How to view Ancestry records for free
How can you view Ancestry records for free? Although you can access the Library Edition of Ancestry for free from most libraries, there are benefits to creating your own free Ancestry account from home.
One important myth to dispel about Ancestry is that you have to part with cash to create an account. In fact, it is completely free to sign up as a ‘registered guest’. Not only will this give you access to free records on Ancestry but also free indexes and access to a powerful free family tree builder.
To sign up as a registered guest on Ancestry for free, select ‘Sign-in’ in the top right-hand corner of the home page and then either use the sign-in details you have used previously (even if you don’t have an active subscription they should still work) or click on ‘Sign up today for free’.
One of the first tasks a new registered guest will be prompted to undertake is to simply add a family tree: either by uploading a GEDCOM file or creating one from scratch.
This may seem like a waste of time if you already maintain an active tree elsewhere. However, the key benefit lies in Ancestry’s ‘hint’ technology, which means that their search algorithms are constantly whirring away in the background. Whenever Ancestry adds a new batch of records and there’s a potential match, the hint system will flag it up.
Another important reason to have a tree on Ancestry is the hints based on information added by other users. Although it’s not possible to carry out a manual search of Ancestry’s public member tree collection without a subscription, you can still see hints relating to photos that others have chosen to share publicly. In these cases, the username of the person who has uploaded the photo will be displayed, allowing you contact them via Ancestry’s messaging facility and find out more.
Ancestry also displays user-submitted information for free via its ‘Potential Father’ and ‘Potential Mother’ feature – a special type of hint that gathers all of the information about a mutual ancestor found in a public member tree. These hints should always be accepted with a degree of caution, but the tool enables you to copy the ancestor’s full details across to your own tree, including the names of any records the researcher has saved.
Top 10 free records sets on Ancestry
Ancestry has a surprisingly large number of useful free indexes and record sets available for any registered user to access. Here are some of our favourites:
Record count: Births, 62,793,107; marriages, 32,698,349; deaths, 38,334,194
Record count: 26,497,674
Completely free records collection, both index and images. As many First World War service records were destroyed during the Blitz, the Medal Index Cards are sometimes the only record of an ancestor’s service.
Record count: 5,280,584
Records of people who still remained ‘lawfully enslaved’ in British colonies in the Caribbean after the slave trade was abolished in 1807.
Record count: 3,178,595
An index to criminal records from series HO 26 and HO 27 at The National Archives. Details of sentences are usually listed.
Record count: 1,556,259
A vast index of postal workers. Mostly just name (including both married and maiden name where applicable), date appointed and place or position. Although images are not included, the actual records do not always offer more information than the index.
Record count: 1,466,410
Details of sailors from 912 ships that had their home port registered as Liverpool. Age and birthplace often included.
Record count: 1,064,441
A mixture of records created by the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions, ranging from jurors’ lists to names of boat owners and even hearth and hair powder tax records. The index, created by Ancestry World Archives Project (AWAP) volunteers is basic, mostly recording just name, date and parish. Images are available but for subscribers only.
Record count: 282,680
A basic index to these fascinating records created by volunteers as part of AWAP. There are also other free Dorset indexes including militia lists and Poor Law records. Unfortunately only subscribers can see the images, but the index may still encourage further investigation.
Record count: 115,173
A West Yorkshire Archive Service collection of records listing people licensed to serve alcohol, along with the name of their pub.
Record count: 76,239
Jon Bauckham is a freelance journalist based in Bristol, UK. He holds a degree in history and was previously the features editor at Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine and a section editor at BBC History Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter.