If you’re trying to find no-cost genealogy records online you’ve probably started to wonder if there really are any truly free genealogy sites. It’s easy to get confused by paid sites that only offer free trials; you begin to feel like there is just no other option than to pay to get the records you need.
While there is no doubt that having a genealogy membership to a paid site is convenient, the truth is, there are free alternatives to Ancestry.com that require no credit card or payment of any kind.
Hundreds of 100% free ancestry research sites (created by religious organizations, government organizations and dedicated volunteers) exist online. You just need to know where to look for them.
FamilySearch, for instance, is the largest provider of no-cost records in the world and offers billions of free records, including popular collections like the U.S. census and many birth, marriage and death records. You will find many of the records you may be paying for on other sites here.
But FamilySearch is only the tip of the iceberg. Whether you’re looking to access genealogy records on a specialized topic, find vital records, search old censuses, dig through wills or find any number of other resources there’s a good chance you can find what you need for free.
The Best Free Genealogy Sites
- FamilySearch: best for vital and census records
- Find a Grave: best for burial and cemetery research
- Chronicling America: best for finding old newspapers
- Ellis Island: best for researching immigrant ancestors
- Hathitrust: best for old books and periodicals
Totally Free Genealogy Websites by Topic
We’ve selected the 50 best free genealogy websites for researching your ancestors in the U.S., as well as the top choices for locations in the UK and the rest of Europe and Australia. Since these searches are often more challenging, you’ll also find special resources for researching African American and Native American ancestors.
We had a lot of fun compiling this list of excellent resources. Remember, most free genealogy sites have been made available by the hard work of many volunteers who are dedicated to providing better access to free genealogy research. Don’t forget to thank them and give back when you can.
Free Genealogy Sites for General U.S. Research
These sites are the best places to start for many records we count on in our daily family tree research. They contain vital records (birth, marriage, death and divorce), as well as census records, military, immigration records, obituaries and much more. For more specialized research collections, see the categories that follow this one.
FamilySearch has long been the leader in free genealogy research for a very long time. With billions of online records, they are the best place to start if you are hoping to find vital records (including birth, marriage and death), census records, military and war service records, other people’s family trees and much more. Only a free account is required.
USGenWeb Project – The USGenWeb is comprised of volunteer-run genealogy help pages organized by state and sometimes by county. State pages include a wide variation in available data, but generally you will find guides, records, transcriptions, links to external projects and much more. This is a very valuable collection for anyone researching in the United States and is a great place to start when looking for records by US state.
Because every single one of the state sites is organized differently, however, take some time to familiarize yourself with the various offerings before diving into the records and projects available. We encourage you to visit the main page first and then check out the states sites you are interested in.
This resource is a special project from USGenWeb and offers a huge collection of primarily volunteer and user submitted family history data for the US. Find Bible, obituary, census, birth, marriage, death and military records and much more. Records are transcriptions from many sources and source information is generally, but not always, provided. A national and state-by-state search is provided.
USGenWeb Archives is so massive that proper search terms are imperative if you want to find what you need. You can use search operators like quotation marks – “Margaret Jones” or “Smith, David” to find exact terms. The wildcard operator on this site is the % sign. For instance, you can search for Elmer Cla% and get results for any surname that starts with Cla. Or use it for a date, such as 185%. The tilde symbol, ~ , means NOT; place it in front of a word (without a space) to exclude that word from searches. Example: John Clay ~England.
This section of the US National Archives contains more than 50 million searchable records for civilians (including vast immigration records), military personnel, prisoners of war and more. AAD offers 5 areas of research in their Genealogy section – Casualties, Civilians, Military Personnel, Passenger Lists and Prisoners of War. Do not limit yourself to these sections however, as many other areas may contain information about individuals. Search everything by using the main search box or browse all of their offerings here. Also see the resources and record collection on the National Archives main site.
A huge collection of varied genealogy resources. Select the Search Our Free Databases link on the top to access free records online.
Enormous collaborative, worldwide family tree. Always be careful when using information from another person’s family tree as it may not be accurate. Look for record sources to back up the details you find.
A very large and eclectic collection of transcribed family history, and general history, data created by a group of volunteers.
This site is a gathering place for volunteers from across the US who are willing to do record lookups, cemetery searches, research and more for free. If you can’t find what you need online, check out this site (or volunteer!).
