2 1/2 million rolls of microfilm and 1 1/2 million microfiche. The U.S. Library of Congress contains 29 million books, and the FamilySearch records hold 132 times that much data.

In cooperation with legal custodians of records worldwide, FamilySearch has now replaced its microfilm cameras with digital cameras. In cooperation with legal custodians of records worldwide, FamilySearch has over 200 cameras currently digitizing records in 47 countries.

As part of this digital conversion and capture project, they are currently producing over 60 million images per month or approximately 370,000 rolls of microfilm per year, the equivalent of about 6 million 300-page volumes. Volunteers extract family history information from digital images of historical documents to create indexes that assist everyone in finding their ancestors. With electronic help, each and every name and word in every record will be indexed so that we can find particular ancestors quickly. Names become the primary focus of the databases; localities and jurisdictions become identifiers.

The microfilm conversion project is expected to be completed within the next 5-7 years. The process to create free online indexes to all of the digital images will take longer and be an ongoing initiative, and an index to these “records in process” is available online. The eventual result will give you the ability to search and have billions of indexed genealogy records, linked to digital images of the originals, at your finger tips.

Enlisting Your Help - http://familysearchindexing.org
FamilySearch is enlisting the help of thousands to index all those newly digitized records. FamilySearch Indexing is a worldwide, non-profit community effort to harness volunteers to gather, transcribe, and index records of genealogical significance. You can help create free public access to the U.S. census indexes and other records. The key life events of billions of people are being preserved and shared through the efforts of people like you.

Using their online indexing system, volunteers from around the world are able to quickly and easily transcribe the records—all from the convenience of your home. The indexes are then posted for FREE at FamilySearch.org. Millions of rolls of microfilm provide census, vital, probate, and church records from over 100 countries for indexing projects.

Governments, churches, societies, and commercial companies are also working to make more records available. YOU CAN HELP by volunteering to index one of the current U.S. census projects or the upcoming England and Wales census projects.

To participate as a volunteer, you simply sign up at www.familysearchindexing.org, click through a tutorial provided in both English and Spanish and then select the project you want to work on. There’s an online help desk if you have questions, or you could go to a local family history center and get individual instruction. Once you are online, you recognize that the work of one person makes a contribution, no matter how much time you have to give.

Published Family Histories - www.familysearch.org > Search Records > Historical Books
The Family History Library has an extensive collection of published family histories and is digitizing more everyday – even faster. The effort targets published family, society, county, and town histories, as well as numerous other historical publications that are digitally preserved and made accessible for free online. FamilySearch has nearly a million publications in its famous Family History Library, and there are millions of similar publications elsewhere in the United States.

Working with volunteers and select affiliate libraries, it plans to create the largest digital collection of published histories on the Web. It is helping to digitize and publish collections from the Allen County Public Library, Brigham Young’s Harold B. Lee Library, Houston Public Library, and Mid-Continent Public Library Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. When all is said and done, there will be over a million publications in the digital collection online. It will be the largest free resource of its kind.

Searchable Maps

FamilySearch will also be expanded with searchable maps. Partnering with the University of Austria Map Department, the maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (central Europe) were selected to add first. Jurisdictions overlap, several localities appear to have the same name, countries have been destroyed and wiped off the map, others have been created and added to the map, territory assigned to a new country carries a different name in each country–one place has two or more different names.

FamilySearch is indexing ancestor’s names, the places where your ancestors are found, and the map reference. So with a click you can view and print the actual locality where your ancestors lived. This one feature alone will save you hours of research time. Then you can retrieve a copy of the record images to document your genealogy at a fraction of the time we spend today.

The Family History Library Catalog

The online catalog describes the books, microfilms, and microfiche in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The library houses a collection of genealogical records that includes the names of more than 3 billion deceased people. It is the largest collection of its kind in the world, including: vital records (birth, marriage, and death records from both government and church sources), census returns, court, property, and probate records, cemetery records, emigration and immigration lists, printed genealogies, and family and county histories.

When you want to look at actual records of the people you are researching, you can visit a Family History Center nearest you (there are over 4,500 branches of the Family History Library worldwide) and order copies of the records from the main library in Salt Lake City for a nominal fee. To locate the nearest Family History Center, simply click on Find a Family History Center on the front web site page, or you may call 1-800-346-6044 in the United States and Canada.

