Free Genealogy Databases
Ellis Island 1892-1924 ~ This requires you to create a free account. Once you have one, hover over the Ellis Island tab and then click on Passenger Search.
Pilgrim Ship Lists Early 1600’s ~ Over 7100 families and 290 ships.
Immigrant Ships ~ 17,000+ passenger manifests in 16 volumes. Great for finding early ship passenger information. You can search the different volumes by the ship’s name, port of departure, port of arrival, or the captain’s name.
Castle Garden 1820-1892 ~ Before Ellis Island, many of our ancestors came through Castle Garden.
Olive Tree’s Ships Passenger List ~ I like this resource mostly because it also tells you exactly how to search for your immigrant ancestors. It takes you through the steps (if you don’t already know what ship or port you need) of first looking through the major ports of arrival (as well as what they are and where to find them), then the smaller ports, etc. It also tells about different ethnic groups immigrating to America.
Ship Passenger Lists ~ This includes links to lists for Emigrants from: Banat, Belarus, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, England, Scotland, Wales, and United States. It also contains links for lists for Immigrants to: Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States 1620-1776, United States East Coast, United States Gulf Coast, and United States West Coast. When you first click on the link, it takes you to another page that includes the link or links available to search plus it often has some brief information about those who sailed to or from that location.
Genealogy Trails ~ This is a real gem! I have not explored it very long, but I have already found some wonderful information. I love the Native American Data section, Trails of Some Early Americans, Heirloom Recipes (by state), military records, and all of the special things found on each state’s page.
1940 Census ~ Made up of images that were scanned from over 4,000 rolls of microfilm. This is the official host of the 1940 census. In order to search here, you need to know the enumeration district of your ancestor. It tells you how you can find it. The 1940 Census is included in several other family tree websites and easier to search, but if you do not have access to any of those… this is free and available.
Olive Tree Genealogy ~ This is an extremely comprehensive site. It includes: passenger lists (mentioned above), Military, Native American, Canadian, Palatine, Huguenots, Orphan records, Mennonites, Quakers, New Netherland (New York), Loyalists, as well as a lot of tips.
National Archives Access to Archival Databases (AAD) ~ Oh my! There are 26 types of databases here to search including records and files pertaining to: Passengers Who Arrived at the Port of New York During the Irish Famine 1/12/1846-12/31/1851, Immigration of Germans to the United States 1850-1897, Immigration of Italians to the United States 1855-1900, World War II Army Enlistment Records 1938-1946, World War II Prisoners of War 12/7/1941-11/19/1946, World War II Prisoners of the Japanese ca. 1941- ca. 1945, Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II 1942-1946, Duty Locations for Naval Intelligence Personnel 1942-1945, Military Personnel Who Died as a Result of Hostilities During the Korean War 1/1/1950-2/7/1957, Korean War Dead and Wounded Army Casualties 2/13/1950-12/31/1953, Repatriated Korean War Prisoners of War 7/5/1950-10/6/1954, American Prisoners of War During the Korean War 1950-1953, National Register of Scientific and Technical Personnel Files 1954-1970, Military Personnel Who Died/Were Missing in Action/or Prisoners of War as a Result of the Vietnam War 6/8/1956-1/21/1998, Records with Unit Information on Military Personnel Who Died During the Vietnam War 6/8/1956-10/10/2003, Deceased/Wounded/Ill or Injured Army Personnel Including Dependents and Civilian Employees 1/1/1961-12/1981, Awards and Decorations of Honor During the Vietnam War 12/1965-11/1972, Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Registers 1906-1991, Immigration of Russians to the United States 1834-1897, etc.
Social Security Death Index ~ This index is included in several all-in-one types of sites, but this is an easy, free, and relatively “unattached” search engine.
Find a Grave ~ This is a great resource. I especially love when I find an ancestor that someone has taken and posted a picture of the grave stone and or the cemetery itself.
American Local History Network ~ A network of independent genealogy and historical sites. This site is a wealth of information. I especially like the timelines and other history you can find on specific states or sometimes counties. You can also find some useful information in the forums pertaining to your specific area.
