How to Find Your Family History for Free – Getting Started

Free Family History has a nice ring to it!

Did you know you don’t have to pay for a subscription to anything to be able to start learning more about your family history?

Start to find your family history for free by asking the four questions listed below.

1. What do you already know?

Chances are that you know something about your family already. The most important facts we start with are our relatives’ names and their dates and places of birth, marriage(s) and death. These facts can help you later to distinguish between records about our relatives and others with the same name.

Write down what you know about your “direct ancestors”–your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.–on a family tree chart like this free fill-in pdf format (these are also called pedigree charts).  Then use family group sheets like this one to organize facts about each individual couple (this is where you can list all the children your grandparents had, for example).

2. What do your relatives know?

After filling out what you can, show your family tree chart and family group sheets to other relatives. Ask them if they can fill in some blanks. Remember these tips:

  • Try to include a little note about who tells you each piece of information.
  • Someone may dispute what you find. Everyone’s memory of an event is different. Don’t argue. Treat their information with respect:. Write it down. Then ask politely if they have any documentation you could see, or why they believe something to be true (who told them, etc).
  • Ask whether anything is missing from your charts: a grandparent’s second marriage, a stillborn child or even whether someone’s name is accurate. You or others might know someone by a nickname or middle name.
  • Be sensitive to information that might be confidential or not generally well-known, like a birth date that doesn’t appear more than 9 months after a wedding, or a first marriage. Consider asking living relatives if it’s okay for you to share certain facts. Consider only showing part of your charts to a relative.

3. What’s in the attic (or anywhere else)?

We can often find family documents in our own homes and those of our relatives. Look in attics, basements, storage units, safe deposit boxes and safes, filing cabinets, photo albums, scrapbooks, shoeboxes and other places where papers and memorabilia may be tucked. You’re looking for things like:

  • certificates of birth, baptism, marriage or death;
  • obituaries or other news articles, like anniversaries;
  • funeral programs, wedding and birth announcements;
  • photos with names or other notes on the backs;
  • insurance, pension, military or other paperwork that may mention births or deaths or beneficiary information;
  • wills and home ownership paperwork–even outdated ones;
  • a family Bible.

When you find family names, relationships, dates and places in these documents, add them to your charts.

4. What’s available online for free?

There are two major types of family history information online: records and trees. Records are documents created about specific people, like obituaries, birth certificates and all those other examples I just mentioned. Trees are a computerized form of other people’s family tree charts and group sheets. It can be tempting to just look for someone else’s version of your family tree. Eventually you will want to consult those. But other people’s trees are notoriously full of mistakes! Instead, start by looking for records about the relatives you already have identified.

I suggest that you start your search at FamilySearch.org because it’s totally free. At most other sites, you’ll have to subscribe or pay to see all the search results. At FamilySearch, you just need to create a free user login to get the most access to their records.

After logging in, click Search. Choose a relative you don’t know a lot about. Search for that name. Use the different search options to add more information–even a range of dates and a state/province or country–so you don’t have to wade through thousands of near-matches.

The most common records to find on FamilySearch for many countries are census and vital records.

  • A census is a tally of residents, voters or another target population. Entries often include details about a household: who lived there, how they were related, how old they were, where they were born, etc. You can often extract family information from census listings, though some things (like ages or name spellings) may not be totally accurate.
  • Vital records are official records of someone’s birth, marriage or death. In these, you’ll often find important dates and places as well as names of parents, spouses or others important to the family. They aren’t always totally accurate, and you may only be able to see an index of the record (not the actual document).

As you find search results, compare what they say to what you’ve already learned. How likely is it that this record belongs to your family? Consider how many people seem to have the same name in that location and time period (for example, how many are mentioned in the 1880 U.S. census in that state?). Don’t just look at the search results list: click through to look at the full summary of the entry and, if you can, the original record itself. You may find additional details in these that can confirm whether this record belongs to your relative. You may even find out about new people: your great-grandparents’ parents, for example. Write it all down or begin building a family tree right there on the FamilySearch website (because it’s totally free: learn more about that here.) And one of the greatest keys to long term success is citing your sources. It’s imperative that you make careful note of where you got the resource so that you can find and refer to it again later, and back up your research if it is ever called into question.

People who research their family history often describe it as a puzzle with lots of different pieces. You will need to assemble a lot of puzzle pieces–information about each relative–to begin to see the “bigger picture” of your family history. You’ll start to sense which pieces may belong to a different family puzzle. You may put together a picture that is unexpected, or has some shadows and sadness. There will likely also emerge heroic, beautiful and touching images.

Ready to learn more?

Up next, read:

7 Great Ways to Use Your iPad for Family History

How to Find Your Family Tree Online

Best Genealogy Software

Search the SSDI for Your Family History

 

 

Genealogy Tips: Find Ancestors in Tax Records

It’s time to pay taxes in the United States! Tax RecordsIs it any consolation that our ancestors paid them, too? Here’s a brief history of U.S. federal taxation and tips on where to find tax records for the U.S. and the U.K.

