Thanks to the wide availability of online ancestry records and easy-to-use family tree programs, genealogy has become an incredibly popular hobby. It’s also one of the most rewarding. But conducting free genealogy research, and finding free software, is sometimes confusing and difficult.
It’s easy to rack up costs when you start subscribing to records sites and purchasing software and tools. And, often, it seems like the only option. But completely free ancestry research is possible. This guide will show you how.
Is Free Genealogy Research Possible?
If you’ve been reading Family History Daily for some time you know we love free records and programs. Of course we do also love and use many paid resources – like MyHeritage and Ancestry – but, the truth is, paid services are simply not a necessity in many cases. Yes, they are convenient – and if you can afford them they can be a big help – but many genealogists get by without spending a cent.
We have gone over the top four expenditures most family historians encounter and provided free alternatives you can start using instead. We’ve also included a list of 50 free genealogy sites where you can start researching your ancestors at no cost. Read on to find out what you can get without spending money and when it is worth shelling out some cash.
1. Access to Free Genealogy Sites and Records
By far, the largest costs most family historians find themselves faced with is access to records – and this mostly comes in the form of record subscriptions. While there is no doubt that having a genealogy membership to a place like Ancestry is convenient, many of the records found on subscription sites can be found elsewhere for free.
FamilySearch, for instance, is the largest provider of free records in the world and offers billions of scanned pages online at no cost, including popular collections like the U.S. census and many birth, marriage and death records. Only a free account is required.
But FamilySearch is only the tip of the iceberg. Countless government, public and private archives have made their records available online at no cost. Whether you’re looking for vital records, old newspapers or pedigree books, city directories, state census records, wills or any number of other resources there’s a good chance you can find what you need for free.
Tip: If you find a record you need on a paid site, always copy down the name of the collection and search for it in Google. You may find that it is free on another site.
We have compiled a large number of lists of free record collections by topic and you can find them in this section of our site or by viewing the list of 50 free genealogy sites list at end of this guide.
Of course, there are times when the record you need is held behind a paywall and is not available elsewhere online for free. If this happens you should know that, many times, these records are available without cost from the archive where they were originally scanned from.
Unfortunately though, unless you live near the collection, travel is much more expensive than a record subscription will ever be. And, even if you do live nearby, there are sometimes costs for printing or scanning. A better bet is to find a way to access the archive online, and there are a couple of ways that you can do this without having to pay for a subscription.
The first is through your local library. More and more are offering access to genealogy subscriptions to their members and some of these records can even be used from home. Commonly, Ancestry is available on site at your library, whereas HeritageQuest may be available on site or from home. Call your library to discover what is available or look for this information on your library’s website.
It is also good to know that large paid sites, especially Ancestry, do offer many free record collections, read this article for more helping finding them.
If you cannot gain access to the record you need for free, or via your library, the next best bet is to use a free trial of the site you are interested in. All of the major paid sites offer 14 days free and you can gain access to those free trials in our comparison guide of top genealogy sites here.
To make this tactic work, you will need to get organized. Make a list of every collection you want to access during that period and everyone you plan to search before you begin your trial period. The guide referenced above includes links to the catalogs for these popular sites so you know just what they offer before you sign up. Making sure you know just how you will use the service will ensure that you make the most of your free time.
If you decide to go this route don’t forget to cancel your trial before it runs out so that you are not automatically charged for a month, or even year of service, if you decide not to continue. It is also good to know that these paid site do offer record for free as well. Check out
Finally, if a free trial is not available you may find that you have to spend some money. Use the same organization tactics above to laser focus your research so that you don’t have to pay for more than you need to.
What about free offline genealogy records?
Sometimes, there will be records that are only available offline. Although a good deal of documents have now been digitized, many more are not yet available online. In a case like this, some cost is almost always inevitable.
For instance, as this helpful article explains, some states will send out copies of vital records via mail that have not been digitized, but they always charge a small fee. There is little chance of avoiding this unless you can travel to the archive yourself or find someone to go there for you. But costs for doing so are often higher than the fee the archive charges anyway.
Again, getting organized can save you money here. Make a list of offline documents you need and then try to place requests for lookups and orders at one time to save on shipping and research fees.
2. Finding Free Family Tree Programs
The next largest cost many genealogists face is with their family tree program. Luckily, this is a cost that is easily overcome.
Not so many years ago, if you wanted a family tree program on your computer to store your information in you needed to buy one and pay each time the software was updated unless you used one of the free options available – such as the now retired PAF from FamilySearch.
Today, there are numerous free options and if you are still paying for family tree software you may want to step back and take a look at what else is available. Some people really love paid programs like RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree, and they have proven their worth over the years but, if you don’t have a paid program you love, we suggest trying one of the free options available instead.
Sites like Ancestry and MyHeritage offer free family trees that are easy to use and are full of features, but they also want you to sign up with their services so, if you go this route, expect to be tempted with offers. We suggest reading our guide to family tree programs for a in-depth look at all of your choices.
3. Locating Free Record and Photo Scanners
The likelihood is, if you’ve taken on the task of compiling your family’s history, you’ll eventually find yourself in need of a scanner. Whether you need to make a trip to an archive or have the chance to scan a relative’s old family photos you’ll need something you can use anywhere and that will preserve your records clearly.
Wand and other portable scanners were the standard for many years, and still work well if you have one on hand, but they are costly. Today, it is much easier and more cost effective to use an app on your smartphone or tablet. Many of these are free, go anywhere your mobile device goes and do a great job.
Read this recent review from one of our writers to the best free photo scanning apps.
4. Saving on DNA Testing and Reports
A final major cost that many family historians have is DNA testing. Most of us are eager to discover what our genes can tell us about our family’s genetic past but DNA tests are not free. In fact, there is currently no way to get a free DNA test for ancestry.
