Free Genealogy – How to Find Free Genealogy Records

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. 

How to Find Free Genealogy Resources

In the genealogy community it’s often said, “Only a fraction of genealogical records are online.” That’s true indeed, but it’s not a reason not to start your search online. A more helpful and accurate piece of advice would be “while not everything is online, all search for genealogical information starts online.”

The reason for this is simple. Online research before you go will reveal:

  • If the materials are available at a more convenient location
  • If the materials are available somewhere online for free
  • The call number, location, and other specific information you need to quickly access the materials once you arrive.
  • Details about gaining access to the facility and materials.

The last bullet point above will help you avoid the disappointment of discovering an unforeseen closure, or that the specific records you need are actually help at a satellite location.

New genealogical information and records are uploaded daily to the internet. Some of this information is available for free. In this article and episode we will cover strategic ways to locate and access free genealogy online.

The Amount of Data Continues to Increase – Read more about the growth of online information here.

The Path of Least Resistance to Free Genealogy

Most genealogists want to obtain records at the lowest available cost with the least amount of travel. Therefore, always starting your search online just makes good sense.

Here’s our path of least resistance:

  1. Free and Online: FamilySearch, Google, WorldCat
  2. Online and Subscription: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast, niche sites
  3. Free and Locally Offline: Libraries, Archives, Universities
  4. Offline and Distant: Examples include the National Archives, Allen County Library, Family History Library, NEHGS
The path to free genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com

Free Genealogy Records Online

FamilySearch

FamilySearch is a free genealogy website.

The FamilySearch Catalog: New digitized images are added daily from microfilms & digital camera operators. These include books, maps, compiled family histories, and more. The catalog also includes materials that are not online but are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through Inter-library loan.

 The FamilySearch Wiki is a free online genealogical guide comprised of more than 93,000 articles. It covers 244 countries, territories, and islands. It includes links to genealogy databases and online resources as well as how-to information.

Use the FamilySearch Wiki Watchlist to follow pages of research interest. Here’s how to watch Wiki pages for new and free genealogy content:

  1. Log in with your free FamilySearch account
  2. navigate to the desired page
  3. click the Watchlist link in the upper right corner of the page.
Click the Watchlist button to follow the page

Look for the Watchlist link, and the blue buttons that lead to free online genealogy records for that location.

Google.com

Google is still your best bet for finding sources both online and offline.

You can dramatically improve your search results by incorporating search operators into your search. Watch episode 13 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn about how to use search operators when googling for genealogy.  

Get all of the Elevenses with Lisa episodes here.

how to get better google search results

Learn how to google for free genealogy in episode 13.

Find More Free Genealogy with these Google Search Strategies

The most comprehensive and best-selling book on the topic of using Google for genealogy: 
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. 

Google Alerts Finds Free Genealogy for You

Set up free Google Alerts to be on the lookout for new and updated search results. You’ll receive them by email, and you can control the frequency.

Google Alerts for genealogy and family history

Google Alerts do the work of searching for free genealogy for you.

How to Create a Google Alert:

  1. Highlight and copy (Control C on Windows or Command C on Mac) the search query that you typed into the Google search box
  2. Go to www.google.com/alerts
  3. Sign into your free Google account
  4. Paste (Control V or Command V) your search query into the Search Query box on the Google Alerts page
  5. Select the Result Type you desire (ex. Everything, News, etc.)
  6. Select how often you wish to receive alerts
  7. Select How Many results you want to receive (I recommend Only the Best Results)
  8. Enter / Select the email address you want your alerts to be sent to
  9. Click the Create Alert button

Partnerships Make Free Genealogy Available

Many of the genealogy giants enter partnerships with each other in order to facilitate digitization and indexing of genealogical records. This means that the same materials may be found in different locations on the web, and sometimes for free.

WorldCat.org

17,900 subscribing member libraries in 123 countries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database which is the world’s largest bibliographic database.

Use WorldCat to check that you are indeed accessing the resource from the most convenient repository and if it’s available for free. Here’s how:

  1. Run your search
  2. Click an item
  3. Under Find a Copy in the Library enter your zip code
  4. The library closest to you will be listed at the top

Once you get your search results, look to the left in the Formats box. There you can quickly narrow down to only items that are online by clicking boxes like Downloadable Article. Some of these may require a log in on the website you are referred to.

How to Find Free Records at Genealogy Websites

Ancestry.com

If you don’t have a paid subscription to Ancestry.com you can still take advantage of their many free collections available here. Then read my article Why Use Ancestry for FREE if You’re NOT a Subscriber for more tips of free stuff at Ancestry.