Trails To The Past ~ I love all of the history found here about certain states and counties. It also (depending on the state) includes a lot of useful information and links for U.S. Forts, cemeteries, ghost towns, emigrant trails, recipes, Native Americans, obituaries, etc. Click on the States Table link at the top left to access most of what I have mentioned.
USGenWeb Project ~ They are a group of volunteers working together to provide free genealogy websites for genealogical research in every county of every state. Some counties and states are obviously much more thorough than others, but it is a great place to check especially when you find that your ancestors stayed in one place for a long time. If you are lucky, that place is one of the more thorough counties or states in the project.
Missouri Death Certificates 1910-1965 ~ By Missouri Digital Heritage. This is an extremely good resource for those of us with ancestors who passed away in Missouri between 1910 and 1965. It includes downloadable graphics of the originals. This is where I found my great-grandpa’s death certificate and discovered how he died. Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. My grandma never talked about it, but she was listed as the informant… so that could explain it even further. I just assumed he died from a heart attack or illness. Nope.
Missouri Birth and Death Database Pre-1910 ~ By Missouri Digital Heritage. This will be a great resource if you have family being born or dying before 1910 (including stillbirths), but all of the family members that I looked up in the Birth and Stillbirth Records Search did not show up. I am not sure if they are finished with this database or if a lot of records were lost somewhere. My family that I checked came from a few different counties, so I am not sure. It’s worth checking out though, because it gives you the name of the child, place of birth, county, date of birth, father’s name, mother’s name, mother’s maiden name, (and after you click on details) sex, number of child of this mother, race/color, nationality of father, his place of birth, his age, nationality of mother, her place of birth, her age, residence of mother, father’s occupation, and possibly the name and address of the attendant. Of course some of these are left blank, but what a treasure trove! (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the search boxes.)
Free Databases at Ancestry.com ~ I am definitely an Ancestry.com fan. Yes, you have to watch out before you add someone else’s information to your family tree, because you do not know for sure if they researched it thoroughly… but that is the case everywhere. One of the best kept secrets is that they also have almost 2000 always-free databases. To view the records, you may be asked to sign up for a free account (but you do not need to sign up for the free trial). I just discovered this handy list and search engine for all of their free databases! AND… Many of their databases are actually international. It costs more for access to a lot of the international resources, so this is like gold!
Illinois Statewide Marriage Index 1763-1900 ~ Enter the groom’s or the bride’s name as well as the county (if known).
Illinois State Archives ~ Many great free databases including: Illinois Servitude and Emancipation Records (which is an amazing resource! One emancipation document I looked at included a remark that the 19-year-old William Barton was a certified child of Daniel and Phoebe Barton and born free in Illinois. This was dated 5/18/1843.) , 1929 Illinois Roll of Honor, Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls, Illinois Mexican War Veterans, Illinois Spanish-American War Veterans, Illinois War of 1812 Veterans, Death Index (pre 1916 and 1916-1950), etc.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission ~ They commemorate the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. Includes a simple yet effective search engine at the top of the page.
Family History Books Search ~ This is part of Family Search and is honestly one of the easiest book search engines that I have come across. Sometimes you will receive a message that you cannot view this document at this time unless you are at a special library (Family History Library, a partner library, or a Family History Center). It says that you can try again later, because only a certain amount of viewers can utilize it in a certain time period if not in one of those libraries. Even if you still have trouble with that particular book, you at least now know the name of the book along with some more helpful information to possibly look further (maybe in Google books or something similar).
This link has some great tips for searching Google Books for family history related books.
Books We Own ~ A free look-up resource for international genealogical research. You may need to reimburse the volunteer if you have them snail mail you the information, but otherwise the service is free. I would just have them email it to me. Easier on both of us. I definitely want to check this resource out further. I just discovered it.
Bureau of Land Management ~ This has a wealth of information if one of your ancestors happens to be included. One of the ways is if he received a Military Land Patent for his service in a war.
CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) ~ This is quite interesting. I don’t know if I will ever be able to use it… or even desire that my ancestors would be mentioned….lol… but it is free and out there. It is a database of declassified intelligence documents that is searchable by title, data, and text content. It includes “Directorate of Operations reports on the role of intelligence in the post WW-II period; material on the creation, organization, and role of the CIA within the U.S. Government; a collection of foreign scientific articles, ground photographs and associated reference materials; and the CIA’s first release of motion picture film.”
