Well, hold the milk jug — you’re about to feel like the kid who just discovered the Dick Tracy Decoder Ring in his box of Raisin Bran. That’s right, we’re going to hook you up with free stuff — handy tools, software, maps, scrapbook embellishments — as well as services, from foreign-language letter translation to family history Web site hosting. True, to get this boxful of genealogy goodies, you’ll need Internet access (which, need we point out, you can get for free at your public library). Once you’re online, though, you’ll be amazed at how much you can feed your genealogy obsession without shelling out a cent. So grab a spoon — er, a mouse — and feast on these family tree freebies.
If you can’t seem to keep track of the difference between a third cousin and a second cousin once removed, use the free Cousin Calculator at Roots.net <www.iroots.net/tools/cusncalc>. Download it (Mac and Windows versions are available) or use the Web-based pop-up calculator right on the site. Prefer to stay low-tech? Go with the “Boring Tabular Version.”
Figuring an ancestor’s age at death is another common calculation conundrum. An easy — and, of course, free — solution is the Days Between Dates Calculator <www.easycalculation.com/days-between-dates.php>, which shows you how many years, months and days have elapsed between two dates. The Birth Date Calculator <www.longislandgenealogy.com/birth.html> works backward to your ancestor’s birth date when you enter his date of death and at death.
If you’re exploring US census records, the Web is full of tools that can convert your ancestor’s name to Soundex, the code used to index similar-sounding names in the 1880,1900,1910 and 1920 enumerations. We’re partial to Stephen Heise’s Soundex Generator at own site <www.familytreemagazine.com/soundex.html>, where you’ll also find an explanation of the whole Soundex scheme. With RootsWeb’s Soundex Converter <resources.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/soundexconverter>, you get not only the code for the surname you entered, but also a list of other surnames with the same code.
Once you dig into your ancestors’ lives a bit, you may want to better understand how they got by day to day. How much would Great-grandpa’s salary be in today’s dollars, for example? Or what would the itemized values in that estate inventory buy in modern money? The Inflation Calculator <www.westegg.com/inflation> can “translate” any sum according to the Consumer Price Index. It’s a simple tool — just enter an amount and any two years between 1800 and 2005. For a more nuanced approach (although limited to 1914 and later), try the Cost-of-Living Calculators <www.newsengin.com/nefreetools.nsf>: Pick from 18 different geographic options, such as the Detroit or New York metropolitan areas, “South urban” or “West urban.” The calculator lets you exclude the volatile costs of food and energy, too.
You’ll also want to learn about the world your relatives lived in — not only is it interesting, but the social history information might open up new research avenues. To get a whole range of dates, use OurTimelines.com <www.ourtimelines.com>, which generates a timeline showing how your ancestor fits into history.
Maps and Gazetteers
Almost as important as when in tracing your family tree is where events happened. But locating obscure, remote or now-defunct places can be an obstacle — just where exactly is Moss Bluff, anyway? Fortunately, free online geographical tools have advanced from useful to downright eye-popping; you may never dust off that old printed atlas again.
Start with a pair of essential sites courtesy of Uncle Sam — The National Map <nationalmap.gov> and the National Atlas <nationalatlas.gov>. These related sites let you create and customize colorful maps, mixing and matching layers to include streets and roads, historic sites, even topographical detail. You can zoom in and out in a pop-up browser window — no special software required. Although the National Atlas also lets you order big wall-sized maps, you can download and print your own creations for free. Note that the US Geological Survey’s geographic-name lookup — the solution to your obscure ancestral-locale quandaries — is now tucked away in The National Map’s viewer: From the home page, click Go to Viewer, then Find Place among the buttons on the left side, and finally, Named Feature. (Louisiana, Texas and Florida, it turns out, all have a Moss Bluff.)