MyHeritage.com

To find free records at MyHeritage.com, go to https://tinyurl.com/LisaMyHeritage. In the footer menu of the website, click on Historical Records. Then fill in your search criteria.  (Update: If you don’t see Historical Records in the footer, go to Research > Collection Catalog and search on the keyword “free.”) Scroll down the search results and look for the green free tags. 

Findmypast.com

To find free records at Findmypast which specialized in British genealogy but also includes records from around the world, go to https://tinyurl.com/FMPLisa.

(Some links in our articles are affiliate links. We will be compensated at no additional cost to use when you use them. This makes it possible for us to bring this free show to you. Thank you!)

Google Site Search Can Help Locate Free Genealogy

A site search works like many search operators as previously discussed in Elevenses with Lisa episode 13 (watch and read here.) It provides Google with specific instructions about the type of search you want to conduct with your search terms and keywords.

Google Site Search for free genealogy

This Site search tip comes from Lisa Louise Cooke’s book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox.

Site search runs your query only on the specified website. This is extremely helpful and efficient if:

  • you have a particular website in mind that you want to search,
  • you aren’t having success using the search field provided by the website,
  • the website you want to search doesn’t have a search field.

Here’s an example of a Site search:

Free Pennsylvania site:ancestry.com

Try running the search above for yourself. You’ll find results that include many free genealogy records pertaining to Pennsylvania. Substitute the words to meet your search needs.

Construct a Site search for Free Genealogy by first typing in the words and phrases you wish to search for. Include the word free. Leave the appropriate spacing between them and follow the last item with a space. Then type site: and add the website home page address (URL). You can copy the URL and simply paste it in place. There is no space between the colon and the URL. And note that www is not required.

Searching for Offline Local Sources with Free Genealogy Information

To find what’s local and free:

  • Search WorldCat.org (be sure to use the Zip Code filtering to find the genealogy materials at the location closest to you.)
  • Use Google to search.
  • Find your local Family History Center here. These centers have unique free resources as well as free access to some subscription genealogy websites.

When you find a library, archive or other repository, visit their website and look for:

  • Databases they offer
  • Their online catalog to plan your research
  • Other associated libraries
  • Details on planning a visit

Get Free Genealogy Help on Facebook

Search for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) on Facebook. 

RAOGK on Facebook

Get free genealogy records help on Facebook.

Learn More with these Resources

Free Tools at MyHeritage for a Limited Time

Now through Sept. 10, 2020 you can get free access to Myheritage Photo Enhancer and MyHeritage In Color here

Click to use MyHeritage for free for a imited time.

 

Resources for this Episode

 

 

 

Episode 145 – Blast From the Past Episodes 5 and 6

[iframe src=”http://html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/2136782/height/100/width/480/thumbnail/yes” height=”100″ width=”480″ scrolling=”no”]

In this episode I’ve got another blast from the past for you.  We have reached deep into the podcast archive and retrieved episodes 5 and 6.

In Episode 5 we touch on using the video website YouTube for genealogy, and then I walk you through how to Bring Sites Back From the Dead with Google. Then we wrap things up with a cool little way to Spice Up Your Genealogy Database.

In episode 6 I have a gem for you called Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors, and we cover the free genealogy website US GenWeb

Episode: # 05
Original Publish Date:  March 25, 2007

MAILBOX

Email this week from   Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe: “Congratulations on your podcast!  I am sure it will help many folks out there. I was glad to see the fine Irish families of Scully and Lynch on your latest show notes!”

GEM:  You Tube Follow Up
Note: The Genealogy Tech Podcast is no longer published or available.

  • YouTube in the news – the concern was raised by Viacom this month about YouTube benefiting from their programming without compensating them, which could mean copyright infringement.  While the course of YouTube could change depending on the outcome of this suit, the attraction for family historians remains strong because of the nature of the content.
  • Software mentioned:
    Pinnacle.  Final Cut for MAC.  Limits with Movie Maker
  • I posted 2 videos – A Nurse In Training Part 1 & 2

Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel  Click the Subscribe button to receive notification of new videos

 

GEM:  Bring Sites Back From the Dead with Google                                                    

When you get a “File Not Found” error when clicking on a link, it doesn’t mean the information is always gone forever.  You may be able to find it in the Cache version.

Google takes a snapshot of each page it examines and caches (stores) that version as a back-up. It’s what Google uses to judge if a page is a good match for your query.  In the case of a website that no longer exists, the cache copy us a snapshot of the website when it was still active hidden away or cached. 

