The Internet has opened up a whole new world to both the new and the experienced genealogist. Becasue of the nature of genealogy , the Internet will never take the place of all types of genealogic research. What it does is allow research to be done from the comfort of your own home and on your schedule.
If you have information that you need from another city, state or country there is a site of volunteers who will help you out for free for limited searches. It is called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. If you know that your ancestors lived and died in a certain city, a volunteer will go to the town records for you and get the information. They are not going to do your entire genealogy for you but for that occassional record that is beyond your reach, they are life savers.
One good place to start your online research is Cyndis List. This is a comprehensive list of what is available on the internet organized by state, by religious affiliation, by nationality and by country. I am not going to say that if it isn’t on Cyndi’s list it isn’t out there but Cyndi does a very good job of keeping this site on the cutting edge of genealogical research.
The US Genweb census project is a work in progress but it is one option for checking the US Census. There is no guarantee that the county you want in the state you choose will be complete but who knows you could get lucky. There are also projects out there for Great Britain and Canada.
The Church of Latter Day Saints more commonly known as the Mormons have a website Family Search which is one of the best free website available. Now I say that with qualifications. It really depends on what you already know. One thing that you have to keep in mind with this site is the source. If it is a primary source, a church record or a census then it is good, if it is from someone else’s genealogy then you need to take it with a grain of salt. Always use primary sources whenever possible. Just because someone else says that something is a fact doesn’t make it a fact.
If your family came to the United States between 1892 and 1954 then it is possible that they entered the country through Ellis Island. This website can tell you the ship that they arrived on and who they traveled with. Keep in mind that many names have evolved over the years so you may have to try a few different variation of the spelling.
One of the wonderful side affects of tracing your family tree is finding members from other branches who you may have never known existed. I have corresponded with and met 6 people from different branches on my family tree who live all over the world. It has been the most amazing thing. For these wonderful additions to my family I have Rootsweb to thank. What you are going to do on this site is to go looking for your family names. There are message boards where people put queries. You will receive an email when someone responds to your query. Put in as much info as you can to make sure you are identifying which family of that name you are related to.
The best free website in the world is not a free website at all, it is Ancestry.com. What you will get is a free two week trial. In two weeks you will be able to get to know the site and to find out if it has what you need to get your genealogy started or to add to what you currently know. When your two week trial is up, if you what to continue to use it for free you will need to check with your local public library to see if they pay for a subscription. You can then go there and use it for free. If they don’t then you will need to try to locate a genealogical library, society or group who should have a subscription. If all else fails you may have to consider paying for your own subscription but that should only be a last resort.
These are just a few of the free web sites that are out there to help you to find your ancestors. There are literally hundreds of local sites and society that can help you to connect all the dots in your family history. Sit dopwn at your computer and get going, the world past and present is at your finger tips.