Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Top 2 Free Resources for Genealogists

Genealogists are always looking for the best FREE resources. I see it mentioned every time I go to message boards where genealogists are exchanging information. The underlying, unspoken understanding is that they are looking for free INTERNET resources. They are looking for websites that will easily serve up information about their ancestors.

These are hands down the TOP 2 FREE Resources for genealogists. They might not be what you were expecting.

1) Your Public Library

You can't beat this. It's the best possible information source for genealogists. In terms of internet resources, many public libraries in the United States provide FREE access to paid subscription databases like (Please let me know if this is the case too in Canada, Europe and Down Under.) They also typically offer other online historical and genealogical databases. And most libraries have historical newspaper databases, at least for local newspapers. Some of the databases can even be accessed from the comfort of your home.

Most people forget about all the other free resources available in the library such as books, magazines, DVDs, audio CDs, a helpful staff and interlibrary loan.  You can read about all the resources in your local library in a post I wrote called "Have You Visited Your Local Library Lately?"

Most libraries are within a reasonable distance of your home. And people with disabilities can often get free transportation from a town-provided service. After you've exhausted all the online databases make your way to the building and make use of all the other great resources available located there.

2) Your Local FamilySearch Center

While it's true that your local FamilySearch Center may not be located as close as your local library, it is still worth seeking it out. A quick check online will give you the location of the nearest center to your home.

FamilySearch Centers provide premium databases that you may not find in your local library.  In addition to they also have Fold3, historic map databases, the Godfrey Memorial Library and many others. If you don't have the money to buy these databases or don't use them enough to warrant the cost, then the FamilySearch Center is the perfect solution.

Not only will the FamilySearch Center give you access to free online databases but the world of microfilm will be within your reach.  You can rent microfilm from the Family History Library and view it at your local center. These two resources put the world of genealogy at your fingertips.

In addition, FamilySearch Centers also have books, research guides and other supportive materials to help you in your search. And let's not forget the volunteer staff. An important resource new genealogists need is guidance from more experienced genealogists. Lean on the volunteer staff to help guide you through the bumps in your research and the tangle of websites that can be so confusing.

Give it a Try!

Your local library and local FamilySearch Center combine to provide you with the most powerful resources to propel your genealogy research forward. Schedule an afternoon to explore these two important yet under-utilized resources.

Photo Credit: photo by CCAC North Library and used under the creative commons license. Photo shows the Reference Area on the first floor of the CCAC North Campus Library (Pittsburgh, PA).


  1. Yes, a lot (although not all) of libraries in the UK give free access to Ancestry Library Edition. Some also give access to digitised newspaper collections such as the British Newspapers 1600-1900 collection and The Times Digital Archive.

  2. Excellent points, Marian! People just need to get up and go!

  3. As a librarian, I would argue that the library is not free. Your tax dollars pay for it so it makes sense to take advantage of such a resource. Likewise libraries suffer cutbacks in economic climates such as we have today so your support and use of your local library is paramount.

  4. Our Vancouver BC Library provides Library edition (plus amazing other resources); the Aldergrove Library (in nearby Surrey) provides the same and more resources; and our own BC Genealogical Society Library also provides Ancestry Library edition as well as (NEHGS). Of course, the local FamilySearch Libraries (several nearby) have several Library editions of commonly used commercial databases including Heritage Quest. Lots "free". And indeed, Librarians are our best friends!

  5. My local library in Ontario has Ancestry Library Edition. They have also worked very hard indexing some of the newspapers and some digitization which is online.

    Our local Family History Centre has Ancestry. Depending on the centre you might find Findmypast or other online databases.

    Access to online newspapers is hard to find in Ontario. The large city libraries like Toronto have online access to two Toronto newspapers. You might find ProQuest at large University libraries but it can be hard to access computers to use the database.

  6. The public library is definitely a must! I have to admit to not yet venturing into the FHC, although it's on my list!

  7. University libraries are also great, especially if you need non-local historical or geographic resources, or help with a foreign language. Alumni usually continue to have borrowing privileges.
    One other plus and a warning hint for Family History Centers - The volunteers and other patrons at a FHC are typically willing to help or give suggestions, but check the hours of operation, as these may be limited.

  8. Love our local library, it has given me a lot of help over the years, whether is be on fiche or internet. Late in 2011 they added Find My past for UK Australia & New Zealand.

  9. Pretty much every library in Ontario has access to Ancestry Library Edition through funding from the province. Thanks for the reminder to people about their library - I'm always surprised when I give my seminars how many people don't know what we can do for them at the library!

  10. As a newbie, this is good info. I had no idea about the FamilySearch Centers. Thanks for a great post.

  11. The Moncton Public Library in New Brunswick, Canada does not have ancestry, but it does have a great resource room. Also, the Librarie Acadienne at the Universite de Moncton has excellent resources for those of us searching French Acadienne roots, and they will help with translation if need be, although they won't sit with you the whole time you are in there.

  12. Excellent post and one that I am in much agreement on. I am fortunate to live within two miles of a Family Search center and have the person running it on speed dial.

    I would be interested in a companion post from a professional genealogist such as yourself as to the best PAID sites. I subscribe to Ancestry and NewspaperArchive but see dozens of other paid sites and wonder if they are better, i.e. have larger amounts of information available.

  13. Excellent post, Marian, I couldn 't agree more. My local library card gives me access to some useful online resources, including 19th Century Newspapers and The Times Digital Archive. I can also access The Scotsman newspaper archive using my Glasgow City Library card - you don't always have to live in the area to join a library.

    As for Family History Centres, they are a tremendous resource if you are lucky enough to have one near you. I am extremely lucky to have the London Family History Centre (temporarily) in the building where I work. But then I am also lucky enough to work at The National Archives...

  14. Marian
    I will concur with your statements regarding repositories, but on line the best is truly, and though I think since has made many great changes to the positive in the last ten years they are my third choice. But many people I talked with as GFS host did not have a library that was friendly to a genealogist and LDS was not even any where near. But all libraries have reference sections and I wonder how many people ignore them. They are a priceless item in your library for a genealogist or historian.

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  16. I live in NH. My town library is two miles away. I don't go often because of the lack of support by the town the books are beyond outdated. I asked once about online databases and the person at the desk didn't even know what I was talking about. Catch 22 I don't use the library because it is outdated and because it is not used certain people think it is not necessary to update. They now have a website but that is it. When I worked in the next town I found out with a work badge from a company in that town I could get a library card for that library. It not only gives me access from the library but access to some databases (except Ancestry) from home and to many other libraries. I now work in Mass and one of the first things I did is check with the library in town I work in to see if I could get a library card. I could not because I am not a Mass Resident.