Genetic variation is associated with differences in disease resistance and susceptibility among individuals within a population. To date, molecular genetic analyses of host responses have relied on extraction of genomic DNA from whole blood or tissue samples. However, such samples are not routinely collected during large‐scale field studies. We demonstrate that cell‐free genomic DNA (cfDNA) may be extracted and amplified from archived plasma samples, allowing retrospective analysis of host genetic diversity. This technique was also applicable to archived serum samples up to 35 years old and to different ruminant species. As proof of concept, we used this cfDNA approach to genotype the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II DRB1 locus of 224 Merino sheep which had participated in field trials of a commercial Haemonchus contortus vaccine, Barbervax DRB1 alleles and their relative frequencies. This is the first study to examine host MHC diversity using DNA extracted from archived plasma samples, an approach that may be applied to retrospective analyses of genetic diversity and responses to vaccination or infection across different species and populations.