For the Best Free Genealogy Websites, Start at Your Library
Genealogy is the study of lineages and family histories and is a topic that comes up at one point or another in a person’s life. Whether due to sheer curiosity or specific interests in family origins, the search through one’s genealogy can be a big task to take on. Genealogists spend extensive amounts of time using oral interviews, historical records such as birth, death, or marriage records, forensics and genetics, the census, and many other research materials. Luckily, the public library makes the search easier for researchers and those interested in their family history. There are plenty of genealogical resources available for free through local and state libraries as well as databases and trained librarians that can aid in this discovery process.
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Where To Start- National Genealogical Society
Tackling a genealogical search can not only be time-consuming but it can also be difficult to know where to start. Those interested in searching for their family history can begin by utilizing resources provided by the National Genealogical Society (NGS). This society was established over one hundred years ago and is a non-profit organization that serves as a leader in teaching genealogical research skills. Their mission is to serve the genealogical community while also promoting access to and preservation of genealogical records. There are many free resources provided by this organization to help you get started with your search. What is especially helpful in the process is referencing guidelines recommended by the National Genealogical Society created specifically to serve the individual. They last revised the guidelines in 2016 and have included a number of files that include researching in records repositories and libraries, sharing genealogy information, and how to carry out sound research. In addition, the site includes links to free charts and templates to use in your search as well as links to the U.S. Census Tutorial videos, complimentary NGS articles, and research tips.
National Library Resources for Genealogy Searches
The library is a great gateway into the world of available resources when it comes to genealogy. There are thousands of libraries that serve their communities in the preservation of historical records and genealogical references. The American Library Association (ALA) has created a resource page with suggestions for websites, pathfinders, and print resources to help library patrons get started. This list is not comprehensive-the ALA recognizes that there are many state and individual libraries that have extensive genealogy records and resources. This is why they’ve even included helpful web search terms to help users effectively find genealogy resources that are relevant to their location.
The Library of Congress is another centralized source of information for genealogy researchers. They offer a local history and genealogy references service to researchers. On top of the endless collections they offer at the (in-person) library location, they also have extensive digital collections on their site. Their collections include materials of “first-person accounts of 19th century California, the Upper Midwest from 1820–1910, the Chesapeake Bay area from 1600 to 1925 and other resources”. They also include bibliographies and guides for genealogy research compiled specifically by skilled librarians. This comprehensive guide familiarizes even first-time genealogy researchers with the research process and how to search and analyze the materials and databases offered by the library.
Another great site to begin exploring your research resources is the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC) located within the National Archives. This center is focused on providing easy access to information and evidence through online public access catalogs, webpages, and webpage search training. They’ve compiled a useful list of databases, blogs, resources, websites, and how-to’s. In addition to the external resources they have collected, the ALIC also has its own collection housed at the National Archives. The collection includes references and periodicals, published materials, microforms, audio and videotapes, and CDs. The information within their collection covers administrative and American history, biographies, and government and government documents.
Public Libraries: Important Local Supporters of Genealogy Researchers
For those who don’t have time to make a trip to the Library of Congress or the National Archives but are interested in visiting a library in-person for the research, the local library is the best place to be. Local libraries are family history centers and offer extensive help to those doing genealogy and family research.
The Seattle Public Library has one of the largest genealogy databases and collections in the Pacific Northwest. The library has two in-house genealogy librarians to assist patrons with their research across genealogy resources like online records, the genealogy collection, classes, and tours. Patrons can browse more than 45,000 print materials ranging from census records to immigration lists as well as online biographical dictionaries, the American Genealogy Bank and historic newspapers. Visitors can schedule half-hour appointments with the librarians and attend classes on genealogical research.
Residents of Chicago can visit The Newberry Library for their research needs. This public library has been preserving and collecting historical and genealogical materials since the 1880s. These include collections of “family histories; local histories; censuses, probate, deed, court, tax, and cemetery records; military rosters; periodicals; genealogical guides; and reference works”. Patrons can request photocopies of materials they need for research as well as books through Interlibrary Loan. For those that are interested in learning more about genealogy, the library also offers programming for genealogists through workshops and lectures. These adult education seminars are open to the public and include topics like “Using Family Maker” and “Finding Your Chicago Ancestors”.
For those interested in looking into more public libraries that have exciting genealogy collections, Family Tree magazine has a list of ten public libraries with national reputations for their extensive historical records.
Online Genealogy Search Tools
Websites are the places that many people head first to do any type of search. Libraries will often offer services in partnership with sites to help patrons with genealogy research. A few sites that are usually recommended include the following:
FamilySearch is provided for free to the public by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was originally intended to help church members discover more about their family history and heritage but is now used by millions to connect. Not only does it have a website and mobile app that users can search and make family tree connections on, it also has over 5,000 local family history centers around the world that helps people with their genealogy search.
Ancestry.com is a privately-owned company that specializes in genealogy. This is the largest for-profit company that helps customers trace their family lines and analyze their DNA. Ancestry’s database houses billions of historical records and has subscribers who use their services to understand their genealogy.
Cyndi’s List is a trusted resource for genealogy searches. Specifically, it is a “categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the internet”. The list was created by a genealogy enthusiast over 20 years ago and has grown into a large list of recommendations for people doing genealogy research. This website serves as a genealogical portal and “Card catalog” for the extensive resources that the internet offers. This website is also a great resource for different ethnic groups and nationalities. Categories on the site include Acadian, Cajun & Creole, African-American, and Asia & The Pacific among many others. The list also has genealogy categories in a variety of topics. There’s plenty to explore from orphans to slavery to female ancestors to skeletons in the closet.
Chronicling America is helpful for researchers who are interested in searching through local newspapers from cities across the country. The website is hosted by the Library of Congress and specializes in small-town newspapers. This is a particularly useful database because small-town newspapers cover local news that isn’t big enough for national media sources but can be helpful to researchers. These newspapers don’t always make it into other databases which is why this website’s newspapers, ranging from 1789 to 1963, can come in handy for genealogy research.
Genealogy Resources for Diverse Families
There are more than just families from Europe that reside in the United States. After all, America is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds. There’s plenty of resources available for families looking to trace their genealogy from different ethnicities, races, and locations.
This site was created for researching African ancestry in the Americas. This site hopes to document the last slaveholder and the first African in each family. This work is important because records of slaves are not always well documented and this information can be extremely helpful for people looking into their family histories. Additional resources for African Americans include:
Genealogy in the Philippines & Resources for those from Asian Descent
This website documents many helpful resources for those with Filipino backgrounds to visit for their genealogy searches. Visitors can search through births, deaths, marriages and even baptisms through the collections that are available.
Christine Sleeter has also created a great resource to help many East Asian families locate their roots. She covers Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hmong, and Korean resources and digital tools to use. A few of these include:
As mentioned before, Cyndi’s List is a good website for different ethnic groups, nationalities, countries to utilize.
There are many places that offer totally free genealogy websites and services. Searching through all of these resources can take a lot of time and effort as well as become confusing. Once you’ve reviewed your options, make sure you head to your local library and enlist the help of your knowledgeable librarian. They are skilled in research and have the skills to help you find information that you need efficiently while still making sure you’re getting the whole story. Beginning your family search is an exciting process. Use your local library’s free databases, websites, collections, and staff to help you in your research and discovery.