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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

How to Research Your Family Tree For Free on Ancestry

How to build your tree on Ancestry for free

Wondering how to save money while trying to find your ancestors? Check out's free genealogy records collections. You'll be surprised at what you find!

Google is to Search Engines what Ancestry is to Genealogy Websites. In other words, while there may be a variety of different search browser options available, Google is the brand name everyone knows (although not everyone trusts). If you ask a person who isn't a genealogist what website they could use to build their family tree, they would often tell you Ancestry.

Ancestry is the most well-known commercial genealogy company where we can build a family tree, research records to find new ancestors, and match our DNA with others around the world.

But, an annual subscription is not always in the cards for those ready to climb their family tree. So, how can you make the most out of the platform until you win or save up for a year's membership?

Step 1: Take Advantage of Free Websites First


That's right, I said it. If you need to make your dollars stretch, take advantage of the free online websites. For example, during a webinar for FHF Xtra YouTube Members, I shared two paths to make their genealogy research dollars stretch - the free and the frugal paths.

If you want to watch that webinar, you can sign-up by clicking the "Join" button after you click this link. But then you will have access to a deep archive of other training videos listed here.

The short version of the training involves utilizing Find A Grave, FamilySearch, Google, the Internet Archive, and WikiTree to access records and see what other people have built. FamilySearch is a free website where you can access census, tax, land, and probate records along with published books.

Take advantage of these websites before you hop over to Ancestry.

Step 2: Create a Free Account

Sign up for a free account so you can access the content and save build your family tree. Ancestry will try to upsell you a membership but stay focused on the free content until you're ready for a subscription.

With a free account, you will be able to:

  • activate a DNA kit

  • watch Ancestry Academy training videos

  • view family trees that someone invites you to see

  • search free databases

  • view research you conducted before you let your subscription lapse.

  • And more. Click here for the latest actions you can do with a free account.

You will then begin building your family tree. You can do this manually or upload a file from another platform using a GEDcom file. Honestly, I would recommend building a small tree with the barest of facts. Then build your tree out as you learn how Ancestry fits into your research strategy.

It's possible you'll only want to build a DNA tree for DNA matching. In that case, build your tree with direct ancestors, siblings, and children of those relatives, and a few identifying facts in order to make ThruLines work.

If you have a large tree elsewhere, add only those people from the large tree that your research currently focuses on.


Are you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

If so, you can access global records in English, French, German, Swedish, Spanish, and Italian. Click here to access the FamilySearch Partners Page. Unfortunately, you will not have access to Ancestry's highest membership package, including or Fold3. Instead, you'll need to find other ways to access those websites, such as Step 4 or 5 below.

Do you live in New York?

According to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, New Yorkers can access New York collections on Ancestry for free. Check out this post, How to get free access to select New York records, to learn more.

↪️ Are you new to genealogy? Grab your copy of this FREE Beginner Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps for Successfully Starting in Family History

Step 3: Search the Always Free Collections

Thanks to partnerships between Ancestry and various archives, repositories, and donations, a sizeable number of collections are available for searching. The filter list of free records is on this page, Free Index Collections.

Some or all census from Denmark, the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Romania, Belarus, Hungary, and many more places.

Some school records, criminal records, military records, and tax records. If you have family from Poland, Latvia, Italy, Lithuania, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada, you must check out this list. I pray something is there for you to whet your palette for what Ancestry has to offer.

Take Advantage of Ancestry's Free Collections to make your genealogy research dollars stretch.
Notice that some collections say Free and others say Free Index.

Be advised that the terms Free and Free Index are VERY confusing. There is also a collection called WEB. Watch the video to be introduced to the confusion.

Some interesting always free genealogy records at Ancestry include:

  • Denmark Census (1787-1901)

  • US Federal Census (1850, 1860 1940)

  • Lübeck, Germany, Census (1801-1862)

  • Chronique des quatre premiers Valois (1327-1393) FREE

  • Danish West Indies, Denmark, Records of Enslaved People, 1672-1917 FREE

  • England, Criminal Lunatic Asylum Registers, 1820-1843 FREE INDEX

  • Galicia, Business Directory, 1891 FREE

  • Gloucestershire, England, Wills and Inventories, 1541-1858 

  • Iosco County, Michigan Plat Book, 1903 FREE

  • Isle of Wight, England, Methodist Registers, 1813-1937 FREE INDEX

  • Les Montmorency de France et les Montmorency d'Irlande, ou, Précis historique des démarches faites 

  • Mayflower Births and Deaths, Vol. 1 and 2 

  • Mogilev, Belarus, Male Birth Index, 1862-1893 

  • New Zealand, School Registers and Lists, 1850-1967 

  • Scotland, Nursing Applications, 1921-1945 

Notice this list includes a range of interesting records that you likely didn't know excited. If you want to research your Jewish Ancestors impacted by the Holocaust, you'll find a plethora of free collections from all parts of the world specific to this group at this time.

Watch this video to see how to access the list and what some of the records above look like.

Step 4: Explore the Card Catalog

With your free account, you can access Ancestry's Card Catalog from your home. Click on "Search" in the top menu bar. Then select "Card Catalog" from the drop-down menu.

Make sure you have a genealogy research plan handy. Yes, I keep mentioning that, don't I? It's that important.

As you review the Card Catalog, make sure you're looking for records that would help you answer your research questions. Then, save the URL link to your search results to your research plan.

When you have access to the full Ancestry subscription, you'll know exactly where to pick up to view the full records.

Step 5: Visit a Genealogy Library

Many Family History Centers and local Genealogy Libraries (such as the Clayton Library for Genealogy Research in Houston, Texas) provide free patron access to Ancestry.

While this option helps stretch the budget, you are limited by the hours of operation for these centers. Additionally, you will need to bring a flash drive or save your discoveries to the cloud as often. I've found it difficult to save any searches to my family tree using the library editions.

Make sure you have your genealogy research plan handy because you want to stay focused to maximize your time spent at the libraries.

Step 6: Ask for a Subscription as a Gift

At some point, you may want a year's subscription to Ancestry. While you should save up your money and watch for subscription discounts, why not ask others to pay for it? This is a post about accessing Ancestry for free, after all.

If you celebrate your birthday, an anniversary, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, or any other gift-giving holiday, ask your loved ones to purchase a subscription for you as your present. An FHF Xtra Member who does just that and the added benefit is her house does not overflow with clutter from gifts she doesn't like but must keep!

↪️ Do you want to dive even deeper into genetic genealogy, writing family histories, and climbing your family tree? Join the

FHF Xtra Premium Membership and get a wealth of exclusive content.

Before you go, did you know that you can also do this same thing with Findmypast records? They have free record collections as well. Check out this link to learn more.

For More Ancestry Tips and Tricks

You might like the following content from Family History Fanatics.

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