For me I started a few months after my Mom passed away and my Dad died years earlier so I could not ask either of them for help so I had to reach out to Aunts and Uncles. At this stage you should know the dates of your Parents birth.
The first logical place to start is the United States Federal Census. The US Government sends out Census takers every 10 years to gather information from it's citizens but it is not released to the public for 72 years from that year. In 2012 the 1940 Census was released and the 1950 Census will not be revealed until 2022. Ancestry and Family Search was the sites who released it first online.
In my case I knew my Grandparents names and birth and death dates. The next step was to find my Great-Grandparents. I found them in the 1900 Census and I found out the names of my Grandparents siblings. Unless your Great-Grandparents were Native American there is a slim chance you will find them in earlier Census records.
I found out they came to the United States in 1890 from Prussia Germany and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Your ancestors likely were born in Europe. Check the Immigration records to find out when your ancestor arrived in the USA. The best site to look for records is Family Search.
For some reason my Great-Grandparents after living in Pittsburgh for almost 20 years uprooted the family and moved to Duluth, Minnesota. I found a website that helped me immensely, Duluth Public Library. Scroll down till you see Search by Subject and click Genealogy. This site will have links to St. Louis County (Duluth is in the county) records and also records for the State of Minnesota. Copies of Birth and Death Certificates can be purchased for $9.00 each.
You can find obituaries in Duluth newspapers and order copies through the Library. Obituaries from 1960-present can be looked for online and if you want copies you can send for them by filling out a form and they charge $2.00 to cover the postage and printing. I purchased 2 obits from the Library and it took less than 2 weeks to receive.
My oldest Grand Uncle moved to the State of Washington in 1908, married and had children in the State. The best place to look for records online for Washington is the Washington State Digital Archives. With some records the results will show a copy of the actual document. You can purchase the record or you can do what I did, take a screenshot and I use Picasa to do the rest. I found quite a few records using this site. My Grand Uncle moved the family to San Diego, California but I could not really find free sites except for Family Search.
During my search for other family lines I came across NorCal Genealogy and just followed the links I wanted to see. This site will tell you if certain records and information is Free or you have to pay to see which is very helpful so you don't click a link only to find out you have to pay.
The following site in my opinion, is THE BEST. Missouri Digital Heritage-Death Records Certificates. On this site you can actually see a copy of the ACTUAL Death Certificate of any person who lived in Missouri from 1910-1963. This year or next, 1964 deaths will be added. I have relatives named Shoup who lived in Missouri during that time span. If you just type Shoup, you will have 89 hits so if you are looking for someone with a common last name like 'Smith', make absolutely sure you know the first name cause 'Smith' had over 20,000 results. Death Indexes is another great site cause you can search all 50 States for records in one place. .
- Although the following site does not contain obituaries, you can get Birth and Death dates and places, the site is Find a Grave. It is free to browse the over 120 million graves, both ordinary and famous. You can create a Virtual Memorial on anyone. Most people will walk through Cemeteries and take down the vitals then create a Memorial on the site. If you want to create a Virtual Memorial or leave notes and virtual 'flowers' you must sign up for an account. It is totally free. I am a Contributor and have created memorials to family members.
In summary, these are the pages that helped with my Genealogy search.
- Missouri Digital Heritage Records-Death Records Certificates
- Washington State Digital Archives
- Death Indexes
- Duluth Public Library
- NorCal Genealogy
- Find A Grave
Believe it or not, there is a way you can access the pay site, Ancestry, for free. You will only be able to see the Ancestry US Edition but it will greatly help you in your search for information on your Family Tree. To access for free, you need to go to your local Public Library.
Most libraries now have computers for patrons to search for books, CDs and DVDs and now on these same computers you can search for Databases. Databases are sites that you can find on the Internet but the Library has paid a fee to allow anyone access to it in the library for free.
The Hawaii State Library, like most other libraries allows patrons access to Ancestry so I have taken full advantage of this and that has helped me a lot. Just a word of warning, most libraries allow you to access the Internet. Do not use these computers to access Ancestry. If you are not sure which computers to use, just ask any Librarian and the person will be happy to tell you.
I am sure I have left out a ton of other free sites you may know about but there is one free site I have intentionally left out and that is Rootsweb. It is a free alternative to Ancestry. I like some parts of the site especially the California Death Index (1940-1997). They no longer carry the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), at least I did not see it when I looked at the site but the part I hate is 'World Connect'. My pet peeve is the duplication you see on this site. With some names you will see five same Families listed with the same identical record for each one and it was submitted by five different people.
Case in point. On Ancestry I was searching for my Great Grandmother Margaret Ellen Shoup. I found her in the 1900 Federal Census and she had 2 daughters and it was listed like this.
Annie Kendel Liz Kendel.
About a month later I went on Rootsweb and I was browsing World Connect and I typed in Margaret Shoup. I had a few hits and one person submitted the following, Maggie Shoup and under Children, Annie Kendel and Liz Kendel which I right away knew he copied it right off the Ancestry website. It has since been removed from World Connect but you may be asking how I know he is wrong?, Margaret Shoup was married to Samuel RANDELL and my Grandmother was born Anna RANDELL and besides, Ancestry corrected the error a few months after it was put on their site. This is why I dislike Rootsweb World Connect. A lot of names are duplicated and some of the duplications are either copied from Ancestry even if it is wrong information or copied from those that submitted the names first.
Like I said before, the sites I mentioned are just a few of thousands of free sites you can find on the web to help you in your search to fill in your Family Tree. I am finding out that it is a neverending task and once you answer one question, another one pops up and even though you will take a break once in awhile, you will undoubtedly go back and continue. Good Luck on your search.