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How to Find Your Family History on a Budget

by Erin Konrad


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There are few things more valuable in life than knowing where you come from. Ultimately, there's a certain beauty and comfort in understanding your roots and those that came before you. It's much easier to comprehend your own path when you know the story of your ancestors. Researching your family history doesn't have to be a costly venture. In fact, there are many ways to discover your heritage without shelling out any money at all.

A great way to begin is by gathering all the information you have about your family. Things like photo albums or copies of birth certificates can be helpful. You can start with your own details, then add your mother, father, and grandparents and organize them in a family tree. This tree can give you a great visualization of your relatives. Once you have your tree set up, you can look for the gaps of ancestors that you don't know much about. Then, check out these five free resources to help flesh out the rest of your family history.

1. Search Social Security records.

The Social Security death index began in 1962 and has housed records on American citizens since its inception. You can search their database for free through the FamilySearch.org website. The Social Security records are a great place to start if you don't have a lot of initial information. All you need is a first and last name to begin your search. Some records have photos attached, but at the bare minimum, you can find the dates of birth or death and that person's Social Security number. This information will give you a great starting off point for further research.

2. Access the Ellis Island Records Database.

Because we're a nation of immigrants, chances are you had a relative come into the country through Ellis Island. This database is run by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, so you can search their records for free. They have more than 22 million records from immigrants who entered the US at Ellis Island or the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924. The database is very extensive, so you can search by your relative's name, the year they arrived, year of birth, town of origin, or the name of the ship they arrived on. You can also print out immigration records or ship logs relevant to your ancestor's history.

3. Sign up for a free trial at Ancestry.com.

Ancestry.com has one of the widest collections of family records (including census lists and immigration and military records). The website also provides great resources and ideas for organizing the information you've found. Usually a subscription to the site costs $19.99 a month. However, if you use an Ancestry.com coupon code, you're eligible for a free 14-day trial. You can pack all of your research into two weeks, and then cancel your membership before you're charged a penny.

4. Ask for help finding records.

The Genealogy Lookup feature on the Ancestral Findings website lets you request one free search per day. You can ask about birth, marriage, death, or census records, and they'll email you the requested information within one week. Although you can only gain access to specific records once a day, it's worth it for no cost. You can start by simply entering a last name into the search box.

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5. Head to FamilySearch.org.

This website is run by the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, and includes a multitude of records for people of any religion to help in researching their family tree. FamilySearch.org is one of the best sites for accessing free records. Many of the documents come with photographs (that you can easily print for your records). A quick search turns up death, marriage, and birth certificates within seconds, even if you only know a first and last name. With millions of records on hand, this database is a great way to fill in the branches of your family tree without spending a dime.

Find out where you come from with these quick and easy ideas. You can't put a price tag on discovering your roots, so why not do the discovering for free?


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