Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Genealogy Websites


Using Compiled Genealogy Databases

Raw data is what genealogists hope to find on the Internet. To genealogists, raw data is any name, date, place, or index that will lead a researcher to more records or information. This is why compiled genealogy databases are quickly gaining in popularity.

Some indexes and databases are free of charge, while others are accessible only with a paid subscription. You may be able to jump-start your research by visiting a few of the free databases, and then you may decide to join one or more of the subscription sites later. The free sites allow you to experiment with searches or entering information in search forms. Because these sites are free, you may not feel too frustrated if the search doesn't work right away. Each ancestry is different; the records and resources that offer the most information differ from researcher to researcher. Using the free sites is a good way to get an idea of whether your particular lineage or the region in which your ancestors lived is one that has been well researched.

Free genealogy sites include:

  • FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org), the Web site of the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For anyone who wishes to search for ancestors, this free site includes entries that reveal births, deaths, marriages, family units, pedigrees, ancestors and descendants, and a few indexes to vital (birth, marriage, and death) and census records.
  • Olive Tree Genealogy (www.olivetreegenealogy.com) offers free databases of ships' passenger lists, some specialty sites for immigrant ancestry, how-to guides, tutorials, and much more.
  • RootsWeb (www.rootsweb.com), owned by Ancestry.com, is free and has many unique databases that include births, deaths, marriages, military indexes, and databases to keep you in contact with possible relatives.

All of these databases have been donated by fellow researchers.

Commercial database sites, such as Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com, offer a large collection of data including indexes, transcribed records, digitized images, and much more. The big question is: Are they worth the price of admission? Most genealogists believe they are if you find what you're looking for, but of course there is no guarantee. A rule of thumb with commercial sites is to subscribe for a year, and if during that year you don't find anything, even with the new content added to the collection, reconsider when your subscription is up for renewal. Some subscription sites are available at public libraries, so you may be able to try them there.

Free sites may not be as complete as subscription sites, but their main advantage is, of course, that they are free.

On the next page, we'll explain what a transcript is and how you can use it to research your family tree.

To learn more about building a genealogy, see How Genealogy Works.


More to Explore