If you’re planning a research trip to an archive or cemetery, the free maps from MapQuest <www mapquest.com> are a great place to start. You even can get complete driving directions to your destination. But we especially like the maps at Google Local <maps.google.com>, which let you switch between a map view and a satellite photo view, or combine the two. To really get a look at Great-great-grandpa’s homestead — at least, as it appears today — download the free Google Earth beta utility <earth.google.com> and get a bird’s-eye view of any place on the planet.
For a more, er, down-to-earth mapping utility that lets you customize and print basic state maps showing county boundaries (you can color-code and annotate the counties, too) turn to Do-It-Yourself Color-Coded State Maps <monarch.tamu.edu/~maps2>.
Although our annual 101 Best Web Sites roundup is packed with destinations that dole out free data, some databases deserve special mention because they give away information you’d have to pay for elsewhere. Did you know, for example, that Ancestry.com <Ancestry.com > offers a free two-week trial of its subscription databases? Sign up when you have an open block of time; you can get a lot of research done in a fortnight. (If you don’t plan to become a paid subscriber, take care to follow the cancellation instructions when your trial period ends.)
Your local library also may offer you access to Ancestry.com’s immigration, census, vital and other records through Ancestry Library Edition. The library has to pay, of course, but it’s free to you as a patron. And ask the librarian about free access to another service, HeritageQuest Online, <www.heritagequestonline.com> which includes local and family histories plus digitized, searchable US census records. You may even be able to log in from home using your library card number.
The next best thing to owning essential resources is finding someone who has the book or CD you need and will do a free lookup for you. You can tap the home libraries of more than 1,500 volunteers at Books We Own <rootsweb.com/~bwo>, which has been finding answers for genealogists since 1996. The Genealogy CD List <loricase.com/CDs/cdlist.html> is a similar service for CDs. And you can request free lookups in a variety of resources, ranging from land records to World Family Tree CDs, at Ancestral Findings <www. ancestralfindings.com/guidelines.htm>.
For research help in a distant library or archive you can’t get to, turn to Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness <www.raogk.org>. Your only cost is reimbursing the local genealogy volunteer for expenses such as photocopying — and, of course, doing some other researcher a favor one day.
A new way of finding information in a book without having it in your hands is Google Book Search <books.google.com>, which has aroused controversy over its goal to digitize pretty much all the world’s libraries. For now, you can view sample pages that fit your search only if the copyright holder has given an OK, or if the book is in the public domain. Take a similar free peek using Amazon.com’s Search Inside the Book feature <amazon.com>.
How-Tos and Classes
The Web is awash in advice on tackling new research resources, hurdling your brick walls and getting your family history down on paper. For thorough instruction, though, the Research Guidance at Family Search (use the link on <www.familysearch.org>) is hard to beat. Supplement those how-tos with the step-by-step advice in Genealogy.com’s Reference Guide <genealogy.com/reference_guide.html>. Genealogy.com also offers several free online genealogy classes on topics ranging from Internet research to tracing immigrant origins <genealogy.com/university.html>. Your local library, community college or senior center also may give free genealogy courses.
The National Archives gets into the instructional act with free Genealogy Notes excerpted from its $20-per-year publication, Prologue <archives.gov/publications/ prologue/genealogy-notes.html>. You’ll find tips on researching headstones and using Freedmen’s Bureau records, 1930 census districts, military records and more. Biography Assistant <genealogy.com/bio> can help you put your ancestor’s story — or your own — together in writing. You tell the “assistant” a little about your biography subject, and the program produces a tailored list of writing ideas.
Your overseas ancestors created records in their native tongues, which might or might not have been English. Ditto for the repositories of their records over there. You could spend a bundle on professional translation to make sense of foreign-language finds — or you could use a no-cost, genealogy-geared translation service such as e-transcriptum <www.e-transcriptum.net/eng>. This straightforward site, based in France, lets you submit requests via the Web, fax or mail; you can transmit text or scanned images (saved as JPG or GIF files).
