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 211

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #211 with Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa and Barry by Beth Forester

Photo Credit: Beth Forester

In this episode, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke talks with Barry Moreno, Historian at Ellis Island. Hear about the life cycle of this busy U.S. immigration station (1892-1954) and Barry’s research into thousands of Ellis Island employees who worked there.

 

More Episode Highlights

Archive Lady Melissa Barker tells us about the National Archives Citizen Archivist program and Lisa profiles a volunteer effort coordinated by the British Library to geo-tag thousands of old maps that are already online.

A giant genealogy lost-and-found! Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them to those who might be interested.

Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss talks about Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women?files that were unfortunately partially destroyed. Hear what he learned about his grandfather.

Genealogy News

National Archives Citizen Archivist Project, reported by The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker

The British Library Georeferencing Project

Flickr Commons collection of digitized maps from the British Library Collections?mostly 19th century maps from books published in Europe.

Use Google Earth for genealogy! Check out these resources:

FREE Google Earth for Genealogy video

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, by Lisa Louise Cooke. This book has 7 full chapters on Google Earth! Available in print.

Google Earth for Genealogy Video Training by Lisa Louise Cooke. Available now as a digital download.

 

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

 

New Video for Premium Members

“Share Your Life Stories More Meaningfully” Premium Video

Every life is fascinating when it’s well shared! Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid that others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories.

Genealogy Gems App Bonus Content

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a preview of the new Premium video class, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully” by Contributing Editor Sunny Morton. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

Mailbox: Roland’s Heirloom Rescue

Mailbox: New Listener Photo Rescue Project

What can you do with a collection of unidentified photos?

Return them to a loving home. In this case, it was a local historical society. Linda wisely kept the collection together because often there’s power in what some of the photos may tell you about others.

Get them digitized and online so those who want them can find them. The historical society put images on Find A Grave memorials and Iowa GenWeb. They even plan to display them for locals to look at personally and try to identify!

Historical and genealogical societies can also share mystery photos on their websites (or their local library’s website if they don’t have their own) or on their blogs, Facebook pages or even in their regular newsletters. These are great conversation pieces, especially when you can later report that you have solved the mystery! (Click here for more tips aimed at supporting genealogy societies.)

Photo mystery SOLVED: Savvy tips to identify old photos

Rootsmagic

Visit www.RootsMagic.com

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

MILITARY MINUTES: OFFICIAL MILITARY PERSONNEL FILES

The military service files for your ancestors who served during the twentieth century or later are located at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO as part of the National Archives. The files are called the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) and are available for each of the military branches; namely; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Researchers should be keenly aware of the devastating fire that occurred on July 12, 1973 at the research facility that destroyed or damaged between 16-18 million service files from the United States Army and the Air Force. Remember that the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.

National Archives at St. Louis. Overview of the holdings, media articles and PowerPoint presentations (download as PDFs)

The 1973 Fire at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) Non-Archival Holdings

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) Archival Holdings

Archival Research Room at the National Personnel Record Center (Request an Appointment, Availability of Records, Copy Fees, Hours of Operation, Hiring a Researcher)

Request Military Service Records (Online request for Veterans, Standard Form 180, or For Burials and Emergency Requests)

Mail Order Request for Record from the National Personnel Record Center (SF 180)

Zerbe H. Howard

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

Watch the video below for an example of a family history video made with Animoto:

 

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

 

INTERVIEW: BARRY MORENO, ELLIS ISLAND HISTORIAN

Photo Credit: Beth Forester

Barry Moreno is a leading authority on the history of Ellis Island, the famous receiving station for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892-1954. He has worked in the Museum Services Division at Ellis Island for more than a decade. He is the author of several books, including Children of Ellis Island, Ellis Island’s Famous Immigrants (including Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, and Max Factor) and Encyclopedia of Ellis Island (which includes information on displaced persons).

      

Ellis Island: Historical highlights

Prior to 1890, immigration was handled by the states (primarily New York, as most passed through the Port of New York).

1920-1921: New regulations cut down immigration dramatically. Each country had quotas that could not be exceeded. New regulations were passed requiring immigrants to

  • have a passport from their home country
  • have medical examinations
  • pay a tax to the American Consulate in their home country.

During the last 30 years, Ellis Island mostly handled immigrants who were “in trouble.”

Starting in the 1930s some immigrants arrived by air (Colonial Airways from Canada). After WWII, Air France started service, and German and Italian airlines came in the 1950s.

Ellis Island was closed in 1954 by President Eisenhower. Immigrants who were still detained when it closed were sent to jails.

After 1954, Ellis Island was still used by the Coast Guard for training and by the Public Health Services department.

Barry’s research on workers at Ellis Island:

Most employees were men. Interestingly, blue collar men tended to die before age 60, and better educated ones lived much longer.

Female employees were typically widows, unmarried or had husbands who did not support them. “Char woman” was a common role held by Irish, Swedish and German women. Char means “chores” (cleaning women). They worked often for about $400/ year with no pension, and lived to old ages.

