Free information you say! (I hear you state in your mind!)
As stated earlier, I did start out on ancestry.com. It is a wonderful site and I never suggest people not utilize that site at all but there are a lot of free resources available that in my opinion are just as good as the pretty expensive ancestry.com service.
But before we delve into all that, the first step everyone should take when beginning to do genealogical research is to do what I did and badger your older relatives.
It doesn’t have to be annoying for them or invasive, as I’ve found older people don’t like to be bombarded with questions about who was “so and so’s” mom and dad or grandpa and what year they were born, etc. If you can just get names and interesting stories out of your relatives about ancestors, that is a start.
I started out by asking my own grandmother and great grandmother if they knew their grandparents and what were their grandparents’ names and what sorts of things they did, churches they went to, best dishes they cooked, funny things my current relative remembered about them. This is more respectful of your older relatives and more useful for your research in bringing your ancestors to life instead of just a name and dates of birth, marriage, and death.
Make a small family tree, hopefully back to at least your great grandparents and then go online to do more research based on the information you have compiled.
My favorite website for genealogical research is www.familysearch.org.
Family Search is a free online genealogical database. They have much of the same data as ancestry.com but you don’t have to pay them for anything. Everything is right at your fingertips.
If you want to use ancestry because they have great ads online and commercials then you should sign up for their free trial next. I am one of those people who will set an alarm telling me to cancel before the deadline so that I am certain not to pay for anything. If you chose to go the free trial way, be sure to do the same if you are not financially able to shell out hundreds of dollars a year for an online subscription.
If you want to use ancestry outside of the free trial or don’t want to do the free trial but still want to check them out then visit your local library.
Here in Toledo, I frequently visit our downtown/main branch. The Local History Center is located on the 3rd floor and they have a WEALTH of information in that section of our library. You also get free access to ancestry.com’s library edition along with other online genealogical databases like Heritage Quest.
If you don’t have a library card, get one. Most libraries, including here in Toledo allow you to have free access at home to many of their genealogical databases! Heritage Quest is free to use at home. Familysearch.org many times won’t show actual images of census records, but Heritage Quest has all images and transcriptions of every Federal American census from 1790-1940.
I have actually come to a point in my research where most traditional online records are no longer useful for me. Due to being black, there are very few records of our people prior to 1870 and the end of the Civil War. There is information, but you have to really dig through a lot of online images and it can be VERY tedious as you cannot easily search by name many of the court records or newspaper records or even books that may have been written about the local area that feature your ancestors.
Since I am not utilizing as many online sources, I have branched out and become more of a library researcher. I have been reviewing books about census records and recently had a great find that I will discuss on a later post while visiting a library in Chicago. I am scourging through the microfilm newspapers at the Local History Center at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. I have been contacting other libraries to request that they perform some research for me for a fee for distant ancestors who did not live in this area.
All that to say, research is a really fun hobby. There is nothing like sitting at a standstill for months (and for me in some cases years) and then FINALLY finding a breakthrough that opens up more avenues of research. For those starting out please be sure to view the “helpful links” and as long as you don’t ask me to create an entire tree for you, I’d even be willing to look up some local requests for ancestry research for you.
www.familysearch.org Family Search Website this site has been invaluable to me in regards to the wealth of information you can get from census data, marriage info, and death certificates from the State of Ohio. There is a TON of great info on this site and it is completely free.
Toledo Lucas County Public Library Research Databases (this will get you to the page that shows all the biography and genealogical resources available from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. You can use their databases – all except ancestry.com – for free with your library card at home)
Hertiage Quest Online Heritage Quest provides all census data. Be sure to go through the link above from the Toledo library in order to log in with your card and PIN so you can get free access.
WGTE Channel 30 Documentary A documentary called “Cornerstones: The African Americans” about the black American community of Toledo, Ohio.