While there are some wonderful free web sites (notably FamilySearch.org) from which you can access many online records, Ancestry.com and Fold3.com offer a wide variety of records that are not available anywhere else. In fact, if you go to the National Archives in Washington D.C. to access the original microfilms for those records, you’ll be directed to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com instead. In order to access most of the records at Ancestry.com or Fold3.com from your home computer or laptop, however, you’d need to pay a subscription fee. But there are many ways to access them for FREE.
- Many public libraries and historical societies have subscriptions to these services and you can access them from the computers in their research rooms. In some cases, if you have a library card, you can even access these services through the library’s web site from home. Contact your local public library, college/university library, or historical society and you might be surprised!
- The National Archives in D.C. and more than a dozen of their branch offices around the country are equipped with research rooms and public-use computers with full access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. To search for the closest National Archives Branch Office to your area, access this web site and then click on “Research Facilities”.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka the LDS Church) operates hundreds of “Family History Centers” around the U.S. and the world. You do not have to be a member of the church to make use of these excellent facilities. The church also partners with a variety of “FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries.” Not only do they have subscriptions to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com but they are staffed by very knowledgeable volunteers who can help you with almost any research problem. Check this web site to find a LDS research facility in your area.
- The web sites in question sometimes offer “Free Access Weekends.” Keep an eye on a genealogy newsletter or on the Facebook pages of Ancestry.com and Fold3.com for announcements. You’ll need to register for a free basic membership to take advantage of these special offers.
- Both web sites periodically offer free trials. The free trial for Ancestry.com is for 14 days while the one for Fold3.com is for 7 days. In each case, you’ll need to create a membership account and provide a credit card which will be charged if you neglect to cancel at least two days before the end of your trial period.
- Ancestry.com rarely mentions it but free access to many of its databases (and to indexes of others) is available every day, i.e., without a subscription. That includes some U.S. census records, city directories, vital records, and many international databases, among others. You can see a list of the free databases and search them from this link.
Finally, if you do a lot of research, then you may find that a subscription to these web sites is well worth the money. At this writing (October, 2020):
- Ancestry.com: A “U.S. Discovery” Membership costs $19.95/month or $189/year. Membership includes the option for $30 off an annual Premium Membership to Fold3.com.
- If you want a non-recurring option, get a friend who subscribes to buy you a Gift Subscription.
- Fold3.com: The standard price for a Premium Membership is $7.95/month or $79.95/year.
The records that are available at Ancestry.com and Fold3.com are just too good to miss.
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