To use the catalog, search for your surname and various places that your ancestors lived, looking for information that might be relevant to your research. Choose from the various searches including:  
Place: used to locate records for a certain place such as city, county, state, etc. Each jurisdiction has different records available, so it is important to search all jurisdictions for your area (i.e. both the city and county records).
Surname: used to locate family histories which include that surname or last name. 
Author: used to search for a record by author.
Subject: used to search for a certain topic (based on Library of Congress subject headings).
Keyword: To find entries that contains a certain word or combination of words.

The International Genealogical IndexTM (IGI) lists the dates and places of births, christenings, and marriages for more than 285 million deceased people. The index includes people who lived at any time after the early 1500s up through the early 1900s. These names have been researched and extracted from thousands of original records. Most of these records are compiled from public domain sources. The IGI database makes otherwise difficult-to-access information readily available to the public for free.

The Pedigree Resource FileTM (PRF) is a large collection of family histories submitted by individuals via the internet to help you identify and link your ancestors. There are over 220 million names in the database, and approximately 1.2 million names are submitted to this file every month. It is also a publicly-available method of preserving your genealogy on a computer database.

The comprehensive index to PRF is available free on-line but the actual database files (which would include a submitter’s sources and notes) are currently only available on compact disc which you can either use free in Family History Centers worldwide, or purchase at a nominal cost. (If you wish to purchase, go to www.ldscatalog.com, click on family history / software & databases in the left column.) Each disc contains about 1.1 million names. Results from searching the index online will tell you what disc the respective information can be found on. Information is organized in family groups and pedigrees, and is printed exactly as submitted and not combined with information from other submitters as is done in Ancestral File.

Ancestral FileTM is a collection of approximately 37 million lineage-linked names of people throughout the world that are organized into pedigrees and family group record forms. The information includes dates and places of birth, marriages, and deaths. It also contains names and addresses of the individuals who contributed the information. You can print copies of the records or copy them to your computer hard drive for use in your family history database by creating a GEDCOM file.

The site does not verify the accuracy of the information. It is simply a pool of information donated by thousands of people. The Ancestral File has not been updated since 2000 because of the major FamilySearch overhaul in process.

Free Computer Software

FamilySearch also offers a free copy of Personal Ancestral File (PAF), a popular family history computer program that allows you to record and publish your family history.

2. Ancestry.com

www.ancestry.com $

more than 7 billion names and 27,000 searchable databases, Ancestry.com is a premium online source for family history information, including more than 26,000 historical records collections. Even though Ancestry has relatively high subscription fees, users have access to hundreds of millions of fully searchable individual records, including all available US Census records (1790 – 1930), vast military records, immeasurable passenger arrivals records at major U.S. ports, city directories, vital records, and family histories making the fees well worth your investment. Users can search by record type, locality, or simply view scanned images of original historical documents.

Access to these records is available through both free and premium subscription models, with nearly half of the content available on the site offered free to all visitors. With a paid subscription base of over 850,000 Ancestry.com is among the largest paid subscription sites on the Internet and a premier resource to learn about your family history. Ancestry.com also has local websites in nine countries, including U.K., Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, and Australia, among others. 14-Day Free trial. U.S. Membership $19.95/month, $16.95/month for 3 months, $12.95/month for 12 months.

Ancestry WorldTree - www.ancestry.com/trees/awt
Rootsweb WorldConnect - http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com
Ancestry WorldTree – and Rootsweb WorldConnect – is a free collection of user-submitted GEDCOMs (family trees). You can access WorldTree and World Connect from two different websites, but either way, it is the same program and the same set of trees. The database contains more than 480 million names in family trees submitted by users. To search only WorldTrees or WorldConnect use the URL addresses above. Ancestry.com general tree searches include other family trees not in WorldTree, but general searches also include WorldTree only when searching for "EXACT matches only".

Ancestry.com is part of The Generations Network, Inc., a private provider of a preeminent network of web sites for connecting families with their histories and with one another. The company’s tools, content, and community help empower individuals to find the people most important to them and to share their unique family stories. By offering a variety of family websites, they give families all over the world a unique venue for keeping in touch and strengthening relationships. Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.com are two of the research sites that you will use the most. The network includes:

RootsWeb.com - www.rootsweb.com See Web site no. 3 below for details.

Genealogy.com - www.genealogy.com Provides the tools, resources (about 90,000 links to sites to help do research), and community that empowers you to uncover and share your unique family stories, and to research, organize and document your heritage. It produces the best-selling family tree software, Family Tree Maker

MyFamily.com - www.myfamily.com In a secure, password-protected environment, users can hold family discussions, create online family photo albums, maintain a calendar of family events and share family history information quickly and easily. Since 1998, myfamily.com has helped millions of people keep in touch with their family and friends by sharing photos, stories, news, family trees and more on their very own private web site.

