Is there a URL or method of searching the materials at Ancestry.com that allows one to find (and see) the publicly available data? Somehow, I always end up in advertising.
"Publicly available data" is an ambiguous phrase. Do you want
- freely accessible databases? See the "Card Catalog" under the "Search" tab (currently 785 items using keyword "free")
- user trees? only WorldConnect is open to all visitors; access to Public Member Trees and OneWorld Tree needs an active subscription or an invitation from the tree owner; Mundia.com is a separate registration
- public records indexes? these databases need an active subscription. Alternatively, there are other internet sites with similar information
- user profiles? open to all, see "Member Directory" under the "Collaborate" tab
- message boards? open to all, see "Message Boards" under the "Collaborate" tab
- tutorials and webinars? open to all, see the "Learning Center" tab
Generally you can search all the databases without an active subscription, but un-free matches are shown with some fields generic and of course no access to detail pages or images. Some free content is also accessible from a Google search.
Here is a list of the free Ancestry databases that was provided in a blog article by the Ancestry Insider.