2020’s Best of the Best Free Genealogy Sites

According to Family Tree Magazine, these are the 100 best free genealogy websites on the Internet. Helpful, right? Absolutely. Free? Sometimes. Especially in the case of Ancestry.com, one should know that while you can access the Ancestry website from inside of your local library branch for free, browsing at home will cost you.

Still, at some point, there’s a decision to be made as to whether one wants to invest in this venture of genealogy. At the very least, you’re going to be investing your time and we all know what they say about time being money. It is.

That stated, here’s a Genealogy Situation Room curated list—The Ten Best of the Best of 2020 Free Genealogy Websites:

10. (Insert your state name here) Digital Archives. The digital archives for your particular state is a must-visit, in terms of the best free genealogy sites. In Georgia, for example, there are digitized court books and death certificates. Some states have more robust records than others, but one thing that they all have in common is that they are free. Do check them out.

9. The Internet Archive (archive.org). This free repository of hundreds of thousands of books, microfilm, movies, audio, images, and more is full of materials on genealogy. Checking today, they have over one hundred thousand items catalogued in their Genealogy category. Again, this is free, folks…

8. GEDmatch. If you have had your DNA tested, you really want to weigh your options and consider adding your raw DNA data to GEDmatch for free. GEDmatch is a third-party DNA utility site that allows you to upload your raw data, and then compare it to other users who may have tested at other DNA companies. There are powerful tools on GEDmatch, such as chromosome browsers and ethnicity calculators that really help you to do so much more with your DNA data than your testing company may be offering. Having mentioned all that, it bears further mention that uploading your DNA can be as consequential as anything. In 2018, the Golden State Killer was identified and arrested because of DNA and the GEDmatch website. The word dystopian was used more than once, and valid concerns were and have been raised ever since. GEDmatch has since changed their privacy policy and removed the exact DNA comparison tool on their website that law enforcement used in 2018. There’s also an opt-in feature that’s been added so that one can use the site without automatically having their DNA be used for law enforcement search purposes. Even so, my friends, the whole thing is enough to keep many a people away from GEDmatch. However, it is an amazing resource and an important add to this list. Most of the tools are free to use, there are some premium ones that require payment. All in all, it’s an important pond to fish in. Please decide for yourself how and if you’d like to try it.

7. Afrigeneas: African Ancestored Genealogy. We need this website. It is a wonderful, free message board that runs the gamut of inquiry and exploration in African-American genealogy. Created in 1999, you will find some very real gems of family history on this site. Post a question and get an answer. The activity is constant here, which is very important for a fruitful search—you need fertile ground. Such will be found on this important and free website.

6. Library of Congress. The nation’s library currently has over twelve thousand genealogy-related items available freely and digitally, per their website. There are newspapers, videos, personal narratives, audio recordings, maps and other materials that can be reviewed easily with only the click of your mouse. Also via the Library of Congress and very importantly, there is a free resource for looking at historic newspapers, Chronicling America, from 1789-1963.

5. Digital Collections at New York Public Library. If your family has the remotest connection to New York City or the surrounding area, be sure to check out this free and informative ‘living database’ of all types of interesting materials. Some of the files may be accessed onsite only, but by and large, there are enough items of interest available to keep you busy for hours on end. But, let’s try to remember that time is money.

4. Google. Yes, Google really can be your friend. Maybe it’ll be a sneaky, shady type, but all in all, when it comes to genealogy searching, you want Google’s free search engine on your team. Here’s the thing about Google—algorithms. They constantly shift and change and so the same search term will yield different results based on what algorithm is set. What can you do to get the best results? Learn the tips and tricks of the trade…

3. Library of Virginia. Virginia is ground zero for slavery in this country, and as such, the records here are as extensive as you can find online. There are always new digital projects being worked on and made available. The Library’s African American Narrative database,Virginia Untold, seeks to offer information for those searching for pre-1865 information on African-Americans. This database is continuous work, so be sure to check back often for possible updates. The Library’s website has plenteous other digital material, such as Chancery Court records, historic newspapers, online classrooms, and an opportunity for participants to help transcribe records.

2. ProQuest Historical Newspapers (School or Library). Ok, so you’ll need to obtain your library card for off-site access. That’s still “free,” in a manner of speaking. Yes, your tax dollars pay for the library and access to a number of resources, but in terms of accessing reference databases like ProQuest, you don’t have to worry about dealing with a paywall every time you want to search. Same for students. When you search historical black newspapers like Atlanta Daily World, New York Amsterdam News, Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Norfolk Journal and Guide and others, you have genealogical gold. If your library or school does not have this database, absolutely ask for it.

1. FamilySearch. The Church of Latter Day Saints provides FamilySearch free of charge to users. There are billions of records on their site and you are sure to find something related to your family there. Additionally, you can set up a free family tree on FamilySearch. Like the Library of Virginia, there are also opportunities here to transcribe records from around the world. Several years ago, I helped to transcribe over three hundred Virginia vital records.

Honorable mention: Facebook and other social media platforms. Believe me, I know. You may have to wade through the muck of yuck, but there are valuable genealogy discussion groups on Le Facebook and elsewhere on social media. Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness is truly a winning connection.

There you have them, folks. Websites that are tried and true and include a number of which that have personally helped me to find my own people.

Happy Searching!

The Genealogy Situation Room

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