Mostly Free Online Resources for Family History
To many of us, the big attraction of using the Internet for our research is convenience. It is always "open" and is accessible from home. And most of its resources are free! Since there is no way to cover all of the resources available on the Internet, I will focus on some that I have found most useful.
The FamilySearch Wiki the
place to find out what records to look for. Don't waste time looking for records that do not exist, while ignoring excellent records that are unfamilar.. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page
For example, Scandinavia has household visitation records that are like an annual census. Don't miss out! (Note that FamilySearch requires a free registration.)
Online research is considered the quicker and easier way to do genealogy. It still takes time, and is subject to the same challenges as printed genealogies, including occasional errors. The main advantages are speed and convenience. With a computer, you can search through thousands or even millions of records in the same time that it would take to read a page on a microfilm or book. Caveat: Just because a piece of information appears on a personal webpage, message board, online family tree, or is printed in a book doesn't guarantee its accuracy. You need to verify any serious research from official sources whenever possible. Fortunately, more and more of these official sources are also available online. I would like to focus on these. But firstly a few minutes should be spent on compiled genealogies and local histories.
Instant Gratification: Compiled Genealogies
a FREE service of RootsWeb http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/
Example: Eliza Auger, daughter of Augustin and Rosalie. Click on the underlined name of the database to search the database. Click on the pedigree chart icon to view the pedigree. Often, on the Pedigree screen you can click on "Download Gedcom" to download a copy of this database.
In Time is
a great place to find free genealogy. They have two search
Search 3.8 billion records from genealogy forums and online family trees. Free Family Tree Search Engine
Search 1.9 billion free ancestral records from around the world. Genealogy Search Engine
Web Pages can
often be found using http://www.google.com or
any other really good Web Search Engine.
Example: "Watson family" Edwardsburgh Canada
Select the "Leeds & Grenville GenWeb - Family Web" link and scroll down to Watson and select it.
(Google can be used to find genealogical resources of all kinds, if you can clearly define what to look for, and don't mind searching through a "haystack" looking for a few good "needles".) An Advanced Google Search allows you to specify additional search criteria, which can be helpful.
often the best source of the histories of families. Doing a web search
on the name of the place and the word hstory will sometimes find a
history of the place. One particularly
good site for local histories is the Our Roots project
by the universities of Calgary and Laval. http://www.ourroots.ca/ (This site is under construction at the present time.)
Example: Grenville then select "History of Leeds and Grenville", by Leavitt, Thaddeus William Henry, 1879. Select "Memoir". During the American Revolution, Adiel Sherwood's father Thomas fled to Canada and became an officer in the Loyalist Rangers, and his uncles Adiel and Seth became officers in the Revolutionary Army. With cousins also fighting on both sides, it makes for very interesting family history! (See the lower part of the right-hand column.)
A sister site to Our Roots is Our Future, Our Past: The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project (AHDP) http://www.ourfutureourpast.ca/, where you can view some old Alberta newspapers and local histories and other historical documents. While the coverage of the province is incomplete, you may find stories that have a value far beyond money. (Like ourroots.ca this site seems to be under construction.)
Hard Facts: Going to Official Sources
Compiled genealogies are prone to errors. (I spotted at least one in the examples above.) I found a compiled genealogy that traced my great-great-grandfather back to the chiefs of Clan Buchanan in Scotland and eventually back to the kings of Ireland. However, I knew enough about g-g-grandfather to determine that more research was needed. We need to be cautious of accepting "wishful thinking", as real research. Still, compiled genealogies are usually based on serious research. How can you tell serious research from daydreams? Serious research needs to be supported by the best official sources available. Fortunately, more and more of these are available online for free.
starting about 1850 have some major advantages where genealogy is
1. Unlike some official records, everyone was supposed to be counted. (You didn't have to own property or be in jail or in the workhouse or the military.)
2. Families are grouped together, and sometimes include members of the extended family living in the same household or nearby.
3. Ages are included. (1901 census of Canada gives an exact date of birth.)
4. Place of birth is often included.
5. They have been preserved intact in most cases, whereas certificates and family Bibles seldom survived.
6. They allow you to follow a family over a long period of time, as children are born, and either die young, or grow to leave the family home. Errors in one census can usually be noticed when comparing with earlier and later censuses.
