In our guide How to Start Looking for British Ancestors (England, Scotland and Wales) we covered most online and offline resources to start a genealogical investigation into your family’s history. In this article, we’ll summarize the five top sites you can use from home and for free.
What to Know Before you Start
The first thing you do when start tracking your ancestry is to sketch a family tree, even if it’s a very small one. You can create it in paper, or use an online service such as Ancestry (paid), FindMyPast (paid), FamilyEcho (free) or FamilySearch (free).
Think of a family tree as a living organism, one that will grow in time as you talk to relatives to undig information, or as new records become available. If it’s wat you want, you’ll always find new family branches to explore, that’s what makes genealogy such a wonderful hobby.
Having said that, let’s dive right into the top five free websites for genealogical research, which will give you access to birth, marriage and death certificates, census, address books and much more.
1) Family Search
FamilySearch is one of my favorite and most used free websites.
This site not only has the world’s largest collection of free family history records, but it’s also extremely easy to use. You don’t need to register to use FamilySearch, but doing so will allow you to search the databases without limits (occasional visitors are restricted to a dozen per session).
FamilySearch has documents in both text and image format, and provide access to a huge number of non-digitalized microfilms you can request and check from their family centers.
We’re working on a setp-by-step guide about how to use FamilySearch, so keep an eye on this page to find out more.
WikiTree is a community of genealogists connecting the human family on one enormous tree. Their aim is to have one record for every person that lived, which is actually a great way to locate records.
WikiTree uses traditional genealogy and DNA testing, and its members are incredible friendly. They have a Genealogist-to-Genealogist Forum where users kindly answer all sorts of questions and help you in your search if you’re not sure where to go next.
The best thing about WikiTree is that, if you’re lucky, you might find parts of your family tree already loaded. Because of how passionate WikiTree users are, most profiles are amazingly well documented and sourced, with links to documents, photos and resources that guarantee each entry is real.
FreeBMD is a project that aims to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales – and providing them for free online.
The transcribing of the records is carried out by teams of dedicated volunteers, and the site is a registered charity.
An incomparable great resource to explore British records.
FreeCEN is a project that aims to provide free Internet searches of the 19th century UK census returns.
Just like FreeBMD, the transcribing of the records is done by teams of volunteers, and the site is a registered charity.
They are also in urgent need of volunteers, so if you find the project useful please consider helping.
FreeREG belongs to the same network as FreeBMD (Civil Registration data) and FreeCEN (Census data). This site aims to provide free access to baptism, marriage, and burial records, extracted from parish registers, non-conformist records and other relevant sources in the UK.
The recording of baptisms, marriages and burials in parish registers began in England and Wales in 1538.
Exactly like the previous two sites, FreeReg volunteers transcribe the records and the site is a registered charity.
Even when FreeReg has hundreds of records loaded daily, you might not find all your ancestors in the database yet. Make sure you go back regularly to take a look.