However, the prices of these test have gone down considerably over the last couple of years – with some dropping to as low as $39 on sale and daily, standard pricing at around $79-$99. This makes testing attainable for more people than ever and the great news is, once you have tested, there are a wide variety of free options to further expand your research.
Here’s are just a few places you can upload your DNA for free once you’ve tested:
- Upload your raw DNA file to GEDmatch for ethnicity reports, analysis tools and matches.
- Upload it to DNA.Land for an ancestry report and cousin matches.
- Upload your raw DNA to Family Tree DNA for free cousin matching (an ancestry report is extra)
- Upload your DNA to MyHeritage to get free cousin matching (report is extra, used to be free)
Also read our article about saving money on testing. It answers some common questions and provides more details about what is offered.
We always suggest you read, in full, all privacy documents before choosing to upload your file anywhere and always stick with trusted sites. The ones listed above are all well-known places to share your data but some level of risk exists no matter the service you use and policies can change. Always be informed. Avoid sites without a solid reputation and clear, published privacy policies you agree with.
If you haven’t yet bought a DNA test and need help, a guide to trusted providers can be found here.
50 Free Genealogy Sites You Can Search Today
Looking for a list of free genealogy sites to search? Here are 50 no-cost family history resources where you will find birth, marriage and death records, obituaries, cemetery listings, newspaper articles, biographies, research tips and so much more.
We had a lot of fun compiling this list of excellent websites. Remember, most free genealogy sites have been made available by the hard work and dedication of many volunteers! Don’t forget to thank them and give back when you can.
1. FamilySearch: largest collection of free genealogical records in the world
2. WikiTree: enormous collaborative family tree
3. Fulton History: historical newspapers from the US and Canada
4. Find a Grave: locate your ancestors in cemeteries across the globe
5. Google News Archive: millions of archived newspaper pages
6. US National Archives: official US National Archives site, many free genealogy databases and resources
7. Automated Genealogy: indexes of the Canadian census
8. FreeBMD: civil registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales
9. USGenWeb Project: massive free genealogy resource directory by US state and county
10. WorldGenWeb Project: genealogy resources by country and region, not to miss
11. Cyndi’s List: highly respected directory of free genealogy resources and databases online
12. Library and Archives Canada: official archives of Canada, census records and more
13. Ellis Island: immigration records, free indexes and original records, fee to download copies
14. FreeReg: baptism, marriage, and burial records from parish registers of the UK
15. POWVETS: WWII POW search for prisoners of war held in German camps.
16. RootsWeb: world’s largest genealogy community, huge amount of free information
17. Castle Garden: immigration records, pre Ellis Island, collection is now hosted on FamilySearch
18. Chronicling America: giant database of archived US newspapers from the Library of Congress
19. Dead Fred: genealogy photo archive
20. North American Slave Narratives: autobiographical narratives of formaly enslaved people up to 1920 (more resources focused on African American and Black family history)
21. Immigrant Ancestors Project: emigration registers for locating birthplaces of immigrants in their native countries
22. Daughters of the American Revolution: military service records and more
23. JewishGen: Jewish ancestry research
24. FreeCEN: transcribed census records from the UK
25. Access Genealogy: vast family history directories and more, good Native American resources
26. British Library, India Office: records on British and European people in India pre 1950
27. Guild of One-Name Studies: extensive surname research site
28. Genealogy Trails: transcribed genealogical records from across the U.S.
29. NativeWeb Genealogy: list of Native American genealogy resources and searchable databases
30. Viximus: member submitted biographical information
31. WieWasWie: for researching ancestors from the Netherlands
32. UK National Archives: official National Archives of the UK, family history resources
33. The National Archives of Ireland: official National Archives of Ireland
34. GENUKI: reference library of genealogical resources for the UK and Ireland
35. German Genealogy Server: German ancestry research (many sections in German)
36. Preserve the Pensions: War of 1812 pension records access
37. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System: Civil War records from the National Park Service
38. LitvakSIG: Lithuanian-Jewish genealogy databases and resources
39. Italian Genealogical Group: Italian American genealogy resources and databases
40. Internet Archive: a large amount of information useful to genealogists, but you’ll need to do some digging
41. Billion Graves: headstone records
42. Open Library: good place to find family history books, search for surnames or locations
43. GenDisasters: for researching disasters and other events your ancestors might have been involved in
44. Romany and Traveller Family History Project: Ancestry records for Romany, Traveller and Fairground families
45. Patriot and Grave Index: revolutionary war graves registry and patriot index from the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
46. Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection: vast number of archived US newspapers
47. Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Database: hundreds of thousands of obituary entries
48. Släktdata: genealogy records for Sweden (in Swedish)
49. Hispanic Genealogy: wonderful list of resources for researching Hispanic ancestry
50: Free History Daily Articles on Free Research: find hundreds of free genealogy resources and tips for using them on Family History Daily
There are many more free genealogy sites online. Since we can’t possibly list them all in one article, please share your favorite in the comments if you don’t see it here.
Family History Daily offers many more articles about free genealogy resources. Read our guide to free genealogy sites in the U.S., how to access paid genealogy sites through your library’s website for free or check out all of our articles here.
Featured Image: The Halley family. Priest River Valley, Bonner County, Idaho. 1939. Library of Congress
By Melanie Mayo-Laakso. Melanie has been conducting ancestry research for over 25 years and is the founder of Family History Daily and Learn Family History.
Originally published February 19, 2015 – fully updated March, 8 2023.
202 thoughts on “Free Genealogy Sites and Software for Ancestry Research”
hey thanks for giving me some more free sites to look at for my own genealogy as well as others I look for.
This is great! Thank you for sharing!