My Top Three Online Resources for Family Tree Research


     I receive a lot of questions regarding the family tree research I do.  People don't know where to start, they get stuck, they don't know who their grandparents were or who one of their parents were.  Let me put the painful truth up front so that you don’t have a rude awakening, or perhaps you already have had that rude awakening and you need some reassurance from someone with years of experience.  This is a very difficult and very tedious process, especially for people who are adopted or don’t know who a parent or parents are.  For research on Native Americans, it is very difficult at times.  I have spent years researching single individuals to determine their ancestral lineage and physical whereabouts.  The further back in time one goes, the more challenging it is.  I have to be very respectful of the fact that people don't know where they come from, and that is a real challenge in conducting this kind of work.  If you are conducting this research for yourself or someone in your life, it is good that you reward yourself in this process and celebrate small victories because the questions you have about certain individuals, may take years to answer.  It takes a great amount of curiosity and passion for this type of research, so if you are reading this, good job!  You have made it this far in your quest and deserve a pat on the back because it's that curiosity that will drive you to answer critical questions.

      The people that come to me either don’t even know where to start or hit dead ends that kill their research.  The biggest challenge is knowing what to do when you've hit a dead end in your research. An important part of doing any research is to keep moving.  If you hit a dead end on one part of your research, start on another part and you will find yourself coming back to that dead end with an answer eventually.  Set it aside, don’t let that dead end kill it for you.  We all hit them, but what you do next in the process will determine your success.  Aside from literature searches and consulting my usual books as references for research, I have three online fallbacks that always jolt my research back to life after hitting a dead end.  These three online resources have been super helpful, especially when researching family trees.  A quick side note: For Native Americans who are already enrolled in a Tribe, an obvious starting place should be to get a family tree from the Tribal enrollment office. 

     Here are the three online resources that I use all the time when I am stuck in a research rut:

     1).  Ancestry.com:  Get it, just save up the money and get it.  It is the modern cornerstone of family tree research and you will be so happy you invested in this.  The resource has tons of federal documents that are easy to navigate and search.  I have spent hours upon hours on Ancestry.com totally unaware of the time slipping away.  You can easily sit and burn 4 hours sifting through records. A word of caution: Be sure to double check accuracy of the family tree information because sometimes names get mixed up and you could end up adding the wrong Jane or John Doe to your family tree.

     2) Bureau of Land Management Land Records:  This one is totally free.  Do you want to know where an individual or individuals once lived? I love how this resource ties people to the land on which they once lived.  You can google this resource, and it will take you to a very valuable website regarding historic land transactions.  This resource has a record of every single land transaction in the United States as well as associated maps, that from time to time have individual homes marked.  These records also include Indian Allotments which is very important for Native American research. 

     3) Newspapers.com: This requires a hefty subscription but is worth it.  This resource includes just about every newspaper ever printed in the U.S. for the last few hundred years.  It’s totally cool and you can easily save clips or entire pages. 

     The search engines for all three resources are very easy to use and allow you to be as broad or specific as you would like.  Remember sometimes casting a broad net can be worth more when shooting at a narrow target.  Finding people can be as hard as finding a needle in a stack of needles, but these three resources can make finding them easier.  I have a lot more suggestions and could go on and on about do’s and don’ts, but these three resources are the best at beating dead ends in research.


3 comments


  • shirley schleret

    Thanks Jon for another source that I haven’t even thought of yet in my search. I will now be looking at the Bureau of Land Management. I have done many hours on Ancestry.com and it is a great source and I was very surprise to learn that there were Native American Census taken every year back in the day! I don’t think many of our people even know this fact. I always try to verify the names of my relatives with two or more sources before placing them on my family tree. You are so right about names and the way they can be misspelled. Right now I am stuck trying to find out who my great great grand-mother was because even my great grandmother couldn’t speak or write the English language. And in her day maybe her birth wasn’t even recorded. Thanks again and maybe I can get unstuck in this dead end. Shirley Schleret from the Fond du Lac Band of Minnesota


  • Sarah Swan

    This is awesome… I’m with Anthony. I’ve done some hefty searches on ancestry. BTW I was so surprised on how much of our family stuff was found on there. But I always come to a stand still. Great blog cuz… thank you for sharing. 😎


  • Anthony Craig

    Thank you! I am going to try the Bureau of Land Management resource. Appreciate your guidance. I’ve found tons of info on Ancestry…one of my challenges is connecting ancestors’ Indian names to English names and vice versa. But, you’re right about plugging away even when it gets tough.


Leave a comment


Please note, comments must be approved before they are published