Discovering Your Family’s History…Free Resources

If you’ve gone in search of your ancestors and their stories you’ve probably encountered some budget-busting  subscription sites. But a wealth of information is available for free if you know where to look.  Here are a few no-cost websites to get you started.

USGenWeb, an all-volunteer site that covers state and county historical records, record indexes and transcriptions from all 50 states, plus tombstone transcription and lineage projects.

Another volunteer site, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness has 4,000 peo0ple in every state and some overseas locations who will track down a court record for you, or snap a photo of a gravesite.  Speaking of gravesites,  Find a Grave has a data base of more than 40 million records. You can browse a cemetery if you are not sure where an ancestor is resting.

The Daughters of the American Revolution maintain several databases containing background files on members’ ancestors and their descendants. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System maintains a database of more than 6 million names of soldiers from both sides, representing 44 states and territories. The site includes regimental histories, too. A treasure trove.

If you’re looking for information on African-American slavery, check out the Digital Library on American Slavery at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. This site houses thousands of slavery related court records, wills, estate inventories and names more than 150,000 people, including both slaves and free people of color. Another great strategy for discovering African American roots : check out the African American newspapers that sprang up after the war such as the Florida Tattler, the Kansas City Advocate, and the Chicago Defender. The Defender included a column for Pullman porters and other railroad workers and is a good place to start looking for men who may have worked on those railroad sleeper cars. To find newspapers, go to the Library of Congress site.

Searching for ancestors who immigrated here? If you’re willing to register and can overlook the  fund raising requests, the Ellis Island site provides access to records of 22 million passengers such as those pictured here who arrived there between 1892 and 1924. If you know which ship your ancestors took, you can find additional information about it at TheShipsList.

Finally, the Digital Library of Georgia maintains more than a hundred collections of Colonial wills, Confederate army records, and a number of historical newspapers.

Finding clues to your family’s past can be fun and rewarding, but be warned: it can  be addictive. I’ve found that the more I learn the more I want to know. I hope these free resources will spark your interest in the past. If you use any of them, and find them helpful, please drop me a note here on the site and let me know. I’d love to share in your discoveries.