7 Sites for Your Genealogy Toolbox

bookmark these genealogy sites and tools

Have you bookmarked these free genealogy sites?

Of course we all have our favorite sites to retrieve the records that let us fill in the blanks on our family trees. Eventually, though, you want to go deeper and learn more about the people and their communities. Here are some of the best free genealogy sites in my toolbox.

Your First 10 Minutes of Online Research

Since you already heard about free genealogy sites FamilySearch, the US GenWeb Project, and Cyndi’s List, we won’t include those in the seven.

A Day in the Life

Chronicling America « Library of Congress: It’s possible everyone else has known about the Chronicling America project for a long time, and I’m the last to know. That’s okay. Free searchable online newspapers for tons of US cities? I’ll take it.

Day of the Week Calculator by Ancestor Search: Since historic newspapers often recount events by day of the week, it helps to know both publication date and day. However, the date header doesn’t always include both. This nifty calculator returns the day when you plug in the date.

IPS – Record of Climatological Observations: Historic weather records become especially relevant when you’re ready to write your family history and you need setting details. Want to know if your great-grandparents had rain or shine on their wedding day? Here it is! (Special thanks to Sheryl at A Hundred Years Ago for finding this one! Her instructions on how to use the site can be found here: How to Find the Temperature on Any Date in Any City in US.)

Faces & Places

Free genealogy family history photo search by surname – Dead Fred .com: Honestly, you probably won’t find a photo of your favorite ancestor. But I dare you to resist trying. You can search by name or location. Go on, go play a while. I’ll be here when you get back.

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection: Locating your ancestor’s property on a historic map is almost as exciting as finding a photo. (Probably more significant, too.) This collection contains over 42,000 historic maps and images.

Ready to write?

We won’t count this in the seven either, but when you’re ready to share your research and tell your family’s story, visit my post 57 Tips, Angles, and Prompts for Writing Your Family History for inspiration!

Not technically free genealogy sites, but…

eBay: I’m not a big online shopper at all, but I’ve been known to spring for historic postcards on eBay. Try looking through Real Photos Postcards for slice-of-life, or search the US States, Cities, and Towns collection to imagine places as your ancestors saw them.

Wikipedia: Even though Wikipedia usually gets a bad rap, I love it for where-and-when timeline of military missions and battles. When you find details like Regiment/Company or Squadron, plug them in for an up-close look at your ancestor’s experience.


Hey, cousin! If my chatter about researching southwestern NY or northwestern PA brought you here, check out these resources!

Stories Connecting Past and Present

In the stillness of the old house, the spirit world feels so close Abby can almost touch it… but there’s more than one way to be haunted. Download Whispers in the Branches for only $2.99, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

If she hadn’t stolen Zachary’s journal–or read the stupid thing–she never would’ve fallen for him. Download His Pepper Heart for only $0.99, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

13 Replies to “7 Sites for Your Genealogy Toolbox”

  1. Thanks for the links to all of the wonderful PA / NY resources. I’m sure that I’ll stop back regularly to use these resources. And, thank you for the nice mention of A Hundred Years Ago. It’s wonderful to hear that you found the resource on finding weather information for selected locations useful.

  2. Ancestry has made it too easy to create a family tree! There are disincentives for analysis, for instance, such as the ease of simply adopting the “hints.” I have found myself giving in to bad habits that I never would allow for myself back in the days of family group sheets and pedigree charts. An example of that is the ease of adopting someone else’s information to one’s own tree because it is easier to look for sources from a tree than directly from the search engine.

    Further, people are learning some unfortunate habits. For instance, when adding census information to one’s family tree, the name of the wife automatically comes up with the husband’s surname. I’ve even found myself falling into that trap. The default should be either no surname or something like “unknown.” If the maiden name is known or found later, it can be added. Using the married name creates all sorts of genealogical problems, especially in this day and age of so many multiple marriages.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Ancestry. My latest peeve is that I have an automatic, annual renewal, and when the bill came due, there was a very large increase in the one year, U.S. only subscription. While I had a warning that my subscription was up for renewal, I don’t remember anything about an increase in the annual fee. When I went into Ancestry to try to find the cost of my annual fee, I couldn’t find it anyplace.

