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The Best Online Resources for Family History

Article Date: 
16 July, 2010 - 06:00

Last week I focused on resources that are not available online.  Unfortunately, this still represents the majority of family history records.  This week I will  focus on the main sites where you can find online records.  While only  a small percentage of the world’s records  are online, fortunately it is the most used and the most valuable that have been placed online.  In many cases these online resources have also been indexed.
Ancestry.com
Ancestry remains the standard from which all other sites are measured.  They have the most complete collection of online records of any of the major websites.  Ancestry’s collections include:
* A full set of United States Censuses, fully indexed so they are every name searchable.
*A full set of British Censuses indexed and every name searchable.
*A significant collection of records of birth, marriage, and death from many localities in the world (most are from the United States).
*A good collection of immigration records found online, including a number of ship’s passenger manifests.
*A growing collection of military records
Ancestry’s current subscription rates is $155.40 annually for their United States Collection.  A portion of their site is available for free at the Morgan Family History Center.  The full site can be used for free at the Ogden Family History Center, or the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake.
FindMyPast.com
FindMyPast is emerging as a strong competitor to Ancestry.  They have the best collection of British records available online.  Their great relationship with the National Archives of the United Kingdom ensures that this will continue into the future.  They also have the best collection of emigration records of individual who left from UK ports.  They have a excellent set of military records and a growing set of parish records.  
The civil registration records, which began officially in 1837 in Britain, are not available online.  They must be ordered from the National Archives of the UK, however, FindMyPast has one of few indexes of these records available online.  In my experience it is also the most accurate.  The subscription to FindMyPast is approximately $190.00 and the site is available to search for free at family history centers worldwide.
The same company that owns FindMyPast, also operates ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk .  This site is somewhat expensive to use, but has the worlds best collection of Scottish records.
Footnote.com
Footnote’s niche is in records tied to history.  They have partnered with the National Archive of the United States for many of their collections.  They have the best set of United States military records anywhere online.  Their collection includes records from:
*The Revolutionary War
*The Civil War
*The Continental Congress
*The Constitutional Convention
*The War of 1812
*Passport Applications
* 2A limited collection of homestead records
*The 1930 United States Census
*World War I and World War II
There are also many other historical records.  It is an interesting site to browse, if you are a history buff or a genealogist.  The cost for Footnote is $79.95 per year.  The site can be used for free at all family history centers, including the Morgan Family History Center.
FamilySearch.org
I have written extensively about FamilySearch’s collection.   FamilySearch has one of the largest collections of records that have been research by users and submitted.  Often already research ancestors can be found.  FamilySearch also has a growing collection of online original records including:
*Some of the United States Census
*Some of the British Census
*A large collection of Birth Marriage and Death records from many areas of the world.
* The best collection of English Parish records anywhere online.
*The best international collection of records available online.
FamilySearch is free to use, although sometimes, to view the images of records, users are referred to commercial sites like Ancestry, FindMyPast, or Footnote.  FamilySearch is always a good place to start your search, given that it is free and has a significant record collection.  FamilySearch is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have been gathering records for many years.
USGENWEB, GENUKI, FamilySearch Wiki and FamilySearch Forums
If you are looking for help, or answers to your genealogical questions, there are a number of free sites.
USGenWeb.org is a collection of sites operated by volunteers who answer questions, write articles on research, and index records.  It can be helpful for US research questions.
GENUKI .org.uk(Genealogy for the United Kingdom and Ireland) is a large site with information about researching in the areas listed above.  It includes information about record availability by county and Parish.  It also includes a full gazetteer of England that is available for free to use.  It is one of the most useful sites for genealogical research information in England.
FamilySearch Wiki and Forums has some of the most broad content and help available online.  The wiki contains help articles for almost every area of the world.  While some areas have more content than others.  There is help to be found wherever your genealogical search takes you.  If you cannot find your answer searching in the wiki, post your question on Forums.FamilySearch.org.  Members of the community will answer your questions, and you will also often have answers given from the research consultants working in the FamilySearch Family History Library in Salt Lake.  If you are stuck, this is a great place to turn for advice.
There are many other sites available online and the collections grow daily.  FamilySearch alone is indexing more than 1,000,000 names a day.  Many resources are free, but there are several subscription sites that are well worth the cost, or a trip to the family history center.  This set of online information will continue to grow.  Over the next twenty years, I expect that many, if not most, of the genealogical records will come online.  Visit these sites regularly and see what’s new.  You may find the clue that has been eluding you, to help you go further in your research.