Annual costs of membership to Ancestry, MyHeritage and other genealogy websites can add up. But by looking in the right place, you can sneak up on several free collections for non-subscribing visitors. Some include indexed images, and others have indexes that link to images (sometimes free, sometimes fee-based) at other websites.
We’ve gone undercover and scoured the web to find the paid sites’ most useful free collections. Some have a narrow focus—such as a single city—while others contain millions of records. Several are free to search on multiple sites.
In making our selections, we prioritized collections that connect you to digital record images or record transcriptions, but several handy index-only collections are included as well. In most cases, you’ll need to register or log in with a free account on the subscription website to access the databases (and especially any associated images).
Finding Free Collections on Subscription Genealogy Sites
Browse all the free collections at each subscription site by following the directions below:
Select Only Free Databases underneath the search bar. This will return just results that you can view without a subscription.
The search form at the top of the page allows you to search all free collections at once.
View a summary of free collections here.
Select the military conflict you’re studying (from Browse Military Records on the main menu). You’ll see a list of databases in the Publications column; free collections have a green “Free” tag.
Free record collections are marked with a green “Free” tag.
Free US Genealogy Records
1880 US Census
The 1880 US census was the first to include individuals’ relationships to the head of household. The census forms also provide each person’s name, sex, race, marital status, birthplace, parents’ birthplaces, occupation and more. Search results link to record images.
1940 US Census
The most recent extant US census is also searchable for free. Search more than 134 million records by name, as well as location, birth year, family member, keyword, relation to head of household, marital status, occupation and more. Results link to record images.
U.S., Naturalization Records, 1840–1957
This collection links you to images of naturalization records, mostly Declarations of Intention and Petitions for Naturalization from Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
US Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
If your ancestor had a Social Security number and passed away more than three years ago, he or she may be included in this index. (Most entries are for deaths after 1962.) Indexed entries may include the person’s name, birth date, death date, last residence, Social Security number and when/where it was issued.
Regional, state and city resources
Search this index to cemetery records by name, birth date, death date and keyword. The database contains 5,600 names of people buried during the 20th century at Fairbanks’ Clay Street and Birch Hill Cemeteries.
The collection covers nearly 50,000 records from books covering northern California, as well as San Francisco, El Dorado and Tehama County cemeteries. Content varies by card, but typically includes the deceased’s name, birthplace, age, birth date, death date, location of death and location of burial.
Search more than 4,000 records of slaves from Louisiana who were legally emancipated. Results may include the document date, slave’s name, slaveholder’s name, who freed the slave, reasons for manumission, if payment was made to free the slave, and more.
MA: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1620–1850
Search results link to record images from many Massachusetts towns and cities. Search options allow you to select a Record Type to search (e.g., birth, death or deed record).
MA: Gloucester, MA: Burials in Gloucester Cemeteries
Access more than 2,200 records from 1720 to 2003 from Gloucester, Mass., cemeteries. Search results provide a transcript of the record, including at least the person’s name and cemetery location.
MA: Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati
This database isn’t about the city in Ohio. Rather, membership in the Society of the Cincinnati was open to military officers of the Revolutionary War. Massachusetts officers eligible to join the society are included in this collection.
NV: Nevada Marriages, 1860–1987
Most records in this index come from county courthouse records and four Episcopal churches. If your ancestor’s county is included (not all are), you can use the information—bride and groom names, marriage date, marriage location and source of the indexed information—to locate or request an original copy of the source listed.
NY: New York Wills, 1626–1836
Search more than 24,000 names in New York wills. Results include images of original book pages. Listings typically include the deceased person’s name, his wife and/or heir’s name, and the names of children and the executor of (or witnesses to) the will.
This unlikely combination includes city directories from both the Buckeye (Lorain County) and Sunshine (Jacksonville and St. Augustine) States. Inside each, you’ll find names, addresses and occupations.
Search nearly 118,000 records from a variety of documents published in the 1800s. The volumes include colonial records, military rolls, tax lists, church records, land boundary disputes and more.
This collection, provided in partnership with JewishGen , has more than 125,000 records of immigrants who received assistance paying for their passage to America.
RI: Rhode Island Roots
Each issue of this newsletter-turned-quarterly journal from the Rhode Island Genealogical Society contains at least one compiled genealogy, as well as transcriptions of original sources and indexes to various genealogical records. Search by name to find specific ancestors or surnames, or use the Keywords field to search article titles.
This index contains the name of the deceased, death date, age at death, obituary date and section and page of the obituary. To see the actual obituary, use the index information to locate a copy of the newspaper in print or on microfilm.
Search more than 350,000 burial records of Utah residents, including early Mormon pioneers.
Taken from four publications, this index of vital records information is free—but you’ll need an Ancestry.com subscription to view record images.
This database has grown to more than 13 million marriage records with record images.
Free Military Records
More than 242,000 records cover individuals with ties to 24 overseas military cemeteries and 25 other memorials. Results take you to individual memorial pages. You can also search the original American Battle Monuments Commission database.
This index includes more than 360,000 bounty-land warrant applications for soldiers who served in the War of 1812, Indian Wars and the Mexican War. You may find information about the soldier’s rank, military unit, year(s) of service, state, warrant number and application approval status.