Practically every search result includes a Cached link. Clicking on that link takes you to the Google cached version of that web page, instead of the current version of the page. This is useful if the original page is unavailable because of:

1.      Internet congestion

2.      A down, overloaded, or just slow website – Since Google’s servers are typically faster than many web servers, you can often access a page’s cached version faster than the page itself.

3.      The owner’s recently removing the page from the Web

 

Sometimes you can even access the cached version from a site that otherwise require registration or a subscription. 

 

If Google returns a link to a page that appears to have little to do with your query, or if you can’t find the information you’re seeking on the current version of the page, take a look at the cached version.

 

Hit the Back button and look for a link to a “cached” copy at the end of the URL at the end of the search result. Clicking on the “cached” link should bring up a copy of the page as it appeared at the time that Google indexed that page, with your search terms highlighted in yellow.

 

If you don’t see a cached link, it may have been omitted because the owners of the site have requested that Google remove the cached version or not cache their content.  Also, any sites Google hasn’t indexed won’t have a cache version.

 

Limit:  If the original page contains more than 101 kilobytes of text, the cached version of the page will consist of the first 101 Kbytes (120 Kbytes for pdf files).

 

Really looking for an oldie but a goody?  Try the Wayback Machine

It allows you to browse through 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago.

To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Keyword searching is not currently supported.

GEM:  Spice up your database

  • Search Google Images, then Right click and save to your hard drive.
  • Use Silhouettes
  • Find something that represents what you do know about that person.  It really does help you see them more as a person and less as an entry in your database – their occupation, a reader, a sport, etc.

Episode: # 06
Original Publish Date: April 1, 2007

You can learn more about Jewish roots at the 350 Years of American Jewish History website JewishGen, The Home of Jewish Genealogy

GEM:  Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors

In the episode #5 I shared a little gem that would spice up your genealogical database – adding silhouettes and artistic images to the file of an ancestor when you don’t have a photograph.

Probably the most famous silhouette these days are the silhouettes used by Apple for advertising the iPod digital music and audio player.  It may surprise your teenager or grandchild to learn that the first silhouettes were done hundreds of years ago.

Back then silhouettes (or shades as they were called), they paintings or drawings of a person’s shadow. They were popular amongst English royalty and the art form quickly spread to Europe.  A silhouette can also be cut from black paper, and was a simple alternative for people who could not afford other forms of portraiture, which, in the eighteenth century, was still an expensive proposition.

The word took its name from Étienne de Silhouette, but it’s uncertain as to whether his name was attributed because he enjoyed this art form, or as the story goes because the victims of his taxes complained that they were reduced to mere shadows.

Either way, the popularity of Silhouettes hit new heights in the United States where they were seen in magazines, brochures and other printed material. But they faded from popularity as Photographs took over in the 1900s.

As a follow up, I want to share with you a simple technique for creating your own silhouettes. You can use ordinary snapshots to create a visual family record.

  • Take a photo of a person in profile against a neutral background. 
  • Blanket the photo background with white acrylic or tempera paint
  • Fill in the image with a heavy black permanent marker, curing the shoulders down for a classical pose. 
  • Add fun details like cowlicks, eyelashes, hats, and jewelry that express the person’s personality with a fine felt-tip pen.
  • Photocopy the doctored photos onto quality art paper.  Since glossy papers work print best, you could also use your computer scanner to scan the image into your hard drive.  From there you can add it to your database, or print it out onto glossy photo paper for mounting.

To represent folks in your family tree, create a silhouette of your father to represent his Great Great Grandfather, and add a farmer’s hat and rake to represent his profession of farming.  Chances are dad has inherited some of his profile anyway.  Have fun with it and be creative.  But of course be very sure to label to silhouette appropriately as a creative interpretation rather than a literal rendering.

You can also do silhouettes of your family including extended family and arrange the portraits together on a wall.  Use black painted frames in a variety of shapes and sizes and hang in a way that represents the family tree / relationships.

Check out the Art Café Network website for a Short History of Silhouettes by Katherine Courtney.

For More detailed how-to information, they have additional pages on cutting visit http://artcafenetwork.net/meet/kat/silhouette/cutting.html

2 Silhouette books to turn to:

Silhouettes%20:%20Rediscovering%20the%20Lost%20Art<img%20src=”http:/www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=genegemspodc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0970115105″%20width=”1″%20height=”1″%20border=”0″%20alt=””%20style=”border:none%20!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;”%20/>%20″ >Silhouettes: Rediscovering the Lost Art

by Kathryn K. Flocken

Old-Fashioned Silhouettes (Dover Electronic Clip Art) (CD-ROM and Book)

 

GEM:  GenWeb Pages

Last year the website celebrated its 10th Anniversary.  The USGenWeb Project consists of a group of volunteers working together to provide Internet websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. The Project is non-commercial and fully committed to free access for everyone. Organization within the website is by state and county.

