Explore Your Ancestry: Best No-Cost Sites

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Researching African-American and slave ancestry can be challenging because you're tracing not just your own family tree but also those of slave owners. But as more documents and databases are moved onto the Internet, research is becoming somewhat easier — and, at least at these sites, less costly.


AfriGeneas: Founded in 1999, Afrigeneas.com is the granddaddy of African-American genealogy sites. The research community's features include an afternoon chat Monday to Friday as well as a Tuesday-night chat; a mailing list; and message boards. The site, which collects information from descendants of slave owners, has numerous searchable databases, including death and marriage records, census records, library records, slave data, surnames and state resources. There are also more than 30 forums to post messages, including Slave Research, Caribbean Research and Free Persons of Color. You can find the site on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. How the site can advance your research: The interactive Guide for Beginners lays out the basics of black-genealogy research on the Internet.

Christine's Genealogy Website: Another mainstay, Christine Charity's site updates visitors with the latest in African-American genealogy, with links to news stories and contributions from researchers. Check the site often for updated Searchable Data and Transcribed Data. Other valuable links are to the National Archives blog and Freedmen's Bureau Online. How the site can advance your research: It has extensive genealogy links.

Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet (African American Category): Cyndi Howells has compiled thousands of genealogy-related links on her mega-site since 1996. How the site can advance your research: The African-American category has dozens of links to genealogy websites, all at your fingertips.

Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware: Creator Paul Heinegg describes the site this way: "The history of the free African American community as told through the family history of most African Americans who were free in the Southeast during the colonial period." It contains the content of two books that chronicle family histories based on microfilm materials available at the archives of those five states. The materials include census records, tax lists, wills, deeds, "free Negro registers," marriage bonds, parish registers and Revolutionary War pension files. How the site can advance your research: Valuable for those who have traced their families to the Colonial period, late 1600s to 1810.

HeritageQuest Online: Described as "a comprehensive treasury of American genealogical sources — rich in unique primary sources, local and family histories, and finding aids," this site provides free access through most public libraries to the census, Freedman's Bank records, the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), genealogy and local history books, Revolutionary War records and the LexisNexis U.S. Serial Set. Contact your local library to see if you can access the site with your library card number. How the site can advance your research: Allows access to the census and to Freedman's Bank records, which have detailed financial info about account applicants, dependents and heirs going back to the end of the Civil War.

Lowcountry Africana: Research is limited to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The site has its own freestanding research aids, including a custom search engine, an online research library, videos, articles about research methods, and search capabilities for user-submitted documents. How the site can advance your research: Subscribe to the Lowcountry Africana Collection and receive emailed updates of user-submitted records.


Karin D. Berry is a newspaper journalist and freelance writer who has been researching her family history since 1987. Her articles, book reviews and op-ed articles have been published in Essence, Black Enterprise, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Macon Telegraph, the Baltimore Sun, the Evening Sun, Emerge and the Philadelphia Daily News.

For more on geneaology and help in finding your roots, check out our Geneaology Guide.