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Free Online Genealogy Tools

These tools weren't "born" yesterday. And that may mean you are missing out on their awesomeness simply because the buzz about them died a long time ago.

old-school free online family history tools


Keep reading to (quickly) learn about some of my favorite, free online tools for genealogy.

Tools for Dates

TimeandDate.com

There is no reason to estimate or do math in your head with a link to Time and Date. Have an age at death for someone? Plug it into this website's date calculator and get the corresponding birth date. This site actually offers many tools but the date calculator is the one I go to over and over again while researching.
Here's the link directly to the "Days Calculator: Days Between Two Dates" which is what I use the most.

Virtual Perpetual Calendars

A similar but different tool is Virtual Perpetual Calendars. The big use for this? When you have a document that describes the date of an event ("last Wednesday" or "the last Friday in May") you can use these calendars to find that date. Very helpful with newspaper clippings (you have the date of the paper but don't know what day of the week it was published). I've also used this with legal research when you know the legal progress of a probate, for example. You can then estimate a likely date of death based on the mix of descriptive dates and when the court should have met (usually something like "the first Monday in June, September, and December").
Here's the link directly to the 19th Century Calendar and 20th Century Calendar.

Tools for Land

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

From the Newberry Library, this site offers so much but I'll highlight just a bit. You can download files for use with Google Earth so you can create your own custom interactive map. For example, I've plotted ancestors' lands, loaded the appropriate state file from this website, and then moved the time slider to see how the county boundaries changed around the lands (you know, to see if they moved to a new county or if the county moved around them---it happens a lot!). That's a more advanced (but amazing) use. There are also multiple maps and chronologies you can view online if you need a simpler to use tool.

If you are doing German research, check out the Atlas of the German Empire, a digitized version of Ravenstein's Atlas des Deutschen Reichs.

USGS GNIS

Search for historical names including both towns and features (US and US territories, only). There are mapping options but this database isn't perfect. You may get too many options or not the one you are looking for. Broaden your search before giving up, though. Sometimes a feature is under a different location than you've entered (for example, a river that runs through multiple counties, exclude the county, in some cases, maybe try an adjoining state if that seems appropriate). Cemeteries are included but I've never had luck with them.

Also see the RIP section at the end.


Deed Platter

While we're talking about land, Deed Platter is a free online tool for creating a plot of land from a metes and bounds description. You will still need to place the plot on a map but this is much easier than trying to draw it by hand (I also use this in conjunction with Google Earth but thankfully don't need metes and bounds for most of my Georgia landowners---thank you Georgia land lotteries!).

BLM/GLO Website

Since my ancestors didn't leave Georgia, I've mainly used this "land" resource for military research. You can see my post about Bounty Land Warrants to learn more about that. If your ancestor lived in a federal land state, you should be using this for land research.

Tools for Birth and Death

SS-5 Online Ordering Form

The U.S. government creates lots of documents genealogists can find useful. The SS-5 is the application form for a social security number and asks for birth information and parents names (including mother's maiden name). A DATABASE (not images) of some SS-5 forms is available on Ancestry.com but you can use this online form to request a copy of the original or an original that is not in that database. Note that genealogists are not a high priority for the SSA so you may wait a long time, maybe even forever, for your order---or not (most of my orders have been quick but that's when I lived in driving distance of the main office, one never did arrive, though). Also, not everyone has an SS-5 form or what you get may not list parents (you will see examples of this in the Ancestry.com database where the information is for a claim, not an application---then no parents are included).

Death Indexes

This isn't a tool so much as a website. But you still need to know about it. It lists online sources for death records for each state. Many states have indexes even if databases aren't available on genealogical sites. You'd think a Google search would suffice but there is an amazing variety of "sources" for death records or indexes. It's much easier to bookmark this site and check it when you need a death record from a location you're unfamiliar with. Obituary and cemetery indexes are also included, especially when a state does not allow genealogical use of the official death records.

RIP: Awesome tools that aren't functioning

(As of the writing/updating of this post. Links are included in case they start working again.)

Rootsweb Town Search 1.0


(remember, the link above will likely take you to an error page but I've included it just in case it starts working again)

Rootsweb has been down for months. Much of it is back up but I can't find this tool or any information about its fate. Basically, you could enter the first few letters of a town and it would give you a list of counties that town could be in. This was fantastic when you couldn't quite read the name of the town or if it was misspelled and a Google search gives you too many choices (often most of those choices are modern options, not historical places). Since the tool is down, I don't remember all the variations that were possible. I've taken a look at an image of the page from the Wayback Machine and the town name was required (and I remember entering only a few letters) and the state abbreviation was optional.


This is just a handful of my favorite old-school online tools for genealogy.

Do you have

  • another "old-school" tool you love or 
  • know of an updated version of one of the above? 
Leave a comment!


Make the Most of Back to Genealogy Season

Five ways to make this your best back to genealogy season, ever.

Not surprisingly, back to school season is also back to genealogy season. I'm sure it has to do with all those years we all spent going back to school in the fall. And also like back to school season, you can follow some best practices to make the most of back to genealogy season.