You can go to the homepage of the website and click on the state of your choice from the left hand column.  From the state page you can select the county you wish to search in.  However, when I know they name of the county I want to search in,  I’ve found it’s often quicker just to search at google.com and do a search like  “genweb sibley county mn”  The choice is yours. 

Remember to use the Google search gem that I gave you in episode one (see episode #134  http://www.genealogygemspodcast.com/webpage/episode-145-a-blast-from-the-past ) to quickly search within the county website.   Many don’t have search engines of their own, and so that’s when I first really started using that search technique.  These county sites are often very rich though, and after a focused search, it’s rewarding just to wander the site.  It will help you become more familiar with the county!

You’ll likely find databases of Births, Deaths, Marriages, townships histories, plat maps, surnames, and a host of other topics. Because each county has its own volunteer coordinator, the information you will find varies from county to county.  And as always, info is being added regularly, so you need to book mark them and return on a regular basis to see what’s new.

Be sure and share your resources as well.  That’s the power behind the GenWeb project – volunteers.  Volunteering your county resources will enrich other’s experience and will likely lead to connections that will continue to further your own research.

Book Mentioned in this episode:
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Genealogy, Second Edition
by Rhonda McClure

Check out this episode

Eastern Cherokee Applications for Native American Research

Many American families have a tradition of Native American ancestry. Now, Fold3.com has made access to their Native American records collections free between November 1 and 15th. Here are the step-by-step instructions you need to know to effectively navigate the Eastern Cherokee Applications collection at Fold3.com.

Eastern Cherokee Applications for Native American Research

Original image provided by Boston Public Library via Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/24029425@N06/5755511285.

Our Purpose

Our goal is to open the doors to using all types of available genealogical records, and provide you with the skills to explore them with confidence. Our Genealogy Gems team is excited to share with you the opportunity to utilize the free access to Native American records on Fold3.com. While it can be difficult and confusing to know how to navigate these important records, this post will provide you with information to get you started and to feel a little more comfortable jumping in! Now, let’s get started.

Eastern Cherokee Applications Collection for Native American Research

The Eastern Cherokee tribe sued the United States for funds due them under the treaties of 1835, 1836, and 1845. [1] Applicants, or claimants, were asked to prove they were members of the Eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties, or descended from its members. [To learn more about the lawsuits and allocations, read “Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909,” in .pdf form provided by the National Archives and Records Administration.]

The courts ruled in favor of the Eastern Cherokees and the Secretary of the Interior was tasked to identify the persons entitled to distribution of funds. The job of compiling a roll of eligible persons was given to Guion Miller.

It is interesting to note that the funds were to be distributed to “all Eastern and Western Cherokee Indians who were alive on May 28, 1906, who could establish the fact that at the time of the treaties, they were members of the Eastern Cherokee tribe or were descendants of such persons, and that they had not been affiliated with any tribe of Indians other than the Eastern Cherokee or the Cherokee Nation.” [Source: page 4, 3rd paragraph of NARA document Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909.]

The collection at Fold3 titled “Eastern Cherokee Applications” contains these applications submitted to prove eligibility. [Important: Because this act was about money allocation and individuals filling out these applications would have received money if approved, this may raise the question, “Did our ancestor have a reason to lie or exaggerate the truth so that they might be awarded funds?” Further, the Genealogy Standards produced by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) reminds us: “Whenever possible, genealogists prefer to reason from information provided by consistently reliable participants, eyewitnesses, and reporters with no bias, potential for gain, or other motivation to distort, invent, omit, or otherwise report incorrect information.” [2] In this case, those filling out the Eastern Cherokee Applications did have potential for gain. So, be sure to take any genealogical data, like names, dates, and places, with a grain of salt and find other documentation to back-up the facts.]

The first step in locating whether your ancestor applied is to check the index. If you are not a member of Fold3.com, you will first need to go to www.fold3.com. Click in the center of the homepage where it says, “Free Access to Native American Records.” Next, on the left you will see “Records from Archives.” Go ahead and click that.

From the list now showing on your screen, choose “Eastern Cherokee Applications.” Then click “learn more” at the bottom right of the collection description.

