The majority of us associate Ancestry.com with its premium resources. The vast majority of Ancestry’s billions of records are, of course, locked behind a paywall. You might be shocked to learn that the website does include a sizable number of totally free collections—and they are all fully searchable.
The free collections do get mixed in with the results when you try to find a record on Ancestry using their main search function. However, if you don’t have a premium membership, reading through the results to find options that you can access can be time-consuming.
The only blatant indication that a record does not require payment is that its search result data is not restricted. There is no method to limit results by membership level in this search, i.e. free vs. discovery vs. globe explorer etc.
How to Get Free Access to Ancestry Records
Even while they don’t make it particularly obvious, there is a much simpler way to find all 800+ free collections on Ancestry (up from 600+ two years ago). You can search and sift through each and every one of their cost-free collections on their Free Index Collections page, which is linked to below. At the bottom of the page is a comprehensive list of all of these collections.
The collections in this section are divided into two categories: those that Ancestry owns and “Web” collections that are given by other websites. While some of the Web collections come from smaller websites, many are offered in collaboration with well-known free family history leaders like The National Archives or FamilySearch. Other Ancestry collections are not accessible elsewhere for free.
This is a very practical approach to search and record data whether you maintain your family tree on Ancestry or simply prefer their format. In essence, it can function as a sizable, free genealogy search engine, enabling you to obtain information from a variety of free websites in a single search.
To use the majority of this information, you will need a free Ancestry.com account (you do not need one only for Web collections). If you don’t already have an account, they will simply prompt you with the free membership signup page when you try to access a free record. However, there is no chance that you may unintentionally register for the incorrect account because they cannot charge you without credit card information. To search or access the free records, you do not need to sign up for a 14-day trial. You are attempting to see paid materials if you are prompted for your credit card information.
Use the Free Card Catalog on Ancestry.com.
Make sure Ancestry.com has documents pertinent to your research before subscribing. The Card Catalog on Ancestry.com might help you with that. This database contains a list of every record collection available on Ancestry.com, much like the old-fashioned paper and ink library card catalogs. To identify collections that potentially contain your ancestor, you can perform a keyword search or utilize filters.
Without a trial subscription, accessing the Card Catalog (and Ancestry.com in general) can be difficult. Finding the main menu on Ancestry.com can be challenging because the home page frequently changes—sometimes to reflect a bargain on DNA or subscriptions, sometimes because one of the site’s “cookies” indicates that your IP address has visited previously. If at all possible, please make use of the direct link in the preceding sentence.
Click on the word “Genealogy” if it appears in the site’s main menu to visit that section (including the Card Catalog). You’ll have to enter through the “back door” if not. On the homepage, scroll to the bottom.
Site Map is one of the menu options. A site map is precisely what it says it is: an index of all the important website categories. You’ll see the same options at the top of this screen as you would if you were an Ancestry.com subscription.
Click Search when you see the main menu. Links to different record kinds, such as immigration, vital records, military records, etc., will be available in a dropdown box. To narrow your search to just that record group, select an option. Click Card Catalog for the time being.
To find out what digital genealogy documents Ancestry.com possesses, use the Card Catalog.
The website Ancestry The site’s records are listed in Card Catalog, which also offers links for searching particular collections.
A list of Ancestry.com’s 32,000+ record collections can be found here. They can be sorted by record count, collection title, date added, date updated, or date of addition. You can discover more about a collection by clicking on its name; unless you attempt to examine record search results, a paid subscription is not required.
You can also browse only collections of documents from particular areas and/or times through the Card Catalog. For instance, let’s say you believe that an ancestor of yours perished in Bergen County, New Jersey, in the late 1800s. Put New Jersey in the Keyword box in the Card Catalog, then select each of the following filters:
When you choose New Jersey, Bergen (which is then apparent) becomes visible.
Each filter produced fewer collections, which were easier to study. With the help of all these filters, Ancestry.com’s thousands of collections have been reduced to just two: Bergen County marriage records and registrations from Reformed Protestant Dutch Churches. It’s obvious from those findings that you won’t locate a death record for your Bergen County relative who lived in the late 1800s.
The results you get will be significantly impacted by adding and removing criteria. Try out different filter combinations to see if a different collection would be more useful. You would have more than 600 collections to pick from, for instance, if you removed all of your filters other than New Jersey as a keyword and Birth, Marriage, & Death.
Previews of Records
What occurs if you come upon a collection that you believe contains your ancestor? Simply said, if the collection is free, Ancestry.com will display results; if it is a pay-only collection, it will display a sample of matched data. In the latter scenario, you won’t be able to view the entire record, but you will be able to tell whether or not your ancestor might be included in a collection.
