Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. 

How to Find Free Genealogy Resources

In the genealogy community it’s often said, “Only a fraction of genealogical records are online.” That’s true indeed, but it’s not a reason not to start your search online. A more helpful and accurate piece of advice would be “while not everything is online, all search for genealogical information starts online.”

The reason for this is simple. Online research before you go will reveal:

  • If the materials are available at a more convenient location
  • If the materials are available somewhere online for free
  • The call number, location, and other specific information you need to quickly access the materials once you arrive.
  • Details about gaining access to the facility and materials.

The last bullet point above will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering an unforeseen closure, or that the specific records you need are actually help at a satellite location.

New genealogical information and records are uploaded daily to the internet. Some of this information is available for free. In this article and episode we will cover strategic ways to locate and access free genealogy online.

The Amount of Data Continues to Increase – Read more about the growth of online information here.

The Path of Least Resistance to Free Genealogy

Most genealogists want to obtain records at the lowest available cost with the least amount of travel. Therefore, always starting your search online just makes good sense.

Here’s our path of least resistance:

  1. Free and Online: FamilySearch, Google, WorldCat
  2. Online and Subscription: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, niche sites
  3. Free and Locally Offline: Libraries, Archives, Universities
  4. Offline and Distant: Examples include the National Archives, Allen County Library, Family History Library, NEHGS
The path to free genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com

Free Genealogy Records Online

FamilySearch

FamilySearch is a free genealogy website.

The FamilySearch Catalog: New digitized images are added daily from microfilms & digital camera operators. These include books, maps, compiled family histories, and more. The catalog also includes materials that are not online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through Inter-library loan.

 The FamilySearch Wiki is a free online genealogical guide comprised of more than 93,000 articles. It covers 244 countries, territories, and islands. It includes links to genealogy databases and online resources as well as how-to information.

Use the FamilySearch Wiki Watchlist to follow pages of research interest. Here’s how to watch Wiki pages for new and free genealogy content:

  1. Log in with your free FamilySearch account
  2. navigate to the desired page
  3. click the Watchlist link in the upper right corner of the page.
Click the Watchlist button to follow the page

Look for the Watchlist link, and the blue buttons that lead to free online genealogy records for that location.

Google.com

Google is still your best bet for finding sources both online and offline.

You can dramatically improve your search results by incorporating search operators into your search. Watch episode 13 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn about how to use search operators when googling for genealogy.  

Get all of the Elevenses with Lisa episodes here.

how to get better google search results

Learn how to google for free genealogy in episode 13.

Find More Free Genealogy with these Google Search Strategies

The most comprehensive and best-selling book on the topic of using Google for genealogy: 
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. 

Google Alerts Finds Free Genealogy for You

Set up free Google Alerts to be on the lookout for new and updated search results. You’ll receive them by email, and you can control the frequency.

Google Alerts for genealogy and family history

Google Alerts do the work of searching for free genealogy for you.

How to Create a Google Alert:

  1. Highlight and copy (Control C on Windows or Command C on Mac) the search query that you typed into the Google search box
  2. Go to www.google.com/alerts
  3. Sign into your free Google account
  4. Paste (Control V or Command V) your search query into the Search Query box on the Google Alerts page
  5. Select the Result Type you desire (ex. Everything, News, etc.)
  6. Select how often you wish to receive alerts
  7. Select How Many results you want to receive (I recommend Only the Best Results)
  8. Enter / Select the email address you want your alerts to be sent to
  9. Click the Create Alert button

Partnerships Make Free Genealogy Available

Many of the genealogy giants enter partnerships with each other in order to facilitate digitization and indexing of genealogical records. This means that the same materials may be found in different locations on the web, and sometimes for free.

WorldCat.org

17,900 subscribing member libraries in 123 countries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database which is the world’s largest bibliographic database.

Use WorldCat to check that you are indeed accessing the resource from the most convenient repository and if it’s available for free. Here’s how:

  1. Run your search
  2. Click an item
  3. Under Find a Copy in the Library enter your zip code
  4. The library closest to you will be listed at the top

Once you get your search results, look to the left in the Formats box. There you can quickly narrow down to only items that are online by clicking boxes like Downloadable Article. Some of these may require a log in on the website you are referred to.

