Young or old, new researcher or seasoned veteran: We’re all working with a limited amount of money. To help you pinch pennies, we’ve collected this list of genealogy money-saving techniques to keep your research on budget.
1. Find free genealogy websites.
This is probably the most obvious of the tips we’ll share here. But you should take advantage of free resources before requesting records from an archive or consulting subscription or pay-per-view sites. In the September 2017 issue of Family Tree Magazine, we compiled a list of the 101 best free genealogy websites to get you started. We even divided them up into categories such as best free tech tools and best state genealogy websites.
FamilySearch.org is the largest free genealogy website, but it’s often underutilized by genealogists. Backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this site contains millions of searchable indexes and record images. The site will soon host nearly all the microfilms the Church has collected in its decades of research. You can also access all of the Church’s offline records (including books, microfiche and microfilm) for free by visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or your local FamilySearch Center. FamilySearch.org’s amazing genealogy wiki is another great free resource, full of articles on how to find and use a whole host of genealogy records.
In addition, make sure the records you want to consult aren’t already free on one of the above sites. Several frequently cited records collections (such as US federal census records and New York passenger lists) are available on many websites, both free and subscription-based. (Conversely, make sure a subscription site has collections you’re interested in before you subscribe.)
2. Wait for DNA discounts.
DNA tests are probably the single-largest expense in the genealogist’s budget, with even the cheapest DNA tests retailing at nearly $100 each. Fortunately, the testing companies frequently mark down their test prices. Autosomal tests at AncestryDNA and MyHeritage DNA, for example, often drop from $99 to $59 or $69, depending on the sale. Bookmark each testing company’s blog (23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA) and check in for announcements about discounts, particularly around holidays. Companies also typically offer discounts for attendees at genealogy conferences, so seek out their booths if you find yourself at an event such as RootsTech.
In addition, make sure you have a concrete DNA testing strategy so you’re not unnecessarily buying tests. This includes knowing which kind of test you need, plus which testing company you want to test with.
3. Look for free-trial periods and free collections on subscription sites.
Though subscription sites usually put their records collections behind a paywall, most offer at least a few for free. We put together a list of some of these free databases, and you can even search all the free collections on Ancestry.com at once.
Subscription sites also entice users by offering free-trial periods or making specific groups of records free for a limited time. Free-trial periods allow you to test-drive a subscription site before committing to becoming a paying member. Likewise, websites will sometimes open up access to records collections for a few days or a week at a time. For example, subscription site Fold3 often allows free access to its records in honor of Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In a similar vein, Findmypast has (in past years) opened up its marriage records around Valentine’s Day and its Irish records around St. Patrick’s Day.
4. Use genealogy software instead of online family trees.
Genealogy websites and their useful online family trees are all the rage, but they come at a cost (literally). You’ll need a monthly or annual subscription to get the most of online family tree services like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage. Instead of taking on this recurring, indefinite expense, consider investing in a genealogy software program. For a one-time fee (often as low as $30), you can buy desktop family-tree-building software. With that license, you can use the program for as long as you like at no additional cost. (Depending on the kind of license and the software, you might even be able to install the program on multiple devices.)
Some software programs give you even more options, particularly if you later decide to incorporate online family trees into your research. RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker have syncing capabilities with the Ancestry.com family tree, allowing you to easily copy your software-made family trees onto Ancestry.com (and vice versa). Learn more about the pros and cons of using software programs versus online family trees.
5. Visit the library.
Books, magazines, movies, CDs, audiobooks, online databases—Your local public library has it all for free. Don’t overlook this valuable resource, which can contain a host of useful local genealogy records. Some libraries also have their own subscriptions to genealogy websites, opening up more free research opportunities for you. Check out these five useful tips for researching in a library.
Also consider making a pilgrimage to one of the big genealogy libraries throughout the country. Massive libraries such as the Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah), the Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, Indiana) and the Library of Congress (Washington, DC) house decades—even centuries—of historical maps, records, gazetteers and photos.