History of Tax Records

According to the National Archives (U.S.), the Civil War prompted the first national income tax, a flat 3% on incomes over $800. (See an image of the 16th Amendment and the first 1040 form here.)

The Supreme Court halted a later attempt by Congress to levy another income tax, saying it was unconstitutional.

In 1913 the 16th Amendment granted that power. Even then, only 1% of the population paid income taxes because most folks met the exemptions and deductions. Tax rates varied from 1% to 6%–wouldn’t we love to see those rates now!

Where to Find Tax Records

Ancestry.com has indexed images of U.S. federal tax assessment lists from the Civil War period (and beyond, for some territories).

Here’s a sample image from Arkansas:

Arkansas tax record 1867

Of course, the U.S. federal income tax is just one type. Taxes have been levied on real estate, personal property and income by local, regional and national governments throughout the world.

Some tax records can be found online at the largest genealogy websites. 

Here are examples of tax records that can be found at Ancestry:

  • tax records from London (1692-1932);
  • the U.S. states of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Georgia and Texas;
  • and many from Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Russia (there’s more: see a full list and descriptions here).

FamilySearch.org hosts over a million records each of U.S. state tax records from Ohio and Texas.

FindMyPast hosts a wealth of U.K. tax records, from local rate books to Cheshire land taxes and even the Northamptonshire Hearth Tax of 1674.

In addition to genealogy websites, here in the U.S., look for original real estate and personal property taxpayer lists in county courthouses or state archives.

It’s also a good idea to consult genealogical or historical organizations and guides. A Google search for “tax records genealogy Virginia” brings up great results from the Library of Virginia and Binns Genealogy. And here’s a search tip: Use the keyword “genealogy” so historical records will pop up. Without that term, you’re going to get results that talk about paying taxes today.

If you still haven’t found the tax records you are looking for, there are two more excellent resources available for finding out what else might be available within a particular jurisdiction.

The first is the FamilySearch Wiki. From the home page you can drill down using the map, or try a search in the search box. Search for the jurisdiction and the keyword tax. Click through to the page for that jurisdiction. Typically you will find a table of contents that includes links to the section of the page covering various topics. Look for a link to tax, taxes, tax records, or taxation. They will list known sources for tax records in that area. 

tax records at the familysearch wiki

Tax records at the familysearch wiki

The second resource for finding out what else might be available is the free USGenWeb site. Like the FamilySearch Wiki, it’s organized by location / jurisdiction. Drill down to the place and then look for the section listing the known records for that area and look for tax related links. 

find tax records at usgenweb

Find information about tax records at USGenWeb

Why It’s Worth Finding Tax Records

I’ll leave you with this tantalizing list of data gathered in the Calhoun County, Georgia tax list of 1873. It enumerates whites, children, the blind/deaf/dumb, dentists, auctioneers, and those who have ten-pin alleys, pool tables and skating rinks. Then, real estate is assessed in detail. Finally, each person’s amount of money, investments, merchandise, household furniture, and investment in manufacturing is assessed.

As you can see, it can pay you big to invest time in looking for your ancestor’s tax records! Just make sure that if you’re here in the U.S., you’ve got your own taxes out of the way before you go searching for someone else’s.

Free Videos: Genealogy Tech Tips with Lisa Louise Cooke

We are delighted to share genealogy tech tips with you each week in these new videos. It’s Lisa’s way to share tips and tricks for your genealogy and your overall internet research success. You don’t have to be a lover of all things genealogy to love a good tech tip and we think you’ll agree!

Our Google guru, Lisa Louise Cooke, has been busy creating short, informative tech tip videos for you. You will find these videos first posted to our Facebook page. Be sure to always see what’s new by “liking” The Genealogy Gems Podcast page.

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Additionally, you can comment, like, and share directly from Facebook. This is a great way to share these tips with your genealogy friends and society members.

You can also find our tech tip videos at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Subscribe by clicking Subscribe in the bottom left corner of any of our videos or at the top right corner of our YouTube channel homepage.

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Each week, Lisa will share with you what’s new in the world of technology and especially those tips that will make you a better and more effective genealogist.

Lisa’s first video, Free Google E-Books for Genealogy and Family History, walks you through the steps of accessing free digital books from the comfort of your home. From county histories to family histories, Google e-books are a treasure trove of genealogical information. Using Google e-books helped me find several pictures of ancestors that I had never seen—and that was just the start.

We think you’ll also enjoy our most recent tech tip video entitled How to Use Google Chrome to Identify Old Photos and Images for Genealogy and Family History. Using Google Chrome for your internet browser can be an effective tool for identifying images that are more universally known. While this likely won’t be able to identify an unknown person in your ancestry, you may be able to figure out the location a postcard image was taken.

Join us each week as Lisa shares these great tips for genealogy and more! If you find the information helpful, why not share with your genie friends too!

More Genealogy Tech Tips from Lisa Louise Cooke

online file converter featured image genealogy tech tips tuesdayConvert Files for Free with this Online Tool I Use

Amazon Echo: Why Lisa is So Crazy about It

Chromecast: For Big-Screen Family History

 

 

 

 

 

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