It’s been years since I wrote about Essential Websites for Genealogists, so it is time for an update. However, instead of limiting my suggestions to websites, this list will be a bit more inclusive.
In order to keep the length of this post somewhat in hand, many items will be links to explore with little or no commentary.
All the Essentials in this list are free, aside from #1 and 25 (if you purchase). I have purposely omitted the big subscription websites.
My “rant” will be limited to the first item in this 2022 list:
1. Genealogy Software Program – I cringe when I still hear people bragging that their one and only family tree is found on a paid subscription site or on a one-universal-family tree site.
Sharing is wonderful – we never know where the next big clue will appear or when chinks in the brick wall will start falling out. However, it is imperative to keep control over your own research. They only way to do that, and not lose access to your work, is through the use of a genealogy software program housed on your own computer.
There are a number of programs available (In ABC order – Ancestral Quest, Family Historian, Family Tree Maker, Gramps, Heredis, Legacy Family Tree, Reunion for Mac and RootsMagic are the most popular, but there are others, so check out GenSoftReviews.
However, CHOOSE ONE OF THEM! Okay, rant done. Now that you have a software program on your home computer, we can continue.
2. Web Clipping Tool – Many, but not all items found online can be downloaded and saved to your computer. A web clipping tool is a genealogist’s best friend. Some browsers, like Chrome, have built-in free clipping tools. IrfanView is a free program and is the one used at the Family History Library. It’s easy to use and is a good choice for beginners to add to their genealogy toolbox arsenal. I use Snagit, which is getting expensive (over $60 now), because I can use the tools to manipulate and mark images.
3. Research Log – Keeping a research log, which is a list of all the sources viewed or research contacts made plus search results, is essential for two reasons. First, it documents records and repositories searched. Second, it documents people you’ve contacted, either by email or snail mail and allows you to follow up with those who haven’t replied.
The simplest research log is simply the use of paper and pencil. There are downloadable free forms that can be printed, designed especially for genealogists. For those who want to decrease the paper pile on their desks, Excel is an obvious choice. Most genealogy software programs also have places for research notes.
4. Source Citation Helps – Zotero, EasyBib and templates in stand-alone software to document where you find information.
Now, you have the basics to gather and record information about people in your family tree. What next? After recording basic information about yourself, immediate family, parents and grandparents, it’s time to look online.
Not everything is online, nor will it ever be! That is because of governmental laws to access, copyright issues and accessibility to records in private hands. However, there are MANY resources available.
6. Digitized Books – Internet Archive, World Cat, Google Books, HathiTrust, FamilySearch Books and links to my U.S. County Histories project.
7. Maps, etc. – David Rumsey Collection, Sanborn Maps, Atlas of Historic (U.S.) County Boundaries and Meyers Gazetteer (Germany). Many others online. Search your place of interest.
9. NARA Access to Archival Databases (including SSDI)
10. Cemeteries – Find A Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator, BillionGraves
11. DNA Info – ISOGG Wiki, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy, DNA Painter, Leeds’ Method
12. Church Records – American Baptist Historical Society – why the Baptist church is NOT helpful for genealogists, Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois Catholic Cemeteries, Digital Quaker Collection, , Friends Historical Library, Quaker Information Center, The Archives of the Episcopal Church, Congregational Library and Archives, Mennonite Church
13. U.S. Military Service – NARA, DAR Library
14. Thousands of Categorized Links – Cyndi’s List, Linkpendium
15. U.S. State Digital Collections – Search “state of interest” digital collections
16. Historic Newspapers – Chronicling America, The Ancestor Hunt
17. Photography History and Vintage Photos – DeadFred, Ancient Faces, Tin-Eye Reverse Image Search, Google Images, Photo Tree
18. Local Genealogy & Historical Societies – Search your places of interest. Many societies have some free online databases and resources
19. Immigration & Passenger Lists – Olive Tree Genealogy, Ellis Island
20. International Resources – There are a number of foreign repositories that are accessible for free by everyone, but are PAID databases on the big genealogy sites. Check out Library and Archives Canada & the Provincial Archives where your ancestors lived. Others: Danish National Archives, the National Archives of Norway and the Swedish National Archives, British National Archives, plus many others.
21. feedly – Add blog urls (up to 100 free, I believe) and follow your favorite genealogy bloggers. Feedly will note any new posts in your list so you don’t have to visit 100 sites to find 65 have new posts.
22. Genealogy on Facebook by Katherine Willson – PDF list of genealogy and history FB groups
23. Conference Keeper – Calendar of upcoming genealogy webinars and conferences. Many webinars are free to attend live. Fees required to register are noted.
24. Reference Library – Build a home library and expand as needed. Three excellent books to start are The Source, Evidence Explained and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.
25. EBay – There are books, photos and mementos waiting to be found that tie into our ancestors’ families.
There are many more other terrific free resources available online, but this list will certainly get you started.