Research Genealogy

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Use library resources to start your own research. 

Online Learning


Immigration Sites

African American Genealogy

Indigenous Peoples Genealogy Resources










Online Learning  

Databases and Classes

Ancestry, Library Edition (in library use only)

This powerful subscription website is home to more than 30 billion old records, 100 million family trees and more than 20 million DNA profiles.

HeritageQuest Online

HeritageQuest® Online is a comprehensive treasury of American genealogical sources—rich in unique primary sources, local and family histories, and finding aids. The database provides genealogical and historical sources for more than 60 countries, with coverage dating back as early as the 1700s.

Universal Class, Genealogy 101

UniversalClass is the place to continue your education online and fulfill all your lifelong learning goals.











Best known for its health reports, 23andMe also has an enormous pool of DNA testers: over 10 million. This makes it a great place to look for DNA matches (relatives) who may know something about your origins that you don’t. It doesn’t have as many tools to help reconstruct your family tree using DNA as AncestryDNA or MyHeritage DNA, but its genetically-oriented Family Tree is unique and helpful.


More than 15 million people have taken DNA tests here, making it a prime place to connect with genetic relatives. Powerful tools help users compare their family trees with each other and figure out how they might be related. The proprietary Genetic Communities help reveal ancestral migration patterns.

This is a budget-friendly, scaled-down version of, its owner. The core historical record collections are for the United States, so this may be a good option for beginning researchers who believe their families have been in the United States for several generations.


Search an enormous, free GPS-tagged database of tombstone images, or upload your own with the companion app. Users can add personal history information to individual photos and link them to other tombstone images. Subscribers can access premium features, including cemetery maps showing plot locations, enhanced GPS mapping and alerts for your previous searches.

Cyndi's List

Consider Cyndi Ingle’s free site your table of contents for online genealogy. You’ll find lists of sites dedicated to researching particular places, types of records, ethnic and religious groups, and more. Check out the Beginner’s category for guides and tips just for newbies. But also watch for topics you’re interested in, like military research or DNA.

Chronicling America

The Library of Congress’ portal to historical newspapers has two important areas of content: digitized newspaper pages (1777–1963)—and a comprehensive index to all known newspapers published in the United States and where to find them today. Check back frequently for new content. To learn more about using the site, including what’s on it and what’s not, click on the Help section.

Family Search

The world’s best all-free genealogy website, with more than 10 billion global, name-searchable records and billions of additional ones to page through. Learn research skills with the Research Wiki (under the Search tab). The Search > Catalog tab takes you to the most extensive genealogy library catalog in the world. Join the world’s biggest shared family tree—or just mine it for information about your ancestors. The modest learning curve is well worth the effort.

FamilyTree DNA

This DNA testing company offers more than the standard autosomal DNA test provided by others. Customers can also choose various levels of YDNA testing, to look at paternal-line ancestry (for men only), and mtDNA testing, to look at deep maternal ancestry (both women and men can take this test). Join different kinds of DNA projects to compare your DNA with others of the same geographic, cultural or surname origin.

FamilyTree Magazine

Our own website offers abundant tools and how-to’s for beginners. Under Free Resources, find downloadable forms, ebooks, cheat sheets, our podcast and more. The cheat sheets can be especially helpful for beginners: don’t miss our Genealogy Essentials downloads, Record References, ethnic research aids and top online genealogy tricks. Join our Premium membership for access to articles on many topics for beginners and beyond or take an online class from one of our experts (find these under the Shop menu).

Find a Grave

Dig up ancestral burial information from millions of free tombstone images here. Search by an individual or cemetery name. Users are encouraged to upload additional tombstone photos and submit biographical information for memorial pages. You can even create virtual cemeteries to connect loved ones buried in different places.


If you have roots in England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, consider subscribing to gain access to millions of parish records, censuses, military and criminal records, and millions of British and Irish newspapers. Under the Help menu, explore the Getting Started section. DNA tests offered through Findmypast offer especially detailed geographic origins reports within Britain and Ireland.


This is the go-to source for digitized US military records from the Revolutionary War forward. Using the Help link (which you can access without a login), learn basic finding strategies and how to add ancestral memorials or even organize a gallery of family content. This section may help you decide whether to subscribe, so you can search and see a lot of records that used to be accessible only through the National Archives.


