Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can’t Beat Free and Online

Sometimes the presumption is that hobbies cost money—lots of money. However, despite spending a small chunk for the program I use to organize my genealogy database, I’ve been able to find several online resources that cost me absolutely nothing to use.

There are pockets of shared material scattered all over the internet. The trick is finding where these gems are salted away. One approach is to Google your target names. Another is to use those trusty forums and ask, “Where would I find this?” A third way is to go to the giants that everyone knows and respects and see how much information can be found there—a sort of one-stop genealogical shopping trip, virtual big-box version.

Google is ubiquitous in the online world. I see no reason to ignore its finding power when doing family research. If I have a name I want to research—provided it isn’t too common—I plug it into Google’s little box to see what comes up, putting quote marks around the full name. Since we’re now also immersed in a world that includes social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, sometimes that research strategy gets flooded with too many current-day hits, so I’ve had to modify my approach and add a second search term, like “obituary” or “genealogy” to hone in on what I’m looking for. While that approach doesn’t always get me great results, it sometimes leads me to sites I hadn’t previously been aware of.

As far as the forums go, I can’t say enough positive things about those resources. Many of these sites are peopled with patient and experienced peers—people just like us who love doing family research and are happy to share what they’ve learned along the way. Even if I’m posting a query hoping for Some Kind Soul to volunteer to help me, I inevitably find someone who subscribes to the “teach a man to fish” theory and gives me a short lesson in where I can find more about the answer I’m seeking, rather than give me the handout that only “feeds” me for a day’s worth of genealogical “meals.” I’ve learned about so many free online resources that way. I’m always sure to mark those new-found sites in a genealogy folder in my Favorites file for future reference.

While it is handy to learn about the best place to find obituaries posted in Saskatoon or Regina, or marriage records posted in New Lexington, you can’t beat finding all your research answers in one convenient location. That’s why the many changes to the FamilySearch site have been so exciting. From a streamlined entry screen, you may be able to access everything from census records to actual copies of key documents for several family members. And to think that, only a few years ago, this website featured little more than the transcribed records of the 1880 US Census!

Coupled with this website is a beta version that was used in developing what is available at FamilySearch today. That site has been a bonanza of scanned documents for many of my 19th century relatives, particularly those resident in the Midwest.

As with many of the resources that can be found online, the aging process becomes an enhancement process: the more these sites are able to augment their holdings, the more that means success in your search ventures.

But why wait? Try entering some of your ancestors’ names in these sites now and take a look at what comes up. You may find—as I did one recent afternoon—that it is hard to pull yourself away from all the material you are uncovering with just the click of your mouse.

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