World War II Ration Books ~ This begins by telling you all about the ration books and why they were used. It then lets you search by last name (and first name is optional) to see an actual copy of the Certificate of Registrar for that individual. They include their name, address, age, occupation, height, weight, signature (theirs or someone signing for them, but this is indicated), as well as indicating another book holder and how they are related.
Pearl Harbor Casualties by Location or Ship ~ This is great, because it shows all of the casualties from a particular ship or location together. You can also search (above the table with the locations and ships) by any piece of information that you have, including simply a name.
Pearl Harbor Casualties 1941 ~ Search engine that includes USS Arizona casualties.
QuakerMeetings.com ~ I have recently found a lot of wonderful information within Quaker records. They kept extensive details. I happened upon these through Ancestry.com, but I just discovered this site that allows you to search their Meetings. It helps if you know the name of the meeting (which I do for this one particular part of the family… we evidently had quite a bit of Quakers on at least two different branches of my tree). Some of the searches on this site just tell you that there is information to be found on microfilm and where, but at least you know it exists and if necessary, you can search for it elsewhere (now with more details). Also pay attention to the Short History of Meeting usually found on the “Records Website” after you find the correct Meeting’s link.
U.S. Quaker Meeting Records 1681-1935 ~ This is an amazing resource that is found within Ancestry.com. You enter as much information about the individual that you desire (or even just a surname if you want a lot of results) and it comes back with their name, event type (admittance, removal, marriage, death, etc), event date, residence at the time, and the record for you to view. After you click on the link you want to check out, it will give you the important details. I like to also click on “View” so that I can check out the actual document. Some of these Quaker Meeting Records are honestly very difficult to read (handwriting issues and/or copying quality). When it’s legible, though, it usually has quite a bit more useful information. You can even explore the book much further by going forwards or backwards through the publication. (I’m not positive about how much of this you can access with a free account, though. It’s definitely worth trying out.)
American Libraries ~ Collection of online books includes material from across the United States. This is the Genealogy Collection. You can search by name or keyword. It includes items such as: church records and registers, Nobility, Church of England, Kings and rulers, yearbooks, several specific denominations, Indians of North America, Universities and colleges, clubs, wills, New Jersey, Church Periodicals, World War I, New York, Massachusetts Historical Society, Prussia 1712-1786, Church of Scotland, Pilgrims, Freemasons, German Americans, cemeteries, Quakers, Heraldry, and so much more.
Free UK Genealogy ~ Includes the FreeBMD (Birth/Marriage/Death Records Search), FreeReg (Parish Registers Search), and FreeCen (Census Searches for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891).
U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Databases ~ Including: records for over 6 million men who served on both sides, 18,000 African American Sailors, unit histories of over 4,000 regiments on both sides, prisoners of war (both sides), over 1,500 Medals of Honor recipients, and a whole lot more.
Pennsylvania State Archives Records Information System ~ Including: Civil War Veterans’ Card File 1861-1866, Mexican Border Campaign Veterans’ Card File, World War I Service Medal Application Cards, Spanish American War Veterans’ Card File of U.S. Volunteers, Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File, Militia Officers Index Cards, 1775-1800, and PA National Guard Veterans’ Card File 1867-1921.
Kentucky Vital Records Index and Search Engines ~ Includes: Death Index for 1911-1986, Death Index for 1987-1992, Marriage Index for 1973-1993, and Divorce Index for 1973-1993.
Dead Fred ~ Free genealogy photo archive. You can browse by surname, keyword, or add more details to your search.
Free Family Tree Sites
Family Search ~ This is put out through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but you do not have to belong to use this site for free. I have used it a bit and it is really good. As you enter a new family member, it attempts to match them up with existing records already entered by other people. You can choose if this person is a match or not. If they are a match then you will likely end up with a lot more family instantly popping up on your family tree. This happened to me when I added my maternal grandma. Her line instantly went quite away on one of her lines.
Free Genealogy Software Download by MyHeritage ~ I have not used this downloadable program, but I do like their online free version as a supplement in my arsenal. (See below for my comments on MyHeritage.) I might try this though, because it says that besides the family tree software, you also get Smart Matches Technology (which is the biggest thing I personally miss from not paying for a premium account on MyHeritage), beautiful customizable charts, maps, sync with mobile, and more.
