When I was first getting into genealogy, it was mostly out of a sense of obligation (I was still learning to love it). So I didn’t want to pay for access to the good resources. Which made me wonder – are there good, free genealogy websites?
There are loads of free genealogy websites. These free resources are usually enough to get most research started and going (beyond just the basics). The most comprehensive free genealogy website is FamilySearch.org. Here are 11 other free resources to bookmark.
Ready to further your genealogy – without paying a dime? Keep reading and we’ll show you how to do just that!
The Best Overall Free Genealogy Website
There are four big genealogy websites – and one of them is totally free. FamilySearch.org is one of the biggest names in genealogy and it’s the hands-down leader of all free genealogy websites.
It’s hosted and run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, it’s open for any and everyone to use. You don’t have to be a member of the Church to use the site.
In fact, even without being a member you’ll have access to everything on FamilySearch.org – except for one single feature. And that feature doesn’t even usually appeal or apply to those who aren’t members. We’ll talk about that feature in a minute. But first, let’s talk about what everyone has access to.
FamilySearch.org offers free access to:
- A shared family tree. FamilySearch.org is a collaborative site. As such, it offers access to a shared family tree. As such, you’ll probably be surprised at how much information on your family is already on the site! However, the one main drawback of a collaborative model is that people can change the online records. So be sure to keep track of your own tree, sources, and citation logs. That way, someone else’s well-meaning attempts to contribute won’t wipe out your work.
- Millions of records – and that number is growing every month and year. There are millions of digitized and indexed records, including: census, birth, marriage, death, military, immigration, and a whole lot more! And since members of the Church volunteer to input that data, there are more records becoming available every month.
- The ability to upload memories in the form of documents, photos, and audio recording. These memories can be accessed on the site or on either the Memories or FamilySearch.org apps. Video isn’t included at this time. We’re hoping it gets added soon, though!
- A research wiki to help your research. There are research guides, resource suggestions, and helpful articles on the wiki. They’ll help you search by location, record type, etc., and more. The wiki also lists various free research groups you can join.
- The opportunity to help out the genealogy community. You can help out others with your own research simply by participating. Or if you’d like to get more involved, you can help with indexing efforts (it’s not limited to just members).
- And much more.
Not bad for free, right? It’s pretty awesome.
Okay, now back to that single, members-only feature we mentioned earlier. Members of the Church have access to a single extra feature that lets them do temple work, like proxy baptisms, for their ancestors.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that everyone deserves the option to accept (or reject) Christ as their personal Savior. So, we do temple work for them that gives them the choice to do just that. It’s not an automatic, get-into-heaven-against-your will kind of thing. That would violate our belief in moral agency. It is, however, a choice we give to our direct ancestors.
In any case, the information on temple ordinances is limited to members of the Church. It is, however, the only extra feature that members get. And members are limited in doing temple work for direct ancestors, in accordance with Church policy.
It’s an amazing feature for those of us who believe in the Church’s tenets. But it’s a feature that doesn’t usually appeal to the general public, which is probably why it’s limited to members of the Church. If you’d like to learn more about temple work, be sure to read the Church’s published information on temples and temple work by clicking here.
11 Notable Free Genealogy Websites
Okay – now let’s move onto 11 more notable (and totally awesome and useful) free genealogy websites. These are the most useful and accessible ones – ones that Breanne, in particular, uses on a regular basis. I’ve used several of these – but she’s definitely the professional while I’m the hobbyist.
