How to View Thousands of Free Records on Ancestry Without a Subscription

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How to View Thousands of Free Records on Ancestry Without a Subscription


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When most of us think of Ancestry.com, we think of paid resources. And, of course, the vast majority of Ancestry’s billions of records are behind a pay wall. However, you might be surprised to hear that the site does off a relatively large assortment of completely free collections–and they are 100% searchable.

When you attempt to locate a record on Ancestry via their main search function the free collections do get mixed into the results. If you don’t have a paid membership, though, it can be tedious scrolling through results trying to find selections that you can access.

There is no way to limit results by membership level in this search–ie free vs discovery vs world explorer etc–and the only obvious sign that a record does not require payment is that its search result data is not censored.

How to Access Ancestry Records for Free

There is, however, a much easier way to find all 800+ free collections on Ancestry (up from 600+ 2 years ago), although they don’t make it very easy to locate. Their Free Index Collections page, linked to below, offers the ability to search and sort every single cost-free collection and provides a complete list of these collections at the bottom of the page.

There are two types of collections in this free section – those Ancestry owns and ‘Web’ collections provided by other sites. Many of the Web collections are provided in partnership with well-recognized free family history leaders like The National Archives or FamilySearch, and others come from smaller sites. Other collections owned by Ancestry cannot be found elsewhere for free.

If you keep your tree on Ancestry, or just like their format, this is an extremely convenient way to search and document data. It can essentially act as a large and free genealogy search engine, allowing you to find data from many free sites in one search.

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You will need a free ancestry account to take advantage of most of this data (you do not need one only for Web collections). When trying to access a free record they will simply prompt you with the free membership signup page if you do not already have an account. But since they cannot charge you without credit card information, there is no risk you’ll accidentally sign up for the wrong account. You do not need to sign up for a 14 day trial to search or access the free records. If you are asked to enter credit card information you are trying to view paid resources.

However, you can get a free 14 day free trial here if you would like to access all records on Ancestry. Although we are not associated with Ancestry, we do sometimes act as an affiliate. When taking advantage of a free trial offer from our site we may gain a small percentage, which helps us support Family History Daily. We also now offer an online course about how to use Ancestry.com more effectively. Find the course here

Despite the fact that the title of the page is Free Index Collections, not every free collection is an index. Quite a few offer both an index and scanned images. This is true for many census records and some others we were able to discover, like the Washington Marriage Records, 1865-2004. Other indexes link to scanned records on other free sites.

Here’s the scanned image from that collection that we were able to access for free.

washington_marriage_records

You’ll notice when browsing the list of available collections that some say “free” next to them and others say “free index.”

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ancestry free collections

As suggested, those with the term “free index” next to them offer only an index for free. Access to the original image, if available, requires a paid membership. Others are completely free or free scanned images are linked to from other sites.

If you try to access an image associated with one of these free index collections, and the image is part of a paid collection, the image will simply not load properly. For some reason, Ancestry did not automatically prompt us to buy a paid membership when trying to view these images. If you want to see the image you will need to click the subscribe button at top or sign up with a free trial.

Again, it is important to note that in some cases the images associated with these indexes may be free at other sites, so check before buying a subscription.

To access the Free Index Collections, go here.

For the rest of the collections (that state “free” next to them) you can expect to access the entire collection for free–although in many cases the entire collection is simply an index anyway. Despite this, we did find a great deal of valuable information in our free searches, as well as many original records. And, frankly, we’re thrilled to be able to take advantage of the Ancestry site on those months when we don’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay a fee for membership.

A few additional thoughts and reminders before you search:

The free collections on Ancestry could change at any time.

Ancestry may suggest paid resources when viewing free records, or may prompt you to upgrade to a paid account on free pages. Only enter credit card information if you intend to pay for a membership.

Signing up for a free membership means that Ancestry will send you emails. You can opt out of these if you like (and change other privacy and notification settings) in your membership area.

Good luck in your searches!

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Image: New York Yacht Club, Oyster Bay, L.I., 1905, Library of Congress

Originally published in June 2015. Updated March 2017..

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15 Comments
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  • Noelle Fairbanks
    May 6, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Very helpful

  • Leslie Pinson
    April 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Most local libraries offer free access to ancestry.com for searches. There is a link to have the information you find emailed. I will look something up on ancestry when I am at the library and email it to myself. Then I will have a copy of it and had to pay nothing. It is for searching only but I use familysearch.org for my tree. They are free and have access to most of the stuff that ancestry has but it’s free. You can also make a list of what you are looking for when going on ancestry. I plan on making that list and then paying on ancestry but only for 1 month access then cancelling.

  • Mweaver
    March 24, 2017 at 8:15 am

    As a researcher I have paid hundreds of dollars to get copies of births wills deeds etc from court houses churches etc. ancestry has so many records on line. Why shouldn’t they charge? They don’t get this information copied free even if it is public information. So you can despise the fact that they charge but they are a business and if my paid subscription helps them get more then I’m all for it. Good job ancestry!

  • Daniella Knurbein-Provera
    February 15, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    It is really sad that we have to pay to find out about our own ancestry. It should all be free and never cost a penny. It is public records after all.

    • Mweaver
      March 24, 2017 at 8:17 am

      It doesn’t cost you to go see records at court houses or libraries, it didn’t cost them to see the records. It does and did cost to get copies made

    • May 21, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      Ancestry sends their people to courthouses, libraries, etc. all over the country , copies and places the records on their site. That saves me having to do lots of travel to gather information. My husband and I travelled to five states in 2000 to do research; it was expensive-travel expenses for fuel, and park our travel trailer, meals, copy costs, etc.

  • Kimberly K Sandoval
    January 30, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    I am attempting to see if my great grandfather was of Indian desent as rumor ed in family yet damnit I wouldn’t put in a credit card number due to being duped of believing this free enticement

  • portia english
    June 10, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Sites that are very easy to use for beginners and older folks (smile )

    • Roderick Brentnall
      July 24, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      I despise Ancestry. People upload trees for free but it’s Ancestry who become billionaires. Too unethical for my tastes.

      • September 1, 2016 at 12:46 pm

        The private & public trees are not the main value of Ancestry.com. I intend no offense, but you are indeed missing the boat of the vast content that has little to do with the trees.
        —The German Genealogist since 1979, Karl-Michael Sala

      • Evans Newstrom
        November 6, 2016 at 9:33 am

        I most certainly agree and I also dislike Ancestry. They are in control of government (citizen owned) records.) Genealogy research has come to a standstill for me unless I wish to pay Ancestry.

  • toni
    April 25, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    I found a list of 19. Where are the rest?

    • Jennifer
      August 20, 2015 at 4:30 am

      If you look off to the right of the list you will see a button that slides downward, that exposes the rest of them. Just like on your computer screen when you have a webpage open.

  • Dave Hagland
    April 18, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Not tried yet , but I have posted to facebook , I will check it out later with more time , But what-ever still intend to re-join Ancestory S A P , because I found it the best site . good info , easy to follow , etc .

  • April 11, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    This one is also helpful, so I’m also including it in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/04/noteworthy-reads-9.html. Thank you for very informative posts!

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