How to Find Your Ancestors for Free

By Family Tree Editors

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Table of Contents

Totally Free Genealogy Websites

Finding your ancestors for free seems like an impossible task. Everywhere you turn, subscription-based access seems to be the only way to gain the family tree information you’re desperately seeking. But before you take out that second mortgage, take some time to do research on these totally free genealogy websites. We’ve included websites where you can build your family tree, search records, find genealogy books to borrow and reach out to volunteers who may help you with some of your genealogy research—all for free.


Find free records and research guides at this website, which especially strong for American Indian research.

Allen County Public Library

Though based in Indiana, this library’s online reach extends much further—reflecting its status as the nation’s second-richest genealogy library.


Both Billion Graves and Find a Grave inventory millions of user-submitted gravestone images. Tombstone transcriptions and GPS coordinates make the entries even more useful.

Books We Own

The next best thing to owning essential genealogy resources is finding someone who has what you need and will do a free lookup for you.

Cyndi’s List

Cyndi Ingle has spent more than 25 years curating some 300,000 links to genealogy websites, helpful organized into categories.


Records, books, how-to articles, and a massive online family tree—this site should be your first stop. See below for more on this helpful site.

Genealogy Bargains

This site points frugal genealogists to deals across the web—from free records access promotions and webinars to discounts on subscriptions and resources.


Both Geni and WikiTree are sites that take the “one-tree” approach to online tree-building, offering free places for users to add family members and share research.

Internet Archive

It’s true that nothing on the Internet ever really goes away—the Internet Archive sees to that! Find digitized books, maps and audio clips from throughout history, plus “historical” site screenshots logged by the Wayback Machine. Some institutions even make the Internet Archive their official repository for online records.

Library of Congress

You don’t have to visit Washington, DC to access the Library’s free databases of historical photos, maps and city directories, not to mention the newspapers available through Chronicling America database.

Midwest Genealogy Center

This site from the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Mo., taps one of the nation’s largest genealogy collections.

National Archives and Records Administration

NARA is the official custodian for many key US record sets, including military records, immigration and naturalization documents, Social Security paperwork and US censuses. Ordering specific records may require a fee, but the site’s free finding aids and records guides alone make it worth visiting. National archives for other countries have similar offerings: Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom to name a few.

One-Step Webpages

Easily search multiple databases using this free tool, which also offers calendar and foreign-language tools. Note that search results may be hosted on subscription websites.


Though owned by subscription website, this crowdsourced database of local history sites, transcribed records, and how-to pages remains free.


Volunteers from around the United States collaborate on the thousands of state- and county-specific research websites.


Contributors here collaborate to build a single, unified family tree, with millions of pages for people and places. Register to add your tree; upload your family tree as a GEDCOM; and share documents, photos and stories.


Find your family history in 2 billion items at 10,000 of the world’s libraries, then click to see holdings nearest you using WorldCat. (You may also be able to borrow the books you discover using interlibrary loan.)

Its offshoot ArchiveGrid searches more than 4 million descriptions of archival records from 1,000 different institutions. Learn about historical documents, personal papers, family histories and other materials that may mention your ancestors. A clickable map makes it easy to find archives near you.

David Fryxell and Sunny Jane Morton

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How to Research for Free on Subscription Websites

Even outside of a free trial, the savvy researcher can take advantage of subscription websites for free. Each of the major websites offers some record collections for free (see below for links to each). You can also view previews of subscription records for free. You can also build family trees (sometimes size is limited) and receive hints.

Use this chart to compare what each site offers for free.

Chart comparing free features on Findmypast, MyHeritage and Ancestry.
Note: A version of this chart ran originally ran in the Nov/Dec 2022 issue. Information was accurate at time of publication. Refer to each site for updates or changes.


Learn more about how to take advantage of without having a paid subscription.


Learn more about how to use MyHeritage for free.


Learn more about the free collections available on Findmypast.

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Four Features of FamilySearch is the world’s biggest, all-free, all-genealogy website, with the most global record content. Here are four features you should know about, and you can read about even more here.

Historical Records

FamilySearch boasts a whopping 5.8 million indexed records, gathered from around the world by generations of Family History Library staff. Search by keyword, or browse collections by location or name. Another 5 billion records are housed in image-only collections, which you can browse online.

FamilySearch Wiki

This collection of 100,000-plus expertly written articles will help you learn the basics of researching all manner of genealogy records from around the world. Topics range from how to find US vital records in each state to conducting research in far-flung locales.

FamilySearch Centers and Catalog

FamilySearch operates a network of history centers and affiliate libraries, each with its own collection of historical materials. Find the one nearest to you or your ancestor’s home-town. The expansive FamilySearch Catalog covers what’s stored at the Family History Library and centers across the world.

Find Digitized Books

Besides records, FamilySearch hosts a Digital Library that catalogs a half-million books, maps and other publications at the Family History Library and other institutions across the United States. Copyright restrictions may prevent you from viewing a book online in its entirety, but citation information can help you borrow the book via interlibrary loan.

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Free Genealogy Records

Here are some websites for tracking down more free genealogy records. Also keep in mind many public libraries, state archives, historical societies and universities host free digitized records on their own websites—so if you want to find your ancestors for free, you may have to do some extra digging.

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Free Genealogy Software

If your research has ranged much beyond one family, you’re probably scouting for a way to organize your family tree. Genealogy database software could be just the ticket—and you don’t have to spend and arm and a leg to get enough power to accomplish the task. Several great options are just a free download away.

Ancestral Quest Basics

This software has all the essential features for working with your family tree.


Gramps is a free software and community project, created, developed and governed by genealogists. Features include family groups, charts, events, repositories list, and much more.

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder

Use this software to create your family tree offline or on a secure site at You can print decorative family tree charts from your online tree (order larger copies for a fee). The program supports 36 languages and its SmartMatching technology searches for matches to your ancestors in other users’ trees.

Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition

This free version of the popular software includes family and pedigree views, a to-do list, research log, event reminders and more.

RootsMagic Essentials

You’ll get many of the core features of the award-winning RootsMagic software in this free version: the Source Wizard, loads of reports and charts, unlimited data capacity and more.

Lisa Louise Cooke

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Free Resources from Family Tree

Here at Family Tree, we offer several free resources to aid in your genealogy journey, whether it be organizing with our free worksheets, or staying on top of genealogy news with our free podcast and newsletters.

Genealogy Worksheets

Organize your research, record your findings, and publish your research with this directory of 50-plus downloadable worksheets.

The Family Tree Podcast

Each month, join host Lisa Louise Cooke as she interviews experts from around the family history community. Listen to episodes from June 2008 to present online or on your favorite podcast app.

Family Tree Newsletters

Each of our daily newsletters contains links to at least two free genealogy how-to articles or downloads, carefully curated by the staff of Family Tree Magazine. We also have a special weekly newsletter called The Genealogy Insider that features messages guest authors, genealogy news and much more.

Free Ebooks

Download 14 free ebooks on topics ranging from genealogy
brick walls to family history writing prompts. All you’ll need
is a free account.

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