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How to do your family tree online and find your British ancestors


Discover how to do your family tree online, with our guide to the most popular genealogy websites for finding ancestors in the UK and Ireland, including paid-for and free genealogy resources.

Find out how to start your family tree, with Family Tree's digital guide How to Start Your Family Tree.

After you have made the first step to start your family tree and discover your British ancestors, it won't be long until you head to the internet to tap into the many online genealogy resources. Use our guide to get started.

Which family history subscription website is best for tracing British ancestors??

Each of the main subscription websites are worth investigating for their different record collections. Even with those that overlap, such as the 1911 Census records for England and Wales, are worth a ‘play’ as each will have been transcribed differently, so a missing ancestor may turn up on one genealogy website after disappearing without trace on another.

Several of the sites offer free trials, although be aware you may have to give credit card details so you should cancel before the trial ends if you don’t wish to continue your subscription.

How to find British ancestors using free genealogy sites

There are endless great free websites out there to aid your research. They may not be as attractive as the commercial websites aesthetically-speaking, but you will find many of them enormously useful – and they won’t cost you a penny. Here are some of our personal favourites:


A searchable index to birth, marriage and death records for England and Wales. You’ll need the reference number from here to order your ancestors’ BMD certificates via the General Register Office. FreeBMD is an ongoing volunteer project, part of FreeUKGen initiative, so keep checking back if you can’t find your ancestors listed.


Sister site to FreeBMD aimed at making 19th-century census records free online. Part of the FreeUKGen project, along with FreeReg (concentrating on parish registers).

Family Search

The world’s largest, free, genealogy site with billions of searchable historical records and research guidance via its Research Wiki, online courses and more. Provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church).


The UKBMD webite includes links to a collection of OPC websites run by volunteers who collect genealogical information about a specific parish and answer email enquiries for free. Counties are covered by individual sites, which can contain a vast amount of parish information.


The UK and Ireland Genealogical Information Service is a virtual reference library of genealogical data, with links to all the county record offices in the UK, family history societies and much more.


Delve into the lives of 18th-century Londoners on this fantastic, fully searchable site, run by the universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire. Featuring manuscripts from eight archives, and giving access to 3.35 million names, its sister site OldBaileyOnline is equally fascinating, detailing almost 200,000 criminal trials of ordinary folk at the Old Bailey 1674-1913.


This remarkable site, a labour of love by American Cyndi Howells, is an enormous, constantly updated, categorised index of more than 325,300 genealogical links worldwide. So whether you’re tracing American or Scandinavian ancestry, or anything else in-between, this is a great jumping off point.


Full of useful information and a great base for exploring the records for England and Wales. The site provides more than 2,300 links to websites that offer online transcriptions of UK births, marriages, deaths and censuses, plus a wide range of other indexes and transcriptions, from parish records to monumental inscriptions.


Not such an obvious one perhaps, but this website is just brilliant for anyone researching ancestors from 1801 onwards. It’s a national online library for local history and includes everything from historical maps to census reports and travel writing. A feast for the mind. Its free sister maps site, OldMapsOnline, is equally a must.


Another university-run project, this site is a digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales, 1750-1919. These rare books are essential for filling in details of your families’ lives in-between the 10-yearly censuses. Scottish Post Office directories 1773-1911, meanwhile, can be searched at NationalLibraryofScotland.


Family names profiling website based at the University of London that is investigating the distribution of surnames in Great Britain. For world family names maps, visit WorldNames.


The National Archives of Ireland free Census of Ireland search site: note only 1901 and 1911 censuses are available.

And last but not least... NationalArchives

The National Archives website for the UK is chock-a-block with advice, blogs, podcasts and even online courses as well as digitised records – some freely downloadable, some for a small fee. Don't miss the Family Tree DVD 'Explore the archives' for an in-depth guide to using the Discovery catalogue.

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02/07/2018 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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