Here are five ways to start the genealogy season "right."
Make the most of back to genealogy season | The Occasional Genealogist

The 3 Ps of Genetic Genealogy

Want to use DNA for genealogy success? You'll need these three easy peasy, I mean three easy Ps.

This week I was reminded of some basics of genetic genealogy (that's using DNA for family history). Not basics like what a centimorgan is (cM, that's a unit of measurement) or how much DNA you should expect to share with a 2nd cousin (3.125% or about 212 cMs).

No, real basics, like how to get an unwilling relative to spit for you.

It doesn't get any more basic than getting someone to take a DNA test!

After all, it doesn't matter how many basic facts you know if you have no tests to use.

Turns out the basics of getting people to take a test for you can be condensed down to 3 Ps (hmmm, that sounds familiar somehow). Here are my 3 Ps of Genetic Genealogy.

How to Create an Email Template

Email templates are easy. Stop writing the same email to your DNA matches over and over again, create a simple template.

Creating an email template is much easier than it sounds. You may think you have to figure out technical details specific to your email program, but you don't (although for some programs, you could). Let's look at how easy it is to create an email template as well as some common reasons a genealogist might want to create one.

Make an Email Template


5-Minute Prep for Faster Online Research

Are you asking yourself, "how do I make my family history research faster?" Sadly, family history research (genealogy) takes time. Think how long it took to create! But, there are ways to be more efficient and efficient means faster.

One caveat. With genealogy, you want efficient, not just fast. Fast today can mean completely stuck tomorrow!

So, I have a genealogy hack for you that can make your future online genealogy research faster.


here's a genealogy hack for you if you're looking to speed up your online family history research


Spend some time as often as you can on this (daily would be great, weekly almost as good, but monthly is better than nothing).

Studying Genealogy Periodicals

Studying Genealogy Periodicals: Journals, Newsletters, and Magazines


An often underutilized source of self-education is the genealogical journal. Genealogical journals are one of the only ways to learn how to do quality genealogy by studying quality genealogy.
Studying Genealogy Periodicals | The Occasional Genealogist


Print to PDF for Genealogists

Are you fighting with your printer over another genealogy printing job? Maybe you need to go green and print to PDF.

Several years ago I published a post about printing to PDF. It was on my blog for my genealogy services website which I'm now retiring so I'm updating and republishing the article here.

You'll learn how simple it is to print to PDF and why genealogists, in particular, should love this option.

Summer Genealogy Inspiration

Does summer have you avoiding or missing out on genealogy? It might be the weather or maybe it's your summer schedule. No matter the reason, summer can either be a great time to accomplish some genealogy or a genealogical waste-land (that you often don't even understand).

Need some genealogy inspiration? Here are five ideas to break you out of your genealogy rut.

Here are some ideas to shake up your summer genealogy routine.

Genealogy Research Skills Improvement

This isn't my normal type of post. This is essentially a round-up of my own posts related to a specific topic. But a topic you can't easily find with a search or a label.

This post rounds-up my posts about improving your genealogy research skills. If your genealogy skills need a boost, you're in the right place. I hesitate to label these as intermediate skills or advanced skills because we all have different ideas about what is "intermediate" or "advanced" genealogy.

Let's just say these posts will help you improve your genealogy skills. Some people will call these beginning skills, some intermediate, and some will consider them advanced skills. It doesn't matter, your skills have to improve to continue researching your family history.

Evernote Form for Census Correlation
Census Comparisons Continued
Is Your Genealogy Knowledge "Fuzzy?"
"Burned" Counties aren't always "burned"
Success in "Burned Counties" --- easy techniques to start with
Find Every Clue in U.S. Census Records
Cousin Baiting: What is It, Should You Do It?
What's the Opposite of Genealogy?
More Reverse Genealogy
Finding Aids vs. Library Catalogs
Evaluating Evidence: Books
Finding Female Ancestors: The Importance of Siblings
Make Your Genealogy Skills Go Pro
The 3 Genealogy Mistakes You Have to Tame to Improve Your Skills
Genealogy FAN Club: What Is It? Plus What It Is Not.

(looking for something else? This list is for posts that don't have a convenient label. Try the links in the top right, or a label from the right menu to find more from The Occasional Genealogist).


Pick your own genealogy skill to improve from this round-up on The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory

Have You Found the Hidden Features at AncestryDNA?

I really hope this post teaches you nothing. I know, strange to say. But I'd be thrilled if you are already using these in-house autosomal DNA tools from AncestryDNA.

As I'm preparing my new course, Overcoming AncestryDNA Overwhelm, there are some basics I want to make sure are covered. I don't want to keep the information just for those taking the course.
Discover AncestryDNA's Hidden Featuers


In this post, I'll show you three features people treat like they're hidden, point out four "hidden in plain sight" features, make sure you're aware of the basic tools, and give you some hints for using the newly revealed information.

Don't worry, it's not an overwhelming amount of information. When we're done, you'll know where the hidden features are to make every visit to AncestryDNA more productive.

How to Pick the Best DNA Test for Genealogy

So many choices!

