Start Your Family Tree For Free

September 2, 2023


There is a lot you can do to start your family tree without paying companies like Ancestry, Find My Past of My Heritage to do research. These companies have exclusive or non-exclusive access to millions of records, and eventually you may choose to subscribe to one of them.

But some of the records they have can be accessed for FREE at the source of those records; records that will get you a long way to finding your ancestors and creating your family tree.

When you’re ready to use Ancestry or Find My Past, there are Library versions available at your local library. Check our when and how you can access them directly with the library.

First Things First

Gather as much information as you can before starting and of course, ask more questions as you get into your research.

  • What do you already know?
  • Talk with family members, especially your older relatives
  • What family photos do you have?
  • Where have you and your family lived?
  • Where did your grandparents live?
  • Did your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents emigrate?
  • Did any of your family serve in the military?

Your family tree starts with you, so record your story too.

Photos, Documents and Certificates

  • Scan your photos and family papers (minimum of 600 dpi)
  • Store in your files to work with and keep two backups separately
  • Share digital copies of your photos with other family members – you can get copies back if you lose your originals

How Will You Record and Store Your Research?

It’s a good idea to record your research results on specific genealogy research forms – either paper of on your computer. Some forms that are available free online have fields for text to be added – they can be saved in your files, printed if you need to and will save you being buried in paper.

This site has a good selection of basic forms that are fillable as well as a guide to and list of interview questions –

Keep a Research Log so you know what you have researched.

Family History Software

To keep control of the information you share about your family tree, store it on your computer and only put what you want online when you want. If you decide to create an account and upload a family tree to Ancestry, Find My Past or My Heritage, by using family history software you can simply upload a basic tree and keep your photos, purchased certificates and other documents to yourself and only share them when you decide to.

There are a number of Family History Software programs to use and each has its own pros and cons. it’s best to take your time or maybe try out a free version for a while until you find something that works for you.

This sort of online fillable family tree may be useful while you’re deciding which family tree software to use –

Online Courses for Free

The University of Strathclyde based in Glasgow, Scotland regularly runs online genealogy courses that are free for the duration of the course. They currently have two

  • Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree
  • Genetic Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree Using DNA

Don’t be concerned that the course is created by a Scottish university. Both courses cover the basics that will apply wherever in the world you are based or are researching.


The National Library of Australia website has a lot of good information for research –

Worldwide Records

Family Search – – is one of the most useful sites to start your research for FREE. If there is a record that also has an image you should be able to access it either directly on the site or at a separate repository indicated with the record. In any case, a record on Family Search will give you some good detail.


Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) records for Australian states variously give some good information – registration place, father’s name, mother’s name and maiden name. This can be helpful and in most cases give you enough to make sure you eventually buy a certificate for the right person. Paid sites will give you exactly the same information and no more, but searching directly on each site gives you the same for FREE.

Don’t forget birth, marriage, death, funeral and memorial notices in national and state based newspapers, for example the Herald Sun and The Age.

The Ryerson Index – – can be really helpful when searching for family events across Australia.

Cemetery Records

Two sites dedicated to recording information and photographs of cemeteries worldwide are Find A Grave – – and Billion Graves – They have the option to update an individual record and to request a photo of a headstone or grave.

Cemetery Trusts such as the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust – – and Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust – – have record searches for a number of cemeteries. Cemeteries that are not part of a larger cemetery trust such as Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew – – and Nillumbik Cemetery in Diamond Creek – – have their own sites and records searches.

Newspapers (Australia)

Trove is an essential resource in particular for searching newspapers – – it also has some guidance for family history research –

Maps, Plans, Historic Photos, Immigration, Emigration (Victoria)

State Library Victoria

Public Record Office Victoria

England and Wales

The National Archives UK is one of the best places to start – Their research guides cover everything you will need and have links to pages to see wills, order certificates etc.

FreeREG – – has search results for baptisms, marriages and burials that have been transcribed from original records, mostly pre-1837 when civil registration began in England and Wales. It’s a good site to go to if you are having trouble finding the right people in the right parishes. For example, most church weddings took place in the bride’s parish, and the results may give you the grooms native parish which helps with family links and making sure you have the right family.

There is also FreeBMD – – for birth, marriage and death registrations which began in 1837. FreeCEN – – for census records from 1841 to 1911 for England, Wales, Scotland, Channel Islands and Shipping.

NOTE: The 1921 census for England and Wales is currently only available on Find My Past for a fee as they conducted and funded its transcription.


Scotland has always kept their own records. The National Records of Scotland are found at Scotland’s People – – and there are some interesting records at Scotland’s Places –

Scottish Indexes – – has record results with some good information and you can choose to pay a one-off fee for the full record.

Civil Registration in Scotland for births, marriages and deaths started in 1855, prior records are found in the Old Parish Registers (OPR’s).

Republic of Ireland

Researching your Irish ancestry can be challenging for smaller areas and it helps to read a bit about how people lived and supported themselves and to understand townlands etc. This applies to Northern Ireland as well – see below. These two pages are a good place to start – and

There is a wonderful site that will help if you have ancestors from Dublin and some other counties. Irish Genealogy – – can be a treasure trove of Church (Church of Ireland and Catholic) and Civil records. You will find Church record transcripts of baptisms, marriages and burials and the associated image of the register and they’re downloadable for FREE. Similarly, the Civil records for births, marriages and deaths are available as a transcript and image of the original register for FREE. They are a wealth of information.

Catholic Parish Registers from across Ireland are found at the National Library of Ireland – The parish registers are at It is worth dedicating some time to browsing these registers once you know the timeframe you are searching for. There is no index and the scans of the originals are not transcribed so they need to be browsed. There is a filter for setting a year, month, day etc. which helps but is most useful if you have first found a record that gives you this detail, otherwise you will spend a lot of time looking but finding little that matches what you need to find.

Northern Ireland

The General Register of Northern Ireland (GRONI) – – has records for Northern Ireland and some for the Republic of Ireland depending on the period.

United States

US records are often located in a state or local repository. For immigration records Ellis Island – – has FREE search and access to images of original shipping records and passenger lists.

Military Records

The National Archives of Australia – has a good records search, in particular, for military records for army, have and airforce from the Boer War to post-WWII. The records also include immigration and nationalisation records, passenger arrival records that cover British immigration to 1960. The NAA provides details including scans of, for example, original soldiers records or a passenger list for FREE. The same records are available on paid sites that will direct you to this site anyway!

The NAA will give you a soldier’s record and the Australian War – will provide more details about their service often with a photo of a soldier. There are collections of images, and battalion histories, Red Cross records and a lot more.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission – has research guidance and various searches for servicemen and women’s resting places across the Commonwealth.

We hope that this guide has given you enough information to both start and continue to learn as you delve into family history research. It can be enlightening and fulfilling and we hope you get as much out of it as others have.

On thing to remember, when someone says they have finished their family tree, that can’t be right – family trees are never really finished, you may take a break but there will generally be a time to return and spend some more hours eyes-down or eyes-up as the case may be.

Happy Researching

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