Canadian Censuses Online
1921 Census of Canada at Libray and Archives Canada https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1921/Pages/search.aspx
1916 census of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1916/Pages/1916.aspx or at any Family History Centre.
1911 Census of Canada free at this free site https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1911/Pages/1911.aspx or http://automatedgenealogy.com
1906 Special Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta is at https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1906/Pages/about-census.aspx or at Automated Genealogy.
1901 Census of Canada https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1901/Pages/1901.aspx or on Automated Genealogy
1891 Census of Canada https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1891/Pages/1891.aspx
1881 Census of Canada https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1881/Pages/1881.aspx
1880/1881 Censuses of USA/Canada/Great Britain is free https://familysearch.org/
1871 Census of Canada https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1871/Pages/1871.aspx
1861 Census of Canada index https://familysearch.org/
1851/1852 Census of Canada is available online at the Family History Centre. It is partially available at home from Automated Genealogy http://automatedgenealogy.com
Censuses of many countries can be accessed free from home at https://familysearch.org/
Parish and Civil Records
Few government "civil" records exist for ordinary individuals before the mid-to-late 1800s, but prior to this time churches of most denominations kept records of christenings, marriages and burials.Many of these can be found by clicking Search > Records at https://familysearch.org/
far five provinces have vital records indexes online. In most cases you
can get the basic information you need for free, directly from the
government. These are excellent official resources. I have spent many
hours with the Manitoba site and some time on the BC site.
New Brunswick Vital Statistics Search Engine http://archives.gnb.ca/APPS/GovRecs/VISSE/?L=EN
Nova Scotia Vital Records search https://www.novascotiagenealogy.com/
Manitoba Vital Statistics http://vitalstats.gov.mb.ca/Query.php
Example: Andrew Rasmussen's marriage should be recorded there. Wow! We find his first marriage to Sophia Sorenson and after her death, we find his marriage to his second wife Anna, and after his death, Anna's re-marriage! And the Manitoba marriage certificates would give the names of both parents of the brides and grooms at a minimal cost of $12.
vital records http://genealogy.ehealthsask.ca
Free BMD information. Faster to use than Manitoba's, but so far they just have the births and deaths posted.
Columbia Archives - Births, Marriages and Deaths http://search-collections.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/Genealogy
(Please suggest to the Alberta Government that we want the Alberta Vital Records Index made available online, too!!!)
FamilySearch Record Collections for Canada https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/location/1927164?region=Canada&englishRegion=Canada
Paid access to Ontario Births, Marriages and Deaths http://Ancestry.ca The Ontario births and marriages have excellent information, the deaths have no biographical information.
Free access at https://familysearch.org/ but this indexing is not yet complete.
Birth Registrations http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~births/index.htm
Covers perhaps 5% of births, but useful if you connect.
Example: We will search for any Buchanans born in Elma Township, Perth County
Ontario Marriage Registrations 1800-1924 http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~maryc/thisisit.htm
Covers maybe 20% of the marriages, but has wonderful information - including the names of the bride's and groom's parents.
Example: Buchanan Perth Elma to find all Buchanans married in Elma Township, Perth County, Ontario
Methodist Baptisms in Ontario http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wjmartin/wm-index.htm
Sometimes the Methodist circuit riders were the only clergy available and christened children of other denominations. So just because your ancestors were not Methodists doesn't mean they won't be found there. It includes the married names of the parents, birthdate and birthplace of the child.
Example: Lavina Atkin, born in Mornington Township, Perth County
Drouin Collection at http://www.ancestry.ca/ has
37 million historical French-Canadian names, fully searchable indexes
of Quebec records spanning 346 years from 1621 to 1967. This is viewable for free at a Family History Centre. Otherwise, this is a subscription service
of Ancestry.ca Note that much of the
material is available free elsewhere. Warning! Ancestry (for all
areas) automatically renews
your subscription and bills it to your credit card unless you cancel
before renewal time.
Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918) http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/search.aspx
See the original attestation (sign-up) papers and print your own copy of them!
Example: Search for Teale, Arthur and click the icon for the front of the page. Arthur paid the supreme sacrifice at Vimy Ridge, France leaving his wife with four tiny children and a farm in Saskatchewan to run.