Ancestry.com search results for New Jersey death records only contain information from the index.
Although Ancestry.com’s collection of New Jersey death records is hidden behind a paywall, you can read some of the results’ basic information without paying any money.
In this illustration, I look for John Stevenson in the “All New Jersey, Death Index, 1901–2017.” The site only (mostly) revealed the results since that collection is hidden behind Ancestry.com’s paywall.
Ancestry.com will demand payment if you attempt to click on any of your results. The bad news is that you cannot view record details or proceed any further. The good news is that you are aware that there is a chance the record mentioned your ancestor. This Ancestry.com search might not yield all the results you are looking for, but you can learn enough to check out other free websites. You can decide whether to spend the money on a subscription based only on that.
If you’re logged into an Ancestry.com account, which you can register for free, you will be able to view full details for a number of Ancestry.com’s collections. The 1940 US federal census, Find a Grave monument listings, and US naturalization data are a few highlights at the moment of writing.
However, Ancestry.com will display a subscription box here if you attempt to click on anything. The bad news is that you can’t move on. The good news is that you are aware that there may be a record for your ancestor.
Check if the database is the same at FamilySearch after that. They don’t have the precise database, but they do have one called “New Jersey Deaths and Burials, 1720–1988,” according to my research. This Ancestry.com search might not yield all the results you are looking for, but you can learn enough to check out other free websites.
View the Public Member Trees.
Although you’ll need a subscription to view any records that are behind a paywall, creating an online family tree through Ancestry.com is free, as are obtaining the site’s renowned “shaky leaf” record tips.
However, Member Trees are useful for more than just preserving your own research. They are useful tools in and of themselves. More than 100 million user-created family trees can be found on Ancestry.com, the majority of which are searchable and public. It’s possible that another Ancestry.com member has already developed a profile for one of your ancestors given the size of the information; when I looked up one of my ancestors, I discovered him in 41 distinct trees.
Ancestry.com free public member tree illustration
Ancestry.com limits access to information about other users’ public family trees to paid subscribers, just like with premium records. However, you can learn some things from the preview.
Be aware that without a subscription, you cannot view the entire tree or get in touch with the tree owner. However, you can discover certain information, such as locations and the name of the spouse. (Of course, you should confirm any information you get from unreliable sources like the trees of other users.)
Utilizing this link or the Search tab of the main menu using the same “back door” entrance as in No. 1, you can view Public Member Trees, which are technically in their own records collection.
Watch the how-to videos on Ancestry Academy to learn
Ancestry Academy, a collection of brief movies on crucial genealogy topics, is another fantastic free Ancestry.com service. You have two options for getting to the Academy: straight from the main menu or by choosing Extra. There is an iOS and Android app for The Academy.
Only a few, brief solo movies are included on the home page (“5 Minute Finds”). However, the majority of videos are grouped by topic. For instance, the Methodology and Skills section alone contains 16 videos on the subject of study on African Americans. 13 videos on Canadian censuses, 12 videos on cemetery research, and 11 videos on brick wall research are also included in that collection.
iPhone image of a playlist from Ancestry Academy
Using the iPhone app seen below, you may watch instructional Ancestry Academy videos wherever you go.
You’ll be astonished at the useful information discovered in the Academy videos, whether you’ve done research before or have done it your entire life. From a computer, phone, or tablet, all are reachable.Check out YouTube for Ancestry.com
Ancestry.com offers various free videos on YouTube, the second-largest search engine in the world, in addition to educational videos on its own website. Hundreds of useful films, including how-tos, historical recipes, craft ideas, success stories, and diaries, are available even though you won’t discover any specific documents.
Check out YouTube for Ancestry.com
On Ancestry.com’s YouTube channel, watch how-to genealogy videos.
The video page on Ancestry.com is generally arranged by most recent additions. However, you can reorder by date (so that the oldest films are displayed first) or popularity using the sort by function. Videos span a decade.
You can also sort by Playlists, which are videos that Ancestry.com has chosen to cover a certain subject, using the top menu. For instance, the Irish & UK Roots playlist contains almost twenty movies about studies in those nations.
Choose Crista Cowan’s “Barefoot Genealogist” videos if you want longer instructional videos. These films are identified by a distinctive symbol and frequently contain search tips or instructions for using recent Ancestry.com features.
the YouTube channel of The Barefoot Genealogist as seen in a screenshot
The Barefoot Genealogist discusses search strategies for Ancestry.com.
You can perform a keyword search on the Ancestry.com YouTube channel if you’d prefer. Locate the magnifying glass on the main menu’s right side and enter a word or phrase. For instance, look up that term if you want to know more about how DNA matches function. Videos on DNA Circles, Native American DNA, and genetic genealogy case studies are among the many that may be found.
