Researching Your Family Tree: How to Use Online Resources
Published on: 10 July 2023
Researching your family history and building a family tree chart can be a fulfilling pastime. It helps you learn your family’s story and understand yourself a little better in the process. But how can you get the best out of the many online resources and software programs now available?
Below, we’ve looked at all the ways online resources make it easier to build and share your family tree. See below for more information.
Benefits of Using Online Family Tree Software
Online genealogy offers several benefits for individuals interested in exploring their family history. Some of the key benefits include:
- Access to vast resources: Online platforms provide access to genealogical records, databases, and archives from around the world. This allows individuals to access more information and increases the chances of discovering new branches of their family tree.
- Convenience and flexibility: Online genealogy platforms enable people to conduct research from the comfort of their own homes. There’s no need to visit physical archives or libraries. In fact, digitized records are now available online. This convenience and flexibility make it easier for individuals to fit genealogical research into their busy lives.
- Collaboration and sharing: Online genealogy platforms often feature social and collaborative elements. This helps users connect with other researchers, share information, and collaborate on family history projects. It can be incredibly valuable for sharing insights, tips, and resources, and even connecting with distant relatives.
- Organization and documentation: Online platforms typically provide tools and features to help individuals organize and document their genealogical research. These tools may include family tree builders, note-taking capabilities, and file storage options. Such features streamline the research process and make it easier to keep track of findings.
- DNA testing and matching: Many online genealogy platforms offer DNA testing services. This allows individuals to uncover genetic connections and find potential relatives. Users can discover previously unknown branches of their family and connect with relatives they may not have known existed.
- Education and learning: Online genealogy platforms provide educational resources, tutorials, and guides. This is to help users learn more about genealogical research methods, techniques, and historical contexts. These resources can be valuable for both beginners and more experienced researchers looking to expand their knowledge.
- Preservation of family history: Online genealogy platforms provide a means to preserve and share family history for future generations. Digitization of genealogical records can make family history easily accessible to future descendants.
Note: It’s always a good idea to verify the information and corroborate findings using multiple sources to ensure accuracy.
Finding the Right Genealogy Program
You can start your family tree by speaking with family members and using your own resources. However, at some point, it will be helpful to turn to online resources. These sources can offer even more information for your genealogical research.
There are two main types of websites that you can use for research. These are:
- Websites that store primary sources of information, such as vital statistics (births, deaths, marriages), censuses, military, property, wills & testaments, etc.
- Websites where you can record your family members and lineages.
Some websites offer both facilities, others only one or the other. They will both be useful to you.
The three major websites of the second type, where you can record your family history are:
- FamilySearch.org: Membership is free. All family trees are public. Anyone can edit them.
- Ancestry.com: Membership ranges from $264–$960 per year. Family trees are private by default.
- MyHeritage.com: Has a free option and paid plans ranging from $129–$269 per year. Trees are also private by default.
All three of these organizations offer extensive primary sources digitized from archives and governments all over the world. They also offer a family tree maker online that you can utilize.
Using Genealogy Software
There are two ways to use these websites. You can store all your data directly in the cloud on their servers, or you can use a desktop program that “synchronizes” periodically with the website. The latter approach gives you more autonomy and independence.
The RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker desktop programs can synchronize with FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. Ancestral Quest synchronizes with FamilySearch.org.
The advantage of cloud-based genealogy is that it makes you more likely to connect with people who share your ancestry. This means connecting with people who have already done the research for you.
You can acquire huge chunks of your family tree with no effort. The benefit is that you are free to pursue new avenues that are yet unexplored contributing to both family trees.
There are countless websites offering images of original documents, photographs, as well as indexes and transcriptions. Many specialize by geographic region or period in history. In addition to the three sites above, here are some other helpful sites.
- General, comprehensive lists:
- FamilySearch (FamilySearch.org)
- Ancestry (Ancestry.com)
- MyHeritage (MyHeritage.com)
- Cyndi’s List (www.cyndislist.com/) is a compendium of everything genealogical.