How to Find Free Records at Genealogy Websites

Ancestry.com

If you don’t have a paid subscription to Ancestry.com you can still take advantage of their many free collections available here. Then read my article Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber for more tips of free stuff at Ancestry.

MyHeritage.com

To find free records at MyHeritage.com, go to https://tinyurl.com/LisaMyHeritage. In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria.  (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags. 

Findmypast.com

To find free records at Findmypast which specialized in British genealogy but also includes records from around the world, go to https://tinyurl.com/FMPLisa.

(Some links in our articles are affiliate links. We will be compensated at no additional cost to use when you use them. This makes it possible for us to bring this free show to you. Thank you!)

Google Site Search Can Help Locate Free Genealogy

A site search works like many search operators as previously discussed in Elevenses with Lisa episode 13 (watch and read here.) It provides Google with specific instructions about the type of search you want to conduct with your search terms and keywords.

Google Site Search for free genealogy

This Site search tip comes from Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox.

Site search runs your query only on the specified website. This is extremely helpful and efficient if:

  • you have a particular website in mind that you want to search,
  • you aren’t having success using the search field provided by the website,
  • the website you want to search doesn’t have a search field.

Here’s an example of a Site search:

Free Pennsylvania site:ancestry.com

Try running the search above for yourself. You’ll find results that include many free genealogy records pertaining to Pennsylvania. Substitute the words to meet your search needs.

Construct a Site search for Free Genealogy by first typing in the words and phrases you wish to search for. Include the word free. Leave the appropriate spacing between them and follow the last item with a space. Then type site: and add the website home page address (URL). You can copy the URL and simply paste it in place. There is no space between the colon and the URL. And note that www is not required.

Searching for Offline Local Sources with Free Genealogy Information

To find what’s local and free:

  • Search WorldCat.org (be sure to use the Zip Code filtering to find the genealogy materials at the location closest to you.)
  • Use Google to search.
  • Find your local Family History Center here. These centers have unique free resources as well as free access to some subscription genealogy websites.

When you find a library, archive or other repository, visit their website and look for:

  • Databases they offer
  • Their online catalog to plan your research
  • Other associated libraries
  • Details on planning a visit

Get Free Genealogy Help on Facebook

Search for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) on Facebook. 

RAOGK on Facebook

Get free genealogy records help on Facebook.

Learn More with these Resources

Free Tools at MyHeritage for a Limited Time

Now through Sept. 10, 2020 you can get free access to Myheritage Photo Enhancer and MyHeritage In Color here

Click to use MyHeritage for free for a imited time.

 

Resources for this Episode

 

 

 

Free WWI App from the National Archives

The National Archives is marking the World War I Centennial with a new app, as well as programs and exhibits. Here’s the scoop from their press release:

WWI Free App National ArchivesThe United States declared war on April 6, 1917

Washington, DC – The National Archives marks today’s World War I Centennial with a new mobile app, special programs, featured document displays, traveling exhibits, and a special new webpage highlighting all related resources on National Archives News.

Remembering WWI App

Remembering wwi appToday, the National Archives launches the Remembering WWI interactive app, now available free of charge through iTunes (iPad only) and Google Play. The app commemorates the 100-year anniversary, in April 2017, of the U.S. entry into World War I.

The app provides an unprecedented collection of WWI content digitized and preserved as part of the larger Wartime Films Project – much of it never-before-seen by the public – including photos and film shot by the U.S. Signal Corps from 1914 –1920.

National Archives’ partners for the design and testing of the app included: Historypin, Library of Congress, Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, WWI Centennial Commission, WWI Museum, and, American Association of State and Local History.  This project is made possible in part by an anonymous donor and the National Archives Foundation.

Saving World War I and II Media through Digitization and Crowdsourcing

Thanks to a generous donation from an anonymous donor, the National Archives embarked on a three-year project to digitize and create public engagement with World War I and II motion pictures and photographs. The project’s original goal was to digitize 70 films and 75,000 photos, and foster engagement on the new digital platform, but by the end of the project, the National Archives had digitized 164 films (337 reels) for more than 65 hours’ worth of content, in addition to more than 100,000 photographs. This is the first time that many of these photos and films will be viewed by the public. All scans are available through the National Archives Catalog or on our YouTube page.

Special WWI-related Exhibits

Featured Document Display: Making the World Safe for Democracy: U.S. Enters WWI
East Rotunda Gallery, National Archives Museum, through May 3, 2017

To commemorate this centennial, the National Archives presents a special display of the Joint Resolution declaring war against the Imperial German Government, April 6, 1917. President Woodrow Wilson signed this declaration of war on April 6, 1917, ending America’s neutral stance on the World War conflict and formally declaring war against Germany. The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Document” exhibit is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of Ford Motor Company Fund.

Traveling Exhibit:  Over Here: Americans at Home in World War I

Over Here: Americans at Home in World War I draws on the unparalleled holdings of the National Archives to capture the patriotic fervor of draft registration, the emotional good-byes of men leaving for training camps, the “hoopla” of Liberty Loan drives, the craze for volunteerism, and the violence of vigilantism.  The exhibit is divided into three themes: Mobilizing the Nation, Stirring Patriotic Passions, and Policing Enemies at Home.  Over Here is organized by the National Archives, and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES).

Traveling Exhibit:  Over There:  Americans Abroad in World War I

After the United States entered World War I, 1917, millions of American men joined or were drafted into the armed services. Some 2 million served in Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces. Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I showcases World War I overseas military photography from the immense photographic holdings of the National Archives. The exhibition includes photographs from the fronts, behind the lines, and the consequences of the war and how it was remembered.  Over There is organized by the National Archives, and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES).

World War I Social Media Day Events in DC, nationwide, and online!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Join the National Archives to participate in World War I Social Media Day, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Museums, archives, and other educational institutions around the world will share a day of social media activity focused on #WorldWar1 history.

Facebook:  World War I in Photos: A Peek inside the Special Media Research Room
10:30 a.m.—Military historian and archivist Mitchell Yockelson showcases his favorite photographs from the war and answers your questions.  National Archives on Facebook

Facebook Live with the National Archives at NYC: Online resources for WWI Military Records
2 p.m.—Tune in to Facebook Live for a recap of our Finding Family Genealogy Series, which will be discussing online resources for veterans and military records related to World War I.
National Archives at New York City on Facebook

Twitter:  ​Q&A: U.S. Presidents who served during World War I
11 a.m.—Join archivists from the Presidential Libraries to learn how Presidents Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower served during the war.
Presidential Libraries: @OurPresidents, @HooverPresLib, @FDRLibrary, @TrumanLibrary, @IkeLibrary

World War I poster free WWI app National ArchivesDigital Catalog: Tagging mission: World War I posters
All day—Become a citizen archivist and join us to help “tag” World War I posters. By adding keywords of details and features found on the poster in our catalog, you can help make them more accessible to researchers, students, and the public. Educators and classroom teachers, this is a great way to get students involved in doing American history! New to tagging? Get started!

Transcription mission: Fire and Orientation notes by Harry S. Truman
All day—Calling all military history buffs! Help us to transcribe Harry S. Truman’s handwritten notes that he took during his training to learn to fire the French 75 millimeter guns that his artillery unit used while in France. Learn about the future President’s experience during the war. Get started!

World War One Programs

Panel discussion: 100 Years: World War I and The Weight of Sacrifice
Thursday, April 13, at 7 p.m., William G. McGowan Theater, National Archives Museum

Author lecture and book signing:  The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers
Tuesday, April 25, at noon, William G. McGowan Theater, National Archives Museum

Lecture: African American Soldiers in the Great War Through Photographs
Thursday, May 4, at 2 p.m., William G. McGowan Theater, National Archives Museum

The National Archives Museum is located on the National Mall on Constitution Ave. at 9th Street, NW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Related Online Resources at the National Archives

Launching the Beta Program for our Remembering WWI App – post by Archivist David S. Ferriero

U.S. Entry into the War to End All Wars – Pieces of History blog

Joint Resolution of April 6, 1917, Declaring a State of War

World War I Articles in Prologue Magazine

Get Started with the WWI App – National Archives History Hub Post and FAQs

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