WikiTree ~ This is totally free, but you do not have complete control OR complete responsibility for your family tree. The whole site is supposed to eventually be ONE big family tree. So, there are pros and cons. In order to add more than just yourself, you have to volunteer to help when others need it on the site (you specify what surname(s) or area(s) you want to help with) and then wait until it is confirmed and you are welcomed by a Greeter or another Wiki Genealogist. You then have to sign the Honor Code. It’s easy and makes sense, you just have to wait to really get started. My wait was only a couple of hours at the most. After that, you can add your family’s information. If someone already entered someone, you will have to suggest additions or corrections if needed. You cannot just add them yourself or “correct” the file. The pros are that it’s free, it would be fun collaborating with others, and you can possibly find distant cousins or even break down a brick wall.
Also look in the next category. You can do quite a bit especially on Ancestry.com and My Heritage without paying any money.
Free Miscellaneous Genealogy Goodies
Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness ~ This is free and it is a marvelous page to know about. Volunteers will do a free genealogy research task for strangers. If they incur any expenses such as for making copies, postage, film, etc… then you have to reimburse them for that, but there are no other charges. You can also sign up to be a volunteer and provide Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. There are currently volunteers in most of the states as well as in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, New Zealand, England, Scotland, and Wales.
Discover the Meaning and History Behind Your Last Name ~ This is a fun, yet informative tool. I have stumped it at times with a few of my surnames, but it’s interesting to read at least one version of the meaning and origins when your surname doesn’t stump it. I especially like the Name Distribution interactive map graphic, though. It shows the concentration of your particular surname in the United States (in 1840, 1880, and 1920), England and Wales (in 1891), and Scotland (in 1841, 1861, 1881, and 1901).
GenWatcher Surname Tracker ~ This is a free service that lets you sign up to receive an email when information that includes your surname becomes available. It says that Genealogy Today sends you an email with a summary and link to get the details whenever a match is discovered. I just signed up with one of my more unique surnames. I’m not sure if the links points you to information that you need a premium account for or not. You can sign up for multiple surnames, but you have to enter them one at a time.
Database and Family Tree Sites with Some Free Access
Ancestry.com ~ This is my favorite program to use. I highly recommend it! It has some great resources available for free (see above for their free databases), but you can get even more (especially when you go further back) when you have a paid membership. I LOVE seeing those little leaves pop up! 😉 I at times have let my membership lapse (when money is tight and/or I am not using it as much for a while). You don’t lose anything if you do this either, which is great. They have tons of wonderful resources intertwined within their searches as well as one of the best DNA tests (as well as connecting you to family with some matching DNA… I plan to do this soon). I especially like that it’s like a one-stop-shop nowadays with so many databases included that you often have to pay for elsewhere or are difficult to find. It’s so easy to search for your ancestor in all of these available databases, because it pulls the information you already entered into the search and often times it is already in your hints aka the little green leaves. They also have a free trial membership for the premium accounts.
Geni.com ~ I really like this site, too. It is definitely much better when you have a paid account, though. I go through spurts of paying for this one. Basically, when enough things are accumulated that I need to pay for in order to view… I pay for a month of membership. I like the feature where it will calculate how you are related to a certain person… including presidents and other famous people. The only thing I do not like about this is the fact that once it finds a path through one of your lines, it cannot be changed to another line. For example: It found a path to a WATMOUGH through my adopted father’s LAKEY line. I fully expected that if we were related, it would be through my mother-in-law’s WATMOUGH line. Now, even when I try it with the furthest WATMOUGH ancestor, it comes all the way back through my father to connect the two WATMOUGH’s. There is also a great sense of community on Geni. People work together on gathering information on their ancestors. It’s a great way to find distant cousins without a DNA test. I have broken through a few brick walls with Geni, but you still have to verify the information, because it is possible that some of it can be poorly done. Geni also emails you with upcoming important dates on your family tree. I think you have to sign up for this. I cannot remember, but it is free.