Clues about your ancestors’ lives may be as close as your next Google search. In addition to the ability to search for names and places, Google offers several genealogy-friendly tools. Google Translate helps you translate text and websites into or out of English. Google Books includes an online library of out-of-print resources such as local histories and compiled genealogies. Google Maps and Google Earth help you locate ancestral addresses and virtually visit them.


GenealogyBank is home to more than 13,000 big-city and small-town newspaper titles; the site claims 95% are exclusive to their site. Search results are labeled as historical or modern obituaries, marriage notices, immigration records, and the like, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Scroll to the bottom of the site for tutorials on researching various ethnicities and a portal to 260 million obituaries.

Illinois State Archives

The Illinois State Archives preserves county and state records, including pre-Chicago fire documents. They have indexed vital records, early land grants, military records such as muster rolls and Civil War registers. All federal and state censuses are available. Their surname card index covers much of the collection


The newest of the major genetic genealogy companies, this one is best known for offering the most detailed breakdown for ancestral origins in Britain and Ireland. It doesn’t yet have as robust a customer base as the others (limiting your options for finding DNA matches) or robust tools for determining the nature of relationships to genetic matches.


If you have more recent immigrant origins or are especially interested in finding overseas cousins, consider subscribing to MyHeritage, home to more than 17 billion historical records and DNA testing. This Israeli website is strongest for continental Europe, Scandinavian countries and Jewish research. You can pay just for family tree-building tools or historical record access or combine them.

National Archives

The National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, and Presidential Library museums are open. Find out hours of operation on each museum's website.


Access more than 120 million digitized newspaper pages dating to 1607. The site is easy on the eye and easy to navigate. Browse newspapers by state and city (and for other countries), or enter names and other keywords along with desired dates and locations. Click on Help to take tutorials on using the site.

Access more than 120 million digitized newspaper pages dating to 1607. The site is easy on the eye and easy to navigate. Browse newspapers by state and city (and for other countries), or enter names and other keywords along with desired dates and locations. Click on Help to take tutorials on using the site.


RootsWeb - the Internet's oldest and largest FREE genealogical community. An award winning genealogical resource with searchable databases


Click the free site’s Humanities tab, then History & Culture > Genealogy to dive into dozens of free how-to articles covering genealogy research basics, online searching, and sharing and preserving the past. You won’t do actual research on this site, but you’ll learn a lot. Because each article leads to more detailed and related articles on the same site, it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve read. Refer back frequently to the main topics tabs (Basics, Surnames, Genealogy Fun and Vital Records Around the World) if you want to read systematically through everything offered.

Your DNA Guide

A hands-on, try-this-now approach to finding answers from DNA testing—whether you’ve tested already or not. Under Learn, find easy-reading introductions to specific questions you can ask your DNA, such as ethnicity and geographical origins; finding biological relatives; and identifying unknown ancestors on your family tree.

Books, DVDs and Other Resources

Search "Genealogy" at HPL
Search "Genealogy" at all SWAN libraries
Golden Rules of Genealogy 
ProQuest Research Tips








A Few Things to Remember

  • Spelling names correctly or consistently was not overly important to our ancestors. Think of every possible way that a name could be spelled, and check them all.  Sometimes spellings were changed from one generation to the next.  Also try searching last name first AND first name first.
  • Research siblings, too. You never know when you’ll find a record for one of them that connects to more information on the whole family.
  • Interview your living relatives ASAP! Even younger cousins – they may have some family stories or photos that you don’t have.
  • Remember that borders changed frequently. Think great-great grandpa was born in Germany? Some areas of Germany changed hands with Poland and back again a number of times.  Check Google historical timelines and histories of your ancestors’ countries.
  •  Document your sources – this will not only help prove your information, but keep you from searching the same place more than once.
  • Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s best to find more than one resource for your “facts”. But, DO record approximate dates, i.e. “ab. 1904” or “May 1905” until you have a solid, real date.
  • Printable forms can be downloaded from Ancestry and Cyndi’s List.
  • Genealogy is an adventure!








Immigration Sites

Canadian Border Crossings 

As the custodian of our distant past and recent history, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a key resource for all Canadians who wish to gain a better understanding of who they are, individually and collectively. LAC acquires, processes, preserves and provides access to our documentary heritage and serves as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.