A nursery was opened at Ellis Island; many Christian missionaries worked there. Ludmila Foxlee (1885-1971) was one of them, a social worker with the YWCA. Click here to read more immigrant aid workers at Ellis Island.

Three more great resources for discovering the stories of your immigrant ancestors:

What was it like to land on Ellis Island? Read this article and watch (for free) an award-winning, official documentary)

If your search at the Ellis Island website doesn’t retrieve your ancestors, head on over to Stephen P. Morse’s One Step Pages. There you will find dozens of links to search resources, including the Ellis Island Gold Form for arrivals between 1892 and 1924.  Even the folks at Ellis Island refer researchers to Morse’s site. Listen to Lisa’s interview with Stephen Morse in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #153.

In Lias’s free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast (episodes 29-31), genealogist Steve Danko covers immigration and naturalization records in depth and even offers up some little-known tips about deciphering some of the cryptic notes researchers often find on passenger lists.

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Contributor: Your DNA Guide
Michael Strauss, Contributor: Military Minutes
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: This page 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 this free podcast and blog!

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Download the show notes

New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!

A new tool at Ancestry DNA is blowing my genealogy mysteries wide open!

AncestryDNA common matches tool

I have been up since 5:30 with plenty of goals and ambitions for today. But I got distracted. Distracted by a new tool at AncestryDNA that is blowing my genealogy mysteries wide open.

The new tool AncestryDNA Common Matches tool is hiding between the “Pedigrees and Surnames” filter and the “Map and Locations” filter on your matches’ main match page. The Common Matches tool pulls out the shared 4th cousin or higher matches between two people.

Let’s take a look at how this might work for you.

2015 8 ICWDeniseLet’s say you have a second cousin, Denise, that you have already identified in the Ancestry database and you know your common ancestral couple is Joseph and Louise Mitchell.  You want to gather others who share DNA with both you and Denise. Those individuals then have a high likelihood of being related to Joseph and Louise in some way.

So we click on the “Shared Matches” button on Denise’s page and find that Mike, Spencer, and Wendy all have DNA in common with you and Denise.  After reviewing pedigree charts, you are able to determine that Mike is related through Louise’s sister and Wendy is related through Joseph’s brother.  Note that Wendy’s actual relationship to you is not 4th cousin, as it is shown, but she is actually your 3rd cousin once removed. Remember that the relationship given is not always the exact relationship of two people who have been tested.

2015 8 ICWSpencerBut what about Spencer? Spencer, unfortunately has not yet linked his family tree to his Ancestry account or answered any of your queries about his family tree. I am sure he has just been busy. Or he doesn’t know his family tree. Or his computer was captured by aliens or smashed by his two-year-old grandson just as he was about to click “send” and reveal how the two of you were connected. Whatever the case may be, up until this point you haven’t heard a peep from Spencer and therefore had absolutely no way to figure out how Spencer was related to you.

But now you know that he is somehow associated with the Joseph and Louise Mitchell family because he came up as In Common With (ICW) you and Denise.

We can take this one step further and ask Ancestry to show us who has DNA ICW you and Spencer.  You can see here that while Mike still remains, Wendy has dropped off the list.  Now there are two possible explanations for this: The first is that Spencer is related through Louise’s parents, John and Sarah, and that is why he is not sharing DNA with Wendy.

The other, less likely, possibility is that Spencer is related through Joseph’s parents Louis and Mary, but doesn’t share enough DNA with Wendy to be detected on this test.

While this information is helpful, it still hasn’t completely solved the case. The first thing you should do with your new-found knowledge is start sending more pointed questions to your matches. Here is an example message you might send to Spencer:

“Dear Spencer,

I was just playing around with the new AncestryDNA Common Matches tool and I see that you are related to a few of my other matches that connect through Joseph and Louise Mitchell.  Louise’s parents, John and Sarah Marsh, were both born in Mississippi in the 1840’s and Joseph’s parents Joseph and Mary Mitchell, were born in Tennessee in 1856 and 1863 respectively.

Do any of these names or places sound familiar to you?

I am looking forward to working with you on this connection.

Your DNA Cousin, Diahan”

Assuming this garners a response, you can then work together to find your connection. If his budget is not allowing for a new computer at this time and you never hear from Spencer, the key to figuring out how he is related to you may be in the new match, Beth, who is ICW you and Spencer. If you can figure out how Beth is related to you, you will know Spencer is related in a similar way.

AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA quick guide setIf you’ve decided you would like to get in the DNA game, start with Ancestry DNA: Genetic Testing – DNA Test, and then head over to AncestryDNA and start growing your genetic family tree!

For a little more guidance, I suggest you purchase my laminated quick guides, “Understanding AncestryDNA and “Understanding Family Tree DNA.” These are also available as a part of a complete bundle of DNA guides specifically designed to help you navigate your results at the leading genetic genealogy testing companies. Click here to see all our DNA quick guides. 

 

FAQ – Premium eLearning

Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Membership – FAQ If you want inspiring and entertaining genealogy education on-demand, Premium eLearning is for you! World-renowned speaker Lisa Louise Cooke has built this program to be accessible for all ages, all skill levels,...

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