Although only a small fraction of available resources have been digitized, the online genealogical movement is making family research easier every day. Below are my top 5 recommended resources for any DIY Family Historian.
1. Ancestry.com $: It’s an undeniable fact that Ancestry.com is the most comprehensive, collaborative, user-friendly genealogy website. With over 14 billion records, 4 billion surnames, 29,000 searchable collections and 70 million family trees, Ancestry.com is a must for any DIY genealogist. They have collaborative tools that allow you to connect with other users, post on community forums and participate in their DNA testing community. Ancestry.com is what I use as the central repository for my work and it’s where I’ve started every project since 1997. It has an annual fee that you need to maintain once your tree is online, but it’s worth it if you’re serious about your research. You can always save photos and documents to your computer and download a GEDCOM (Genealogical Data Communication) file of your tree if you decide to leave.
2. Familysearch.org FREE: Operated by the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, they’ve been gathering and preserving records for over 100 years. Their website was published in 1999 and contains over 3.5 billion names in searchable databases. They add over 35 million records per month and over 200 million indexed names per year. They also have over 60,000 digitized historical books. They still have over 7 billion records on microfiche that can be ordered and viewed at one of their 4,600 worldwide family history centers. You can also create your family tree online and although it’s not as popular as Ancestry, participation continues to grow.
3. Genealogybank.com $: Census and vital records help outline the facts surrounding your ancestors, but nothing fills in the blanks better than a story and the best stories are often found in newspaper articles and obituaries, which is why genealogybank.com is my next favorite resource. With over 1 billion records online, they offer historical newspapers, recent newspapers and obituaries and historical documents dating as far back as 1690. A well written obituary can help you learn about your ancestor’s life with birth/death dates, family names, occupations, associations, military service, hobbies, locations lived, etc. In addition to obituaries, small events were often recorded in newspaper articles, including family parties, vacations, engagements, weddings, etc. and often include pictures.
4. Findagrave.com FREE: I love researching cemeteries! I know, that sounds morbid, but cemeteries are full of history and family connections. There are over 141 million graves listed at findagrave.com, which is still only a fraction of what exists. However, this community based website continues to grow as people add gravesites to its database every day. If you find an ancestor on this site, you can quickly search for others with that surname in that cemetery, town or county. You could be lucky enough to find a picture or transcription of the grave and sometimes an obituary. When I’ve hit a brick wall, I usually turn to findagrave.com to trace a family.
5. Google.com FREE: That’s right, good old google.com. The most comprehensive search engine is a valuable tool for any researcher. Understanding how to vary your search criteria will result in the most success. A solid search can find research previously conducted, forum posts, records, etc. In addition, Google’s library contains out of print books that include local and family histories.
Remember, online research is only the beginning. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for online it probably means it just hasn’t been digitized yet. In that case, it’s time for a genealogy field trip or time to consult with a professional who is well versed in available records.