After having found a very old photo album in the attic, you have the desire to retrace the history of your ancestors and discover the names of your ancestors. So you’re wondering if there is any online tool that can help you with this, possibly for free or at a low cost. No problem. With a little patience and a little luck, you might actually find what you need.
Follow the directions I’m going to give you and you’ll discover how to trace your ancestors using the power of the Web, or better, the vast databases of some online services where users enter the data of their families to create “public family trees” and find ancestors/relatives from all over the world. In these databases there is very detailed information, such as date and place of birth of each person, identity of parents, place of residence and much more. In addition, in many profiles there are “extra” contents, such as photographs, birth certificates and other documents that can facilitate the identification of a relative (whether near or far).
The search is not always successful. On the contrary, as mentioned above, it takes a good dose of patience and luck to obtain noteworthy results … but when you succeed, the satisfaction is truly priceless. Try it now, in most cases it costs nothing. I cross my fingers for you!
Before we get into the heart of the guide and actually see how to trace your ancestors, I want to give you some preliminary information on the subject that you may not know.
In particular, if you were wondering how to trace one’s ancestors for free, you have to take into account the fact that the services useful for this purpose are not all 100% free, as they may require a subscription or a one-time purchase to obtain certain information.
Also, tracing the origins of your family is not always feasible due to the lack of records in the archives of the services in question and/or other similar issues. Keeping these two factors in mind, try to see if you can succeed in the task through the portals listed below.
Another site that allows you to trace your ancestors is FamilySearch. Have you never heard of it? Well, then I think you should give it a try. FamilySearch is a free online service that, based on the archives and contributions of millions of people around the world, allows anyone to discover their ancestors by searching a database full of names, birth/death dates, places and even documents that prove the identities of the selected people. It also includes documents available on the portal of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, so it’s really well-stocked. The service is also available as an app for Android (also on alternative stores for devices without Google services) and iOS/iPadOS.
To use FamilySearch, all you have to do is connect to its home page and create a free account. To do this, click on the button Create a FREE account, fill out the form displayed on the screen by providing in the appropriate text fields all the required information (first name, last name, date of birth, etc..) and click the Continue button.
Now, click on the Search item at the top of the screen and select Family Tree from the menu that opens. Fill in the search form entering all the data you want to enter to find your ancestors (name, surname, country, etc.) and click the Search button to display the list of people found in the site archives.
To view all the details about a person, including their relationship (mother, father, etc.) and documents such as birth certificates, just click on their name. To view documents from the site of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, click on the appropriate entry.
Another site that allows you to build family trees and trace the origins of your family is MyHeritage, which is fee-based. Access to the service’s databases costs 89 euros per year + VAT, but you can activate a free trial that allows you to search through 14 billion historical documents, as well as many family trees, for a period of 14 days.
To use MyHeritage, connect to its home page, fill out the form on the right with your personal data (and the names of your parents) and click on the Start with Facebook or Start with Google button, to register with your Facebook or Google account (otherwise you can register with your email by filling out the form and following the directions on the screen). Then provide your credit card information in the appropriate text fields and click the Start Free Trial button. At this point you will have to enter your phone number and enter a security code that will be dictated to you, precisely, by phone.
Once you have activated your account you will be able to freely access all the historical documents and family trees available on the site. In each profile, as already mentioned above, you will find information such as date and place of birth of the person, eventual date of death, name of parents, etc.. You can also view scans of birth certificates and other documents associated with the person.
To access this information, log on to MyHeritage’s advanced search page and type in the details of an ancestor you want to track down. Of course, the more data you enter, the more precise the search becomes, but often a surname and a city of origin are enough to get interesting results. In any case, once you have entered all the information you consider necessary, click on the Search button and you will be shown the names of all the people who match the profile you are looking for.
To view detailed information about a person and access the documentation attached to his profile (e.g. birth certificate), click on his name. If instead you want to refine the search and make it more precise, use the options available in the sidebar on the left. From there you can set place of birth, year of birth, father’s name, mother’s name and other data that will make the search less scattered.
MyHeritage is also available in the form of an app for Android (also on alternative stores) and iOS/iPadOS. This means that you can also access it on the go, from your smartphone or tablet, without any problem.
Note: If you’re not going to take advantage of MyHeritage’s paid plan, remember to turn off the auto-renewal of your subscription before the 14-day free trial expires. To do so, click on your name in the upper right hand corner and select My Purchases from the menu that appears. On the next page, select the Data subscriptions item from the left sidebar and click the View details and Stop free trial items, then enter your phone number in the appropriate field, click the Stop free trial now button, type your account password in the relevant text field and click the Continue and End free trial buttons to confirm the cancellation of the MyHeritage trial.
Other services useful to trace your ancestors
There are other useful services for tracing one’s ancestors that can be useful for you. I’ll list them below – see if they can help you with your research.
Ancestry – is a service very similar to those we have already seen in the previous lines. It allows you to create a family tree of your family, trace your ancestors in a historical archive and access numerous documents from all over the world. Except for the free family tree building function, the service is exclusively pay-as-you-go: to access the family trees of other users of the site and the Italian historical records you have to pay 9.95 Euros/year, while to activate the search in the international archives you have to subscribe 21.60 Euros/month or 199 Euros/year. More info here. It can be used on the move thanks to the official applications of the service available on Android and iOS/iPad.
Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation – allows you to find information on all the people who arrived in New York, via Ellis Island, between 1892 and 1924 (although the foundation’s archives actually go back as far as 1957). The service is free of charge but can only be used after registration.