Why You Should Have a Free FamilySearch Account–And Use It!

A free FamilySearch account gives you access to more historical records and customized site features than you’ll see if you don’t log in at this free genealogy website. Here’s why you should get a free FamilySearch account and log in EVERY time you visit the site. 

free FamilySearch account

GIANTS GIANTS Big 4 records websites

This post is part of our ongoing commitment to help you get the most out of the “Genealogy Giants:

In this post, I comment on a recent announcement from the free giant everyone should be using: FamilySearch.org.

Why you should have (and use!) a free FamilySearch account

FamilySearch.org has always allowed free public use of its site. But beginning on December 13, 2017, the site will now actively prompt visitors to register for a free FamilySearch account or to log in with their existing accounts. Anyone can continue to search the catalog and user-submitted genealogies, explore over 350,000 digitized books, learn from the Wiki and the learning center, and even view user-contributed photos and stories. But by requesting you to log in, FamilySearch wants to remind you that this is your path to even more free records and services on the site.

Here are my top three reasons to have and use a free FamilySearch account:

1. Access more free historical records on FamilySearch.

We’ve talked a lot in recent months about best strategies for accessing digitized and off-line historical records at FamilySearch. Some of the digitized records on FamilySearch are there courtesy of a partner organization, which may restrict record access to those who log in on the site.

One woman had an “ah-ha” moment of realization after reading FamilySearch’s announcement. She posted in the comments, “Though I have had a free account for some time, I did not realize that FamilySearch was not giving me full access to information in record searches just because I had not logged in. Maybe I need to redo my past searches as a logged-in account holder.”

2. Participate in the global Family Tree.

As I more fully describe in my quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, FamilySearch’s online family tree is different than the tree systems used at the other major family history websites. Instead of creating your own personal tree, you participate in a collaborative, unified family tree of the world. As a logged-in visitor, you can enter your information, then that of your parents and their parents, etc. until you connect to deceased individuals who are already on the tree. (Information about living individuals is always privacy-protected.) Then you may, with other descendants, contribute what you to know to an ancestor’s profile.

Anyone may make changes to these public profiles, which may at times be frustrating. But it also allows for more focused collaboration. This is a great place to see a virtual compilation of others’ research on particular ancestors without having to search others’ personal trees individually, as you do on other sites (remember to look for their source citations and verify what others say). The Family Tree on FamilySearch is also a great place to digitally archive family documents and photos where other researchers may see and appreciate them for free. As you can see in the screenshot below, logging in also helps you see how others have identified the folks you see in your search results:

3. Get customized help.

Those who log in with a free FamilySearch account have access to one-on-one assistance through the website. If you have a question about using the site, accessing records, finding additional records about your ancestors, or even how to understand the records you’re looking at, you can email or call a live support person for help. Your login also sets you up to receive customized alerts and seasonal messages (like “Did you know your ancestor fought in the War of 1812?”) and a dashboard experience with at-a-glance reminders of record hints awaiting your review, where you left off in your last online session, tips about what to do next, and more. Here’s what the dashboard looks like:

How to get (or recover) a free FamilySearch account

See Registering to use FamilySearch.org for information about creating a free account. FamilySearch accounts have always been free and, the site assures us, will continue to be free. You will need to provide your first and last name, a username, a password, and an email or mobile phone number.

According to FamilySearch, your login and other personal information:

  • enables collaboration in the Family Tree and Memories areas of the site (you control how much information is shared)
  • “allows you to send in-system messages to other users without revealing your personal identity or email address”
  • “allows FamilySearch to send you emails and newsletters (you can specify how many emails, if any, you receive)”
  • enables communication when you contact their online support team for help
  • will not be shared “with any third party without your consent”

If you’ve already got a FamilySearch account but have forgotten your username, click here. If you’ve forgotten your password, click here.

Genealogy Gems Brings You Genealogy Giants

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheetEach of the “Genealogy Giants” has so much to offer family historians around the world! But it’s hard to keep them straight, compare their top features, and get the most out of them without some inside help. That’s why we published the must-have quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, your personal comparative tour of Ancestry.comFamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

This inexpensive guide can save you hours of wasted time hunting down the records you need. It can save you hundreds of dollars by helping you invest in the genealogy websites you most need to use right now–because your research needs change right along with your growing family tree! The guide is available for your immediate reference as a digital download or get a handy, high-quality printed copy you can keep with your genealogy research files.

Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber

Many of us already know that some of Ancestry’s content is free to search for everyone. But did you know that you can use Ancestry’s powerful search interface to search genealogy databases on OTHER websites, too? This includes sites that may be in another language–and sites you may not even know exist!

You may have heard that there’s a lot available on Ancestry for free to anyone. Like the 1940 and 1880 U.S. censuses. Australian and Canadian voter’s lists. A birth index for England and Wales. The SSDI.

A few years ago, Ancestry also began incorporating off-site indexes into its search system. These are known as “Ancestry Web Indexes.” There are now more than 220 of these, and they point users to over 100 million records ON OTHER WEBSITES.

“Ancestry Web Indexes pull together a lot of databases that are already online from repositories all over the world, like courthouses and archives,” Matthew Deighton of Ancestry told me. “We index them here because we’ve found that people may not know their ancestor was in a certain region at a certain time. They may not know about that website that has posted those records. What you don’t know about, you can’t find.”