Ellis Island 

We honor the immigrant experience and the pursuit of freedom through preservation efforts, educational initiatives, and community programs. As caretakers of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, we work to create bridges to history and to foster an appreciation for the rich tapestry of our national identity.

Castle Garden is a free database developed and funded by The Battery Conservancy. It contains and makes available eleven million records of immigrants who arrived at the Port of New York from 1820 - 1892. Today more than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to this early period of immigration.

Immigrant Ships 

Includes sites to research emigration, immigration and naturalization, 100+ passenger list sites, ethnic research, libraries and archives, and passenger ships.

African American Genealogy


Family Search (

This megasite is completely free. Included are billions of records are those of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the largest collection that documents African Americans during Reconstruction.

The Freedmen’s Bureau (in operation from 1865 to 1872 in the District of Columbia, the former Confederate states, and the border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri) was created to help those caught up in the aftermath of the Civil War. Critically, the bureau was to assist the formerly enslaved as they transitioned to their new lives, especially in securing employment, education, and marriage documents.

As such, Freedmen’s Bureau records document the lives of the newly freed in the years after the Civil War, and may provide clues to their past enslavement. In addition to employment, education and marriage records, this collection contains rations applications, court trial records, bounty claims, monthly reports and so much more.

Unfortunately, FamilySearch’s Freedmen’s Bureau records are not fully indexed. Search the partial index through the Discover Freedmen project, or browse using tips from the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

Another pivotal collection that may provide key clues to family relationships is that of the Freedman’s Bank records. Separate from the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Freedman’s Bank was opened to financially assist freedmen and Civil War veterans. The bank had locations throughout the Southern states, as well as in big cities like Philadelphia and New York City. Bank records consist of registers of depositors (1865–1874), who were veterans as well as non-veteran men and women. Finding family in these records may provide additional family names, and connections to an enslaved past.

Last (but not least), FamilySearch has extensive county record collections. Many aren’t indexed—and thus, not keyword-searchable—but are crucial for finding free persons of color and evidence of enslavement. Documents include deeds, probate records (wills, estate papers, inventories, appraisements), tax records, and court records. Dedicated registers of free persons of color can be especially helpful. Note that some collections can only be viewed at a FamilySearch Center or FamilySearch Affiliate Library.

Start your search for county records at the FamilySearch Catalog, where you can view collections for your target county, parish or town. Thanks to FamilySearch, my cousin Floyd and I were able to piece together documents connected to our enslaved past in Leon County, Fla.


Smithsonian (

Yes, another website that has Freedmen’s Bureau records. But this project from the Smithsonian Institution has benefits that the other databases we’ve discussed lack: easy browsing, and a full (in-progress) transcription project.

To make best use of the site, you’ll want to know where your family lived in the years immediately following emancipation (about 1863 to 1870). From the home page, scroll down to Field Offices, then select a state. Click the Contents tab (at left) to reveal more navigation options, and select your targets. You can also download finding aids that have link to images, as well as PDFs of records for offline viewing.


Enslaved (

This site (a partnership between Michigan State University, the University of Maryland, the Mellon Foundation and various scholars) brings together multiple useful datasets, including those at SlaveVoyages and the Louisiana Slave Database. Genealogists can search or browse more than 600,000 names of the enslaved, enslavers, and other people connected to the slave trade. The site has interactive databases that allow you to visualize information, and continues to grow via open-source data from organizations and individuals.

Use keywords to find related listings or sources under Search, or go to Explore to browse people, events, places or sources. The most prevalent sources on the site are bills of sale, freedom suits, and newspapers. Other sources include civil petitions, narratives, runaway ads and more.   


Library of Congress

Here you will find an aspect of research that’s the most gratifying but also the most overlooked:  context.

The site’s “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project” documents more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery. Included are 500 black-and-white photographs of the formerly enslaved, plus a 17-volume collection of transcripts that tell the story of enslavement, the Civil War, and freedom.

To get the most from this collection, go beyond surname searches. My searches for ancestral surnames yielded little known connections, but those for counties of interest provided key context on the environment my ancestors lived. For example, I searched for Barbour County, alabama and found a picture of a multi-generational family in front of a slave cabin. Now, I have insight into how the enslaved lived in my ancestors’ county. Another result was an interview with a woman born in the county, providing insight into what Black life was like in that community.

