Genealogy: Beginning on a Budget

Did spending time with your family over the holidays make you wonder more about your roots?  Did it make you wonder if you’re actually related to some of them?  If you’re interested in beginning the search for your family history, here are a few ways to get started without spending a lot of money. 

Most experienced genealogists will tell you to first write down everything you know about your family, collect all the documentation that you have (birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, obituaries, family photos, etc.) and then start talking to your family members – especially those from the generations prior to you. 

You can write your data on paper forms known as pedigree/ancestral charts and family group sheets , or you can start a tree for free online at one of the sites mentioned in this online article from Family Tree Magazine. You can also choose to purchase genealogy software for your computer to organize and record your family history, or you can choose to use one of the free genealogy software programs available for download.  Two of the programs available for free are Personal Ancestral File from Family Search and Legacy Family Tree but you can read about more options for genealogy software in this post from Family Tree Magazine or this one from CNET

Once you get ready to start researching outside what you already know or have learned from your family members you have many options.  If you prefer to read up on how to go about your research before you actually dig in, one of the most respected books on researching genealogy in America is Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Other useful books are Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources and The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, both of which are available for free online at’s Wiki.

It’s very important to get in the habit of properly recording and documenting your sources from the very beginning, and Elizabeth Shown Mills has written a couple of books on this subject that are excellent resources for genealogy: Evidence!: Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian and the more recent Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.  

HCPL has subscriptions to two genealogy databases: HeritageQuest, which can be accessed from work or home with your library card, and Ancestry Library Edition, which is only available for use at the library.  HeritageQuest provides access to most of the available US Federal Census records, as well as both bibliographic records and digitized records of local and family history sources.  Most of the non-digitized resources are available for request from Allen County Public Library in Indiana for a fee.  Ancestry Library Edition provides access to a large number of records and indices, some of which include U.S. Federal Census Records, World War I Draft Registration Cards, Confederate Pension Applications, birth and marriage indices and much more. 

Family Search has digitized millions of records and indices and made them available for free at their site, you only need to create a username and password to gain access to the digitized records. 

Cyndi’s List is the best compilation of online genealogy resources, and It serves as index to genealogy web sites that cover just about any topic of which you can think.  If you want to read more about Cyndi and how she does it, just click here

The US GenWeb Project was created by volunteers in an attempt to provide online access to genealogy records.  The number of resources and the quality of the sites depend on the volunteers in each particular state and/or county, but you can stumble across some great information and fantastic resources if you spend a little time on the sites created for the area you are researching – even if it’s just the name and location of the library with the best genealogy resources in that county. 

One last site you might find interesting is one created by the Library of Congress, called Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.  Many newspapers from the years 1836-1922 have been digitized and made available on this site, so you may be able to turn up obituaries, wedding announcements, birth announcements, advertisements for an ancestor’s business, family scandals or other interesting information – newspapers can be a fascinating resource.  There is also the U.S. Newspaper Directory that can help you can track down information on American newspapers published between the years 1690-present.

These are just a few of the options out there, for those of you who have already begun your adventures in genealogy, do you have a favorite free site, software or online family tree builder?