How to Research Your Family Tree
A step-by-step guide to tracing your ancestry and constructing a family tree online
The internet has made family research much more accessible to everyone. “The literally billions of records that have been digitized and indexed and dumped online has made it easier,” says Smolenyak. “You can now find in an hour of surfing what might have taken me maybe a couple of months to get before.”
Here are the best online resources to help you organize all of the information you find:
The largest resource for family history that is available online, with records from all over the world. You can build your family tree from scratch and include notes, attach documents, and share on Facebook—all for free. But if you wish to access most of Ancestry's 7 billion records, it’s $22.95 per month (after a 14-day free trial). You can also hire one of their progenealogists, the experts who lend their expertise to the reality television show Who Do You Think You Are?, to do the research for you.
A more affordable alternative to some of the larger, pay-for-access genealogy sites. After a free 7-day trial, membership costs just $39.95 for an entire year. Archives.com offers 2 billion digital records, and they are expanding rapidly.
An entirely free resource with millions of records online. This non-profit service, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is more international in scope than other genealogy sites. They also offer a research wiki with how-to articles on genealogy.
This one-man site is a directory of online death resources from all over the United States, taken from obituaries, cemeteries, and vital records. It is neatly organized by state and county. Links are available to similar resources for naturalization records, military records, and other relevant information.
A volunteer effort where contributors upload photos and transcriptions of tombstones from their local cemeteries. There are currently 77 million grave records available and members can submit requests for headstone photos. Best of all—membership is free.
A free search engine that sifts through genealogy-specific blogs and websites, including state and local historical societies and the Library of Congress.