DNA.Ancestry.com - http://dna.ancestry.com Expand your family tree, and discover ancient ancestry just by swapping your cheek. Learn about cheek-swab collection, DNA science and how to choose a test, order a DNA test, and see sample results.

Ancestry.co.uk - www.ancestry.co.uk maintains an extensive archive of records from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, including census records along with civil, ecclesiastical and immigration records.

Ancestry.ca - www.ancestry.ca - Over 410 million Canadian family history records are available online. In addition to the fully indexed Censuses of Canada for 1851, 1891, 1901, 1906 and 1911, key Canadian collections include the Canadian Passenger Lists - 1865 to 1935 and U.S. / Canada Border Crossings from 1895 to 1956, Quebec Church & Vital Records (Drouin Collection) - 1621 to 1967, Ontario and British Columbia Church & Vital records from as early as 1747 and military records from WWI. Ancestry.ca offers an extensive learning center and robust online tree-building tools.

Ancestry.de - www.ancestry.de is a German website offering a significant collection of historic records, including exclusive census and passenger documents. It also offers the German family researcher an extensive learning center, and the latest robust online Ancestry tree-building tools.

Ancestry.com.au - www.ancestry.com.au offers access to over 5 billion family history records worldwide, including more than 570 million UK and Irish records as well as a growing set of Australian family history records dating from the arrival of the first immigrants in 1788 onwards.

3. RootsWeb.com

www.rootsweb.com

A thriving, free genealogy community on the web providing a robust worldwide environment for learning, collaborating and sharing for the expert and novice alike. The site provides access to huge transcribed records from volunteer researchers, and contains extensive interactive guides and numerous research tools for tracing family histories. The site's WorldConnect Project contains more than 480 million ancestor names. Besides helpful advice such as the RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees, it boasts over 31,000 mailing lists, over 132,000 message boards, and the RootsWeb Surname List of more than 1.2 million surname entries.

It also hosts many major websites and sources of free data, such as: Cyndi's List, USGenWeb Project, the Obituary Daily Times (an index to published obituaries), National Genealogical Society, FreeBMD (the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales); and Genealogy.org. RootsWeb is part of The Generations Network.

4. FamilyLink.com/
WorldVitalRecords.com

www.familylink.com $

com, Inc. is a family of services that includes WorldVitalRecords.com, FamilyHistoryLink.com, WebTree.com, WorldHistory.com, GenSeek.com and the We're Related and My Family (http://tinyurl.com/7m9cty) applications on Facebook. The focus of the company is to provide innovative tools to connect families. FamilyLink currently has more than 12 million unique global visitors who generate 31.2 million page views per month.

WorldVitalRecords.com - www.worldvitalrecords.com $ affordable access to genealogy databases and family history tools used by more than 258,000 monthly visitors and tens of thousands of paying subscribers. With thousands of databases-including birth, death, military, census, and parish records-WorldVitalRecords.com makes it easy to fill in missing information in your family tree.

Some of its partners include Everton Publishers, Quintin Publications, Archive CD Books Australia, Gould Genealogy, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, Archive CD Books Canada, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., SmallTownPapers®, Accessible Archives, Genealogical Publishing Company, Find My Past, Godfrey Memorial Library, Find A Grave, and FamilySearch. U.S. Collection - $5.95/month, $39.95/year; World Collection - $14.95/month, $119.40/year.

We're Related - http://apps.facebook.com/we_r_related
The fastest growing social network for families and genealogists and the most popular Facebook application for families. With more than 19 million users, We're Related is one of the five most popular applications on Facebook. We're Related allows individuals to find relatives, connect with friends and family members, build family trees, and share news and photos. Free.

FamilyLink.com - www.familylink.com
A free destination and platform for family social networking. This new service connects families from around the world and across social networking platforms and mobile devices. This is the hub to view everything that is happening with your family members, including status updates, news, blog posts, photos, videos and more.

You can organize your family and find and connect with other family members, upload and organize all your family photos and view photos from the rest of your family, build or upload your family tree and share it with your family, email your entire family and stay updated with everyone. Free.

WorldHistory.com - www.worldhistory.com
A site dedicated to providing historical context around places, people, and events. The site allows you to access local and global historical events by time and location. Perfect tool to help with travel plans or to better understand the historical context of your genealogy. Free.

