Explore Free Databases
Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteer genealogists and historians, there is a wealth of free genealogy data available online. Government agencies, libraries, and archives have also jumped on the digital bandwagon, offering free Internet access to some of the many public records under their domain. Most of these free databases of interest to genealogists will be introduced in the chapters where they are most relevant. The Ellis Island database, for example, will be discussed in Chapter 10. Here, however, you'll learn about some of the largest, general-purpose sites for free genealogy research.
Root Around at RootsWeb
The oldest and largest free community genealogy site on the web, Roots Web (
Click on Searches to access a variety of search engines and indexes. Here you'll find the RootsWeb Surname List (RSL), a registry of sur-names along with information about how to contact the person who submitted the surname so you can share information and compare notes. This is also where you'll find links to the RootsWeb hosted genealogy records and databases, organized by location and/or record type.
The Family Trees tab takes you to the massive WorldConnect project, a lineage-linked database with more than 600 million names. Learn more about WorldConnect in the “Look in Lineage-Linked Databases” section later in this chapter.
The next two tabs take you to Mailing Lists and Message Boards, where you can connect with other researchers, ask questions about your family history, or search through more than a decade of archived posts. See Chapter 11 for more on these features.
RootsWeb also hosts tens of thousands of websites for the genealogy community, including personal sites, surname sites, and major free genealogy projects. The websites tab offers a good jumping-off point for exploring your roots.
Find Local Records at the USGenWeb Project
The goal of this large volunteer genealogy project is to maintain websites for genealogical research in every U.S. state and county. The databases, links, and information found at the USGenWeb Project (
Look in Lineage-Linked Databases
Lineage-linked databases offer family historians an easy way to search, contribute, view, or download family trees online. Instead of just a simple list or index of names, lineage-linked databases present family trees in a linked, pedigree format. Because these compiled databases offer access to millions of names and multiple generations of a family tree, they are a favorite of many online genealogists.
The Internet's largest collection of user-submitted family trees can be found at
In addition to the large lineage-linked databases available through
Another huge collection of family tree files can be found in the combined Ancestry World Tree/RootsWeb WorldConnect database. The data-base, containing more than one million names in 400+ million family trees can be searched at both
Despite the convenience of being able to download a big chunk of your family history in one place, lineage-linked or pedigree databases have one huge drawback. They are only as reliable as the researcher or hobbyist who posted them. The first option for evaluating a family tree's reliability is to look for good documentation of sources and conclusions, but to find such well-documented pedigrees online is rare. To ensure that the information you have found is correct, you'll want to follow up all facts in original sources.