A word of caution is needed here before we go any further into online genealogy research. Regardless of whether you are on a free or a subscription website, make sure that any information submitted by an individual has been documented. Many family trees found online are nothing more than a collection of unverified "facts." For example: I have an "ancestor" who keeps showing up in family trees online. He was supposedly born in 1762 and died in 1764. During those two years he got married, had a family and moved to Ohio!! It amazes me how someone can honestly submit this type of misinformation. In this case the motivation is clear -- family ties to George Washington. This is an obvious mistake, but many more of these entries are more subtle, so be very cautious that all facts are supported by a source.
Family Search. (familysearch.org) This is a free genealogy website, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which contains an incredible amount of information in its online databases. You will need to register for an account to gain access to the records and images on this website, but it is free.
It has been a while since I have been on the Family Search website and I was amazed at how much it has changed. I do believe that it is a lot easier to use now since it appears to be condensed into one search format. I tried searching for a few of my ancestors and I found quite a bit of new information and images. You can search the site by name or location with many options to refine and narrow your results. No information is provided for living persons though.
For those of you new to Family Search there is an excellent help section. Click on Help at the upper right side of the search page. This will take you to the "help" page. Scroll down to Video Demonstrations. Click on "Click here to access all our video demos". This will take you to a list of excellent videos that will tell you everything you need to know to navigate this website.
I know it is so tempting to just jump in and start searching as soon as you find a new genealogy website. So go ahead, find a couple of ancestors, and then sit down and listen to the videos.
If the new site seems a bit strange to those of you who have used Family Search before, on the right side of the search page under What's New, you can click on a box that says "Go to previous site."
You can't beat family search for free resources, information, databases, records, and images. The only drawback that I can see is not all census images are available. Family Search also gives you the opportunity to volunteer your time with their indexing projects. The biggest and most important project at this time is the 1940 census. Just click on the Help Index 1940 U. S. Census box on the right side of the search page. You will get a chance to do your part to provide free information and at the same time get a sneak peek at this eagerly awaited census.
Find A Grave. (findagrave.com) I totally underestimated this website when I first heard of it. Once you get into the workings of this site you will see that it is a great example of genealogists helping genealogists. At last count there were 75 million grave records on this site. You can search by name or location. This is one of those websites that you keep tucked away in your memory and revisit every so often. Eventually you will find an ancestor. You can request that a volunteer find a grave site for you or you can be a photo volunteer and offer to find graves for others. All the information is submitted by volunteers and is easily verified. The website is easy to navigate and worth visiting.
Google. (google.com) Of course everyone knows Google, but did you ever think of searching for your great-grandfather by name. I finally came to my senses and tried this. I found Civil War letters, pictures, and something I never expected. Give it a try, you might be well rewarded for your effort.
US Gen Web. (usgenweb.org) All 50 states are represented at this volunteer website, however information varies according to state. The goal here is to provide free genealogical information thru queries, bulletin boards and ongoing projects. Most information is at the county level and even if there is not much data available for a county, most of the time you will be directed to other sources of information. Here again the focus is on volunteers.
Roots Web (rootsweb.ancestry.com) The first thing you will notice on this website is that Roots Web is affiliated with Ancestry.com. (see below). Here again though, this is a volunteer website. The homepage provides all the information you need to help you navigate the site. One thing you will want to check out is Other Tools and Resources. Here you will find blank charts and forms. You will want to print pedigree charts and family group sheets plus census forms for 1850 to 1930. We will take a look at these forms in the next few weeks. Once again this website provides an opportunity to volunteer and become involved in the genealogy community.
What's Not Free?
Ancestry.com. If I had to pick one website that is worth including in my genealogy budget, it would be this one. It will set you back a few $$$ but it is worth every penny.
A Genealogy Conference. This can be a little pricey, but if you can swing it, you will learn a lot. Next week we will see how you can afford to attend a conference.
And How Do You Budget For That?
In this economy, it is easy to become discouraged and decide that you will never be able to afford to attend a conference, visit a repository, or even walk on the ground where your ancestors lived. Gas prices are too high, you are on a fixed income, there is no extra $$. So what do you do? You find ways to make and save money.
Of course, the most popular money saving method today is couponing, but not the shelf clearing extreme couponing that you see on tv. Instead it is possible to cut your grocery bill in half and be able to put back some money for something on your genealogy wish list. I find that everything runs in 3 month cycles, so it takes about that much time to actually see results. There are several good websites online that teach you how to make this work. I would only recommend this for retirees because it takes a lot of work to get started and you will have to devote one day a week to keep everything up to date and plan your shopping list. Trust me, it is worth it. My husband and I are retired and on a fixed income and couponing makes a huge difference in our monthly budget.
Another thing you can do is let your family know that you would rather have gift cards for birthday and holiday gifts -- gas cards or motel/hotel gift cards. A large amount of your expenses can be covered this way.
Find fellow genealogists to travel with and split expenses. This will really cut expenses when you are thinking about attending a conference. And keep in mind there are often women who need a ride to a conference and are willing to share the cost of gas to get there. (More on this later.)
Learn to eat cheap. Pack your lunch with some of your coupon goodies. Look for specials at local restaurants.
Discover the world of Bed and Breakfast!
**As we start to travel this spring, I will share what we find on the road. Our first trip will be to the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Each trip will include: Preparation. Actual Trip. Debriefing.
These are not the only freebies associated with genealogy. I will include more from time to time. If you know of any, please feel free to comment. As you can see family research depends on a network of genealogists helping other genealogists.
Next: Marisa Tomei learns to expect the unexpected.