Finding Old Newspapers at No Cost
A giant database of archived newspapers from the Library of Congress. These US newspapers are searchable and are organized by year and location. Find notices of marriages and births and well as obituaries and articles. Although the newspapers are searchable, pinpointing your term on a page can be daunting. Make sure you zoom out using the available tools and look for the red highlighted areas, these are where your search terms appear.
Fulton History, a much-loved site, offers historical newspapers from the US and Canada that can easily be searched, viewed and downloaded. Fulton Search is a alternative interface to Fulton History that only points to files hosted and indexed there; the search functionality is a little easier to navigate, and it loads much faster than the original site. Use either or both to search for obituaries, birth and marriage notices and much more.
A vast number of archived US newspapers that are easily searchable.
Millions of archived newspaper pages scanned by Google. Obituaries, birth and marriage notices, newspaper articles, etc. can be found here. This site is no longer being developed, but the records are still online.
Where to Find Free U.S. Immigration Records
This is actually two separate resources, but we have grouped them together for simplicity. If you think you had an ancestor that may have immigrated to the US via New England after 1820 these will be valuable resources for you. While Ellis Island is a dedicated website, the Castle Garden records are available at no charge on FamilySearch.org. Generally, Castle Garden covers the years 1820-1892 and Ellis Island holds records for anyone who came after 1892. However, there is some overlap and there was some loss of records — so it is worth checking both sites if your ancestors came in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.
While Ellis Island offers 51+ million records free of charge on their website, do be aware they will try to charge you to download certain certificates and images of records. You do not need to pay to see the information or write it down, or even take a screenshot, but if you attempt to download or print a record they will ask for payment.
Presented by BYU Idaho, this resource offers a free searchable database of Japanese immigrants to the US between 1887 and 1924.
“The Immigrant Ancestors Project, sponsored by the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University, uses emigration registers to locate information about the birthplaces of immigrants in their native countries, which is not found in the port registers and naturalization documents in the destination countries.”
Full Mayflower passenger list as well as lists for other early ships to the Plymouth Colony. Genealogies, history, source records links and much more. Discover more about researching Mayflower ancestors in this article.
Best Websites for Free Military Records
This site offers no-cost War of 1812 pension records access from the National Genealogical Society in partnership with Fold3. It is a robust, unusual resource many people never consider searching.
Created by the National Park service and its partners the “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) is a database containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.” The site includes Union and Confederate regiments, battles, and selected lists POW records and more.
Revolutionary War graves registry and patriot index from the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Military service records, mostly Revolutionary War records, collected by DAR for the purpose of descendancy proof but can be used for general research.
Where to Research Native American Ancestors for Free
List of Native American genealogy resources and searchable databases.
Think one of your ancestors may have been a member of one of the five civilized tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, or Seminole)? Search the Dawes Rolls, and other tidbits, for free on the Oklahoma Historical Society website.
Large selection of census, cemetery, military and Native American records for the US.
Free Records for African American Research
The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized near the end of the American Civil War to assist newly freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Many details were collected and millions of records are available or are currently being indexed.
Free colonial African-Americans who served in the American Revolution. Please read our guide to researching your African-American ancestors for many more free resources.
“This collection includes all the existing autobiographical narratives of fugitive and former slaves published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920.”
Free Records for Finding Jewish Ancestors
The leading publisher of books on Jewish genealogy offers the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index (CJSI). CJSI has information on almost 700,000 surnames, mostly Jewish, that appear in 42 different databases containing more than 7.3 million records.
Millions of records including burial, memorial and plaque research, town locator, family trees and a holocaust database.
Free Obituary and Burial Research Options
Locate your ancestors in cemetery records across the globe in the largest and most comprehensive site of it’s type. Millions of graves – including many with transcribed inscription information and photos – can be found here.
Hundreds of thousands of obituary entries, freely accessible to all.
Headstone records from around the world. Not as large as Find a Grave, but still a great resource.
Best Option for Researching Early Colonial Ancestors
Direct link to the Library of Virginia’s online catalog. Contains a huge variety of records, including manuscripts, service records, land grants, early colonial records and much more — many are online, others need to be accessed through the library itself. A great, free genealogy site no matter what location in the US you are searching.