- National Genealogical Society (www.ngsgenealogy.org/free-resources/websites/). This is very comprehensive, although not complete because they don’t mention paid sources such as Ancestry.
- Genealogy Online (https://www.genealogieonline.nl/en/)
- Find My Past (www.findmypast.com)
- WikiTree (www.wikitree.com)
- Archives (archives.com)
- The Ancestor Hunt (theancestorhunt.com)
- US GenWeb (www.usgenweb.org)
- Access Genealogy (accessgenealogy.com)
- WorldGenWeb Project (www.worldgenweb.org)
- RootsWeb (wiki.rootsweb.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page)
- Geneanet (en.geneanet.org)
- Introduction to genealogy:
- Family Tree Magazine (familytreemagazine.com) for beginners.
- ThoughtCo (thoughtco.com/genealogy-4133308) Good introduction.
- Family History Fanatics (www.familyhistoryfanatics.com/online-genealogy-search-tips)
- Specialized sources:
- United States National Archives (www.archives.gov/research/genealogy)
- United States Library of Congress (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
- Fold3 (www.fold3.com) Military personnel.
- Allen County Public Library (acpl.lib.in.us/genealogy)
- David Rumsey Map Collection (www.davidrumsey.com)
- FreeBMD (www.freebmd.org.uk)
- Dead Fred (deadfred.com) photos
- Social Security Death Index (ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/)
- Guild of One-Name Studies (one-name.org)
- Immigrant Ancestors Project (immigrants.byu.edu/main_page)
- Burial sites & cemeteries:
- Find a Grave (www.findagrave.com)
- Billion Graves (billiongraves.com)
- Genealogy Bank (www.genealogybank.com) Newspapers.
- Newspaper Archive (newspaperarchive.com)
- Newspapers by Ancestry (www.newspapers.com)
- Elephind (elephind.com)
- These sites specialize by country or ethnic origin:
- Irish Genealogy (www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/)
- Jewish Gen (www.jewishgen.org)
- American Ancestors (www.americanancestors.org)
- Daughters of the American Revolution (www.dar.org)
- Ellis Island (Ellisisland.org)
- Italy (Italiangen.org)
- UK & Ireland genealogy (genuki.org.uk)
- National Archives of Ireland (genealogy.nationalarchives.ie)
- UK National Archives (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk)
- UK Census Records (www.freecen.org.uk)
- UK Parish Registers (www.freereg.org.uk)
Notes On Creating a Family Tree
When you incorporate information in your genealogy from web-based sources, always include citations to the website.
A reference to the source will be important if you are questioned by someone who is collaborating with you. It will also help if you encounter contradictory information somewhere else. The latter is unfortunately a not uncommon occurrence.
Names were often misspelled when people were illiterate in the past. There may also have been incentives to misrepresent one’s age. For example, when enrolling in the military, getting married, or applying for a pension.
When researching your family history, always work from the known towards the unknown. Start with your immediate family, and search for ancestors one generation at a time going towards the past. Do not start with a distant, ancient namesake and try to work your way toward the present. The latter approach will cost you much time and lead to many dead ends.
When researching foreign sources, consider hiring a professional genealogist specializing in the country or area where your ancestors came from. These specialists are familiar with the sources, the archives, the libraries, and the government offices.
They can perform much quicker than you can. Make note of which sources they have consulted that have not resulted in any leads. You will then be able to avoid revisiting these sources in the future.
You could get a temporary subscription to a website, extract the information you need, then discontinue the subscription. However, you can benefit any time someone else adds information that complements your own when using a family tree subscription. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Online resources for family tree templates are abundant these days. So, using the right software, or a combination of software, is a really easy way to create professionally designed and comprehensive family trees.
We’ve included all our own tried and tested methods in this post. Why not check out some of our recommendations and begin building your family tree today?
Looking for family tree software online? Check out the Progeny Genaology products now to find a family tree maker online that suits you.