3 top free websites to start your family history at home!
Looking for free websites to start your family history journey? Don't miss our three hand-picked sites to get your research off to a great start, from the comfort of your own home.
With a wealth of information online available to anyone researching their family tree, it’s now easier than ever to find out who your ancestors were, where they lived and worked, and what their lives were like.
Our guide to the 3 top free websites will point you in the right direction and show you how to begin an exciting journey into your family’s past. But first, we have some good common-sense advice for you, that you can't afford to miss.
Nailing the basics
The key to family tree success is to start with what you know; begin your research with yourself and your immediate family. By merely writing down the dates of birth, marriage (and death, if applicable) of your own parents, you’ve already taken your family tree back one generation.
Next, speak to relatives to find out whether anyone’s caring for mementoes such as a family Bible (which often contain handwritten dates of marriage, baptism etc) or an old photograph album, which you can borrow. You could also ask to interview older members of the family about their memories of relatives who are no longer living.
Once you’ve gathered as much information as you can on your own, you’re ready to start plotting a basic family tree. Don’t worry if you have lots of gaps at this stage, most family historians do – this is simply the start of your wonderful genealogy journey.
3 top free websites to start discovering your ancestors
Birth, marriage and death (BMD) records are one of the key building blocks of family history, helping you to identify major events in the lives of your ancestors and those that came before, and in England and Wales they date back to 1837. Use the FreeBMD website to find the General Register Office (GRO) reference number before visiting www.gro.gov.uk to order your certificates. Read our separate free guide to BMD certificates here
Another key source for researching your ancestors is the census – an official count of people and households across the UK that has been taken every 10 years since 1801 (with the exception of 1941), although generally they only contain useful genealogical information from 1841. Looking for your ancestor on the available censuses between 1841 and 1911 allows you to see a ‘snapshot’ of their household in each decade, so you can discover how an ancestor’s job, address and family members might have changed over the years. FreeCEN is from the same Free UK Genealogy family as FreeBMD (and FreeReg for pre-1837 parish church registers). You can find our free guide to using the census for tracing your family tree here
FamilySearch is the online home of the world’s largest genealogy organisation, with millions of free records to get you started on your family history journey. No matter how dedicated your online research, there’ll come a point when you have to pay money to access the records you need to take your family tree further, but for now there are many free-of-charge sites to explore. Find out how to use FamilySearch in our special free guide
Find out more by reading Rachel Bellerby’s expert guide, How to start your family history at home, in the April 2017 issue of Family Tree – you can buy a copy here