Index of Revolutionary War Pensioners, 1800–1900
Provided in collaboration with Fold3, this index includes approximately 80,000 pension and bounty-land warrant application files for soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War. Search results provide a Fold3 ID number, pension number, names of individuals, and state.
Korean War Casualties
These records now include 27,000 Army personnel who died and more than 82,000 Army personnel who were injured during the Korean War. Records include prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
If your ancestor received this prestigious award, he may be in this database of more than 3,400 individuals. You may find the recipient’s name, rank, organization and, perhaps, personal data.
Records here include the officer’s name, service dates, rank and death date. The records were compiled by the Navy Department and published in 1901. Results include record images.
Revolutionary War Pension Records
Search pension and bounty-land warrant application files for men who fought in the Revolutionary War. The database covers 81,000-plus records from 1800 to 1900. Search results provide a basic transcription.
Service Records of Confederate Soldiers
Search this index for information on 1.6 million ancestors who served in the Confederate army during the Civil War.
The more than 1.2 million records here include full pension application files for soldiers and sailors, widows and children. Among these records, you can find the serviceman’s rank, residence, age or date of birth, and time of service. And a widow’s application may include her residence, maiden name, date and place of marriage, names of children, and circumstances of her husband’s death.
World War I Naval Deaths, 1917–1919
True, the United States Navy didn’t participate in many battles during the Great War. But this collection is a valuable resource for those researching the 7,200 sailors who died during the conflict.
WWI Draft Registrations, 1917–1918
Search 1.2 million draft registration cards. Coverage is complete for registrants from Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi and Nevada, and has “good representation” from 19 other states.
Free Immigration and International Records
1851 Scotland Census Extract
The record transcriptions here include the person’s name, age, birth and death information, names of individuals who lived in the household, marital status and source information. Similar free indexes exist for Scotland’s 1841 and 1861 censuses.
1930 Mexico National Census
Search the 12.8 million names to find a person’s age, birthplace, marital status, religion, occupation, address and more. View record images (in Spanish) from your search results for free. Note that records for the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) aren’t included.
This society was established in 1817 for free people of color living in the United States, and it sent free African Americans to Africa, often to Liberia. This database has more than 347,000 records from the society.
Australia Convict Index, 1788–1868
More than 160,000 people were forcibly transported to Australia from the British Isles and colonies after being convicted of crimes. This index includes the convict’s name, age or birth year, birthplace or place of trial, occupation, marital status, ship and arrival year.
Auschwitz Death Certificates, 1941–1943
This databases indexes more than 65,000 death certificates from July 29, 1941, to December 31, 1943. Search results provide the person’s birth and death dates and locations, and their last residence.
Search this index of 28,000 people who left Baden between 1886 and 1911. Results include the emigrant’s name, residence or place of birth, and year of departure.
Boston Pilot: Irish Immigrant Advertisements
The Boston Pilot newspaper published more than 45,000 advertisements, placed by friends or family in search of “missing friends.” They may include name, place of origin, ship and immigration route, family relationships or “missing person’s” circumstances.
This index to more than 61,000 names is a great collection to search if your ancestors emigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s. Search results show the emigrant’s name, age, estimated birth year, place of origin, destination and year of emigration.
Results from this collection of more than 951,000 records include headstone photos, burial information and birth and death dates.
Dachau Entry Registers
Search this collection to find more than 150,000 prisoners of Nazi concentration camps in Dachau and Flossenburg, as well as records in Mauthausen Death Books. Records may include prisoner names, serial numbers and other details.
England & Wales Civil Registration Indexes
Ancestry: Collection One
Ancestry: Collection Two
Ancestry: Collection Three
Here you’ll find three free, separate indexes to English and Welsh civil registration records for births, marriages and deaths, covering records from 1837 to 1915.
More than a million records in this collection contain information on burial records and specific cemeteries. The free data is provided courtesy of a partnership with JewishGen.
This index to about 20,000 birth records from 20 Lithuanian towns contains the child’s name, parents’ names (including mother’s maiden name), date of birth, Hebrew date of birth, place of birth, place registered and comments.
Netherlands Burial Records
Covering more than 1.6 million photographed and indexed gravestones from the Netherlands, your search results here provide the deceased’s birth, death and burial information, along with a link to the full record on the Graftombe.nl.
These 1.1 million death announcements from national newspapers, prayer cards and funeral cards include the deceased’s name, birth date, death date and location, and age at time of death. You’ll also find links to the free full information (which may include burial and spouse data) on Online Familieberichten.
Access more than 27,000 Jewish birth records from this city in Poland. (According to MyHeritage, alternate names for this location are Petrokov, Petrikau and Piotrkow.) Search results include the person’s name, gender, birth year and parents’ names.
Find birth information such as year of birth registration, town, parents’ names and more in this index to birth records on microfilm at the Family History Library.
The information in this index includes more than 19,000 records, which come largely from parish registers in the 17th through 19th centuries.
After Britain outlawed the transport of African slaves to its colonies in 1807, many colonies began to register the “lawfully enslaved” (i.e., those who arrived before the trade became illegal). This collection holds information on nearly 3 million slaves. You may learn the slave’s given name, age, gender and nationality, as well as the slaveholder’s name and place of residence.
Versions of this article appeared in the March/April 2016 and 2020 issues of Family Tree Magazine.