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3 Websites that can help you trace your British Ancestors for Free

I think we all know that Genealogy can be more like a mine field when it comes to knowing where to research & with such a huge variety of subscription & pay-per-view websites it is hard to know what offers the best value for money!

With the word ‘Genealogy’ being one of the top searches on the internet today a simple search can throw up a multitude of websites all wanting our money. It has however made things so much accessible for the Genealogist, in past years we had no option but to visit a library or archive & search through lists of names in the hope of finding our ancestor. In those days’ considerations had to be made for travel time, transport costs & copying costs if you wished a copy of the information found. Nowadays we are lucky enough to be able to do so from the comfort of our own homes, the bonus here is that we can often search Archives worldwide.

Image by Eilis Garvey at Unsplash

Okay, let’s be honest there is no getting away from the fact that you are going to have to pay for the luxury of online searches but is it really possible to do some of it for free?

In short… yes, it is!

If you have British Ancestors then there are 3 amazing FREE resources that should be consulted. All 3 come under the ‘Free UK Genealogy’ umbrella, a charitable organisation founded in the 1990s that runs the FreeBMD, FreeReg & FreeCEN websites, providing free online access to family history records.

The organisation states that more than 10,000 volunteers have contributed to the project which has indexed over 400,000,000 records. This allows over 40,000 people each day to search the databases helping them in their family history search.


The FreeBMD Website contains transcriptions taken from the General Register Office indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths for England and Wales from 1837. The project is not yet complete so it is worth checking the coverage in the area you are searching as the record you are looking for may not yet be indexed.

The search function is pretty easy to use & similar to most of the websites you probably already use during your research. If you get stuck view the help page for further instructions.

If you do find the indexed entry for your Ancestor then you are able to click on the ‘View Original’ section to see the original page from the register.

This provides details of the District, Volume & Page which can then be used to order up a copy of the Certificate via the GRO Ordering Service

Use this link to search the FreeBMD Website

*Again, it is worth noting that this website focuses mainly on English & Welsh Entries.


The FreeREG Website search page looks slightly different from FreeBMD & focuses on transcribing parish records making them available in a searchable form for free online access.

The benefit here is that you can search in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Islands & in their Special Collection which includes other locations, Royal Navy Ships & Military.

You can find out more about the coverage of FreeREG by clicking on the ‘Records’ tab at the top of the page. The search is pretty similar to FreeBMD with the exception that rather than viewing the original entry page you view the transcription page.


FreeCEN produces a free online searchable database of 19th Century census returns.

Volunteers have been working since 1999 concentrating on the censuses from 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1891.

The FreeCEN search page looks a lot like FreeREG & is relatively easy to use.

Again, you can search in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Islands & in their Special Collection which includes out of county, overseas British, Overseas Foreign, Scottish Shipping, other locations, Royal Navy ships & Military.

To check the coverage for each county, check out the coverage chart here

Like FreeReg these are transcribed entries, however when you select the person you wish to view from the search results you are taken into a page which includes those living within the same household. At this stage you are given the option to click backwards or forwards to the neighbouring households.

Summing up

These are really useful websites when it comes to British Research. But as a Genealogist I would still recommend that you check the original records!

Why?? I am sure you have all come across transcription errors on many other websites, in light of this I would always recommend that you check the originals. Remember too that the majority of original records will normally provide much more information anyway…who would want to miss out on a vital clue that may be hidden there!

These websites however are an excellent way to interrogate the registers or indexes before spending money on certificates, so are a good way of saving a bit of money!

Happy Researching!!

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