My Heritage ~ This site has some great features. It sets up your information that you enter in your family tree as a website that you can share with others. You can create a private site for your family, build your family tree, and share family photos. It even has a handy reminder over to the side that tells if a birthday or anniversary is coming soon. You can do quite a bit with the free membership, but the biggest thing only available with a premium account that I would like to be able to do is confirm matches with other people on the site. It shows you everything, but won’t let you confirm or deny without the premium account. You can also upload your raw DNA information (from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA) on this site (but I am not sure if this is only for premium or not). They have three different levels of premium memberships and they actually are quite reasonably priced.
Databases With Free Trial Memberships Worth Looking Into
Find My Past ~ This has a 14 day free trial. This is said to be an essential tool for anyone with British or Irish ancestry, but it includes resources for a whole lot more. It appears to hold a wealth of information. Their collection of Irish records is second to none, with over 110 million records for those of Irish heritage. They also “have the largest online collection of UK Parish records, US marriage records 1670-2010 and one of the most comprehensive online collections of military records… British and Irish newspapers span three centuries and over 13 million pages.” The searches also include resources for Armed Forces and Conflict, Passenger Lists, Education and Work, Courts and Legal, Directories and Almanacs, Business Directories, Apprenticeships, Wills and Probate, Church Records, Postal and Telephone Directories, Railway Employees, Quarantine Admissions, Newspapers, as well as Births, Marriages, and Deaths. They include all over the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and bit more around the world. They also have a 1939 Register. This looks amazing and is only online here at Find My Past. The register was taken at the outbreak of World War II and contains the personal details of over 41 million people in England and Wales. It is said to be one of the most important British documents of the twentieth century. It is even more important since the 1931 census was destroyed during an air raid on London and the 1941 census was never taken. The 1939 Register is the only surviving overview of the civil population of England and Wales from 1921-1951.
Fold3 ~ Free 7-day trial. Contains millions of digitized historical documents that can be searched and browsed including: Civil War records, Native American resources, newspapers, photographs, and more. They specialize in military records. At least a portion of Fold3 is included in Ancestry.com, because I have had many hints that lead me to Fold3 information and I have not had to get a Fold3 account. (I do have a paid Ancestry.com account, though.)
Genealogy Bank ~ Thirty day free trial. It includes over 7,000 newspapers 1690-today (95% exclusive… not available online through other genealogy sites), 235 million obituaries, U.S. Military records, and more. I have not used this site before, but many of my searches elsewhere send me to this site so I may check it out in the future.
* Be sure to check out my Free Genealogy Forms and Charts, too.
* These links were checked and updated on August 19, 2020.
Thank you for all this information! As a Canadian who doesn’t do too much American research, there are definitely sites here that I didn’t know about.
I am so glad that you found this helpful! If you have a certain area in the U.S. that you need more access to databases or anything, let me know and I will see if I can help. Happy Digging! Stephanie
I just finished a report on a man who lived on Long Island in 1756 (David Allgeo) and then moved to Quebec where he lived the rest of his life. Found some interesting info but not too many records from that time period. I DID however, find the ad he put in the local newspaper when he was selling his land!! Thanks for the offer.
No problem. That is something that I need to learn more about… finding information in newspapers. Do you have a good search engine or starting point that you generally use? Thanks!
I do mostly UK research so I use British Newspaper Archives and also I have a membership to a UK library so I can access 19th century newspapers. In Ontario, I use http://www.ourontario.ca and for the U.S. I’ve used http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ . I’ve also had success with https://www.elephind.com/ and for Australia I use http://trove.nla.gov.au
Great! Thanks for these links! I also have ancestors in Canada (mostly Nova Scotia, though) and England. I know that this is where my research is lacking (use of newspapers). Thanks again!
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Thanks so much for this wealth of information. I will certainly be visiting again!
Wow! You have done so much for others — I appreciate it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
How does one start a family tree? I’ve been so curious to know all the ins and outs of putting a family tree together, ever since I’ve visited a public library in New York city where I stumbled upon some public records on immigrants who come over on boats from Europe. I can use all the help that I can get. Thank you.
Thank you so much for all this information. You may also like to include the UK General Register Office. The digitisation is an ongoing task for them and they have begun with Births and Deaths. Free accounts but payment for documents is required. Their PDF service is cheaper and meant for family history purposes. We find the inclusion of the mother’s maiden name on the birth index very helpful.