Where to Find Old Books and Periodicals
Huge free resource library with more than 13 million records from across the globe, mostly books and periodicals, but other records can be found and many contain genealogy gems.
Portal to hundreds of US repositories and one of the best free genealogy sites on the web. Find thousands of birth, death, marriage, military records, family books and more.
Search all books Google has in its database. To find only free, online family history books type in a genealogy-related search term or name and then look for “Search Tools” at top. Select the “Any Books” dropdown and filter by “Free Google eBooks.” Find more resources for using free books in your research here and learn how to use Google to find free family history books on Amazon here.
A large amount of historical information useful to genealogists, but you’ll need to do some digging for family history books that may help you in your research as many are not fully searchable.
A good place to find family history books that may contain biographies of your ancestors (mostly early colonial options). Search for surnames or locations to find what you need.
Land and Homestead Patent Records
This resource from the Bureau of Land Management has some fascinating free records. Find more than 5 million land titles for public land states dating back to 1820 and more. To get the most out of this site, and the records it holds, you should take some time to read the information available in the extensive reference section. This will help you understand how the information can be best searched, used and applied to your research.
Best Sites for International Records
Genealogy resources and records for nearly every country and region in the world. Each country/region has its own pages, making to easy to find what you need.
Family trees and databases containing a large variety of information from around the world.
The official National Archives of the United Kingdom with many online family history resources. For many more UK resources, and help finding your English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish ancestors view our beginner’s guide.
Expansive Romanichal ancestry (British focused) research site.
180 online databases for family historians. Records include cemetery research, electoral rolls, genealogies, vital records, convict ships, military records and more. This collection of databases requires that you be registered with the National Library of Australia. You can apply for a free card online by following the prompts, but this service is limited to Australian residents.
The GG Archives offer access to 10,000+ documents and photographs, including passenger lists to America, original immigrant passage contracts, steamship brochures and much more.
This site offers thousands of free genealogy records for Sweden (in Swedish).
Nearly 100,000 birth, marriage and death records for finding your ancestors who lived in Scotland.
The official archives of Canada includes a huge wealth of information and searchable databases for Canadian ancestors — including marriage, census, land, and military records, directories, additional resources, guides and much more. Find the ancestor search here.
“The German Genealogy Group (GGG) is a not for profit organization that was established in early 1996 to provide mutual support among those interested in researching their Germanic ancestors.” The databases are mostly helpful for those in the US who are researching German ancestors.
Offers nearly 18 million scanned documents from 31 state archives. Births, marriages and deaths dating back 100 years or more and census records, residency books and more. English version.
The Portale Antenati (Ancestor Portal)
Created by the Direzione Generale per gli Archivi (Italian National Archives) this site allows free access to countless millions of records held by the state as well as valuable information on researching in Italy. Indexing is still in process so many records must be sifted through manually, but this is one of the largest free online collections of Italian records available.
This site offers a free emigrant database and articles about those Norwegians who left for America pre 1875.
There are many more free genealogy websites online and Family History Daily offers a variety of articles to help you find them. Read our guide to free genealogy sites in the U.S. or take our online course “Free Genealogy Unlocked” – included with our Complete Access Package – that contains hundreds of free genealogy sites and specialized help.
What if I can’t find a record I need for free?
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.
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. This may mean one where you keep your family tree, or another you know you will get good use out of.
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 here 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 it 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.
What about free offline genealogy records?
Although a good deal of documents have now been digitized, many more are not yet available online. Sometimes, records are only available in an old book or microfilm in a library or local archive. 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, ask family members to do the searching, 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.
More Commonly Asked Questions
Ancestry.com does offer free record collections, although it can be hard to know which ones require a paid membership and which do not. Read this article for more helping find Ancestry’s free records .
Yes, while FamilySearch does require a free account to search records, all of their collections are provided completely free of charge.
In addition to free records, there are a number of places where you can host your tree free of cost. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch both have free tree options. You can find more help for finding no-cost family tree programs here.
You’ll find birth, marriage, divorce and death records, census records, obituaries, funeral notices and wills, voting and tax records, city directories and phone books, cemetery and grave records, newspaper archives, books, biographies and family histories, military and war service records research tips and so much more.
You can trace much of your family tree for free online, but not all of it. Some records are not yet available at no cost while others have not yet been digitized and much be found offline.
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 Nov 27, 2023.