Alberta Genealogical Society I have found their surnames database helpful. Their index to the Alberta homestead grants is very useful if you plan to visit the Provincial Archives of Alberta. https://www.abgenealogy.ca/
Alberta Family Histories Society http://www.afhs.ab.ca
Search > Immgration and Travel (Free index to passengers on British ships). http://www.findmypast.com
Online directories for finding living relatives Canada411 or WhitePages -
Commonwealth War Graves http://www.cwgc.org
Example: Again we will Search for Arthur Teale. (He is the second Arthur Teale listed.)
Free 1881 census of England and Wales online, and other services online at https://familysearch.org
All censuses of England and Wales (1841-1911) free at your local Family History Center from http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ through their free online portal. Ancestry.com also has these, along with the Censuses of Scotland for free at FHCs.FREE-BMD Free searches for Birth, Marriage and Death Registrations in England since 1 July 1837 http://www.freebmd.org.uk/
that some British counties have their own BMD sites for records that
they hold. Sometimes they have things that the national site doesn't
have and vice-versa.
Example: All Types, Ing, All Districts, County: London
(After visiting FreeBMD you may want to purchase official certificates at http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
Once registered here (for free) you can find the maiden names of the children's mother!
FreeREG a site associated with FreeBMD, currently covers few areas but you might get lucky http://www.freereg.org.uk/
County BMD sites sometimes have additional information for free, for example http://www.lancashirebmd.org.uk/
Out-bound passengers from
the UK http://www.findmypast.com/home.jsp It
seems to exclude troop transports and crews. The index is free and has
useful information. (The transcriptions and images are free at a Family
Example: HIPPARD Charles 25 M 1928 Liverpool Canada Quebec
"Home" Children brought
to Canada http://www.dcs.uwaterloo.ca/~marj/genealogy/homeadd.html
My maternal grandfather and my father-in-law were among tens of thousands of orphaned or impoverished children brought from Great Britain as farm or domestic help. For some it represented new opportunities, for other slavery.
Example: Click the Archives page and search for Richard Ing then click on the page icon.
Genealogy of the United Kingdom and Ireland genealogy portal http://www.genuki.org.uk/
English County Look-ups, etc. http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php/board,1.0.html
A Vision of Britain between 1801 and 2001. Including gazeteers with maps and historical descriptions.http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk
1851 maps of British jurisdictions at http://maps.familysearch.org/
Scotland’s People commercial website at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
Ancestry.co.uk is a fee-based company that has the Scottish, English and Welsh censuses from 1841 to 1911. http://www.ancestry.co.uk
UK country and county codes: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/Regions/Codes.html
ANCESTRY.COM is the omnipresent commercial genealogy company. http://www.ancestry.com Their biggest strength is the censuses (1790-1880, 1900-1930), but they have many other resources as well for the USA. Signing up costs about $300 US per year. Fortunately, most of these services can be used for free at any Family History Center.
Heritage Quest is a commercial service available for free at Family History Centers.
Social Security Death Index (SSDI) of the USA is accessible from various sources including https://familysearch.org
FamilySearch also has the 1880 census of the USA.
Ellis Island immigration records from 1890 https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ Requires free registration.
Castle Garden immigration database of 10 million immigrants to the USA from 1830 through 1892 http://www.castlegarden.org/
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers - search and view newspaper pages from 1860-1922 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
Most of the genealogies on the Internet seem to have an American connection.
Norwegian Censuses online http://digitalarkivet.uib.no (A knowledge of Norwegian would be helpful.)
Danish State Archives: http://www.sa.dk/content/us/
The Danish State Archives: http://www.sa.dk/content/us/genealogy/online_services
The Danish Demographic Database and Censuses: http://www.ddd.dda.dk/kiplink_en.htm
The Danish State Archives parish registers and population censuses: http://www.sa.dk/ao/English/default.aspx
Swedish Parish Registers at Arkivdigital, a commercial service you can use for free at Family History Centers
Maps can be vital to
narrowing-down searches by knowing the names of surrounding places.
For example, Richard Martin born at Towednack or Ludgvan, Cornwall.