Eastern Cherokee Applications Learn More

From the new screen, choose “Browse by title.”

Index and applications for Eastern Cherokee Applications

Notice, there are two general indexes. The first choice is for surnames between the letters of A and K, and the second general index is for the letters between L and Z. The index is alphabetical by surname.

Scroll through the digital images of the index and find the surname of your targeted ancestor. For example, my ancestor’s last name is Cole.

You will see the state they were currently living in and a number listed to the left of each name. This number is what you will need to find the application of your ancestor. In the example here on the left, Anderson Cole’s number is 31697. Though the step of using this index could be omitted, I wanted you to know how to use it.

Eastern Cherokee Applications Anderson Cole

Anderson Cole’s name appears on the General Index of the Eastern Cherokee Applications.

Armed with this number as confirmation, let’s go back to the list of options and this order medication online for pain time, choose Applications.

Eastern Cherokee Applications for ancestor

Applications are broken down by the first letter of the surname, so in my case, I would click on the letter C and then from the new options list, click the appropriate indicator until I reach Anderson Cole.

Cole Anderson Eastern Cherokee Application

Anderson’s application is eight pages, however applications vary in size from fewer than eight to several more.

From Fold3.com, you can see each page of the application. Some of the information you may find on the applications include, but is not limited to: name, birth date and location of applicant, names of parents and siblings, name of spouse and marriage date and place, tribe affiliation, Cherokee name, grandparents names, and residences.

The application was sent in to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and then it was decided whether the applicant was eligible or not.

Lies and Rejection

Rejected Eastern Cherokee Applications

Anderson Cole’s Eastern Cherokee Application was rejected but held genealogical data.

In Anderson Cole’s case, he was rejected. This is found on the very first page of the application. In other words, the commission did not find him able to prove his relationship with known members of the Eastern Cherokee tribe and therefore, he was not given any allotment of money. This rejection neither proves or disproves whether Anderson was of Native American descent. However, it does suggest that something in his lineage was questioned.

Further, when reviewing the information recorded on any genealogy record, we must ask the question, “Did this person have any reason to lie?” When money is on the line, lying is always a possibility. According to further research, it appears Anderson either lied, omitted details, or was seriously mistaken about many names and dates of close family members. Even then, there are some great hints within the pages of his application and I was happy to find it.

Additional Information in the Eastern Cherokee Applications

In addition to an application being filed for our ancestor, if the ancestor had children under the age of 21, they may have also applied in behalf of the child as a Cherokee Minor.

Anderson’s son, W.T. Cole, applied under the same application number as Anderson. I found his application in the last pages of Anderson’s file. This type of record is direct evidence of a parent/child relationship and can be a wonderful substitute when other vital records can not be located. However, direct evidence (which is anything that directly answers a specific question…like ‘who are the parents of W.T. Cole?’) does not have to be true. In this case, just because Anderson says his son is W.T. Cole, doesn’t mean it is absolutely true. We should always find other records or evidence to back up our findings.

How is the Roll of Eastern Cherokees Different from the Eastern Cherokee Applications?

You may have noticed that besides the Eastern Cherokee applications and general index, there is also a record set titled “Roll of Eastern Cherokees.” Another name for this roll is called the Guion Miller Rolls. This is a roll, or list, provided by commissioner Guion Miller of all those who were approved to receive the allocated money. [We will be discussing the Guion Miller Roll Collection from Fold3 in a later blog post. Be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter so you don’t miss it!]

Anderson Cole and his son do not appear on this Roll of Eastern Cherokees. If however, your ancestor does, additional information on this roll could include application number, the names of minor children, ages of all parties, current residence, and a death date.

Eastern Cherokee Rolls

A partial page of the Roll of Eastern Cherokee found online at Fold3.com.

More on Native American Research

Using Native American collections for genealogy research can be challenging. We hope this has helped you to better understand the ins and outs for using the record collections at Fold3. For even more helpful tips, read:

How to Use the Dawes Collections for Native American Research

sign up newsletterStay tuned as we bring you additional instructions for exploring the Guion Miller Roll and Indian Census Rolls at Fold3.com in the days to come. Sign up for our free Genealogy Gems newsletter for our upcoming posts on this important subject.

 

 

 

 

Article References:

[1] “The U.S. Eastern Cherokee or Guion Miller Roll,” article online, FamilySearch Wiki (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/The_U.S._Eastern_Cherokee_or_Guion_Miller_Roll : accessed 1 Nov 2016).

[2] Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary edition, published by Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2014, standard 39, page 24.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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