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How Do I Trace My Family History for Free?

by Robin Hewitt

Sooner or later, most people become curious about the generations in their family that preceded them. If you're interested in genealogy but can't afford a subscription service to help trace your family tree, don't give up. There are certain tricks you can use to trace your family tree for free, and you should be able to find several generations before deciding whether to invest in genealogy as a full blown hobby.

Write down the information you already know, starting with yourself, your parents and both sets of grandparents. You will need full names (and maiden names for females), birth date and birthplace for each person and marriage date and place. If you don't know something (such as a grandparent's date of birth) leave a blank; if you aren't sure of a fact (such as place of birth) write what you think is true and place a question mark in parentheses next to the information.

Interview any family members that you are able to contact, and ask them what they know about your family. Besides the basic information, ask questions such as, "Was grandpa in the war?" and "How old was grandma when she got married?" If your relative doesn't know or isn't sure of a piece of information, ask them what they think it might be. Often your parents or grandparents will recall a family story but don't want to present it as fact because they're not sure if it's important.

Inquire amongst your relatives as to whether any of them have a family Bible, old birth and marriage certificates or any birth, marriage or death notices that they may have kept as mementos. Often an obituary notice is saved as a keepsake; parents, siblings and children are usually listed as well as birth and death dates.

Locate the county court building in the area your family resided in. While most courts charge a fee to conduct a record search, it is usually free if you are willing to search the records yourself. The same holds true for county and local libraries; many hold extensive genealogy records that you can browse through in search of your family records.

Contact the local historian of the town or country your family lived in. Most counties have an online genealogy website and the local expert will be listed; they will also have a forum or message board where people can exchange information on family names. Often you will find an individual like yourself in another state who is willing to look up local and county records for people who live at a distance.

Conduct an online search for missing family information. There are several websites that hold genealogy records and do not require a paid membership or fee for you to search them; especially look for databases that contain census information for the state or county your people lived in.

Expand your search overseas if your ancestors were immigrants by examining census records to determine the year of immigration. Many of the same free websites have international branches; remember to check for name variants if your family came from a non English speaking country.

Tip

  • File your information in folders divided by family branches once your tree becomes too complicated to locate individuals quickly.

About the Author

Robin Hewitt began her writing career in 2008. She is the coauthor of several books, including "The Joyous Gift of Grandparenting," which covers the nutritional and fitness needs of both grandchildren and grandparents.