Many people who have never traced their ancestry assume they must purchase an expensive subscription to a genealogy database. Genealogy is a time consuming and addictive hobby, so before investing money, rookie researchers should go the free route to make sure they will stick with it.
Start with what you know
How much do you really know about your family without having to consult anyone? Write down what you already know about your family. Is there documentation for what you know, such as a birth or death certificate or a marriage license?
Can you fill out three generations on a pedigree chart? If not, it may be time to reach out.
Contact a relative
Now is the time to call or email parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and anyone else remotely related. Tell them you want to start working on your family tree and need their help. They may have photos, information, or tips on whom else to contact. Not everyone will be interested in genealogy, but they may have valuable information or photos you can borrow and copy.
Get free research advice and access to records
Local libraries and universities often subscribe to databases that would cost a beginner a lot of money. They also have volunteers or staff members with research knowledge.
The National Archives has branches around the country with staff and volunteers, free computers, and free printers. These branches are open to the public. The Southwest Region branch in Fort Worth has fewer than 10 employees, but more than 20 volunteers who are dedicated and knowledgeable.
The Mormon Church has Family History Centers around the world, and they have premium website subscriptions. They also have FamilySearch.org, which is the Mormon genealogy site, which is always free, anywhere.
Family History Center volunteers will show genealogists how to use free sites such as Cyndi’s List, Find a Grave, and billiongraves.com. There is also Family Search Wiki, Family Search on Facebook, and genealogists can follow Family Search on Twitter.
Attend a free workshop
Local genealogy societies, lineage organizations, museums, universities, libraries, Family History Centers, the National Archives, and other groups offer informative and free workshops. Membership is usually not required to attend, and these are great places to pick up tips and to network.
The Arlington, Texas Family History Fair is held every spring. This event features a full day of genealogy workshops, free of charge. The Fort Worth Genealogical Society offers The Beginners Workshop series each year, and the National Archives in Fort Worth has a monthly Friday Freebies workshop.
Visit a cemetery or a church
Tombstones are a wealth of information. In addition to birth and death date information, they may mention family members, occupation, religious affiliation, or military service. Family members are often buried together. Sometimes a non-relative is buried with a family, and researchers should investigate why that was done in order to find more genealogy clues.
Find out if the cemetery is private or is operated by a city or a county. There is no cost to viewing cemetery records in person, and some cemeteries provide copies of records at no charge.
Churches may require an appointment to view records, especially if staff or volunteers need to locate older records. These records are also often free of charge, but sometimes the church may ask for a donation.
Conduct online name searches
Many genealogists post their family histories online. These can be valuable resources, especially if the author of the tree includes contact information. Do not be afraid to contact a stranger who might be related. Introduce yourself, explain how you found them and what you are doing, ask for help, and offer to share information and records in exchange for any assistance.
These steps will require an investment of time and effort. This should be enough for a new genealogist to decide whether paying for a subscription or software is the next step.