How to organize your family tree at any budget

The genealogy research money tree.

Genealogy research can be an expensive hobby if you factor in computer programs, tools, memberships, documentation fees, research trips, books, seminars, and conferences! (Hmmm, wonder how much I’ve spent over the years? Not to mention the time invested…)

But it doesn’t have to cost a penny.

I want to help everyone who’s interested in discovering, organizing, preserving, and sharing their family histories regardless of where they live, or how much money they have. But there’s only one of me, and I need to make a living too (so I can’t work for free). In this post, I’ve listed some options for researching and organizing your documents, memorabilia, and photos, in order of affordability.

Genealogy can be an expensive hobby...but it doesn't have to cost a penny! Share on X

Free ways to do genealogy research:

  • People have been using paper records, and storing their pedigree charts in binders and folders for centuries. And they still work!
  • Here’s a free Family Group Sheet to get you started. HINT: Start with yourself and work backwards one step at a time. Don’t skip any steps!
  • Interview your oldest living relatives before it’s too late! Don’t wait.
  • Gather together family documents, old bibles, certificates, records, and photographs and store them somewhere safe.
  • There are lots of free online resources. Try, and for starters.
  • Check your local public library to see if they offer free access to Ancestry, and other databases, like mine does.
  • Visit other libraries in your area, including LDS Family History Centers, which are open to the public.
  • Use Evernote, or your own filing system, to organize your electronic records, digital photos, scans of paper photos and records, and the things you find online.
  • Check out my Genealogy Resource Roundup for more ideas.
  • Schedule a free 20-minute phone call if you’d like my help getting started. 

Inexpensive ways to do genealogy research:

  • Join a local genealogy society, or one in a region you are researching. The annual fee is usually nominal and some of them have free webinars (new, live, and archived) available to members.
  • Purchase a genealogy program for your computer, such as Family Tree Maker or Roots Magic, to help you keep track of your data and share it with others. Don’t forget to back up your computer files!
  • Order the Org4life Ancestry Clutter Flow Chart. It will help you distinguish the treasures from the trash you will find in some of the online public family trees.
  • Schedule a free 20-minute phone call if you’d like to discuss coaching options. I can teach you how to do your own research! (This is an ideal virtual service.)

 Worth every penny…or so my clients say…

NOT Recommended:

  • Do nothing.
  • Continue letting valuable documents and photos languish and deteriorate in boxes in the garage.
  • Procrastinate asking the older generation about their lives — and who’s in all those photos? — until it’s too late.
  • Don’t organize your own genealogy materials…unless, of course, you want to make your research easier and more effective!
  • Risk leaving all your hard work to someone who won’t be able to make heads or tails of it.

Are you the family genealogist? Are you curious about your past?

What are your favorite free, and not-so-free resources?

Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.


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  1. Julie Bestry on June 26, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Great advice, Hazel. I think we tend to feel like we need so much fancy stuff in place before we can get started, but you make the case for a frugal but productive approach!

    • Hazel Thornton on June 26, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      I started with paper and brick-and-mortar libraries. This was before I ever had a computer. Before existed online. All the stuff that costs money came later! Except gas. I did do a lot of driving around Los Angeles!

  2. Janet Barclay on June 27, 2017 at 7:26 am

    Thanks so much for this! You’ve really piqued my interest in learning more about my family tree, but I’m not into it enough to justify the cost of an Ancestry membership. I just checked and am thrilled to discover that my library offers it! There’s also an LDS Family History Centre not far from my home, so I should be all set when I decide to get back into it.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 27, 2017 at 9:19 am

      Great! Keep me posted, won’t you? (I won’t hold my breath meanwhile.) I happen to know you have a good start on your pedigree chart! 😉

  3. Olive Wagar on July 27, 2017 at 8:21 am

    I will be sharing this post with a friend! Thanks for such an easy-to-use organized list that clearly explains the options–nothing but the best from Hazel!! 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on July 27, 2017 at 10:12 am

      Aw what a nice comment! Thanks, Olive!

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