GenSeek.com - www.genseek.com
The new gateway to family history that combines genealogy research with social networking to expose the world's largest catalog of genealogy sources in a new, more accessible way. Built around the Family History Library Catalog published at FamilySearch.org in an exclusive commercial arrangement, GenSeek.com aims to provide access to all of the world's known genealogy collections and databases, both online and offline. Free.

WebTree.com - www.webtree.com
An online service for publishing family trees in GEDCOM format for sharing and easy access. The millions of names found in family trees at WebTree.com are searchable from WebTree.com and WorldVitalRecords.com. Free.

5. Fold3.com (Footnote)

www.footnote.com $

partnerships with some of the most prominent archives in America including the National Archives, Fold3 digitizes millions of documents, records and photos that paint a picture of our shared past that few have seen before. The collections include records relating to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, African American History, Native Americans, historical newspapers, naturalization documents, and city directories. Many of the collections are free and all indexed information for every collection is freely accessible, then viewed with a paid subscription. Attracting over a million people to the site every month,

Fold3 goes beyond just making valuable documents available on the Internet. Tools on the site make it easy to engage with history. You can upload your photos and documents, make comments on documents and create your own web pages to display and share your discoveries. $11.95/month, $69.95/year.

6. U.S.GenWeb.org

www.usgenweb.org

This free, sprawling, all-volunteer site is packed with how-to tips, queries and records such as censuses, tombstones, family group sheets, cemetery surveys and marriage indexes for every U.S. state and virtually every county. Organization is by county and state, so they provide links to all the state genealogy websites (which includes historical information on the county and geographical boundaries) which, in turn, provide gateways to the counties.

They often provide abstracts of actual records on file (such as cemetery, marriage, birth, death, census, tax, probate, or military records). They also sponsor important special projects at the national level and links to all those pages, as well.

7. GenealogyBank.com

www.genealogybank.com $

your family through America's history. Climb beyond the names and dates on your family tree to the recorded details of their daily lives. Find the facts in four centuries of fragile, rare newspapers, books and documents. Contains over 29 million obituaries appearing in American newspapers from 1977 to the present. A unique source that provides you with complete text of more than 11,700 books, pamphlets and printed items including: U.S. genealogies, biographies, funeral sermons, local histories, cards, charts and more published prior to 1900.

Find military records, casualty lists, Revolutionary and Civil War pension requests, widow's claims, orphan petitions, land grants and much more including all of the American State Papers (1789-1838) and all genealogical content carefully selected from the U.S. Serial Set (1817-1980). More than 229,700 reports, lists and documents. New content added monthly.  $19.95/month, $69.95/year.

8. U.S. National Archives

www.archives.gov

The National Archives and Records Administration is the nation's record keeper. It’s a treasure trove of records and documents to trace your family roots. This site increasingly lets you tap its treasures from home, e.g. see Footnote. Access to Archival Databases encompasses more than 85 million historical records, including extracts from WWII Army enlistment papers and 19th-century arrivals of German, Italian, Irish and Russian immigrants.

For historical photos and maps and American Indian records, try the Archival Research Catalog.  The records that are most commonly used by genealogists include:. The actual census, military, immigration (Ship Passenger Lists), naturalization, and land records are not online, but there are finding aids, such as microfilm indexes, and information on how to conduct research in the different types of records.

9. Godfrey Memorial Library

www.godfrey.org $

Godfrey Memorial Library has long been a valuable resource for genealogists. This private library houses over 200,000 books and periodicals in its collection including: state and local histories, international resources, family histories, biographies, records by religious organizations, church records, funeral records, cemetery records, military records, maps, and an extensive collection of hand-written material, much of which is not available elsewhere.

In addition, the Godfrey Library produces the American Genealogical-Biographical Index, which is the equivalent of more than 200 printed volumes. This database contains millions of records of people whose names have appeared in printed genealogical records and family histories. It's an especially good resource for historic newspapers, including the London Times, 19th century U.S. newspapers, and early American newspapers. $35/year (without the newspaper databases)

10. FamilyTreeConnection.com

www.familytreeconnection.com $

growing collection of unique data indexed from a variety of secondary sources such as high school and college yearbooks, Masonic rosters, club and society member lists, insurance claims data, church directories, orphanage and soldiers' home residents, prisoner logs and much, much more. This data is very useful for connecting with your ancestors, and isn't available elsewhere. The records are compiled from rare documents, pamphlets and unique out-of-print books that contain genealogical tidbits about people from around the world. The database resides at Genealogy Today and is integrated into the search engine on that site. $29.95/year.

 

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