Bing Maps http://www.bing.com/maps/
Google Maps http://maps.google.com/
Genealogy Message Boards
While not used as much as they used to be, you may find it useful to post messages on message boards, and to search through messages posted by other people. If you do so, please get yourself a free PERMANENT email address from somewhere such as http://mail.google.com http://www.hotmail.com, or http://www.yahoo.com and keep it active by checking the messages once a month. That way if someone replies to your messages 5 years from now, you will still be able to receive their reply. I occasionally find old postings that I made using an email address that has been dead for 8 years, and are now useless. Don't make the same mistake.
Ancestry/RootsWeb Message Boards http://boards.rootsweb.com/ and http://boards.ancestry.com/ (This is one of the FREE services of Ancestry.com)
Internet Telephone Directories -
The first BIG challenge is to trace your family back 100 years, because
most online resources protect the privacy of living people. But this
information is the most available from your own extended family. How do
you find these people, assuming they are alive? Use an Internet
telephone directory. Many are available, including http://www.WhitePages.ca http://www.Canada411.com http://www.411.ca
I used them to find my "lost" Hamilton and McGillivray relatives and get a mountain of genealogy from them including old family photos and old family stories.
Cemetery Finding Aids may
help you find a tombstone inscription that gives the year of birth or
the names of other family members.
Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid http://www.islandnet.com/ocfa/
BC Cemetery Finding Aid http://www.islandnet.com/bccfa/homepage.html
Find a Grave http://www.findagrave.com/ is international in scope, and is one of the most frequented web sites by genealogists.
BillionGraves is less extensive than Findagrave, but still good https://billiongraves.com
Obituaries - Usually
only list deaths since 2000. Some only have obits for the current
month. But if you find an obit, it may have three generations of
information! You will usually find them using a search engine. A few
sites I have used are:
Edmonton Journal Obituaries (since January 2002) http://edmontonjournal.remembering.ca/
Regina Leader Post Saskatchwan Obituaries http://leaderpost.remembering.ca/
Winnipeg Free Press Obituaries https://passages.winnipegfreepress.com/
British Columbia Newspaper Obituaries http://www.obituaries.com/ns/obituariescom/obits.aspx?state=bc
You can also do a web search for the city and obituaries.
Internet Search Engines - These can be used to look for material that is not on the usual genealogy sites. http://www.google.ca http://www.yahoo.com and http://www.bing.com They can find personal genealogy websites, but also postings to message boards, government records, local histories, and so forth. But at least 95% of the webpages "found" will be totally unrelated to genealogy. Remember to use quotation marks to narrow the search. (Terms within quotation marks are treated as a single word.) Suppose you are looking for any information on a Watson family that had lived at Riding Mountain, Manitoba. Searching for "Riding Mountain" Watson - will find all webpages that contain the name "Watson" PLUS the term "Riding Mountain". The quotation marks should eliminate tens of thousands of false "hits" from pages that contain the words "Watson" and "Riding" and "Mountain" such as "Mr. Watson was riding his mule up the mountain when he spotted a huge grizzly bear." To further narrow down your search, you might try successively including the words Manitoba, Family, Born, Lived, Died, Married (one at a time, not all at once). Ideally, you should not have to search through more than 200 hits. If you find 25,000 references to your search terms, you have really found nothing.
So if I didn't have a search engine on my website, you could still search it for George Watson by putting:
"George Watson" site:http://billbuchanan.byethost17.com
into the Google search box and clicking Search.
Out-of-Print Histories (and other books)
To Borrow - (it may be a long way from where you live, but available through inter-library loans) http://www.worldcat.org
To Buy - http://www.bookfinder.com/ http://www.addall.com/ http://www.abebooks.com/
To Read Online http://books.google.com The Advanced Search option allows you to specify only books where the full view is available. Other books many only have snippets visible.
FamilySearch.org has thousands of history books. Some are freely available but others have access restricted by the publisher https://books.familysearch.org.
Your Own Website - You may want to create your own free website to share your genealogy and invite other people to contact you to share their information with you. This is a topic for a whole other presentation, but my website has allowed cousins who have been "lost" for 60 years to find me and contact me.
Easy Personal Websites -
Some sites will create a personal website for free, if you just
register and upload a gedcom file. http://tribalpages.com/ and http://www.kindredkonnections.com are
examples of such places.
Your Own Blog -
You can easily create a free blog at any of several sites. Google's
is perhaps the best known. Another popular free blog host is http://wordpress.com/ They
are very simple, you just write what you want and upload
photos. If you can send email messages you can create a blog! No
special software or technical knowledge is required.
your website provides more flexibility but much more effort.
