If you have ever typed the name of one your ancestors into Google, you may have been surprised at the number of relevant websites that pop up in the results pages. But then where do you go from there?
There are many free and paid for genealogy sites (see the links below) – it’s just a case of choosing the right one(s). You can find free information online but you might also want to get used to the idea that that at some point you are going to have to pay if you want to make serious progress.
Record research will be based initially on Births, Marriages and Deaths certificates and Census Returns, followed by parish register research and when you weigh up the costs of buying copies of these online against the time and expense of travelling to various records archives, there really is no contest.
Database research online literally takes minutes. When I started my family history research, it took months even years to fit in the visits that I needed to make, and whilst this was a very enjoyable activity, I didn’t really have the time.
Free Family History Records
Let’s first look at some of the free resources available to the family historian:
Ongoing project to transcribe the Civil Registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales. They welcome donations.
This is the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which has a huge database of material which is still be collected world wide. When I started, it was only accessible on microfiche at local centers (eg libraries) but is now available online.
Connecting and sharing website for genealogists.
These websites have searchable indexes but there will be a charge for viewing and/or downloading any material. FreeBMD’s indexes are accessible from within FindMyPast and Ancestry which is useful for ordering certificates directly from your index searches.
Using Paid For Databases
Whichever provider(s) you choose, check first what records they hold. They should have births, marriages and death certificates and census records at the very least. Check also that you can order digitised copies of the original certificates – transcriptions can be prone to errors.
Look at and compare their pricing structure. Although they will usually charge a small monthly or larger annual (best value) subscription fee, they may also have credits system (or other payment arrangement) where you purchase a number of credits and ‘spend’ them on records and documents. Free trial periods are common, so give them a try. Many also provide a free family tree builder.
Massive database of UK and international records. Different pricing levels: Essentials (UK), Premium (more than one billion UK records), Worldwide (more than 15 billion international records).
US version – Pricing levels are U.S. Discovery (U.S. records), World Explorer (U.S. and international records), All Access (includes all Ancestry records, newspapers.com, Fold3.com, Ancestry Academy).
Over 4 billion records, and 11 million newspaper pages. Claims to have the largest online collection of Irish records and UK parish records and the most comprehensive archive of British military records.
Three pricing levels – Free (start your family tree and connect with others researching the same family) Pay as you go, Subscription.
More than 100 million records including births, marriages and deaths indexes for Scotland. Credits payment system.
What Records Do Online Databases Hold?
The databases above have a huge variety of record types, eg www.findmypast.co.uk records include:
Births, Marriages and Deaths
Education and Work
Military, armed forces and Conflict
Newspapers and periodicals
Census land and survey records
Directories and social history
Institutions and organizations
Travel and migration
More records are being made available all the time on these databases as the process of acquisition and digitization continues. As I write this, FindMyPast releases new records every Friday! Visit these websites and see just how comprehensive their records are.
Other Online Resources
Please look on our resource page to find other useful genealogical links for your online research.