According to an online description, the guiding principles of Ancestry Web Search databases are:

  • “Free access to Web Records – Users do not have to subscribe or even register with Ancestry.com to view these records;
  • Proper attribution of Web Records to content publishers;
  • Easy access to Web Records – Prominent links in search results and the record page make it easy to get to the source website.”

Better yet, you may have a better search experience at Ancestry than you would at the original site. Some sites that host databases or indexes don’t offer very flexible search parameters. They may not recognize “Beth Maddison” or “E. Mattison” as search results for “Elizabeth Madison,” while Ancestry would.

Results from Ancestry Web Indexes point you to the host website to see any additional information, like digitized images and source citations. A subscription to that site may be required to learn all you want from it. But just KNOWING that the data is there gives you the option to pursue it.

Doesn’t Google bring up all those same results if you just do a keyword search on your ancestor’s name? Not necessarily. Not all indexes are Google-searchable. Even if they are, Google may not present them to you until the 534th page of search results–long after you’ve lost interest.

And Ancestry specifically targets genealogically-interesting databases. Your results there won’t include LinkedIn profiles or current high school sports statistics from a young person with your ancestor’s name. (Learn how to weed out Google results like these with The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.)

Some may be skeptical: isn’t it bad form for Ancestry to reference other sites’ material, especially when they often do so without consulting the host of the databases? They do have an opt-out policy for those who wish their databases to be removed from the search engine. Matthew says a couple of places have opted out–because the increased web traffic was too much for them to handle. That tells me that Ancestry Web Indexes are helping a lot of people find their family history in places they may otherwise never have looked.

Resources

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We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. Do you see anything you should be searching for your ancestors?

ENGLAND – LAND AND TAX. About a quarter million land tax and valuation records for Plymouth and West Devon (1897-1949) are now searchable for Findmypast.com subscribers. Transcriptions and images can reveal an ancestor’s owner/renter status, property location and size, property use and more.

US – ARIZONA VOTERS. A new database of Arizona voter registrations(1874-1932) is available at Ancestry.com. According to the collection description, “This database consists of Great Registers [lists produced from voter registrations] compiled by county recorders for each county in Arizona, by district. They list the names of eligible voters who registered to vote within the state of Arizona.” In this database you’ll see the state’s transition to female suffrage in 1912.

US – CALIFORNIA PASSENGER ARRIVALS. Over 375,000 names have been added to an existing collection of free FamilySearch.org passenger arrival records for San Francisco, CA (1954-1957). These include inbound passengers, crew lists and changes in crew.

US – DELAWARE WILLS AND PROBATE. Ancestry.com has updated its collection of  Delaware Wills and Probate records(1676-1971). The indexed images now span nearly 300 years and include records from all counties (some locales and time periods are not included). Over 134,000 names are indexed.

US – MASSACHUSETTS VITAL RECORDS. Now available to search for free on FamilySearch.org is a new collection of indexed images of Massachusetts delayed and corrected vital records. Spanning about 150 years (1753-1900), the collection is relatively small (31,710 indexed names) but often delayed and corrected vital records can be brick-wall busters!

Use these Google Gems to Find Records You Need

Google AlertsGoogle Search Tips 101: Keyword Search Tips

2 Mysterious Deaths in the Family? How to Google for Answers

Google Alerts for Genealogy

 

Family History Episode 11 – Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Originally published 2009

Republished December 17, 2013

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 11: Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790

In our first segment we welcome back genealogy researcher, author and lecturer Lisa Alzo. The author of Three Slovak Women, Baba’s Kitchen and Finding Your Slovak Ancestors talks about discovering family traits and putting them in perspective.

Then in our second segment we wrap up our three-episode coverage of U.S. census records with a decade-by-decade overview of censuses from 1880 back to 1790. We talk about special schedules taken during one or more censuses: mortality, slave, social statistics and supplemental, agricultural, manufacturing and the DDD (Defective, Dependent and Delinquent) schedules.

 Updates and Links

For a list of online resources for U.S. federal census data, check out the show notes for Episode 9 at http://tinyurl.com/ShowNotesEp9. More links you’ll want for this episode include:

The Newest Place for Digitized Irish Newspapers for Genealogy

Got Irish roots? You may want to check out Findmypast.com’s new Irish Newspaper Collection, with nearly 2 million searchable historical Irish news

Glenarm Co Ireland

Glenarm Co Ireland

articles.

“Digitized from the collections of the British Library, the Irish Newspapers Collection on findmypast.com is a rich resource for genealogists in search of their Irish roots,” states a company press release. “The collection features six newspaper titles (both national and local) covering areas in Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster, namely: The Belfast Morning News, The Belfast Newsletter, The Cork Examiner, The Dublin Evening Mail, The Freeman’s Journal and The Sligo Champion.

Each newspaper title covers different dates in Ireland’s history with articles from  the pre-Famine era to post-Irish independence in 1926. For family historians, the newspapers contain valuable entries like advertisements, obituaries and letters to the editor which provide details on what local and national life would have been like in Ireland hundreds of years ago.”

The time period covered by these papers (1820-1926) includes the Great Famine that caused millions of Irish to flee the country for more fertile shores. Findmypast.com subscribers can access this collection as well as those with World subscriptions on all findmypast international sites.

How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Available at http://genealogygems.com

Still not sure how to use newspapers in genealogy research? My book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available in both print and e-book formats, shows you how to get the most out of online (and offline) newspapers.

I wish you some old-fashioned Irish luck finding your family in newspapers and beyond!

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