First, a word of caution.
I'm often asked "can I find my ancestors on the internet?" Well, yes; but you can't beat source documents! The internet is a great help, and I couldn't do without it; but it seldom constitutes confirmed data - only other folks' transcriptions and interpretations, which of course is very vulnerable to human error. The best thing is to use it to give you new leads, and then make sure that (as far as possible) you get the data from the horse's mouth, as it were. Make sure you visit the appropriate local Records Office, or nominate another researcher to do it on your behalf.
Having said all that, here are some of my favourite reference sites.
FreeBMD is a massive transcription project of the indices of birth, marriage and death. It's not complete, but they've made brilliant progress; most records are transcribed up until around World War 1, and there are some records for the following decade or two already. Invaluable for sending you off on (hopefully) the right track.
The most complete set of indexed census returns is available from the subscription-only Ancestry website. There are presently fully indexed sets for all censuses (1841 to 1901 inclusive), and many other sets of records. Whilst the mistranscriptions are still a common problem, it's still an excellent resource for tracking people down - and you can view the original documents to check the transcriptions. This site also has many other resources - mostly American, but some are more helpful, such as an alternative way to access and search FreeBMD (above) which can allow you to be more imaginative with your search criteria.
The 1881 census index is free to view at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons). They have also transcribed a vast number of parish records, and all these can be found at FamilySearch. Again, beware mistranscription (the Americans aren't always familiar with British names!) and treat it as a guide for where to look in more detail.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an excellent repository of information - and if you ever visit one of these extraordinarily moving places, you will see how well maintained and dignified they are.
As family history becomes an increasingly popular pastime, folks are sharing their findings online. One such sharing project is Genes Reunited (a partner site to Friends Reunited). For a nominal annual subscription, you can post your own details and look for connections. However, be cautious again: other genealogists jumping to optimistic conclusions can result in a vast game of Chinese Whispers if you're not careful!
A great place to start is Cyndi's List, an extraordinary resource of more genealogical links on the internet than you ever knew existed.
Many thanks to Crystal Tanner for suggesting this page at Start Local (an Australian information portal) for a useful collections of links about genealogical resources.
As I come across any more, I'll add them here... and of course, let me know if you find a gem you'd like to share!
this page last updated on August 17, 2010