When I first launched my book 52 Weeks of Genealogy, I saw several comments from people who felt that the era of free genealogy was over. I think many people have the notion that Ancestry.com is the only game in town and without a subscription you can’t really climb the family tree.
To some extent that’s true. Ancestry.com has really corralled records that are difficult to find any other place. However, that doesn’t mean the world of free genealogy is gone. For me, it’s quite the contrary. Here’s my thinking:
- FamilySearch.org is constantly adding new (free) records to their website. If you click on this link you’ll see a list of all 2000+ collections. Many collections now have images or index summaries.
- The USGenWeb is still my go-to site when I’m starting a new branch of the family tree. IF you’ve never used this site you’re missing out. It’s organized by states and then by county. Each county has a volunteer county coordinator. Depending on the coordinator you’ll either find a lot of county resources or few. However, most counties have a place to leave a query or ask someone locally to do a look-up for you.
- Although I promote certain genealogy products on this site, the site itself and all of the information on it are totally free. And I’m just a speck in the ocean of genealogy bloggers.
- Networking. The idea of message boards has been around about as long as online genealogy. It may be considered somewhat old-fashioned, but it’s still valuable. GenForum has more than 14,000 message boards, divided by surname, locale and genealogy topics. I cracked the case on one of my difficult surnames thanks to another researcher I found on GenForum. We networked to both of our advantages.
- Out-of-Print books. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, please do. This will get you access to my Resource Library. One of the resources is a video on Google Books. This is another of my go-to resources as I’ve found family mentioned in several free books that I’ve downloaded as a PDF. If you don’t know how to use this resource, watch the video.
- Family Tree Magazine – Although the magazine itself isn’t free, the website is loaded with free articles, tools and resources.
- Find-a-Grave I love this website as I’ve located several ancestral graves using it. Again, it’s totally free. Other free burial sites include Billion Graves and Interment.Net.
- General Land Office Records I could go on and on about this site, but instead I promise I will write a how-to article about it sometime in the next month.
- States, genealogical societies, and historical societies are now putting genealogy information online, for free. Do a little searching and I think you’ll be surprised at what’s available without spending a dime. Google terms like “Shelby County Indiana genealogy”
- Looking for photos of hometowns, military regiments or special places? Go to USA.gov and start searching. Just for fun, enter “Civil War” as a search term to get an idea of what’s available. Again, I think you might be surprised.
- American Memory from the Library of Congress. A great source for photos, documents, and images. One of the maps from the collection was drawn by George Washington. It’s his “A plan of my farm on Little Huntg. Creek & Potomk. R.” (Click on the map to enlarge)
- FreeBMD: Freely searchable database of civil registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales
- Ellis Island: Immigration records, free indexes and original records, fee to download copies
If you think the era of free genealogy is over, I’ll have to disagree. I found a huge amount of genealogy resources online long before I ever had an Ancestry.com subscription. If you have other free genealogy sites you’d like to recommend, leave a comment and I’ll start creating a resource list.