By Don Taylor
I consider free genealogy websites in three different categories. First are sites that have data that are sources for facts. The second are sites that provide links to sites that have the data. In other words, referrers to sites. Third are training and general information websites, which include Blogs. All three are important but are used differently.
Several sites have free components, but they are primarily fee-based sites. Ancestry and MyHeritage come to mind; I am not including those websites in this group. Their “free” component seems like a system designed to get you to purchase their paid service. Today, I’m looking at the sites that contain actual documents, indexes, and other citable information and don’t nag you to upgrade to a paid component.
- FamilySearch – I use FamilySearch more than any other website. There is so much available there. Often other sites point back to FamilySearch to access images of items the other sites have indexed. You need a no-charge account to login and see the records, but it is well worth it. My first step in researching an ancestor uses Family Search. I find the ancestor on Family Search then I look at the sources associated with that ancestor. I then examine each of those sources and see if they fit my understanding of the ancestor. If I adjudge it is my ancestor, I cite the source then create the relevant facts for my ancestor’s life.
- Google – Google has so many resources on like it is crazy to not use them for much of your work. Google Books, Google News Archive, Google Scholar, and Google Search are fantastic. One of Google’s problems is that it can be like drinking water from a fire hose because the items you are interested in sometimes have hundreds or thousands of responses. Way too much data. A great solution to that problem is the Randy Majors AncestorSearch on Google. You can enter your search criteria, and it will ignore people search sites and social media sites if you don’t want those results. (I seldom ever want living people in my results.)
- Find-a-Grave – I think all genealogists love cemeteries and funerary information. Find-a-Grave does the best job of providing free access to markers and other material regarding gravesites. I respond to photo requests for markers at the two closest cemeteries near me and consider it one of my favorite free websites. Besides marker photos, I’ve begun adding pictures of individuals to Find-a-Grave memorials when I’ve complete analysis in my Photo Friday Identification Project.
- Elephind – I find newspapers are the key to finding the texture of an ancestor’s life. Elephind searches many of my favorite free newspaper websites such as Chronicling America (Library of Congress). It also searches the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection, Hudson River Valley Heritage Historical Newspapers, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, Indiana Digital Historic Newspaper Collection. Digital Michigan Newspapers, The Portal to Texas History and the California Digital Newspaper Collection, the Library of Virginia, and Washington Digital Newspapers. Over 3 million newspapers and publications.
- Advantage Archives – Advantage Archives is somewhat new. It too is a newspaper archive, but you can focus by state then city. I find it really useful.
- Archive.org – Known as the Internet Archive, Archive.Org includes millions of books, movies, websites, and more. On behalf of the Scarborough Historical Society, I’ve uploaded over 100 books to Archive.Org, mostly Scarborough Town Reports and Scarborough High School Yearbooks (see: https://archive.org/details/@dontaylor50). I find a search for “History Location” works amazingly well to learn about books regarding the history of a place.
- Allen County Public Library – The Allen County Public Library is the second-largest genealogical library (after the Family History Center in Salt Lake City). They have an astounding number of items available through their Genealogy interface. If you find a book available only at the ACPL, look at WorldCat for the book. You can then use the information at WorldCat to order the book through your local public library’s interlibrary loan. I’ve ordered dozens of books via Inter-Library Loan and find the process easy to use.
- Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) – The DPLA has more than 40 million images, texts, and other items. They are partners with the National Archives and Records Administration, Hathi Trust, David Rumsey, and many state archives. I’ll mention that although DPLA has many state library collections among their records, Not all of the data at a state library is thee. For example, the Maine State Library website, “Digital Maine” is a partner, but there is a lot of material at the state site that hasn’t been replicated to DPLA. So, I always check both places.
- Old Fulton New York Post Cards – You might think that “Old Fulton New York Post Cards” is about Fulton New York, and you’d be partially right. There is also an amazing amount of other material there. For example, a search for “Libby & Scarborough” yield 22 items returned, some articles for issues of the “Portland, ME, Daily Press” from issues from 1868 to 1898. The website’s search process is a bit unusual; however, there is also another site, Fulton Search, which provides a more standard search experience.
- Don’s List – No, it is not my list. Don’s List, operated by Don Krieger, touts itself to be “Pittsburgh/Allegheny County and Much More.” It is another site where you would think wouldn’t fit your research; however, it really does have “much more.” For example, Don’s list contains directories from all but 14 states. For Maine, there are two Gazetteers (1881 & 1893), an Appleton Register from 1903, and Portland City directories for 1850 and 1912. There is even an alumni directory from the University of Main from 1914. Invariably, Don’s List has something that fits into my research.
My thanks to Ken McKinlay for the reminder to share my favorite free sites. I found it very interesting that his Top 10 Free Genealogy Sites only contains three of the same websites as my top 10 sites (Although, his list is somewhat Canadian focused). Likewise, Randy Seaver and his “Top Ten Genealogical Websites” only has three of the same as mine; however, he has several sites which will be on my “Top 10 Links Websites” and some others that will be on my Top 10 Genealogical Education websites.
Next time, for Part 2, I’ll look at my favorite Genealogy Referrer (Links) Websites.