Building a Family Tree
There are many different services you can use to build your family tree. My advice is to use a free service to build out your tree with your known relatives. Then try a free trial with one of the paid services like Ancestry or My Heritage to see what other records or family trees you can find.
- American Ancestors - Provides a free family tree builder with free access to some databases, especially strong for New England genealogy.
- Ancestry - Offers a free family tree builder and paid subscriptions to access databases (get a 30% discount with this affiliate link). They also have a DNA service (useful for connecting with DNA relatives and finding additional family trees).
- Family Search - Has a free family tree service and a great database search tool (some 3rd party data results, e.g. Ancestry, require a fee to access).
- Geni - Has both a family tree builder and a variety of DNA tests. Its unique feature is collaborative editing for shared ancestors.
- My Heritage - Offers a family tree builder and DNA testing. Their search function is nice too, but you need to sign up to see results.
- 23 and Me - Has one of the best DNA tests, combining health info and ancestry details. For males it also traces paternal Y-DNA, unlike Ancestry. Their family tree builder is limited, but it matches DNA relatives in the tree. (get a 10% discount with this affiliate link).
Ancestry Records Searching
Vital records are a good place to look for your relatives. Births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths have been recorded in many places for 100s of years. Many of these records have been digitized by governments and shared online. You can also search all of them via websites like Ancestry and Family Search. Public libraries are a great place to access these database free.
- Census Records (US) - The US Census years from 1790 - 1950 are available. To find where people lived in the years prior to this search for county and township records.
- Death Indexes (US) - This site has a comprehensive listing of death records and obituaries organized by state.
- Find a Grave - Find a Grave has 210 million grave records, including many grave photos taken by site contributors. Billion Graves is a similar site.
- Historic Newspapers - Many newspapers from the last 100-200 years are archived online. This list includes links to historic news archives from most US states. Newspapers are great sources for marriage notices, obituaries, and also for people who have letters at the post office (common in the 1800s). They are also great for understanding historical events in the towns or counties where your ancestors lived.
- Military records - Unit lists, service records, and pension records are good ways to identify family members who fought in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War I & II.
- Ship Passenger Lists - This set of links includes many lists of passengers to North America as well as some immigration record links.