A few weeks ago, I found myself feeling less fortunate because I live near Salt Lake City's world-famous Family History Library. Because the Family History Library doesn't have everything, I imagined I would much rather live near the New Jersey counties where I have been researching the last few years. I was mentioning my poor plight to a fellow researcher, and he didn't seem to share my sorrow. My distress was mostly based on the need to find several people in obituaries (of which I know the issue dates and the newspapers they were published in), an estate packet, and several copies of death certificates. I found that all of these gems are only available several universities, the State Archives, county record offices, and the state Bureau of Vital Statistics. It wasn't until I had pulled out my atlas, my checkbook, and called a few airlines that remembered a great service called "lookups."
Lookups are just that - people willing to "look up" individuals in locally-accessible records and either make copies, take digital headstone photos, or transcribe the information from record in local repositories. And fortunately, lookups are available in virtually every county in the United States, and many internationally.
Two excellent places to find the lookups available for your area of research are:
Lookups are free, in the sense that you aren't paying a professional genealogist to research families extensively, write a report, and drop the bill in the mail for you. The lookup service provided at each county site on USGenWeb is completely free, whereas the RAoGK lookups are provided only at the cost of photocopies, film, or video, and possibly a small charge for mileage traveled. Many lookups available are for historical works about the county—county histories and mugshot books—but other lookups may include public record searches, cemetery searches (both headstone photos and sexton records), and obituaries.
What's the catch, right? Lookup communities of volunteers are supported by the goodwill of genealogists willing to help each other. That means that all that is expected in return is courtesy, and maybe returning the favor for someone else in need. Courtesy includes several things: be patient for a response or mailed record, request the information from only one lookup volunteer, and only ask for one or two individuals per lookup. And returning the favor? I just decided to volunteer the use of my brand-new prized copy of Edwin Salter's History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, NJ by going to USGenWeb's New Jersey county websites.