If you’re grappling with old German script, give Scrip Trans a try. This father-and-son team will attempt to decipher and translate short family history-related text for free (though donations are welcomed). See <www.tranquility.net/~pwrigh0l> for details, or e-mail files to [email protected]
Other translators: Babel Fish <babelfish.altavista.com> will make its best stab at text up to 150 words, and Google Language Tools <www.google.com/language_tools> translates a sentence or a whole Web page — just enter the URL and pick a language.
If your problem is requesting material from a foreign source in the first place, FamilySearch Letter-Writing Guides walk you through common genealogy requests in nine languages: Czech, Slovak, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. Go to the FamilySearch home page, look under Getting Started With Family History and click Guides. Then click Letter-writing Guide on the left. You may need the free Adobe Reader, which you can download at <www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html>.
You might not realize how many genealogy programs are available gratis. We’re not talking about crude, amateurish products: These freebies include basic versions of some top family tree programs. Did you know, for instance, that you can download a free Starter Edition of the best-selling genealogy program, Family Tree Maker <familytreemaker.com/download/starter.aspx>? It doesn’t sport all the bells and whistles of the paid version, but it might be all you need for now. If your Internet connection can’t handle a 15.9MB download, order it on CD for the cost of shipping. (See the opposite page for other popular programs offering trial versions.) You also can download the Standard Edition of Legacy Family Tree 6.0 for free <www.legacyfamilytree.com>. You can always pay the $29.95 for the Deluxe Edition if you decide you want the publishing options, timelines, research guidance and other goodies. Got Italian roots? Genealogia <www.genealogica.it/genealen.htm> is designed for tracing Italian ancestry (though the free version has no GEDCOM export or tree printing).
And don’t forget Personal Ancestral File, from the same folks who bring you FamilySearch. Version 5.2 of “PAF” is a free 9.7MB download; just click the Download PAF link at the bottom of the FamilySearch home page. (Have a Palm PDA? You may want the free handheld version, too.) Many users rate PAF as good or better than commercial programs. You also can download a free evaluation copy of PAF Companion 5.2, which adds colorful charting and report capabilities. (A full-featured keeper copy costs $6.75–$8.95 on a CD with PAF — see <www.progenysoftware.com> for information.)
All the above freebies require Windows, but Mac users need not open their wallets, either: The nifty America 1900 Family Tree Builder, created to go with the “America 1900” PBS program, comes in versions for both operating systems <www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/sfeature>, as does the freeware LifeLines <sourceforge.net/projects/lifelines> (you may want to review Lifelines’ FAQ page at <lifelines. sourceforge.net>). Genealogy Pro, written for MacOSX, is free at <members.ozemail.com.au/~luthier/Genealogy_Pro/geneal_web_main.html>. Or download a free demo copy of Heredis Mac X.2 <myheredis.com/download.html>; you can enter up to 50 individuals and import unlimited GED-COMs without worrying about the demo expiring on you.
Maybe you don’t need a whole new genealogy program, just software to help with part of the process. For example, the freeware Bygones <home.utah-inter.net/bygones> helps you enter and keep your genealogy research notes; it’s available for Windows or Macs. A slim 465K download, TreePad Lite <www.treepad.com/treepadfreeware> is a Windows-based data-organizing freebie.
Download GenoPro <www.genopro.com/family_tree_software> if you’re looking for help creating family trees, especially the genogram style used for tracing your family medical history. Try My Family Health Portrait <familyhistory.hhs.gov>, a Web-based program from the US Surgeon General’s office, to compile your clan’s health history into a report to share with your doctor or relatives.
