If you want to know your family history beyond the pages in your parents' photo albums, free genealogy search engines offer a convenient place to begin. You plug in a few bits of raw data, such as your known ancestors' names, birth dates, dates of death and hometowns, and follow the resulting trail. Since some search engines produce better results than others, start with these excellent options.
Family Tree Searcher
Whether you find ancestors buried in Arlington National Cemetery or memorialized in the pages of a foreign newspaper, your search might begin with Family Tree Searcher. This free genealogy search site uses quizzes to create a customized research plan. You'll find information related to birth records, death records, marriage certificates, armed forces service, family trees and more.
More than anything else, Family Tree Searcher provides an excellent resource if you aren't sure how to begin looking for your ancestry. The neat organization and copious advice allows inexperienced researchers to get their bearings and avoid wasting their time.
Serving more as a portal than a stand-alone site, the USGenWeb Project curates numerous websites, most of which feature genealogy search functionality for specific U.S. states. A network of volunteers administers the individual sites, many of which divide further into counties and parishes.
Since each state's page features different information, it takes time to sort through all the data and determine its relevance. Additionally, some pages include special projects and other information to help you expand your search and locate information you couldn't find anywhere else.
U.S. National Archives
Although free ancestry search engines cannot provide the detailed data supplied by genealogy software, the U.S. National Archives site represents the best of the free options. It presents data collected through U.S. census reports, military records, bankruptcy proceedings and other official sources.
The U.S. National Archives also helps connect researchers and genealogy enthusiasts through local in-person gatherings and provides tips for researchers who don't know where to start. The military records prove particularly interesting and span from the Revolutionary War all the way up to 1912. Service records contain detailed information such as medical data and pay vouchers.
Designed as a beginner's genealogy resource, Olive Tree provides researchers with a road map for starting their journeys. The site walks you through the process of creating a pedigree and family tree, locating different types of public records, and conversing with relatives to unearth new information.
If you descend from Native American tribes, several existing genealogies published on Olive Tree might help you put together your heritage details faster. You might also enjoy the passenger manifest lists for immigration voyages if your family originated overseas.
Although you need to sign up for the site (at no cost) to use its more advanced features, AccessGenealogy creates a convenient and organized way to start your family tree research. Each state has its own specific section of the site. You can sort through databases, maps, historical records, photo albums and other information to find what you need.
Genealogy software provides the most comprehensive tools for tracing your family history, but genealogy search engines require no financial investment. Start your search using these free resources, then you can switch to a paid program to gain access to more data.