Are you interested in using DNA to research your family history but don't have a clue where to start?

This post will give you some information to answer the question "what's the best DNA test for genealogy." I was going to also include "what happens after I test" but that is a subject for another post.
best DNA test for genealogy

What Is the Best DNA Test for Genealogy?

First, there are actually three types of tests you can take. If you know nothing about using DNA for genealogy (referred to as "genetic genealogy"), you are probably thinking about autosomal DNA. That is the type of test you see advertised on T.V.

If you're just getting started, here are my recommendations.

Three Genealogy Shortcuts That Aren't Cheats

There really aren't any shortcuts in genealogy.

Most of the "shortcuts" come in organizing, filing, and using technology--rather than record usage.

It's really about being efficient.

However, I've got three fantastic shortcuts that really can help you. Here are three suggestions to save time while still doing great genealogy.
map and vintage photo with text overlay three genealogy shortcuts that aren't cheats


If you haven't been doing some of the things mentioned (like creating a research plan and keeping a research log) because you're trying to save time, you're not taking a shortcut, you're cheating.

It'll come back to bite you in the end.

Genealogy FAN Club: What Is It? Plus What It Is Not.

image with text overlay do you know what cluster research is
If you got here because you Googled “genealogy FAN club,” you probably are embarking on a really fun stage of your genealogy research. At least I hope you are.
image of vintage fan with text overlay What is a Genealogy FAN Club?


A genealogy FAN club is not a “fan club” for people who are FANatical about genealogy. Although if you’re ready to learn about FAN clubs, you probably are a genealogy fanatic.

Can a Genealogy Checklist Help You?


Do you like the idea of a genealogy checklist? A handy little list you just follow and mark items off so you know where you are?
image of a clipboard and notepad with checklist, text overlay Can a Genealogy Checklist Help You?


I like that idea, too. It sounds much less intimidating than a research plan or doing analysis.

I still often yearn for a nice little checklist to walk me through my research.

But there's a problem. Using genealogy checklists are fraught with perils!

Yes, perils!!!

Finding Her Maiden Name: Develop the Skills to Bust a Brick Wall

free course of genealogy problem solving, brick wall busting

Sometimes I feel like the topic of finding a maiden name has been covered from one end to the other. As far as information being available, out there... somewhere in the world, it has been.

But every day, more people start their family tree for the very first time. They don't know where all that knowledge is. In fact, I think writing about finding a maiden name is probably more valid, simply because there are so many "new" genealogists out there.

So today, I'm launching the very first Occasional Genealogist mini-course. Specifically, it's about finding maiden names, but it's also designed to show you a methodology that can be adapted to any problem you label "impossible" (also called a "brick wall" in genealogy).

Organize Your Genealogy Education with Pinterest

Have you discovered there's a lot you need to learn about genealogy? I have heard that sentiment so many times from readers, lately.

image of a stack of old books with text overlay Organize Your Genealogy Education in Pinterest

Organize Genealogy Articles with Pinterest


So, in this post I want to show you an easy way to keep your (overwhelming amount of) genealogy education sources organized. If you're reading this, I'm guessing you read a lot of online material (that's the education sources I'm referring to). Maybe you read a lot of blog posts.

Genealogy Research Planning: A Recipe for the Chronically Rushed


image for how to eat an elephant with text overlay - recipe for elephant ala genealogy

How to Do Genealogy When You're Short on Time


Today I'm going to give you a recipe for Elephant ala Genealogy. If you don't get it, it's that old joke about "how do you eat an elephant?" The answer is "one bite at a time." It's the same way you plan genealogy research.

This is a bite-sized approach to doing genealogy planning, followed by research, and then the extremely important "reporting" step. This is not a recipe a professional genealogist would use for a client (it's for Occasional Genealogists) so I've adjusted the reporting step to make it easier to get started.

I've laid out this recipe for 15-minute sessions because it's likely you can squeeze that amount of time in somewhere. Research planning of this type is easier if you do it frequently.

You can also do this once a week for a longer time, just try and avoid redoing work each week because you don't remember where you left off. Figure out what you need to do so you know what to do next. That is a super valuable skill to learn so make it part of your process.

Organizing Your Genealogy: Identify Your Real Problem

Genealogists are notorious for their paper piles. Did you know your excessive amount of unfiled or unorganized material (paper or digital) might indicate a more serious genealogical problem?

Messy Desk or More Serious Genealogy Problem?

How to Organize Your Genealogy: Addressing Your Root Problem


Falling prey to this problem is so easy, I do it periodically. Recently I was reminded of what I should be doing. That simple reminder adjusted how I approach my in-progress client work. It was that important.

So today, I want to help you identify the difference between a simple problem with clutter and being disorganized, versus a more serious genealogical problem that IS affecting all your research.

The 3 Genealogy Mistakes You Have to Tame to Improve Your Skills

Do you want to further your genealogy skills so you can research better or faster? Have you run into a problem that seems too "difficult" for your current skill level?

Whatever reason you have for wanting to improve, there are three basic mistakes you have to tame before you can move "up."
There are three genealogy mistakes you must tame before your skills will improve. | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory

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