24 February 2012

Free Gen Websites

Post last updated on 12 Nov 2013

I wrote about researching for free and posted it on the discussion boards on the Ancestry.com Facebook page. Facebook discussion boards have since disappeared but I've copied and pasted it here. If you have more suggestions please add them in the comments. 


If you're just starting you may not want to spend $$ on a software program. You can create your family tree and keep it on Ancestry.com for free. Add names, events, photos, stories and invite your family to help you out. All of that is free. What Ancestry charges for is searching for records and making first contact with other members. If you're not a subscriber other members can contact you and once they do you will be able to answer them. The message boards are free and you can make contact with other researchers that way.
There is a way to search Ancestry's records for free. Go to your local library and ask if they have the Library Edition of Ancestry.com. You will need to access it from a library computer (not your laptop) and go to the Ancestry link on your library's homepage. Don't just go online and go to Ancestry.com. You'll see the same page you see on your own computer. There may be some databases not viewable in the Library Edition. Ask the librarian what other databases the library has access to that might be useful for genealogical research. Some may be accessible from home with your library card number.
Over 1000 databases on Ancestry are free to everyone and you can search them from home. In some cases the index or transcription is free but viewing the original record requires a subscription. You can limit your search to the free collections here or go to the card catalog and do a keyword search for the word FREE.


Another site owned by Ancestry.com is Fold3.com which focuses on military records. This is another subscription site but like Ancestry there are some free databases in their collection. You'll see a red "FREE" next to those collections.


FamilySearch is the most extensive collection of free genealogical records. It's run by the LDS church. Their goal is to make all the microfilmed records they have in the vault in Salt Lake City available online for free. Since there are millions (not millions of records but millions of microfilm rolls!) it's going to take some time. They have records from all over the world and are constantly adding new collections. If you'd like to see if they have anything for a part of the world you're interested in go to their homepage (link above) and scroll down. Click on the area you're interested in.
To see some of the images you'll need to create an account and sign in. Don't worry, unless you're ordering microfilm they never ask for a credit card number.
The entire collection is not indexed so it's also helpful to search the catalog to see what's available. There's a small fee for renting the microfilm and you'll have to search the old fashioned way, page by page.
FamilySearch also has libraries around the world. You can use Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3 and many other subscription sites free at any FamilySearch Center. For a list of those sites and more information about visiting a center click here. Each center will also have a permanent collection of microfilm that is free and, of course, books.
FamilySearch also has a Facebook page and a number of Facebook communities. Those communities focus on different states, countries and areas of research. I've used the Hispanic Genealogy Page and the volunteers have been extremely helpful.
If you find their site helpful you might consider volunteering with indexing new records. Click "Indexing" at the top of their homepage to learn more.

Cyndi's List

Cyndi has done an amazing job of categorizing and cataloging genealogy websites. She includes a $ icon for pages that require a subscription. Have ancestors from Cuba? Do a search for Cuba and see if there's any site online that caters to exactly what you need. Or maybe you'll find out about an online group of genealogists who have done research in Cuba and they can help point you in the right direction.
Like the Cyndi's List Facebook page to keep up with the latest site news.


Some counties/cities may have a page on RootsWeb. If you're lucky their page will have information about vital records for the area (what years are available and who to contact if they're not online) and they may even do newspaper look ups. You can also connect with others on the surname pages where you may find distant relatives.

Find A Grave

The volunteers at Find a Grave have created a huge database of graves, headstones and, in some cases, family lines and obituaries. Families are only connected IF someone has come along to connect them. So if you find a family member not connected to anyone use the handy search in the left hand column to search the surname in that cemetery or in that county. The search engine at F.A.G. is different than what you may encounter elsewhere so experiment with name variations (i.e. John Walker Smith, John W Smith, J Walker Smith, J W Smith, J Smith).
I've written more about the Find A Grave site here.
UPDATE: Find A Grave has been purchased by Ancestry.com but is still free.

Dead Fred

Dead Fred is a photo archive that covers over 17,600 surnames. There's also a mysteries section where you can search by photographer, state, time period, subject...

Google Books

Your ancestor didn't have to be famous to be in a book. Many towns/counties would publish a book on the anniversary of their founding. A book like that might have short bios of the oldest living or most prominent town/county residents. Or you may just want to find out more about the time or place your ancestors lived. If you find a book you're interested in, there are links to see if it's available for purchase or to find it in a library. If it's out of copyright you may be able to read it online or even download a PDF copy.

Other free sites

You may want to search a surname on Flickr.com or take a look at groups there like AncestorShare or Geneaolgy Documents. There are others, like me, who have started family group pages on Facebook so search for a surname and see if there are any "groups" in the results.

Your Local Library

With the surge in family history interest a lot of libraries have an introductory class or may even have lectures or genealogy help on certain days. Don't be afraid to ask. If they don't currently have something they will consider adding something if enough people ask. If you're looking for books about internet genealogy research be sure to check the copyright date. Since the internet and websites change so frequently a book written in 1999 is not going to be much help in 2012.

Learning is Fun

Ancestry.com has an online Learning Center as does FamilySearch. Legacy Family Tree (software) has webinars.
Podcasts are also a great way to learn. Family History: Genealogy Made Easy is a series I've listened to about 3 times all the way through. Do a search in iTunes for genealogy or family history to find more including tutorials from Ancestry.com.
I've created playlists of genealogy related videos available free on YouTube. The lists include videos from (links go to YouTube channels) Ancestry.com, the National Archives, the National Genealogical Society and many more.

There are sites where you can view other people's trees for free but I'm not going to link to them. Too many people copy error filled trees and think they're doing research. They're not. Once you get started you'll understand why anyone posting, "I did the 14-day free trial and traced my family back to Charlemagne" on any genealogy centered Facebook wall is subsequently mocked.

If you have other options for free research, tutorials or a favorite genealogy podcast or book to recommend please add it in the comments!

This is a time consuming but incredibly rewarding hobby.
Best of luck climbing your family tree!

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RELATED POSTS: FamilySearch, Visiting a FamilySearch Center, Find A Grave, Ancestry for Free: Genealogy Research Sites That Don't Cost a Dime (On FamilyHistoryDaily.com)


  1. From Alice on the Ancestry.com FB page:
    "The DAR database includes many Revolutionary War patriots and their descendants. It is free to search and view the lineage. If you find a patriot of interest, you can purchase the associated "Record Copy", listing sources, for a nominal $10 fee."

  2. USGenWeb.org is free and links to pages for each state. The amount and type of information available varies from state to state.

    The Nova Scotia Genealogy Network Association at http://nsgna.ednet.ns.ca/ has a number of great links, including the province's vital records for births, deaths, and marriages which I have found to be very helpful, here: https://novascotiagenealogy.com/ although there are gaps in the years available.

    Pennsylvania recently released state birth indices from 1906 and death indices from 1906 - 1961 as public records. The indices can be searched from http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/public_records/20686. Additional records are promised to be added annually. Birth records are limited to +105 years old and death records to +50 years old. Non-certified copies may be ordered for only $3.00 each, with a turn around time of about 4 months according to the website. I've been very successful at finding death dates for persons who disappeared between censuses.

    The US Department of Veterans Affairs has a veterans' grave locator http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/. See site for details on available records.

  3. These are great pointers. Thanks for reposting these recommendations.

    It looks like the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast link has changed. Were the podcasts by Lisa Louise Cooke? (http://lisalouisecooke.com/family-history-podcast/)

    1. Thanks! I fixed the link. I forgot to update after Lisa got a new website :-P

  4. Here is a link to my favorite & free research links.