Free online data is usually available thanks to the kindness and hard work of individual volunteers. One of the best examples of volunteerism at work is USGenWeb www.usgenweb.com, a massive site with individual pages for every U.S. county— all maintained by volunteers. Goodies vary per county, but many contain transcriptions of Bibles, wills, census and tax records.
In the past few years, governmental agencies have gotten into the act by posting historical data in free, searchable online databases. The Illinois State Archives www.sos.state.il.us/departments/archives/databases.html has gone the extra mile, transcribing and uploading 14 different databases of Illinois-related material, including death indexes, land transactions, marriages records and military records.
If you're trying to keep your research costs at a minimum, try using search engines to locate the many free databases, which are popping up all over the Web. Use a variety of search terms such as "Kentucky deaths" or "Kentucky death index" or "Kentucky databases," until you either find the database or are certain it's not online. Using Google, www.google.com, I typed in "Maine marriages" and found an online index of Maine marriages from 1892 to 1996.
When I went looking for "Missouri births," I turned up a surprising hit: the Missouri Secretary of State's online abstract of the birth, stillbirth and death records recorded before 1909, available on microfilm at the Missouri State Archives. Why was I surprised? That site wasn't there the last time I looked. The lesson: Don't forget to do another Web search every six months or so.
Good luck in your search for free online data. To get started, check out these great sites:
• Bureau of Land Management, Federal Land Patents
• USGenWeb Census Project
• The Olive Tree (more than 500 free databases)
• Census Online
• CensusDiggins (not limited to census data)
• GeneaLinks (25,000 marriage records)