Five great websites for free family history

Here are some of the best ways to progress your family history for free:

1. ‘First steps’ at TheGenealogist

This data website’s free First Steps offer has proved incredibly popular among those looking to start a new hobby while staying at home in the pandemic of 2020. IN the course of the year, this offer has been extended, and now gives newcomers to genealogy the following resources completely free for three months:

  • Complete Birth, Marriage & Death records index for England and Wales 1837-2005
  • English and Welsh census records to see where ancestors were living in 1891, 1901 and in 1911
  • TreeView, the online family tree builder
  • A huge image archive of churches, places and people from the past
  • A high quality monthly digital magazine packed full of stories, case studies, social history articles and research advice

Researchers can begin their discovery at


Short for UK & Ireland Genealogy, GENUKI has kept its simple, ‘Web 1.0’ design for a long time now, but as long as you don’t mind working through its layers of information you can find plenty here. To use the site, simply click on the country you want – England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales – and you can then navigate to listings for each. You’ll find categories for most counties covering archives and libraries, church records, court records, directories, land and property, maps and more. Sometimes there are direct links to websites offering transcribed data for free. In other instances, addresses are given for facilities you can visit to do your research – all the main libraries, the county record office, and so on. So, even when it doesn’t serve up a free record listing your ancestor, it does give you a rough idea of what’s available and where to look.

3. Cyndi’s List

Another old hand of the internet is this free link database, which has now been going for more than 20 years. The idea is simple: Cyndi’s List collects together links to hundreds and hundreds of the websites offering genealogical information on the internet. However, it’s much more than just a huge list – the sites have been categorised and cross-referenced, so you can narrow them down into the areas you’re interested in.

If you’re researching ancestors in the UK, Cyndi’s List has a category for that, and within that there are sub-sections. You can browse the categories alphabetically. Click England, for example, under the United Kingdom heading and you’ll see there are dozens of further categories – from BMD records to wills and everything in between.

4. Old Bailey Online

Written on the little ‘on this day’ panel of the Old Bailey Online website, you’ll see something like this: “Benjamin Clark was taken at the warehouses of the United Company of Merchants trading in the East Indies on suspicion of stealing 2 ounces of tea worth 4d.” If you suspect your ancestor was a thief, arsonist, pickpocket or murderer in or near London, it’s an excellent site to visit. You can search its records by names, dates, crimes and verdicts, and the site covers nearly 200,000 trials held at the court between 1674 and 1913. There are details of 2,500 executions, too.

Of course, it’s not just the criminals who appear here: the victims, witnesses, lawyers and judges are also listed and will appear in searches. Perhaps the best thing about the site is you can see not just transcripts of the court cases, but the printed pages as well. These are not always of the greatest quality but you are free to download the images to your hard disk for use in your family history records. Some of these records aren’t for the faint hearted: it’s stunning really that in 1718 a man would receive the death penalty for stealing a watch, which is what happened when John Wood stole from his master in Woolnoth, London.

5. Online Parish Clerks

Back in the day, parish clerks were local notaries who assisted parish priests with the admin work. The Online Parish Clerks are not actually a single website at all, but a network of county-based sites for ten English counties. You can a list of links to them at the Lancashire one. Each aims to make parish records from around their county available to genealogists, for free. Each county’s site is operated differently. However, broadly speaking, there is usually an alphabetical list of the parishes in each county and if somebody has volunteered to be the parish clerk for that area they’ll have uploaded transcriptions of genealogical data. Often they’ve typed up records from the baptism, marriage and burial registers for the parish, which may or may not be complete. You’ll find that sometimes they may go over and beyond the call of duty, with Overseers of the Poor records, census transcriptions, land tax records and monumental inscriptions.

If there is transcribed data for the parish you’re interested in, such as a listing of baptisms, the dates covered will be given and the data will be in plain text right there on the website, rather than in a database like the paid-for genealogy websites.