The least expensive way, especially if you are just starting your family history research, is to begin with yourself. You do need to write out your own basic information (birth, marriage, residence, and schooling) and then work on each parent. If possible write then each parent's mother and father. You might not know much yet but do write out what information, name, dates, location you know, even if it has a question mark. You would be surprised at how much you may already know.
With that listing, go to living relatives; older siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even godparents along with old family friends and neighbors. The amount of knowledge will greatly increase after meeting or writing to some of these individuals. However, being accurate is important. Your aunt might not know the marriage date of a grandparent, but does believe it was before 1930. Put that information down with a question mark, it could be helpful later.
Now the real research begins. Select a couple of the ancestors and use the Family Search web site familysearch.org It is free using a computer and the Internet. It is also available at your local library on their public computers. The site will have 'Ancestral Files', 'US Census for 1880', 'International Genealogical Index', 'Pedigree Resource File', 'Social Security Death Index (SSDI)' and 'Vital Records Index'.
Using this site alone with will open all new possibilities of ancestors. If your have a local branch of Family History Center of the Latter-Day Saints Church, by all means use its facility.
Besides the use of computers with the Family Search web site, the local Family History Center will have cabinets filled with microfilm / microfiche and the readers to view the films. The microfilm and microfiche have Federal and State censuses for everywhere in the United States, manifests of immigrants arriving in the country, various church records, land deeds, city directories plus records from most countries in the world.
If the local Center doesn't have the material or microfilm you need and it is available at the headquarters in Salt Lake City, it can be ordered and sent to your local branch for a small fee. There are various books, maps, magazines and additional genealogical computer disks all free to use.
They can provide you free with 'PAF' - Personal Ancestral File software which will allow you to collect, organize and share your family history. If you need printed paper forms or charts for listing your family, those are also available. Plus a volunteer staff to assist in every aspect of your search. This is one major source that every genealogist will appreciate and use.
Genealogy has always been a popular hobby and even more so in the last twenty years. So that genealogical societies have developed for decades. There are the national, state and local level societies. There are countless specialized genealogical societies; such as Jewish Genealogical Society, American-French Genealogy Society and East European Genealogical Society. Whatever your location or interest in genealogy, there is a society established.
The society's purpose is to generate interest and promote genealogical research. Most have their own web site on the Internet and produce newsletters. You can become a member for a minimal annual fee even if you don't live in the area of its headquarters.
A regional genealogical society is good to belong to especially if you have several ancestors from a particular location. They will have a library of publications, books, family charts, cemetery records, wills, deeds and even photos for the region which would be of assistance in your research.
The society's volunteers will search their holdings when you send a written request (keep it to 2 - 3 questions) and mail back the information. There usually is a small fee and even less for society members. While using the Internet either at home or in the public library, an excellent source is the 'Community Message Boards'. With Ancestry.com, Rootsweb Message Board, or FamilyHistory.com, they serve as a massive online community where individuals around the world post their questions and provide assist to fellow researchers. Just about any surname, region or topic relating to genealogy will have a message board. It is a free source to connect with other genealogists and exchange information.
Perhaps you have a particular request; another online source is 'Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness' (RAOGK) at raogk.org/. This volunteer group from across the world will look up, copy or photograph requests submitted in reference to their region. For example, you would like a photo of the headstone of your grandfather located in a cemetery in Orange County, California. At the RAOGK web site you would go to the state name, then the county and view the list of volunteers in that county willing to take photos in the county's cemeteries.
You email that individual with your request and they get back to you of approximately when they could do the photo. You in turn provide your mailing address and cover the cost of either driving to the cemetery and / or developing of the photo, etc. There is no cost for the time to assist you. There are thousands of volunteers, many in countries outside the United States, all willing to go the extra mile in their own community to help you.
The path of a genealogist has been made much easier over the years, especially with the many volunteers around the world. Doing your family history does not have to be a highly costly activity. It does take your time and commitment however the rewards can benefit future generations.
Genealogy is my hobby... and addiction. For the last 20 years I have been researching, even before there was the internet. Along the way I have found many resources and shortcuts that I love to share with others.
Feel free to visit me at http://www.genealogysoup.com/ sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive my free ebook "Commonly Used Genealogical Forms" as a thank you from me.
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