The Internet has completely revolutionized genealogy research. Millions of records have been painstakingly entered and are available to researchers online for free. Some of the records available online are photos of the original documents -- such as census surveys, birth and death certificates. Other records have been transcribed and are often easier to decipher than handwriting that may be hundreds of years old. Multiple websites offer free ancestry searches without the long-term commitment of membership.
Free for a Limited Time
Some genealogy websites offer a free trail membership for a specific period of time. MyHeritage is one such site, and offers a seven-day free trial period for users to try out the service. Findmypast has a 14-day free trial period, and the website Ancestry also offers a free trial period. These sites work best for researchers who are seeking to confirm information they already have or who are seeking specific bits of data and can search on specific names or locations. Users may have to provide billing information at the time they register for the site, but can cancel at no cost prior to the end of the free period.
Free for Special Weekends
Other genealogy websites occasionally offer free weekends, occasional holidays or even a free month to allow researchers to discover the features the site offers. The shorter the free period offered, the more important it is for the user to have an idea of the information they are seeking beforehand. Familysearch, Fold3 and Ancestry all have offered such free samples on various occasions. Be sure to make note of all the relevant information during the free period unless you are willing to purchase a membership to retrieve it later.
Sites such as RootsWeb and USGenWeb are free online genealogy services. They may not offer quite as many different services or searches, or have fewer options for interacting with other genealogists, but they are completely free to all users at all times. These sites are ideal for leisurely browsing and general searches. Since the user is not under any time restraint, it is possible to follow multiple, tangential search paths that may unearth important information in unexpected places. These sites are great for beginning genealogists who need to learn the ropes of online searches and take their time to investigate all leads.
Tips and Cautions
Be sure to make note of the expiration date for any of the limited-time free sites so that you can make a conscious decision whether to join or not. Some of them automatically bill a membership fee if you do not cancel before the end of the period. Keep a list of which sites contain the most helpful information. It is very easy to forget which site provided which pieces of information when you wish to consult them again later.