How to find ancestors for free


04 December 2023
Follow the easy steps below to get going on your family tree without parting with a penny! These are the best steps to take to research your family history for free…

Family history is a really versatile hobby. Just by grabbing a notebook and phoning a relation, you can begin to gather clues about your family tree.

Of course, not everyone has relations to call, but fortunately the internet is a treasure trove of family history records, too, which all of us can enjoy searching for clues.


How to find your ancestors for FREE

Get started with your ancestry by trying these easy steps:

1. Get a notebook and start jotting down what you know about your family (your name, birthday and birth place; then do the same for your parents and then your grandparents).

The notebook can be paper or digital (the main point is that you get into the habit of writing it all down. You won’t regret this!).

  • Write all the details down.
  • Jot down any family memories anecdotes you know of.
  • In addition, make a note of any questions about your family that you would like to find the answers to.

2. Start filling in a simple family tree, using the clues you have added to your notebook.

Download FREE printable family tree charts from the Family History Workbook for Beginners’ resources web page:

(What? You're giving away free printable family tree charts? Yes we are because we're nice like that - enjoy your genealogy 😉).

3. Sign up to a tree-building website to start creating an online family tree.

You'll need to register with the website you choose and will then  be able to grow your tree online free of charge.

The following websites are just some of those that provide free online tree-building tools:

Content continues after advertisements

How do family tree websites work?

The websites we’ve just listed are linked to subscription services. This means that to view original records and limited-access databases you may have to subscribe (pay) to the relevant site.

That said, FamilySearch is slightly different: it is a completely free site, it does work with partners, some of whom charge for access to their full records.


Discover the golden rule of genealogy

Before we go any further, here’s a golden rule that you’ll be so pleased you learned!

Start with what you DO know, and work BACKWARDS in time, carefully linking each piece of information.

A golden rule when starting family history is to begin with yourself…

…then note down what you know about your parents and grandparents
…and work backwards in time.

Ask your family members what they know too. They may know names and dates you don’t, and may have stories and photos to share. 

Why is it important to do this? It's important, to help ensure that every piece of information you add to your family tree really is about your family, and not just a branch of people that looks roughly like your family.

Which FREE genealogy websites are good to search?

Many people want to trace their family tree for free and this can be a really good idea, particularly when you’re just starting out.

Luckily there are some excellent websites and online resources to help. The sites listed below won’t cost you a penny.

Family Tree Plus:

You can take a seven-day free trial of our popular online community - no credit card details needed, no obligation to stay – and enjoy expert videos and a searchable library of Family Tree magazine. Sign up for a free trial here and be sure to tick the box to receive the Family Tree newsletter for even more friendly advice. 

Some of the following websites have records for you to search for clues, some have an online tree building tool, and some have useful information, guides and web links.


This website provides a searchable index to birth, marriage and death records for England and Wales. 


You can also search for ancestors’ birth and death index entries at (this is also the site from which you order birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales, charges apply for the certificates).

Why do you want to order a birth, marriage or death certificate for family history?

Birth, marriage and death records (sometimes known as 'BMD') are kept by governments to provide a record of the population and to help identify each individual in the population.

From a family history point of view birth, marriage and death records provide clues about families.

Think - a birth certificate doesn't just name a baby - it provides the name of the mother too, or mother and father too. Likewise a marriage certificate doesn't just provide the names of the bride and groom, it also includes the names of their fathers. And in recent years the mothers' names are added too in England and Wales (Scotland has been including mothers' names since 1855!).

Online for England and Wales you will find the indexes to the birth, marriage and death records. These have a few key details. When you find your ancestor you need to order the certificate to ensure you get the full details about your ancestor and their family:
(these do cost money to order, but we have included them here so that you don't have to hunt for the information about them as they are really useful!).

Anyway... back to the completely free family history resources that you're after in order to do your family history for free.


Sister site to FreeBMD, FreeCEN is aimed at providing 19th-century census record details free online. FreeCEN is part of the FreeUKGen project, along with FreeReg (the latter concentrating on parish registers, which are also very useful records for family history research).


FamilySearch is the world’s largest, free, genealogy site with billions of searchable historical records and research guidance via its Research Wiki, online courses and more. 


With thousands links to sites useful for birth, marriage, death and census records for the UK, this is a website worth visiting. Some of the links provide material freely;  for others, charges apply.

Cyndi's List:

Cyndi’s List is a labour of love by American Cyndi Howells. The list is an enormous, constantly updated, categorised index of more than three hundred thousand genealogical links worldwide – explore the topics, countries &, records.

UK Web Directory, GENUKI:

The UK and Ireland Genealogical Information Service by GENUKI is a virtual reference library of genealogical data, with links to all the county record offices in the UK, family history societies and much more.

Five steps to find your ancestors for free

  1. I’ve started keeping a family history notebook: YES 
  2. I’ve started writing down memories & family anecdotes: YES 
  3. I’ve downloaded the family tree charts from YES 
  4. I’ve begun exploring the web links mentioned above and I'm making notes on what looks useful in my notebook: YES 
  5. I’ve signed up to the FREE Family Tree enewsletter: YES 

    Yes we do a COMPLETELY FREE ENEWSLETTER. Packed with all things family history, we'll share useful information about news, records and events to help you learn more about family history. To sign up and claim your free 7-day trial of Family Tree Plus, just click here