Genealogy Free-for-All

Genealogy Free-for-All

Stop! Don’t pay for these 11 family tree research essentials—we’ll tell you how to get them free.

Money may not grow on family trees, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get perks every once in awhile. Take our top genealogy freebies: This list includes records, books, software, research assistance and forms—things that hapless genealogists not in the know might pay for.

Of course, you may have to register with a site—providing your name and an e-mail address—to take advantage of some offers. We suggest opening a new e-mail account just for freebie sign-ups (naturally, using a free service such as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail). Then put away your wallet and check out these deals:

1. Ask your favorite librarian whether the library offers access to the genealogy data service HeritageQuest Online, which includes digitized, searchable US census records plus local and family history books. You even may be able to log in from home by visiting your library Web site and entering your card number. The library has to pay, of course, but it’s free to you as a patron. Many Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Centers (FHCs; see our list of locations) also offer free HeritageQuest Online access to patrons, as do some state and university libraries.

2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spearheaded efforts to broaden records access, and the results are free on the FamilySearch Records Search pilot site. There, you’ll see several US federal and state censuses, Mexican and UK enumerations, vital records, church records from the US and abroad, and more. Most hits link to record images, but if a promising match doesn’t, you can see the record image free at an FHC. (Active FamilySearch records indexing volunteers are eligible for at-home access to the restricted records.)’s World Archives Project indexing program also promises free indexes (but not record images).

3. Did you know you can get a free two-week trial of’s subscription databases? Sign up when you have an open block of time; you can get a lot of research done in a fortnight. A caveat: If you don’t plan to become a paid subscriber, take care to follow the cancellation instructions when your trial ends or you’ll be charged. As an alternative, your local library may offer access to Ancestry Library Edition, which contains the same immigration, census, vital and other records as You can get a free seven-day trial to historical records site Footnote; the same cancellation caveat applies.

4. The subscription site World Vital Records makes most new US collection databases free for 10 days after they’re uploaded. Keep an eye on the site’s list of recently added content; look at the title of each database to see whether it has free days remaining. Click a title to search that database. And don’t forget you can visit your local FHC to search all the content in World Vital Records for free.

5. The next best thing to owning essential genealogy resources is finding someone who has the book or CD you need and will do a free lookup for you. Tap the home libraries of more than 1,500 volunteers at Books We Own, which has been finding answers for genealogists since 1996. Other sites with volunteer lookup lists include GeneaSearch, Ancestral Findings and (for CDs) The Genealogy CD List

6. For research tasks in a distant library or archive, turn to Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, a directory of volunteers and locations where they can do research tasks. Your only cost is reimbursing the local genealogy volunteer for expenses such as photocopying—and, of course, giving some other researcher a hand one day. And several members of the Forum have announced their willingness to do genealogical favors; see the Volunteer Corner.

7. Before you buy a book, check Google Book Search, which contains entire digitized public-domain books and selected pages of many books that are under copyright. lets you “Search Inside” numerous books; there’s usually a limit on the number of pages you can view.

8. Want to track your tree for free? Personal Ancestral File is well-rated software from FamilySearch. To get version 5.2 of “PAF,” just click the Download PAF link at the bottom of the FamilySearch home page. You also can download a free evaluation copy of PAF Companion 5.2, which adds charting and report capabilities. (A full-featured copy costs $6.75—follow the instructions at Progeny software.) Bear in mind PAF is no longer updated; rather, FamilySearch is focusing on its soon-to-be-released online family tree utility, which also promises to be free.

Other no-cost options include Family Tree Builder software, which you can download from MyHeritage. Also look into the family tree-tracking features on Web sites such as WeRelate, SharedTree, Geni and Ancestry Member Trees.

9. Don’t drop a small fortune on pricey photo-editing software. Adobe Photo­shop Express is a free, online version of the professional photo-editing program that lets you upload, store and repair photos. Google’s Picasa offers basic editing functions and automatically rounds up all the images on your hard drive so you can sort them into albums.

10. No need to pay for charts, either. Probably the widest variety of free genealogy forms—in PDF and Word/WordPerfect formats—is on our own Web site. Among the selection: a Five-Generation Ancestor Chart, Family Group Sheet, Research Calendar, Repository Checklist, Cemetery Transcription Form, and census extraction forms for every US enumeration. For framing, offers an online decorative Family Tree Fan Chart template and instructions.

11. Stop paying an ISP (Internet service provider) to host your family Web site. Instead, start your own
Roots­Web Freepages Account or look into a service such as MyHeritage or My­, which provide limited hosting space and basic features for free.

Want to join the genealogy blogosphere? On sites such as Blogger and WordPress, you can choose a blog template, customize it, and wax prosaic about your familyhistory to your heart’s content—free.

From the March 2009 Family Tree Magazine

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