Genealogy--Free or Fee?

"Genealogy, Free or Fee" presentation at Connecticut Ancestry Society
Money doesn't happen to grow on my family tree. Birth, marriage, death, obituary, and military records are the backbone of our genealogical research, but paying for every single record can add up to a pretty penny over time.

When I can locate free vital records and obits, I try that first--and then I decide, case by case, when it makes sense to pay for a document or a search.

Some of the best sites for free genealogy are Family Search, Linkpendium, The Ancestor Hunt, Heritage Quest*, Cyndi's List, plus Find A Grave. NOTE, 2023: Check the free access to city directories on

I also search state and local historical/genealogical societies. And of course, I search and post on Facebook genealogy pages. 

My posts about "Genealogy--Free or Fee?" are:
  • Introduction to Free or Fee Genealogy
  • Free or fee naturalization papers
  • Free or fee Social Security applications - And in 2020, the fee went down to $21 for photocopies of the original application! 
  • Free or fee, learn to record-strip and use document checklists
  • Free or fee, ask a historian for help
  • Free or fee, search surname and locality message boards 
  • Free or fee, redo your searches (again) to locate new info posted since your last search 
  • Free or Fee, why I paid for 3 pages of NYC marriage documents (first-hand information, handwritten by my father) 
  • Free or fee, ask for help with mysteries or missing documents and be polite and patient.  
  • Free or fee, try free newspaper sites to see whether you can turn up any news about your ancestors.
  • Free or fee, search for clues in the hands of other family members.  
  • Free or fee, it's worthwhile to send for NYC marriage records in detail!  
  • Free or fee, ask the archivist for help--these professionals know what they're looking for. It helped my research into Canadian military ancestors! 
  • Free or fee, use library cards to access databases from home, including Heritage Quest. Your library may have access to Ancestry, and other databases!
  • Free or fee, who needs an official vital record? Not always! 
  • Free or fee, my sample checklist will help you track down sources of information already in your possession or in the hands of family members.  
  • Free or fee, ask an archivist for help!
  • Free or fee, click on Cyndi's List for genealogy links.
  • Free: City directories on HeritageQuest*, via a local library card or a state library card - check with your local library! (And don't forget those free city directories, no fee or library card needed.)
  • Fee: I opened my wallet and paid the equivalent of $9 to get a UK death record . . . and it solved a big family tree mystery! 
  • Free: The Ancestor Hunt by Kenneth Marks, a remarkable website with categorized links to free resources such as newspapers, vital records, directories, and much more, arranged by U.S. state and Canadian province.
  • Free or low-cost: Don't forget to search state and local genealogical and historical societies to locate hyperlocal details.
  • Fee: I paid for scans to check out clues to my Schwartz family from Ungvar--and it took me a generation back, possibly more! Worthwhile investment.
  • Free: lots of downloadable forms for documenting a family tree.
For more about my presentations, see here.

* Remember: Heritage Quest is powered by Ancestry, so its scans, indexes, and transcriptions are those of Ancestry. If your ancestor's records aren't transcribed properly, and they're elusive on HQ, try searching on FamilySearch or MyHeritage or another genealogy website! Also note that some libraries have dropped access to HeritageQuest, due to budget constraints :( 

To learn more about my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, please see the listing on Amazon.


  1. Marion,

    I enjoyed this talk you presented on October 14, 2017 at the Westchester County Genealogical Society. You're presentation was informative and engaging. I look forward to future presentations by you to WCGS. Also looking forward to reading your book, "Planning a future for your family's past."


  2. Thanks so much for coming to my talk and commenting on my blog! Enjoy reading my book and see you next time in Westchester.

  3. "Heritage Quest is powered by Ancestry, so its scans, indexes, and transcriptions are like those of Ancestry." To be more accurate, the scans and indices on HeritageQuest *are* those of Ancestry. When Ancestry and HeritageQuest entered their cooperative agreement, HQ stopped using its images and index and began using the ones supplied by Ancestry, at least for the U.S. census. I don't know if this applies to other dataases on HQ also.

    1. Thanks so much for clarifying, Janice! I just updated my note in the blog post.

  4. Excellent suggestions to find free resources. I'm not averse to paying, but if it is available for free, that's much better!

  5. Some really good suggestions there. I subscribe to both Ancestry & Find My Past, but like to take advantage of free trials at other sites such as Fold3 and The Genealogist