We didn’t arrive here on our own. We owe our presence to a long line of people who came before us and added new branches to our family tree.
These generations of people might have been born, buried, or migrated to places far far away from where you call home now, making the task of tracing your ancestry and extended living relatives extremely challenging.
However, it’s not an impossible task thanks to Ancestry.com and other resources that make it possible to unravel insights about your genealogy going back hundreds of years and rebuild your family tree one revelation at a time.
Genealogy tools like Ancestry use billions of historical records, DNA testing, interactive elements, and matching technology to access even the most relatively unknown and oldest pieces of information that can shine some light on who you are and where you come from.
The only downside to Ancestry is that it can cost you between $16.50 – $49.99 a month to get access to the service, which might be more money than you’re willing or able to part with.
But all hope is not lost. There are lots of free sites like Ancestry that can help you find the information you’re searching for and piece together your family history. Today, I’m going to explore 10 of the best ones and the value they can add to your genealogy adventure.
FamilySearch is a non-profit genealogy website owned and maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Considering that it’s partly run by volunteers, it’s amazing the sheer wealth of information they’ve been able to collate since the website was established in 1999.
The site boasts of over seven billion records gathered from all across the globe and searchable by name. You can browse through records of birth, marriage, residency, deaths, passenger lists, census, church, military data, and many more collections page by page to find documents about your family.
Clicking the Catalog tab will give you access to the world’s largest genealogy library catalog which you can use to dig for information about your family tree and ancestors. FamilySearch has a Research Wiki feature that teaches you all the essential research skills you’ll need to make the most of your efforts.
This genealogy resource also offers tools like memories and a family tree maker which you can use to organize the information you discover about your ancestry along the way. You can add the ancestors you find to flesh out your genealogical tree.
Searching for information on FamilySearch can be a bit daunting if you have no idea where to begin. Having a geographic area, type of record, and jurisdiction in mind when searching can cut out a few steps and countless hours from the process.
The main difference between FamilySearch and Ancestry is that the former doesn’t offer DNA testing and has no in-built tool to automatically search records for you and display potential matches, so you have to do all the detective work yourself.
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Genuki is made possible by a group of individuals who are passionate about providing accurate genealogical information for free. Since it was established in 1995, the site has gone on to house over 110,000 pages of information. It is maintained by volunteers and financed by a charitable trust.
This platform serves as a reference library for all sorts of genealogical data that is relevant to Ireland and the United Kingdom. On it, you’ll find how-to guides, maps, FAQs, gazetteers, family history societies, church databases, and other resources you can use to get your research going.
With the information available on Genuki’s database, you can mine family records, burial places, and vital historical data that can shed light on who your ancestors were. If you’re a history buff, the site can be a great way to learn more about various cities and towns in the UK going back hundreds of years.
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AccessGenealogy is home to the largest database of free genealogy information in the United States. It provides links to hundreds of thousands of other free resources you can use to expand your research.
Although the site specializes in Native American genealogy and research, it also provides a truckload of general historical data about different people and periods in the history of America.
You can use AccessGenealogy to source for census, military, church, tax, birth, old letters, marriage, court, death, yearbooks, newspapers, ethnic, and cemetery records. You can search its collections by category or locality and then go through the archived pages one by one.
You can find documents dating back to the 16th century and even farther. These records cover everything from the slave trade to educational records, and even grocery store ledgers.
You’ll not only learn who your forebears are, but you’ll also be able to mine considerable insights and information about the lives they lived.
New pages are constantly being added to AccessGenealogy daily, so if you can’t find the details you want right now, they might be available in the future.
The downside to this site is that it doesn’t provide guides to help simplify your research, so there’s a learning curve that you’ll have to conquer.
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This is one of the oldest genealogy sites around. It’s been in existence since 1996 and it’s run by volunteers. The USGenWeb is similar to Ancestry in the sense that it lets you search its vast directory for details relating to your family history.
Like FamilySearch, this site has a wiki function that serves as a catalog for available records by location, It contains genealogy data for all 50 states in the US, with comprehensive details that drill down into each county and town.
The amount of information available on a page will differ from county to county in terms of quality and quantity because it’s all contributed by the platform’s users from their own research or private collections. This means you can’t get some of this information on any subscription-based genealogy website.
You won’t know what kind of data you’re going to find for the places where your family once lived until you go looking. If you are looking for an exhaustive source to consult in your ancestry search, USGenWeb will prove invaluable.
USGenWeb’s database features maps, land records, obituaries, census records, newspapers, old diaries & journals, military records, old photographs, tax records, family Bibles, and more.
The site is sprawling with information so navigating it will take some learning and patience. The good news is that USGenWeb offers lots of resources and detailed guides that can help with your ancestry research.
Unlike Ancestry, this site doesn’t have a tool for building a family tree, so you’ll just have to create one for yourself or take advantage of a family tree maker software.
From its humble beginnings in 1996, Olive Tree Genealogy has grown into a family history research powerhouse and one of the best free sites like Ancestry in existence today.
It was created by the researcher, Lorine McGinnis Schulze to provide accessible resources to other researchers and it’s still keeping that promise.
Olive Tree has records that encompass different heritages and familial history, but its strong suits include passenger records, data on residents of orphanages and almshouses, asylum registers, as well as American Indian and Palatine genealogy.
You can use the passenger lists to identify immigrant ancestors of German, Huguenot, Palatine, Quakers, and Mennonite heritage, and when they first arrived in the United States. You can also find records of voter registration, naturalization, oaths of allegiance, and other comprehensive details about your ancestors.
Olive Tree has a section for Canada, Netherlands, UK, and Ireland, immigration that you can browse through and possibly trace your roots to that part of the world.
If you don’t want to go through the rigors of doing the research yourself, you can purchase a research package from Olive Tree for 3, 5, or 10 hours worth of research and answers to your genealogy questions.
The site has a generous collection of guides that beginners will find helpful as they embark on the journey of discovering who they are and who their family was. However, Olive Tree’s interface is a little dated and takes some getting used to.
Another site similar to Ancestry that you’ll want to look at if you’re interested in genealogy research is FindAGrave. The site was founded by Jim Tipton in 1995 to share his love for touring the graves of famous people. It was acquired by Ancestry in 2013.
The website has an impressive database of photos, records, and biographical information collected from hundreds of millions of graves across the world.
FindAGrave is a great resource for discovering the final resting places of your ancestors, as well as the dates of their birth and death, and even the names of other relations you didn’t know existed.
You can search FindAGrave’s records by location, name, birth year, death year, or specific cemeteries. If you’re lucky, you might find pictures of the headstone or relevant personal details about the deceased which will tell you more about their family background and who they were while they were alive.
Other search parameters you can use include the name of the spouse, child, parent, or sibling of the deceased. You can filter search results by titles, nickname, maiden name, exact or similar name spelling, grave photo or lack of it, and famous people.
Since all of the information on FindAGrave is submitted by registered users, the amount of information available differs from entry to entry, so some records will be more complete than others.
Also, you can create a memorial or add more details, notes, or virtual flowers to an existing grave entry. So far, the virtual cemetery has over 180 million entries. Thousands of new listings, corrections, updates, GPS locations, virtual flowers, biographies, and photos are submitted to FindAGrave every hour.
One of the best free sites like Ancestry and the second largest family research center in the US that you can use for your genealogy research is the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.
It curates ancestry resources for Allen County, the state of Indiana, and the entire United States, with enormous records covering Native American ancestry, African American genealogy, and military history.
You can browse through all sorts of documents such as cemetery records, school yearbooks, and military records. You don’t need a library card to access ACPL’s robust databases. All you have to do is visit the library’s genealogy center website and search through its resources from wherever you are.
Also available on the site are microfiche, microfilms, and transcriptions from family bibles that have been donated to the center.
Using the Surname File, you can reach out to other people researching the same name, find out the details they’ve unearthed, and share the information you’ve discovered during your own research with them.
The website has a monthly e-magazine focusing on different aspects of genealogy and many useful guides on how to research your family history.
Whether you’ve just begun digging into your family history or you’ve been actively researching it for years, the ACPL Center offers consultation services with staff members specializing in the aspect of your research you need help with.
You can also shoot them an email and have any general questions you have about ACPL’s records, databases, collections, and catalogs answered by a Genealogy Librarian within 48 hours. For more extensive research questions, you can use the Research Request Forms.
When it comes to tracing Jewish ancestral roots, JewishGen is as good as it gets. The website is home to expansive, searchable databases of family trees, Holocaust victims, surnames, burials, and towns.
The website’s Family Tree of Jewish People database contains over six million names, while the Family Finder database holds more than 500,000 town and surname entries. JewishGen also houses 2.7 million records of victims of the Holocaust, a gazetteer of 54 nations, and a database of 6,000 different Jewish communities.
JewishGen has records that cover cemeteries, burial registries, business directories, books, and manuscripts, as well as congregations that were destroyed in the London Blitz. Basically, if there’s a significant event in Jewish history you’re seeking information on, you’re likely to find it on this site.
The website uses Daitch-Mokotoff phonetic search algorithms to find accurate results for Jewish and Eastern European name searches.
