Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Five free family history resources that beginners can actually use

There are lots of ways to spend money on family history research – from ordering a birth record to paying for a subscription to a website. I love genealogy, but with so many great, free resources I just can’t justify spending money on it… yet. Here’s a list of the free family history resources I use on a regular basis.

There’s a reason this is number one. I’m definitely not saving the best for last. There are billions of records on this site and they are literally adding more every day. The site is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) and everything on the site is completely free for anyone to use. The Church has an online army of volunteer “indexers” who transcribe handwritten records into typed, searchable text. (You can too if you’re interested.) This allows Family Search to get the rights to the typed versions of the records for a very low cost and so they can provide the most of the same records as the paid sites for free. Along with free access to family history records, Family Search has a pedigree program, called Family Tree, which allows users to save and share information they find on their deceased relatives.

2. Government websites

Who has the original records? Usually governments and churches. They issued them. The UK, the US, and Canada all have excellent genealogy resources on government websites and I’m sure many other countries do as well. You can usually find them by searching “Country government genealogy archives”.

3. Libraries and Family History Centers

I can’t even imagine how much work it must have been to try to do genealogy without the internet. I’m glad I never had to. Even though there are a lot of great online resources, a lot of family history information is still on microfilm (and microfiche) and in books. These are great resources! Start at your local library and look for genealogy books about the places your ancestors lived. Those books can tell you about the kinds of records taken in that area and can sometimes provide you with historical context that will tell you more about your ancestors than any of the records. Immigration records won’t tell you that your ancestor immigrated during the Irish potato famine. Only historical context can do that. There are also special genealogy libraries where you can access records and get help with your research. I highly recommend the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
If you live close to an LDS church building (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) you can access paid genealogy sites for free from the Family History Center. You can check if there’s one in your area using their locator. Anyone is welcome, though their hours may be limited so you’ll want to check that first. Most centers also have microfilm and microfiche readers.

4. Google

Yes. Google. Or whatever search engine you prefer. Genealogy is super place-specific and different places have different resources. I have ancestors from a small, tight knit island in Nova Scotia. There are websites and even genealogical societies specifically focused on people who lived on that island. The easiest way I’ve found to find out about the place-specific resources is Google. Just type in “Place family history” or “Place genealogy” and hope for the best. I hope for the best for you too.

5. Two week free trial at Ancestry.com

While Family Search has much of the same information as Ancestry, Ancestry can usually provide an image of an original record where Family Search cannot. And it is by far the most popular and family history site out there. Don’t sign up for the trial right away! Save it. Since you can only have it for free for two weeks, you have to make sure you’re prepared and can get as much information as possible within those two weeks. Before you sign up for the free trial try to find as much as you can on free sites. Make list of the things that you really need to find out like birth places and years that you’re missing. You can even search the records for free and find out what they have available. Then wait for two weeks when you have nothing else going on (easier said than done) and get as much as you can. You can save time by just saving the records that you find on your computer and looking at them more closely later.

Bonus source: Your family! 

If you’re going to start finding out about your family history you have to start close. Interview your parents and grandparents (and aunts and uncles and cousins). People love to talk about their memories. Recording an interview on your phone is super easy so you really have no excuse. The information is so close and all you have to do is ask. It’ll be fun; I promise.

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