    1. All good points, Virginia. When I use Ancestry, I tend to focus on the record collections more than the social tools (family trees and contacts, etc). Partly I want to have the fun of finding the details myself, and partly I don’t want to bias my expectations of what I will find by too closely examining others’ work.

      1. About 15 years ago, I managed to do all my dad’s family on Roots Web, with a bit of help from the nice
        folks at the LDS. A cousin of my dad’s went to Tennessee and did the legwork, which I then verified on the sources mentioned. I was on a high when I figured out how it all jelled, and I couldn’t begin to tell you about the joyous hours wondering what my 5 times grandfather was thinking when he stepped on our foreign soil Anyway, happy hunting, and you have a great site

  3. I have been a member of Ancestry.com for 25 years. That was even before the annual fee started. They were nothing more than message boards and some vital records sources. The first subscription was $19.99 annual. Yes that’s right! The trees are no longer credible. Every time I see something like; someone’s father was 10 years old and his mother was 8 years old at the time of the birth – I just about “loose it”. And it gets even worse than that. Do anyone do any research anymore? I am so done with Ancestry.com and their fees. I am going back to letter writing and phone calls.
    Happy Hunting everyone.

    1. Hi Cathy. I got in to Genealogy about the same time as you, 25 years ago. I used Roots Web most often, and some very nice cousins I had in the area of my interest, and occasional visits to one of the online Mormon research centers. I remember getting one of Ancestry.com free few days deals to introduce this new resource. I was poor at the time, and that was the only reason I did my research on the free sites.
      No matter which way someone decides to utilize their research efforts, it really takes time and dedication, and more time and then even more time. The payoff is tremendous, the closeness I felt to my family, now I understand why they made some of the decisions they did. And in my case, I figured out why my (5*) Grandfather fought as a Tennessee Bridge Burners, though everyone who lived in the part of Tennessee fought for the south. Now I understand why I have always felt so strongly about that issue in particular as did my Father and Grandfather and so on.
      Good luck Cathy.

  4. Doug,
    You are so right about the payoff. I remember the first positive reply I received from those many letters I wrote. So many came back as unknown person, place, date, etc and then that payoff came. It was an obit for my maternal grandmother. The people listed in it tied the whole family together for me. I felt like I struck gold. Yes, the research time is well worth it. One my father’s side, I found so many ministers, I now understand why my paternal grandfather wanted to preach so bad. He was a Salvation Army preacher, a traveling minister through out Missouri (in those days preachers went where they were needed)and he finally went to the Southern Illinois Methodist Conference to become ordained. He preached until he died- a very happy man, indeed.
    Best of luck to you and all responders here.

  5. I am a member of Ancestry for many years now, even doing their DNA test. While I am mostly satisfied with their service, I do understand the frustration of some. I ALWAYS verify a fact by more than one source. I never just copy another tree, although I may use some of their info as a starting point. Also by taking the DNA test, I was able to unravel the mystery of my grandmothers birth father. I do agree with Doug and Cindy, people have gotten lazy with their research. So many hints on Ancestry are just that, hints or clues if you prefer, NOT set in stone facts. Knew about FamilySearch and GenWeb, but thanks to Brandy for turning me on to the other websites to try. Gonna keep looking til I find what happened to my maternal great-grandfather, which started me on this journey to begin with.

  6. I remember with Ancestry when I could go to Ellis Island site for nothing. My grandparents all came from Europe. I knew all of them and 1 set of great grandparents who lived with one set of grandparents. They spoke 3 languages at their home, and we understood and spoke them. When I grew up and realized no one else really had grandparents who spoke French and Serbian,I was so surprised. Now Ancestry cost a fortune. As a gift my children got me the DNA test, and I must say, it was expensive, but right on. I appreciate the free things I come across and amazing writings here. I use to say, why is OUR information not free. But people have to make money,so I guess nothing really is free anymore. Great that I found this though it was 5 years ago,it was written when I clicked on this tonight. Thank You.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, and I’m glad you found it helpful! As for free information, sometimes it is public information if you are able to go where the original records are housed. I’ve only been able to do that a few times because I live quite far from where my grandparents and their grandparents lived, but it’s been very rewarding those few times.

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