17 May 2017
New to family history? Check out our top five genealogy websites and get started discovering your ancestors.
Whilst the variety of family history websites out there is a real bonus for anyone tracing their family tree, the number of options can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re new to the subject. So, where to start?
Our pick of five top websites for beginners will give you a flavour of what’s available on the web and hopefully point you in the right direction for taking your research further.
1. Ancestry/Find My Past/TheGenealogist
The ‘big three’ family history subscription websites - Ancestry, Find My Past and The Genealogist - offer access to thousands of records (with pay as you go options), from the basics such as birth, marriage and death records, through to more specialised data including occupational records, emigration records and parish registers.
Each of these three sites offers a free of charge trial period and you can often access one or more of these websites for free at libraries and record offices. Each of these sites is strong on different types of records, so take advantage of the trial period to decide is best for you.
2. Cyndi’s List
The UK and Ireland version of Cyndi’s List is part of a US-based website run by genealogy enthusiast Cyndi Howells. Whilst at first glance the site may seem overwhelming, the thousands of links to UK family tree websites are divided into regional categories, with the option to search alphabetically.
Within these categories are dozens of sections such as religion, occupations, obituaries and societies & groups. Although many of these links are extremely helpful, do be aware of one of the key rules for genealogists – double check any information you take from the internet before adding it to your family tree.
FamilySearch is one of the world’s biggest family history websites, with millions of names compiled by and for the International Genealogical Index of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The site is the online home of the world’s largest genealogy organisation, with over 4,000 family history centres around the world.
Thousands of records are currently being digitised and added to the site and one-to-one online help is also available. Articles, research guidance and online classes make this a great starting point for beginners.
Use FreeBMD for free of charge access to birth, marriage and death records from around the country, with new records being added by volunteers on an ongoing basis. The project covers records for England and Wales, and has the sister sites FreeCen (census data) and Free Reg (parish registers).
The BMD site allows you to search records from the General Register Office (GRO) from 1837 to 1983, and although the database doesn’t yet cover all areas and years within this time frame, a search option allows you to check coverage for the period or area you’d like to search. Once you’ve found the birth, marriage or death record you’re looking for, simply note its reference number and you can send for the original certificate from the GRO.
5. National Archives Discovery
Discover which archives are held where in the UK, with the National Archives Discovery which offers a gateway to 1,000 years of documents held in 2,500 archives around the UK. There are descriptions of more than 32 million records; nine million of which can be accessed online.
Categories include wills & probate, military, immigration & emigration, census, health and court records. You can search by archive name, keyword or category.
(Image copyright Michael Maggs)