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Meet the Author
I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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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


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

The website Virtual Perpetual Calendars doesn't appear to work anymore. I've left the original text below. You can instead use the "create calendar for any year" tool from timeanddate.com.

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. Let's say you know the legal process for probate for the time and place you're researching (this can be found in something like a clerk's handbook or state law digest). 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.


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.

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 Ordering Instructions with Link to 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).

Note that I originally linked directly to the online ordering form but it's become so convoluted, the link now goes to the instructions. The instructions page is where you will find the set fee for ordering an SS-5 (the ordering form is for multiple types of records so it is a fill-in the blank section with no information on the set fee). Please read the instructions page to learn more.

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.

Deed Platter -this doesn't seem to be working anymore

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!).

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!