Looking for a totally free way to access a variety of paid genealogy records, like those provided by Ancestry or MyHeritage, from your own computer?
Well there’s good news, you most likely can. And you might be surprised to hear that the solution is probably only a few clicks away.
An increasing number of libraries are now providing access to genealogy resources free of charge. Many can be accessed directly on their websites — meaning that you can take advantage of the services they offer at home. Others can be accessed at the library itself by bringing along your laptop or tablet and using the library’s complimentary wifi and access portal.
Of course, many libraries are digitizing their own historic records and providing them online for members, which we love, but others are also subscribing to large genealogy research sites and then allowing active patrons to access these sites directly from the library’s website.
Partnerships with ebook services are also making more and more online family history books available, and it is easier than ever to borrow and read them on your tablet, phone or ereader.
Of course, not all library offerings are the same, but many are providing a wealth of free digital resources as a way to keep the community connected to their local library and retain the funding they need to thrive. While some resources are usually only available when you are at the library itself (like Ancestry Library Edition), we were thrilled to discover that the vast majority of libraries we reviewed were offering access to expensive subscription services completely free of cost to members from their own home computers as well.
Dallas Public Library, for instance, has such a wide selection of genealogy services available online it almost makes you want to relocate to Texas. Smaller library systems may only offer a fraction of the free resources of a larger library–but any free access is helpful.
Get the Free Genealogy Newsletter
We'll email you our newest family history articles, tips and tricks each week. It's always free and you can unsubscribe at any time.
And even if your library doesn’t hold a certain genealogy book on their shelves, you might find they offer it online. If your library has teamed up with OverDrive you can easily connect your Amazon account to your library account and read these borrowed books right on your Kindle, or through a Kindle app on your computer, tablet or phone.
If you’re not sure what free digital services your library offers, head over to their website and take a look. Make sure you have your library card handy through, because you’ll likely need your card number to access these types of member only benefits.
Free access to subscription services is usually as simple as finding your library’s genealogy section, following a special link and entering your library card number.
Downloading ebooks is also straightforward once you’ve entered the online borrowing system your library has set up. In most instances, you will need to set up an account with Overdrive through the website link provided by your library and then borrow and download the book type you desire (ie PDF, EPUB or Kindle). Linking the account to your Kindle, if you have one, is a two-step process that is explained on Overdrive when attempting to download the Kindle edition.
And don’t forget, if your library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can request it! The more requests they get for these types of free genealogy resources the more likely they are to provide them.
Image: “Young African American woman,” 1899 or 1900, Library of Congress
Originally published Sept 2015.