Use AncestryDNA to test
Okay, so this feature isn’t quite “free.” To acquire and finish a DNA kit, you must pay a one-time charge. To examine your results or get in touch with matches, however, you won’t require a paid Ancestry.com subscription.
You also have more flexibility because you can get your AncestryDNA raw data for free. A one-time AncestryDNA cost can also get you record matches at MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, and GEDmatch since other businesses and services will let you upload AncestryDNA findings to their databases. Learn how to transmit your AncestryDNA findings and retrieve your raw data.
An iPhone using AncestryDNA as an example
Use the free AncestryDNA app to view your findings.
Even better, Ancestry.com has created a free AncestryDNA app for both iOS and Android, which is a fantastic free resource in and of itself. The app displays DNA matches, estimations of your ethnicity, your profile, survey questions about your health and wellness, and more. Additionally, you can look up and sort through your DNA matches.
Browse records on sister websites of Ancestry.com for free
Ancestry.com has grown its network over time to encompass a large family of genealogical websites. You can use some of its resources for free, like Find A Grave and RootsWeb. However, several, including Newspapers.com, Fold3, and Archives.com, demand separate subscriptions.
Each of these membership services provides some capabilities for free, just like the parent website. Here is a summary.
With more than 11 billion digitized records, Archives.com, a property of Ancestry.com since 2012, is perhaps less well-known today than its sibling websites. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that the website has any that free users can search. On the homepage, you can also perform a keyword search of a database of public records for “free,” but to see the results, you’ll need to sign up for the free trial. Archives.com also provides a 14-day free trial (like Ancestry.com).
However, you can browse through the more than 650 record collections on the site without charge, which is helpful if you want to establish whether it has documents relevant to your research. It should be noted that many of the greatest collections on the website (such as federal US censuses and Ancestry.com Member Trees) are accessible for free on Ancestry.com or other websites.
The website has also compiled a number of free how-to articles that highlight crucial genealogical research techniques and tools available at Archives.com and elsewhere online. For instance, you can examine a list of Family History Centers for every state, along with important ancestry websites and Archives.com collections, from the entry on records.
Fold3, which was once known as Footnote and focused on military documents, got its name from the ceremony of folding the flags for veterans. Tens of millions of free data are available on Fold3 and range from pension files from the War of 1812 to an index of bounty-land warrant applications to Revolutionary War Navy and Marine Corps officers. Even free collections of Persian Gulf War casualties and lists of people killed in the Sultana explosion during the American Civil War are available.
However, it can be difficult to locate these free records. You can find free records on the home page, despite the fact that this is not immediately clear. List Records can be found under Site Links at the very bottom of the page if you scroll all the way down. To see a list of all the record collections on the website, click this. You may also sort by name, date uploaded, and our date updated, as well as further filter by conflict or war. Green denotes collections that are free.
But here’s the catch. You may examine every image in some free collections, including “Brady Civil War Photos,” without having to join up for a free seven-day trial. On others, though, like the War of 1812 pension index, you can sift through the collection until you find the name of your ancestor. However, in order to see the documents, you must register for a free trial.
If you can’t see the records, what’s the point? Once you locate a collection that has the name of your ancestor (and potentially their place of origin or regiment), you can either choose to sign up for a trial subscription or look for the collection elsewhere on the internet for free.
More than 600 million pages from newspapers from all around the United States are available on Newspapers.com, as the website’s name suggests, including substantial collections from the United Kingdom and Ireland. Browse the databases of various periodicals at Newspapers.com.
Technically, you can conduct a free keyword search on a single paper or a set of papers. You can see a thumbnail preview of the page where your search result appears, even though you can’t access full results without signing up for a free trial. Depending on the specifics of your search, the preview might be sufficient to inform you whether you should further investigate the match using a free tool like Elephind, the Google Newspaper Archive, or the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America.
Users of Newspapers.com can produce “clippings”—basically, snapshots of newspaper pages—that can be stored and distributed. To generate clips, you’ll need a subscription; but, you don’t need one to view them. Here you can browse and search a live list of clippings. Alternatively, you may ask a friend who subscribes to send you clippings.
Free or expensive: Ancestry.com?
You may decide to select a trial or a monthly subscription after using our top seven methods for finding free Ancestry.com data. We advise picking a period when you can set aside specific time for searching if you decide to sign up for a trial on Ancestry.com or any of its affiliated sites.
Ancestry.com is easily the best genealogical resource for those looking to investigate their roots. The high level of customization in search results, combined with the family tree building utility offered by the website itself, offer up a combination that no other service in its category offers.