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Genealogy Research,  Genealogy Tools

How To Stock Your Genealogy Toolbox for Success

Stock your genealogy toolbox with the best resources and research tools to successfully find your ancestors and grow the family tree.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the genealogy subscriptions and resources that you need to find those elusive ancestors.

But what do you really need?

My grandfather had a large wooden toolbox, and it was the size of a small trunk. It’s where he kept his favorite best and favorite tools to build and fix things in his shop. I may not need a physical toolbox to build things – I’m really not much of a builder, quite honestly – but I do need and have a virtual genealogy toolbox filled with the genealogy research tools that I need.

Peek Inside My Genealogy Toolbox

The Big Four

The first thing you’re going to see inside my virtual genealogy toolbox is actually a group of tools. I call these the Big Four databases and they include Ancestry.com, My heritage, FindMyPast and FamilySearch.

I consider these the work horses of my genealogy research. With the exception of Family Search, these are paid subscriptions. I do have active subscriptions at all four of these databases, because I want to make sure that I don’t miss anything on any of the platforms that could potentially help me progress those family trees. With that said, I do realize not everyone is going to be able to do that, but because I do this as a living and work, I do have those active trees on all of the platforms.

FamilySearch Wiki

The next tool we want to pull out of that genealogy toolbox is the FamilySearch Wiki. When I’m starting genealogy research in a new country, state or county, I always start with Family Search Wiki. It’s where I can learn quickly at a glance the history of a county, when records began being recorded, and if there was a significant loss of records at any point in their in its history. The amount of information on different regions, different countries, states and counties will vary from page to page, but it’s a quick and easy place to start your search.


Next up in my genealogy research toolbox is Archivegrid.

ArchiveGrid is one of my favorite research tools, and it’s actually not even genealogy specific. When it comes to breaking down genealogy brick walls, we need to get into special collections at university libraries, small repositories, and larger government owned repositories.

So why archive grid? It is a finding aid in within special collections around the world. It is a way to actually search repository holdings to see what they might have. You can do this right from your desk without having to travel to individual repositories.

Learn more about ArchiveGrid in this post.

magnifying glass over the enlarged word genealogy. Tan box with white words "Peek Inside@ My Genealogy Toolbox"
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Internet Archive

Next in my toolbox is Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital library offering free books, I have found a number of family history and other genealogy related books on their site. For example, if you’re researching Philadelphia ancestors, find the city directories from the 1800s at the Internet Archive. If you’re looking for a family bible, be sure to include the Internet Archive as part of your search as well.

By the way, it’s free too!


Next up in my toolbox WorldCat. WorldCat is essentially a digital card catalog for books around the world. Think of it as one of those card catalog we had growing up, but it’s the biggest one out there.

Using WorldCat allows you as a genealogy researcher to search libraries around the world for books related to your family history. Examples of the types of books that you might find relevant for your research include local, county and state history specific family histories, I was even able to find and locate a family book using WorldCat that not only named my ancestors, but even had me in there as well.

Yes, that was a bit of a surprise! 😲

Google Books

Next up in my genealogy research toolbox is Google Books. Now, if you have followed me for any length of time, you know that I love Google books! First, it’s free, and that makes this frugal genealogist heart beat just a little bit faster.

You will be able to find many books in the public domain that are going to be relevant to your genealogy research. Examples of the types of books to be found include family histories, church histories, city directories, statute books, and medical and law dictionaries.

Learn more about Google Books in this post.

screenshot of google books results for guild family history search
Source: Google Books

Google Maps

Google Maps is another tool that I use frequently.

I have loved maps since I was a little girl. With my own children, we would spend hours planning games involving maps. We loved exploring the world using maps.

Google Maps is perfect for us as genealogy researchers to be able to understand the distance and the location and even the terrain of the areas where our ancestors lived. We can see how they close they live together, how far apart they were, or how far they had to travel, to perhaps do business in the closest town.

Google Maps is going to give you a lot of great background information on your ancestor and what their life was like. [Yes, this is part of my favorite social history research that I do.]

Google Maps is enough to get me started on my way with my research, but if it’s not, I can then go and explore further for historical maps as well.

Chronicling America

Next up in my genealogy toolbox is Chronicling America. Chronicling America is perhaps one of the best known resources for researching old newspapers for genealogists. They have digitized newspapers that range all the way from 1777 all the way up into 1963.

Do not overlook the US newspaper directory. That database holds over 156,000 newspaper titles with information on where and how to find them. So if you’re getting started in newspaper research for your genealogy, make sure you start with Chronicling America .

Learn more about Chronicling America in this post.

NARA – National Archives

Genealogy Research Toolbox is really not complete without NARA, or the National Archives. What’s not to love about the National Archives?

I use many of their tools and resources to learn about areas of genealogy that may be new to me or areas I do not have as much experience in. I discovered the access to NARA’s archival data page a number of years ago, and I’ve recently circled back around to it. You’ll be able to search a selection of NARA’s records that include over 247 million records.

If you are new to using NARA. I recommend you start with the “Getting Started Guide” that you’ll find in the upper right hand corner.

Keep the Genealogy Learning Going….

You might also like to take a peek inside my cemetery research backpack!

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One Comment

  • Edie W

    I am currently enrolled in family history courses and trying to learn new ways of networking with other family history researchers and/or professionals (which I hope to be one day). In your opinion, is blogging an effective way to network with other researchers, either by starting a blog or commenting on established blogs? What are your best tips for networking? Thanks you so much.

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