It’s important to know where you come from. Though it may not determine your current course or where you’d like to go, it can give you insight into who you are and how you got here. Even if diving into family history is unfamiliar — or even uncomfortable territory for you — you’ll never know what you’ll find until you start searching.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Free Genealogy Sites That Don’t Require a Membership or Sign-Up
- Free Genealogy Sites That Require a Sign-In or Membership
If you find yourself with time to dig into some research in the coming months, or just find your mind wandering during a workday (we won’t tell), be sure to check out these free genealogical resources. We’ve provided some sites below that don’t require a membership or sign-up to begin. If you’d like to do some more detailed research, some sites do require a login.
Free Genealogy Sites That Don’t Require a Membership or Sign-Up
There are many reasons to dig into your genealogy. Though genealogy books are another great resource, the digital age we live in makes it understandable to regard online searching as easier and more appealing. However, suppose you’re skeptical about what you can find out or just feel you can’t possibly learn anything about your family. In that case, free resources are a safe place to start.
1. U.S. Census Bureau
The U.S. Census Bureau is a good starting point in your genealogical research. Though it doesn’t provide a ton of in-depth information, it can help you track down different family members’ locations and basic details about their respective households.
You can visit the U.S. Census Bureau here.
2. The Freedmen’s Bureau Records
The Freedmen’s Bureau, originally created in 1865, is undergoing a revival of information, thanks to the National Museum of African American History & Culture and The Smithsonian Institution. This project provides vital information about people who were formerly enslaved as well as other history from the Civil War era.
As you can imagine, the documentation of people who were enslaved and details about their livelihood wasn’t widely available prior to this organization. When it was founded, The Freedmen’s Bureau helped people who had formerly been enslaved make the important transition to citizenship and freedom.
You can visit The Freedmen’s Bureau here.
For further support in searching African-American ancestry and genealogical records, AfriGeneas is a great online resource that has been around for almost two decades. The site even offers forums and an interactive beginners guide to help you in your search.
You can visit AfriGeneas here.
4. National Archives and Records Administration
Though this next resource is also a free governmental entity to research genealogy and military records, much information must be formally requested. However, the site has a significant library of information and photos that you can browse immediately.
You can visit the National Archives and Records Administration here.
5. USGenWeb Project
This resource is entirely free and is comprised of information submitted and uploaded by volunteers. Information is organized by state as the top hierarchy. You can refine your search further to find additional information.
You can visit the USGenWeb Project here.
6. WorldGenWeb Project
Similar to the USGenWeb Project, the WorldGenWeb Project is also entirely free. You can search resources and databases on a global scale. Information is organized by country as the top hierarchy, and you can also refine your search further.
You can visit the WorldGenWeb Project here.
7. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress doesn’t necessarily focus on genealogy and personal records. However, the site has an extensive online library (naturally) of photos, records, and more. The majority of the catalog is entirely free to download. You can even choose from a few different file types. Their site also has more features and more modern functionality than some of the other government sites.
You can visit the Library of Congress here.
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8. Digital Public Library of America
If you enjoy searching the Library of Congress, you will also like the Digital Public Library of America. In addition to genealogy data and historical photographs, the site also has other specific collections you may be interested in. The website’s functionality is also more modern and user-friendly compared to some other resources on this list.
You can visit the Digital Public Library of America here.
9. Chronicling America
On the other hand, if you have a passion for print or newspapers, you may also enjoy Chronicling America. This resource is also brought to you by the Library of Congress.
You can visit Chronicling America here.
If you really like newspapers, or perhaps have relatives who were early journalists, you may also be interested in Elephind. Elephind is unique in that it also sources from Australian resources as well as Chronicling America and even local sources — offering a collection of 175 million-plus items.
You can visit Elephind here.
AccessGenealogy is a compilation of free resources, links, and databases related to genealogy. It also does not require any sort of sign-in or membership to use.
You can visit AccessGenealogy here.
12. Olive Tree Genealogy
Like AccessGenealogy, Olive Tree is a multifaceted site that offers how-tos as well as databases. It provides some unique access to not only passenger records but also for Palatines and orphan and almshouse residents.
You can visit Olive Tree Genealogy here.
USAGov is another excellent starting point, similar to AccessGenealogy. It provides easy access all in one spot to some of the other government resources we’ve mentioned above, like the census. It also provides links to Ellis Island records as well as The Nationwide Gravesite Locator.
You can visit USAGov here.
14. The Statue of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
If you’re curious specifically about immigration records or know a family member entered the country through Ellis Island, this is a great resource for you. Though you may only be able to see a signature or a few other details, this data can be powerful. If you’ve ever watched that classic scene in the movie “Hitch,” you know what we mean.
You can visit The Statue of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. here.
Free Genealogy Sites That Require a Sign-In or Membership
Perhaps you started with the free resources above and have picked up some momentum in your genealogy search. Maybe you’re trying to fill in a branch or a few final holes in your family tree. You might also not have time to research, and you’d like more of the legwork done for you.
You don’t have to commit to a paid service to find out more about your family. The resources below are still free. However, by requiring a sign-in or membership, you will be able to access content that is a bit more exclusive. Be sure to review each site’s terms and conditions and notes about privacy before signing up.
JewishGen is a free genealogy search tool that provides resources for Jewish people on a global scale. Like many of the other search engines listed in this post, it requires you to provide a relative’s full name to begin. To further refine your search, you must complete a signup. You can also search by details such as similar names, towns, and more.
You can visit JewishGen here.
FamilySearch offers billions of records online that can help you build your ancestors’ history. In some cases, Databases like these can provide the best path toward finding out if someone has died or at least some more details about a relative’s death.
You can visit FamilySearch here.
17. New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is very similar to the Library of Congress in terms of its offerings. Though it’s not easy to locate items and records that are free to download, they have extensive databases that can be accessed online. Some resources, such as their ancestry portal, require a library card only available to New York residents.
You can visit the New York Public Library here.
18. HeritageQuest Online
HeritageQuest Online is entirely password-protected. However, you can log in with a partner institution or library. It is powered by the same technology and baseline data as ancestry.com.
You can visit HeritageQuest Online here.
One of the original online genealogy search engines, RootsWeb, is another great resource. Though it’s unclear if creating an account is necessary, it is an option. RootsWeb also hosts The Obituary Daily Times, an extensive online catalog of obituaries.
You can visit RootsWeb here.
Findmypast offers free records searches after creating a login. It offers records from the U.S. and Canada in addition to vital records, travel, and migration records. It also provides the ability to search through records from the U.K. and Ireland.
You can visit Findmypast here.
Getting to Know Your Family (And Yourself)
If you need to find a way to connect with your family or are even unsure about where you come from, genealogical research is a great start. Having historical information and stories to share can help you bond on a deeper level and give your more insight into your past.
These resources can be especially helpful if you don’t know too much about your family, your origin, or if family members have passed away. Even if you don’t find all the answers, you may find some details to help you revisit your search later.
Though it may take some time, free resources — and some thoughtful searching — may unearth something amazing. You may also be interested in these questions to ask your family the next time you’re together to learn more about one another. If you find out a story worth sharing, you can also check out how to write a family history.