5 Ways to Explore Your Family History for Free on FamilySearch

 With more than 5.46 billion searchable names in historical records, and millions of additional records that can be viewed (but not searched) as digital-only images, the free FamilySearch website is a treasure not to be missed! Learn how to make the most of all of the free genealogy resources that FamilySearch has to offer.

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Search More Than 5 Billion Records for Free

Search more than 5 billion historical records for free on FamilySearch. © 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

FamilySearch, the genealogy arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), makes it easy to search for your ancestors in over 5.3 billion searchable, digitized records. Resources include a huge variety of record types, from basic records such as censuses, vital records (civil registration), and passenger lists, to church records, military records, land records, and wills and probate records. Begin your journey by selecting Search at the top of the main page and then entering your ancestor's name. A variety of search features makes it easy to refine your search to bring up likely items of interest.

New records are added each week. To keep up as new records are added, select "Browse all published collections beneath the Find A Collection search bar on the main FamilySearch search page to bring up a list of all available FamilySearch collections. Then click on the "last updated" link in the top right-hand corner of the list to sort all newly added and updated collections to the top of the list!

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Take Advantage of Free Online Training

Businesswoman smiling at computer in home office
Tom Merton / Getty Images

The FamilySearch Learning Center plays host to hundreds of free online classes, ranging from short how-to videos, to multi-session courses. Learn how to use a particular record type to expand your family history knowledge, how to navigate records in a foreign language, or how to start your research in a new country.

Additional useful how-to information can also be found in the FamilySearch Wiki, which includes over 84,000 articles on how to do genealogy research or how to use the various record collections available on FamilySearch. This is a great first place to start when beginning research in a new locality.

FamilySearch also offers a continual stream of free online webinars—the Family History Library is hosting over 75 free webinars in the months of September and October, 2016 alone! These free genealogy webinars cover a variety of topics and countries. Dozens of archived webinars are also available.

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Explore Family History in Over 100 Countries

Explore your family history for free in over 100 countries on FamilySearch.
Italian records are strongly represented in FamilySearch's collections of records from more than 100 countries. Yuji Sakai / Getty Images

FamilySearch is truly global with records available for more than 100 countries. Explore a vast variety of international records such as school registers and land records from the Czech Republic, Hindu pilgrimage records from India, military conscription records from France, and civil registration and church records from countries such as Italy and Peru. FamilySearch collections are especially strong for the United States (over 1,000 collections), Canada (100+ collections), the British Isles (150+ collections), Italy (167 collections), Germany (50+ collections) and Mexico (100+ collections). South America is also well-represented, with nearly 80 million digitized records available from 10 different countries.

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View Image-Only Records Too

Thumbnails from a digitized roll of microfilm on FamilySearch.
Thumbnail view of the digitized microfilm for Pitt County, North Carolina, deed books B-D (Feb 1762–Apr 1771). © 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In addition to their 5.3 billion searchable records, FamilySearch has over 1 billion additional records that have been digitized but are not yet indexed or searchable. What this means for genealogists and other researchers is that if you are only using the standard search boxes on FamilySearch to find records you are missing out on a great deal of valuable records! These records can be found in two ways:

  1. From the main Search page, select a location under "Research by Location," then scroll down to the final section labeled "Image Only Historical Records." You can also find these records in the full list of Historical Record Collections identified with a camera icon and/or "Browse Images" link. Those records with a camera icon and no "browse images" link may be only partially searchable, so it is still wise to browse as well as search!
     
  2. Through the Family History Library Catalog. Search by location and browse the list of available records to find those of interest. Specific microfilm rolls that have been digitized will have a camera icon rather than a microfilm icon. These are being digitized and put online at an astounding rate, so keep checking back. FamilySearch hopes to have every microfilm roll from the Granite Mountain Vault digitized and online within three years.

More: How to Uncover Hidden Digitized Records on FamilySearch

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Don't Miss the Digitized Books

Explore nearly 300,000 books from the Family History Library online in digitized format.
© 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The digitized historical book collection at FamilySearch.org provides online access to nearly 300,000 genealogy and family history publications, including family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, historical and genealogical society journals, gazetteers and pedigrees. More than 10,000 new publications are added each year. There are two ways to access digitized books on FamilySearch:

  1. Through Books under the Search tab from the FamilySearch home page.
     
  2. Through the Family History Library Catalog. Use title, author, keyword, or location search to find a book of interest. If the book has been digitized, a link to the digital copy will appear on the catalog description page. As with records, the FHL catalog provides access to some published materials that are not yet available by searching FamilySearch Books directly.


In some cases, when trying to access books from home, you may receive a message that "you don't have sufficient rights to view the requested object." This means the publication is still protected by copyright and can only be viewed by one user at a time from a computer within the Family History Library, a local Family History Center, or a FamilySearch Partner Library.