A search for Houston County, Georgia provided multiple antebellum accounts of Abraham Lincoln’s visit. The highlight for me was learning how freedom was announced to the enslaved population there (including my teenaged ancestor, her siblings, and her mother). According to Frank A. Patterson, “They had a notification for a big speaking and that was in Perry, Georgia … There was too many people there. You couldn’t stir them with a hot fire.”

You can listen to the actual voices of the formerly enslaved at “Voices Remembering Slavery,” which features 22 interviewees speaking about their lives from enslavement to the time of the interview. The recordings come from a variety of sources spanning the 1930s to 1970s, including the Works Progress Administration. (Fun fact: Famous author Zora Neal Hurston worked on projects like this one for the WPA.)

Newspapers can also take us to Black communities, depicting the social lives of our ancestors. Search more than 200 digitized Black newspapers using the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America database. In addition to searching digitized newspapers from 1777 to 1963, you can also view a directory of all known US newspapers published between 1690 and today.

This powerhouse site not only provides links to digitized collections, but also to outside collections. Such is the case of the Christian Recorder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, published in Philadelphia from 1852 to 1960. Though the paper isn’t available digitally on Chronicling America, one US Newspaper Directory entry for it links to the Center of Research Libraries, where you can access free digital scans of the paper from 1852 to 1856.


Cyndi’s List : African-American (

What began 25 years ago as a single web page of 1,025 links for genealogists has grown to scores of pages with 300,000 links. You can browse links by locality, record type, and various other topics; the African American category alone contains more than 1,000 links.



Race & Slavery Petitions Project (

Legislative and court records are other under-researched documents that are full of promise for your family history. These document matters of ownership, freedom, education, free people of color, women’s rights, and crimes.

This site, affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Digital Library of American Slavery (see below), includes materials from state legislatures and county courts in Southern states and the District of Columbia. You can search by state, year and keyword.

After exhausting the search for the names of enslaved and enslaver (under Search by Name), use Search for Petitions by state and add the county name to the keyword box. Review the petitions for your county, as this may reveal people from your family cluster. A petition may contain genealogical information about free people of color, guardians, enslavers, or the enslaved.

The collection is also available on microfilm (as Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks: Petitions to Southern Legislatures and County Courts 1775–1867) held by certain libraries and databases like ProQuest. You request individual petitions from the state archives, or the original legislature or county court.



Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau (

This major research tool, created by Toni Carrier and Angela Walton-Raji, has an interactive map showing the field offices of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Use the map to determine the closest field offices to your ancestor’s location.

Click the red building icon for a field office, and you’ll see a microfilm publication number. You might also have access to a finding aid for that publication, which you can use to learn about the office and its records.



Slave Voyages (

This site has answers to the questions you may have about the enslaved brought to the United States. Through interactive visualizations, SlaveVoyages presents data related to the people, voyages, vessels and places of the transatlantic slave trade.

Here are some of the site’s primary databases, one of which includes just statistics and two that have specific people’s names:

  • Trans-Atlantic > Database: The listings here cover 36,000 sourced voyages, with vessel name, place the voyage began, and place where the purchase took place. View information as a table, timeline or map.
  • People of the Atlantic Slave Trade > African Origins: These are 90,000 names of Africans removed from slave ships and trading sites in Africa in the last 60 years of the slave trade. Entries include gender and embark/disembark details.
  • People of the Atlantic Slave Trade > Oceans of Kinfolk: The 60,000 names here refer to people captured throughout the United States and transported to New Orleans. (The 1807 law that prohibited the slave trade also required captains to file manifests that listed people by name.) All told, the database logs 3,000 voyages in 4,000 manifests, and data includes name, physical description, name of enslaver, name of shipper, and general statistics about the ship.


In Motion: The African American Migration Experiences (

This website hosts the most succinct writeup on Black migration, with deep references and a companion book published by National Geographic. Find information on 13 migration periods from 1450 to the present, with timelines containing key events in Black history and of the African diaspora.

Unfortunately, some of the site’s elements no longer work because they were built using the now-defunct Adobe Flash. For example, the various source links don’t function properly. You can work around this by clicking the “Printer-Friendly Version” button, which will allow you to see full references.

BlackPast (

Do you need to brush up on your Black history? The names of people, churches, schools and organizations are almost guaranteed to appear. One of the best online references for African American history, BlackPast has an enhanced interactive timeline that includes 700 entries dating from 1526 to the present.

Search the site by keyword, or browse its 8,000-plus posts. From the timeline, you can filter events by event type, era, state, or gender or occupation of those involved. You can also view and download the timeline as a chart.

A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Family Tree Magazine.








Other African American Genealogy Websites



This site from the Center for Geographical Analysis at Harvard not only visualizes contemporary data but offers historical overlays and geographical data tracking the slave trade.


African-American Coal Miner Info Page

Information, links and a list of African American miners taken from a variety of censuses and other records.


African Ancestry

Information and updates about a DNA-based test developed by Howard University researchers to help African Americans trace their African ancestry.


The African-American Mosaic

Selections from the Library of Congress’ resource guide for the study of Black history and culture, covering colonization, abolition, migrations and the 1930s Works Progress Administration.



Finding data on African-Americans prior to the 1870 census (“The Wall,” as researchers call it) can be difficult, but this site proves it’s not impossible. In addition to a wealth of how-to tips and message boards, AfriGeneas also offers census records, slave data, an index of 57,000 surnames and a collection of death records.


Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1719–1820

The fruits of 15 years of work by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, this site employs powerful search tools to comb through data on 100,000 enslaved Louisianans.


Christine’s Genealogy Website

Christine Charity’s site is an especially helpful one for researching African American ancestors. She’s got digitized wills and census schedules, plus good links and information about African genealogy and related articles and databases.


Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

Search names and regimental stories of the Union Army’s African American units, or link to other National Park sites that interpret Civil War history.


Digital Library on American Slavery

This resource from the library of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro searches information culled from thousands of slavery-related county court and legislative petitions, wills, estate inventories and civil suits, filed in 15 states and the District of Columbia from 1751 to 1867. More than 150,000 individuals are named in the documents, including 80,000 slaves and 8,000 free people of color.


Documenting the American South: North American Slave Narratives

This rich site from the University of North Carolina is especially strong on the African American experience, including such collections as “The Church in the Southern Black Community,” “Colonial and State Records of North Carolina,” and “North American Slave Narratives.”


Fold3 Black History Collection

Find more than 1 million photos and documents related to Black history, ranging from slavery to the 20th century civil rights movement.


Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware

Read through digitized record indexes for several Southern states.


The Freedmen’s Bureau Online

Search records from the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. The site also points you to related websites with Freedmen’s Bureau information.


Genealogy Resources on the Internet—African-Ancestored Mailing Lists

Compilation of African genealogy-related Internet mailing lists, along with descriptions and instructions on how to join each list.


The Geography of Slavery in Virginia

A digital collection of advertisements for runaway and captured slaves and servants in 18th- and 19th-century Virginia newspapers.


HeinOnline: Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law

Free registration unlocks access to 1.1 million pages from 11,110 volumes about slavery.


Index to Parish Court Slave Emancipation Petitions, 1814–1843, Orleans Parish, Louisiana

The New Orleans Public Library has made this index available online for free.


An Index to the Freedom Records of Prince George’s County Maryland, 1808–1869

You may find your ancestor among this collection from the Maryland State Archives, an index of some 18,000 cards.


International African American Museum Center for Family History

This handsome site is home to photos, videos, articles, a helpful blog and a growing collection of funeral programs, obituaries, historical documents and family histories.


Lowcountry Africana

This site focuses on records that document the heritage of African Americans in the historic rice-growing areas of South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida, home to the distinctive Gullah/Geechee culture. Records include those of the wealthy Drayton family, which owned several plantations, plus Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank papers.


National Archives’ Guide to African-American Genealogical Resources

This guide to National Archive records is helpful in finding and researching African American ancestors, plus links to resources on other sites.


National Archives Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Guide to federal records of the Freedmen’s Bureau in the National Archives.


Texas Slavery Project

This site examines the spread of American slavery into the borderlands between the United States and Mexico from 1820 to 1850. A database has population statistics for slaves and slaveowners.


Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative

This database, created by the Virginia Museum of History & Culture and hosted by the Library of Virginia, lets you search or browse for those enslaved who lived in Virginia.







Indigenous Peoples Genealogy Resources


A Canadian Family: First Nations, French Canadians & Acadians

National Archives and Records Administration

Cyndi's List - Native American

National Indian Law Library

Connecticut State Library

Kansas Historical Society

New Mexico State Record Center and Archives

Texas State Archives