The content on my main website is generated by the free
Personal Ancestral File software from FamilySearch, and I have edited
the index pages to add photos and additional links, and have created
additional pages. Webpages or "HTML documents" can be created by most
word processors using the File menu's "Save
as ... HTML" option.
Special webpage editors for Windows can be found on the Internet for
free, such as NVU and Komposer http://www.nvu.com/. To
place items in multiple columns, you may need to use the Table tool to
create a table.) Keep your documents simple. Example: http://billbuchanan.byethost17.com
Free website hosting is available from many sources including http://bravenet.com, http://www.tripod.lycos.com, and http://byethost.com
(Sometimes the advertizing banners may be in bad taste.) People searching for a website that contains useful information, usually find it by using Google or some other search engine. Help them to find your site by listing it with as many search engines as practical. At the bottom of my home page you will find the free sites that I use to advertise my site to the search engines. I was pleasantly surprised to find that an earlier version of the document you are reading was catalogued by Google within a few days of my posting it on my website.
DNA (Y-Chromosome) Testing
This isn't really online research, but you can find out about it online. Men inherit their only Y-chromosome from their fathers. Since there is no other Y-chromosome for it to combine with, each man's Y-chromosome should be identical to his father's Y-chromosome. When a minor change does occur, it is inherited by all male offspring. DNA testing promises to solve the insolvable question of which families of the same surname are most closely related, when there is no documentation linking the families. The cost of the test depends upon the number of markers that are tested, but the eventual promise of this research is that we will be able to say with certainty "Great-great grandfather Smith is descended from this line of Smiths, although we don't know his exact lineage." This site helps to explain it http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~patrak01/dna_background.htm
Here is an example from my family: My cousin Cliff's ID number 46368 at: http://www.familytreedna.com/public/Buchanan/
Y-DNA traces your father's father's father's line ... your surname line. It is limited to males, but is often useful within the last few hundred years.
mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) is female-lineage DNA. Testing can be done on both males and females, but follows "deep ancestry" on the female line. It is less specific so it gets used less often. It typically tells you about a female ancestor who lived 20,000 - 40,000 years ago. It can be intersting to know who else descends from that ancestor, but I haven't found any practical application. After all, geologists tell us that 10,000 years ago northern Europe was covered by a sheet of ice that was kilometres thick. For about $20 you may be able to buy The Seven Daughters of Eve by Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford University Bryan Sykes. It alludes to most people in the British Isles being descended from one of seven women. It may be interesting reading, but I doubt it will help you with your genealogy research.
Autosomal DNA tests
attempt to identify cousins (up to 5th cousins) based on similarity of
genes. This type of testing is currently the cheapest and most
commonly advertized. These are sometimes called "family finder DNA
tests", and are of special interest when looking for biological
relatives of adopted children. These are the common tests that give
estimates of the subject's ethnic origins.
The farther back you go, the less DNA you will share. Identical twins have the same genes, their children will have approximately 50% of the same genes, their grandchildren will have 25% the same genes ... so 5th cousins will have about 3% of the same genes unless there has been an intermarriage of cousins.
So I would spend my money on the Y-DNA test rather than mtDNA or Autosomal DNA except under special circumstances.
Some Companies That Do DNA Testing (Not all companies do all tests.)
Ancestry DNA https://www.ancestry.ca/dna/Family Tree DNA https://www.familytreedna.com/
Cyndi's List - Probably the biggest list of genealogy websites http://cyndislist.com/
Mary's Treasures - A good list of online resources (Mary Tollstrup's Lethbridge FHC site) http://www.telusplanet.net/public/mtoll/
Not Online but very
useful if you are in the Edmonton area:
Alberta Genealogical Society Master Name Index https://www.abgenealogy.ca/
Provincial Archives of Alberta http://provincialarchives.alberta.ca/ Along with much more, they have copies of most of the local history books for Alberta.
Family History Centers have
free access to some major commercial resources such as:
Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, findmypast.com, World Vital Records,
Swedish Church Records,
FHCs are part of the FamilySearch and Family History Library network. They are usually located in churches and staffed by volunteers. There are two in Edmonton and about 5000 world-wide..
wish you joy and success in your research.
If you have questions or comments send me an email message email@example.com