To make use of JewishGen’s search tools, you’ll need to register on the site. However, the advanced search feature will still be out of your reach unless you make a donation to the platform.
You can find valuable links to other Jewish genealogy resources around the globe, especially in Israel, Hungary, UK, Poland, Latvia, Germany, Austria, Belarus, and the USA. These resources contain records of births, census, marriages, businesses, and deaths.
Although the platform can be overwhelming at first, JewishGen offers special guides for first-timers and beginners to learn how to use the site and get the most out of their research. It also provides paid classes and free tutorials on various aspects of genealogy research.
Imagine Wikipedia, but for genealogy research, that’s what WeRelate is. It’s a little different from the other ancestry and family tree websites on this list, but it still operates in a similar fashion.
WeRelate is the largest free genealogy website in the world and it’s sponsored by the Foundation for Online Genealogy. It recently adopted a new administrative structure where everybody has the license to contribute information and help advance other people’s research by removing incorrect details or adding relevant information.
The goal of WeRelate is to create a unified family tree with the best and most comprehensive information about various people and family histories.
The website allows users to upload photographs, birth, death, and marriage certificates, and other documents as primary sources of information, all sourced by the general public.
You can also view family stories, scanned documents, multi-generation pedigree, maps of your predecessor’s life events, family information, personal details, and descendancy charts. When someone makes changes to a page you’ve indicated an interest in, you’ll receive a notification email
Currently, pages are brimming with biological and genealogical information for over 2.9 million people on WeRelate and the new pages are constantly being added. You can search its vast database by people, families, sources, articles, places, and images, or all categories at once.
WeRelate offers tutorial videos to help you understand the website better.
Like its competitor, Ancestry, WeRelate provides privacy protections for people who are still living, so extremely personal details about their lives won’t be publicly advertised for all to see.
If you’re African American or researching African genealogy in America, AfriGeneas is one of the best free sites like Ancestry that you can use. This website is focused on connecting folks who are trying to trace their origins in search of their ancestors with one another so they can share knowledge and help each other.
AfriGeneas provides tons of resources and sites for African American records and genealogy research, a detailed history of slavery, and directions on how to find slave data and other key records.
The site’s mission is to trace and document the first African and the last slaveholder in each family and encourage everyone with African ancestry to dig into their roots until every possible resource is exhausted.
You can view photos and death/marriage/surname record databases, learn about family reunions, browse through African American newspapers, and even conduct research into your Caribbean ancestry.
When you sign up as a member, you’ll be added to AfriGeneas’ mailing list. You’ll also get access to the platform’s discussion forums and message boards where you can participate in genealogy-centered chats.
To help you kickstart your research journey, AfriGeneas offers a Beginners Guide in video format that walks you through everything you need to know about using the website.
There are tons of genealogy and family tree-building tools out there beyond the ones discussed in this article. Each one comes with its own set of features and not all of them will suit your needs or enable you to find the ancestral information you’re searching for. So what makes a good genealogy website and how can you tell which is right for you?
The first thing to look out for when shopping for a genealogy tool is the geographical focus of that platform. If you’re of Native American descent, it might be wise to go searching for genealogical information about your ancestors on sites that focus on European or UK ancestry.
Look for a site that has a general concentration or one that’s specific to the continent, country, or locale your ancestors are most likely to hail from. That way, you can find records that will be useful to you.
Tracing your family history or tracking down historical information is an exhilarating experience, but you’re likely to encounter obstacles, frustrations, and inaccurate information along the way.
Interacting with people who share similar interests and are more experienced than you can make it easier for you to find solutions to common problems and dig up the right answers that’ll bring you one step closer to enriching your family tree. Pick a site that has lots of useful resources and an active community.
The larger the database, the more likely you are to find historical records that’ll lead you to your ancestors. Don’t settle for a site that has only a few thousand records to comb through unless their information is localized to a specific area of interest.
There are sites with hundreds of thousands and millions of archived information and documents that can transform your research.
If you’re interested in taking your ancestry research one step further by taking a DNA test, you’ll want to go with a genealogy company that offers that service. Alternatively, you can get your DNA testing done anywhere.
Then you can select a family tree building site that allows you to upload DNA test results and crossmatch them with others in their database to find potential relatives who share your DNA profile.
As you can see, Ancestry isn’t the only credible genealogy and family tree research website out there. If you’re interested in learning more about where and who you came from or you’re just a history enthusiast, there are many amazing options at your fingertips.
You don’t have to spend a dime to gather vital information about your heritage. All you need is time and a little patience and you’ll soon be making incredible and fascinating discoveries.