Genealogy Resources

5 Websites Professional Genealogists Use To Research Ancestors for Free

Family history research is stuck? Take a tip from professional genealogists and include often overlooked free(!) websites in your search.

Finding ancestors and growing a family tree can be tough and well, sometimes costly. I want to share with you how you can search for your ancestors like a pro and use free websites. 

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library offering free books. I have found a number of old family histories and other relevant genealogy and history books. Researching Philadelphia ancestors? Find the city directories from the 1800’s here!

Looking for the Family Bibel? Be sure and include a search of Internet Archive in your research plan.


When it comes to breaking down genealogy brick wall, genealogy researchers much include special collections at universities and other repositories.

While you may find searching through special collections cumbersome, the search is worth the effort. Use a search tool like ArchiveGrid to search collections worldwide.

I use ArchiveGrid in every research project I do! 💻

Learn more about how to use ArchiveGrid in Use ArchiveGrid To Find Old Documents & Family Records.

I encourage you to connect with one of their reference librarians by phone or by using the live chat feature on the main page of a University library’s website that allows you to instant message the librarian. They can help you with any questions that you might have about your search, and even find a relevant collection you may not have thought to search.

If the collection you want to view is not currently digitized, the reference librarian can assist you with options for actually viewing or searching that specific collection.

So, make friends with that librarian and make get comfortable searching Special Collections at university libraries.

Red paper cut out of family. Tan background with white text Free Websites Professional Genealogists Use.
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The State Archives Digital Collections

Most state archives have digital collections online, and many are continuing to grow those collections. 

Do not overlook reviewing what they have online. This can eliminate the cost of visiting an archive in person or ordering a search for a record.

The other cost saving reason to review those digital collections online before making a site visit is you can make better use of your time at the archives to research non-digitized records. You will be more efficient, productive, and require less time on site.

The Digital Collections of the Library of Congress

I think researchers overlook the Library of Congress, because well, it’s large, and we are not really sure what we can find there. But we can’t let that be an excuse. We need to learn what they have and how we can use it.

Researchers can find things such as the Sanborn maps. These are colorful fire insurance maps available to researchers. Oral histories to learn more about our ancestors and their time periods can be found. Researchers can also find items such as family papers.

I encourage you spend some time just perusing the Library of Congress’s digital collections. See what they have and feel comfortable with navigating the site. In the future as you research you’ll feel more comfortable looking for information there to help find those ancestors


Use Google to search for things such as the histories of the locations where your ancestors lived, migration patterns your ancestor may have taken and the local repositories where you might do further research. You can even Google your ancestors name and or their surname and learn more perhaps about the family if you get lucky. So don’t overlook a good old fashioned Google search.

BONUS: A County’s Register of Deeds office

A growing number of ROD offices are making deeds available on their sites. This varies county to county, but it is possible to find some counties with early deeds available online. For example: The Register of Deeds for Wake County, NC provides online documents and index data back to 1785.

Check for the area where your ancestors live to see if the Register of Deeds has their land records available for you to research for free from home.

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  • Randall Dodds

    I have a stupid question. In this video and on your shelf you have a reference book, “Gazetteer” something. It must be important for your work or you wouldn’t have it next to your Citation Manuel. Who wrote this book I use Gazetteer all the time in my research and have not come across this one.
    Thank you for your time in reading my question.
    Yours in Genealogy,
    Randall Dodds

    • LisaL

      It’s the North Carolina Gazetteer by William S. Powell. My personal research focuses on a lot of North Carolina ancestors.

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