Don’t get me wrong. Spending money on genealogy is a good thing. This is spoken by someone who works hard to create high-quality educational genealogy material for your consumption.
But I try to practice what my mom taught me about money: You save what you can when you can, then you use your budget on things that’ll really pay off.
This post is about the “save when you can” part. If you can find some genealogy data you need for no cost, then you can dedicate your family history funds, for example, to ordering an original record, taking an in-depth online genealogy course or subscribing to a website.
- Use free sites: FamilySearch, of course, but also Find A Grave, EllisIsland.org, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, USGenWeb, Genealogy Trails, Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database, Google Books, Internet Archive, family trees at MyHeritage and other pedigree sites, state archives, libraries and others. Many others. Use Google searches and portal sites such as Cyndi’s List to find these sites.
- Know that free sites often have sponsored links (they have to pay the bills somehow), which may not be obviously ads: You click on a database title or type your name into a search box, and you end up on a subscription site, which can be frustrating if that’s not what you expected. Just hit the back button until you get back to the site you started on (or if the site opened in a new browser tab, go back to the tab you were on).
- Look for free-for-a-limited-time databases around holidays. Recently, for example, four sites offered free online military records for Memorial Day. Find out about these offers by reading genealogy blogs (such as this one) and newsletters (such as the Genealogy Insider newsletter), sign up for genealogy websites’ email programs, and befriend those sites on Facebook and Twitter.
- Many subscription sites have some free offerings—they want to give you a reason to get to know the site. Ancestry.com has a landing page dedicated to free resources here; there’s a partial list of free databases on the right. Also try typing World Archives Projects into Ancestry.com’s card catalog keyword search to find the site’s volunteer-created indexes (you do have to pay to see most of the corresponding records). Fold3 lists its free records here.
- Libraries and FamilySearch Centers may have computers with access to a variety of subscription websites such as Ancestry Library Edition, HeritageQuest Online, NewsBank, Historic Map Works and more. Check the library website or call ahead to the center to see what’s available.
- Sites such as Archives.com, Ancestry.com and findmypast.com offer free trials, usually for 14 days. Just make sure you read the terms and cancel on time if you don’t intend to subscribe.
Find out about 41 free resources for genealogy apps, forms, software and images in the May/June 2013 Family Tree Magazine.
Learn how to find and use free genealogy websites with the tools in our Best Free Genealogy Websites Ultimate Collection!