|Cyndi’s List||Cyndi’s list is a crazy big list of resources, places, types of records, and pretty much everything else you could think of wanting to know.|
|HeritageQuest Online||This website is free when you access it through your local library. The regular library, that is! You don’t have to go to a specialized family history library. This site gives you access to censuses and other basic records. Some people have called this service “Ancestry Lite.” It’s a great option – and it gets you out of the house and to the library!|
|Geni||Geni helps you create a family tree and collaborate with other users to grow your tree. There is both a free and paid membership option. The free membership still comes with a lot of great options. Later, it can be upgraded for additional features.|
|WikiTree||Wikitree is another collaborative family tree and website. It runs like any other wiki site – and relies on collaborative efforts to keep it up to date.|
|Find A Grave||Want to find where your ancestors are buried? With Find a Grave, you can even see a photo of their headstone if you know where they are buried. If you can’t find a photo, no worries. You can request a local volunteer take a photo for you!|
|Billion Graves||Billion Graves works similar to Find a Grave. It’s got a good database on where graves are – and has pictures, too. Most data can be accessed for free, though there is an option to upgrade for additional features.|
|US GenWeb||This site is a hub for US-based genealogy resources. Not only will it link you to national resources, but it will also link you to resources for individual states, too. These sites are run by volunteers and help you become familiar with resources in the listed areas.|
|WorldGenWeb||WorldGenWeb is like US GenWeb but on a world-wide scale.|
|Chronicling America||Chronicling America is a collection of newspapers that are free to browse. This service is provided by the Library of Congress.|
|GENUKI||GENUKI is a great free resource for those doing research in the UK and Ireland.|
|Ellis Island||If you have ancestors that came through Ellis Island, then you can search passenger lists here.|
There are so many more sites than just these! However, these are the best free websites to get the basics covered. If we listed every free website, we’d turn into another version of the GenWebs. And it would get pretty overwhelming – fast.
So start with these 12 free genealogy websites. They’re the most often-used resources. Feel free to bookmark this page – and/or all of these 12 websites, too.
When you’re ready for more options (including some paid resources), be sure to check out our post on the best genealogy sites, period. We’ve got another huge list of resources and websites there.
How Can I Research my Family History for Free?
When you’re wanting to research family history for free, there are a few options.
- Use exclusively-free resources to do your research.
- Write down the specific information you need. Then, make use of free trial periods to find your answers before canceling your paid account access.
- Keep an eye on paid-access sites. They give occasional free access over special weekends and holidays. Keep your questions handy and look up as many answers you can during these free-access specials and periods.
- Go to a Family History library that offers free public access to records.
- Use a combination of all of these ideas to find your answers – for free!
There isn’t a right or wrong way to do research for free – as long as you’re finding your answers and citing your sources. That way, you’ll remember where you found your answers!
And really, keep an eye at paid resources on weekends. Here are a few examples of free access to paid records that Breanne has seen.
- Some paid sites offer free access to marriage records over Valentine’s Day weekend.
- Over President’s Day weekend, newspapers.com offered free access to their records.
- Around Veteran’s Day, sites like Fold3 may allow access to their military records.
In any case, make a list of the information you want to know. Write down potential sources for it. Then, make use of free access periods to find your answers!
Or, keep reading for a way to get access to paid genealogy resources – for free!
How to Get Access to Paid Genealogy Resources – for Free!
Okay, so now that you’re ready to use some paid-access genealogy resources, it’s important to know that there is a way to get access to them – for free.
If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church provides partner access to sites like Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, American Ancestors, and Geneanet for free. You can read more about FamilySearch.org’s partner access initiatives here.
If you aren’t a member of the Church, you can still get access to the records for free in a couple of ways. If you’d like to do things on your own, make use of free trials and free-access periods like we mentioned in the previous section of this article.
Or, go ahead and check out a Family History library near you. If it’s one run by the Church, it’s staffed by volunteer genealogists who will help you find your answers. If it’s run by a different organization, the genealogists there will still do what they can to help you.
Another option is to join any of several free support groups. There, other members or group admins may be able to help you find your specific answers. We’re partial to our free Facebook group and you’re welcome to join us there if you’d like. Search Facebook for Genealogy Pals Worldwide – and click request to join. There are a few required questions, like promising to follow some basic rules of common courtesy, so don’t forget to answer those.
In any case, get out there and go do some genealogy. It’s a fantastic, free hobby. And we’re excited to see you there.