10 Ways To Research Your Family Tree for Free

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Looking at family photos
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“Where are you from?” It’s a simple question for most people. But when you’re researching family history, answering becomes a long and sometimes arduous adventure.

After talking with second cousins and great-grandparents, you may find yourself searching databases to fill in the gaps and going further back in time. But before you spend money on your research, check into the following genealogy resources.

Each offers a wealth of information free of charge. You might find everything you need to finish your family tree, from birth certificates and wills to census records and photographs.

1. Public libraries

This may come as a surprise, but your quest for family history may be as simple as visiting your local library.

Libraries across the country offer card-holding residents free access to popular genealogy websites.

The Boca Raton Public Library in Florida, for example, subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, which is powered by Ancestry.com. Residents with a library account can use the service by visiting the library in person. HeritageQuest and MyHeritage Library Edition are also available.

Look for genealogy research options on your local library’s website or call the library and ask.

2. Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

The Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, deserves its own mention because of its robust databases.

They include resources for Allen County, the entire state of Indiana and other states. They also include resources for groups including military veterans, Native Americans and African Americans.

And, here’s the best part: You do not need a library card. You can access the genealogy center’s free databases online.

3. National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration holds a host of civilian records.

Those commonly used for genealogy research include:

  • Census records
  • Military service records
  • Records relating to immigrants
  • Naturalization records
  • Records of transfers of public lands from the federal government to private ownership

Some of these records are accessible online while others are accessible only at certain National Archives facilities — where you’ll enjoy free access to databases such as Ancestry.com.

4. Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

The resources available via the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation include records on millions of immigrants who reached the U.S. through the Port of New York between 1820 and 1957.

These records are accessible at the American Family Immigration History Center, which is located in the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, and on the foundation’s website.

5. The USGenWeb Project

The USGenWeb Project describes itself as “a group of genealogists who shared a desire to create free online resources for genealogical research.”

The project’s national website offers links to its state websites, which then have links to county websites. The types of resources available through these sites include:

  • Listings of local sources for records
  • County and state histories
  • Online genealogy books
  • Research tips
  • Maps
  • Links to other resources

6. AccessGenealogy

AccessGenealogy boasts the largest collection of free resources for U.S. genealogy research, including hundreds of thousands of free websites.

Its specialty, though, is Native American history and genealogy.

7. AfriGeneas

AfriGeneas is dedicated to African American genealogy. Resources available through the site include photos, a slave data collection, a surname database, and marriage and death record databases.

8. FamilySearch

FamilySearch, which is associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, describes itself as something that “started locally supporting a handful of languages nearly 100 years ago [and] has blossomed into a website that has users from 238 countries.”

You can search the nonprofit’s billions of records and start your own family tree by signing up for a free account.

9. Find A Grave

If you’re just starting your genealogy search, Find A Grave hosts a collection of information and photos of gravesites contributed by community members — individuals who have registered for a free Find A Grave account.

You can use the site to add a memorial yourself or to search the 210 million memorials already created.

10. Chronicling America

The U.S. Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities sponsor Chronicling America, a website that provides access to select digitized newspaper pages from 1770 to 1963 that may reveal an interesting fact about a relative.

Search for a family member’s name and filter the search by state and date range or use the Advanced Search tab.

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