I have to admit it, I don’t have much money. I have plenty of enthusiasm when it comes to making a family tree, but I’m not a millionaire. I make a salary, but there isn’t much left after rent and food. So, when I first started making my family tree, I was determined to make it without spending anything. In actuality, I wound up spending a lot more than nothing. In my eyes, it was more like a fortune, but to be honest, I think it was worth it. What I’ve learned about my family is priceless and the adventure isn’t over yet. It makes it possible for me to go to my job and not complain (much); because I have something else in my life. I have spent protracted periods of time talking to various people, and I know how to make a family tree with zero cost, but and this is where the big but comes in, it depends on where you are starting from. I was starting from ground-zero, so I had to spend something to find out stuff.
If you live in the United States, you will discover that it is not that easy to finish a family tree without spending something. One of the biggest reasons it is harder to accomplish is that United States records are done at the local level which means that the county is in charge and at times it even goes down to the parish level. Secondarily, there is no central repository; therefore, no central records that you can check details unless you are willing to part with some of your hard earned money. You probably can’t afford to go to every location to physically check the records so you will have to rely on the local records office to provide you with copies. Copies cost money, and you’re off and running up the family tree bill.
With that said, when researching your family tree, you need to prioritize. You know it’s going to cost you something, but realize that the largest expenditure generally comes from purchasing certificates related to your family. Record holders and government agencies can charge anywhere from $15 to $30 per certificate depending on type and location of purchase. Pricing is taken care of at the state and county level so it is varied and subject to change at any time.
Generally, marriage, birth and death certificates in the United States were available from the late 19th century onwards, so you are going to have to do some heavy duty research to find documents farther back. In addition it was only at this point was there any requirement imposed to store records and prior to that it was catch-as-catch can. Many folks just didn’t see the need to let anybody know about births, deaths and marriages in their family, preferring if they recorded it at all, to put it in the family Bible rather than some official agency.
Privacy laws also play a part when you are trying to get copies of various documents unless you can prove that you are related to the person you are trying to track. Many times you will need to prove your link to the person in question, so before you get started you will want to talk to relatives about what you are attempting. They might have documents you can copy, reducing both costs and bureaucratic red tape.
One of the best record sources in the United States is the census and if your family is of a certain religion, the church. The census is pretty comprehensive and is chocked full of useful information. The church also tends to keep very detailed records of full families if you attend the same church for years.
Let’s face it. Nothing in life is free, and tracing your family roots is no exception. I will tell you there is actually quite a bit of information out there if you are willing to look, and there are many possible resolutions to the issues you might face when doing family tree research in the U.S. There are many sources of free info, but you will have to spend more time gathering the information. Sometimes, paying for a bit of documentation will make your life much easier.
One place that has a wealth of knowledge is The Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) – They house an extensive set of records relating to most countries, and more specifically to the United States that they have gathered from various churches and parishes. Much of this material is available for free at familysearch.org. They have birth, marriage and death records as well copies of the censuses for FREE! The amount of information outweighs the few drawbacks which are that things haven’t been fully transcribed yet. but as a good place to start, LDS is wonderful.
Cindy’s List – cyndislist.com/ – A huge resource of information, broken down by state and counties, with literally thousands of links. The only issue with this site is that it can be somewhat difficult to navigate. You can spend hours trying to find anything!!! However, if you don’t have gobs of money to spend, you will need to give up your time in research and sometimes frustration.
Please do a search for these in google:
Rootsweb – World Connect Project – Put in your ancestors name and hit the search button, and it will check millions of existing records and return the results.
HeritageQuest Online – Usually this site is only available via subscription, but your local library may have access for free. It includes census bureau results as well as vital statistics.
Interment.net – Free Cemetery Records Online – Over two million records are stored here taken from literally thousands of cemeteries around the world.
US Genweb – The original and largest storehouse for United States genealogy.
Ancestry.com – This website offers a free 14-day trial of their service.
USGenWeb Archives – Search engine that will go through every United States record without visiting each state’s website. Very timesaving, this is a very well-hidden service that is, as a result, under used by most people
US Social Security Death Index – Easy to use database has 64 million records of deaths that occurred after 1962. Searches return birth date, death date, residence and inheritor.
Ellis Island Records – Nearly half of all American immigrants arrived through Ellis Island, New York. There’s is easy access to ships’ passenger manifest records from 1892-1924. Original manifests and photos available.
Illinois State Archives – Free databases available from the Illinois State Archives, includes marriage records.
Castle Garden Online – Search by name and time period for immigrants who landed at Castle Garden between 1830 and 1890.
Geneanet – This 85 million name database is culled from free websites worldwide.
Michigan Genealogical Death Indexing System – 170,000+ Michigan death records are available from 1867 to 1897. It’s a free index.
Kentucky Vital Records – The Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics in conjunction with the University of Kentucky have transcribed three million state vital records for Kentucky.
Utah Census Search is a free search tool for the Utah Federal census – 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880.
GenCircles – Global Tree is a well-liked web location for searching and submitting family trees using GEDCOM files. Over 32 million surnames can be searched with cross matching to other trees possible.
Obituary Central – If you need death records for the United States or Canada, then the search tools at OC will make it a breeze.
Pennsylvania Digital Archives – The Pennsylvania Archives Records Information Access System houses over 600,000 digitized records.
Maryland State Archives – Free Genealogy Indexes – Maryland State Archives site has lots of great info on it.
Oregon Historical Records Index: This is a free index of surnames compiled from a first-rate list of documents held by the Oregon State Archives.
There are also loads of forums geared towards assisting in your search to find your ancestors such as Discover like minded folks who are willing to aid you in your search with tips, techniques and advise.