Whatever genealogy software you use, chances are it can create files for posting on a Web site. But if you don’t particularly like the appearance or setup of the pages your program generates, you have free alternatives — utilities that convert your GEDCOM (the universal family tree format) into HTML files. GED Browser <misbach.org/gedbrowser> for Windows turns your GEDCOM into a multimedia-enabled Web site that also sports a timeline and year index. Another option is GED2WWW <www.lesandchris.com/ged2www>, which works with both Macs and Windows. For a slightly different look, try Arbor Vita <arborvita.free.fr>, which minimizes Web-page clutter by generating a single page for all members of the same family. Oxy-Gen <www.oxy-gen-soft.net> not only turns your GEDCOM files into HTML, but it also will output CSV (comma-separated value) files that you can work with in Excel, plus other types of database files.
You might not want every detail about your family — such as Aunt Myrtle’s real age — posted online for all to see. Most full-featured genealogy software lets you exclude or privatize records of living people. But if you use Family Tree Maker (which doesn’t let you hide notes), you might want to beef up your privatization options with a program such as GEDClean. A new, paid version, GEDClean32, handles files of up to 20,000 names, but you can get the free 16-bit version (fewer than 5,000 names) at <raynorshyn.com/gedclean/compare.html>. Similarly, Privata <www.users.bigpond.com/naibor/rpriv.html> automatically removes birth details for living individuals (good news, Aunt Myrtle!)and provides a range of optional changes. If you use Windows XP, go with Privata.
You probably know plenty of people who pay for e-mail or genealogy Web site hosting. Penny-pinching genealogists have a term for these folks: suckers. If you have an on ramp to the information superhighway (such as those computers at your library), everything else can be gratis.
E-mail? You can get free e-mail with a family history flavor at Genealogy Mail <www.genealogymail.com>, where your domain can be @genealogymail.com, @canurelate.com, @rootfinder.com, @rurelated.com or @genbuff.com. Cute, but you’ll get a slicker interface — plus a whopping gigabyte of free storage — at Yahoo! Mail <mail.yahoo.com>, which many computing experts rate as the best free e-mail service. Others prefer Google’s Gmail <mail.google.com>, which ups the ante with 2.6GB (that’s 2,600MB, folks). But there’s a trick to getting Gmail in its current beta phase: You must either be recommended by a current Gmailer or have a cell phone, which Google will text-message with your invitation code. The tradeoff for these services is living with ads in your messages — but did we mention they’re free?
Stop paying an ISP (Internet service provider) to host your site, already. The obvious choice here is RootsWeb <accounts.rootsweb.com>, which offers Freepages Accounts for family tree sites. Or you can opt for Yahoo! GeoCities <geocities.yahoo.com>, which offers simple site-building tools and free space; upgrading to more storage and an ad-free site starts at $4.95 a month. If you have Internet access at home, your ISP probably already gives you some online space, too. The highly rated Earthlink <www.earthlink.net>, for example, gives subscribers 10MB of space per e-mail address (you can have up to eight addresses) plus a Site Builder tool.
If you’re the only person on the planet who hasn’t joined the blogging frenzy, you also can start your own free genealogy blog, Most services provide online storage and easy tools for posting text and photos. A good choice for beginners is Microsoft’s MSN Spaces <www.msnspaces.com>, although other free services such as AOL Journal <hometown.aol.com>, Google’s Blogger.com <www.blogger.com> and Yahoo! 360 <360.yahoo.com> also have their fans. LiveJournal <www.livejournal.com> charges for an upgraded version, but its basic blog is free.
Photo Software and Sharing
The seemingly ubiquitous Google comes through again with a slick free tool for locating, organizing and editing the family history photos scattered across your computer. Picasa <picasa.google.com> automatically rounds up all the pictures on your PC and makes it easy to sort and drag them into albums, where you can perform basic image tuneups, You’ll get a better view of graphics of all sorts with IrfanView <www.irfanview.com>, a free image utility that handles a dizzying variety of file formats. Irfan View even converts the MrSID format used in Ancestry.com’s older census images into the more-familiar JPG standard.
When you want to share your photo finds with family members across the country, take advantage of the latest outpouring of free photo-sharing sites. While these sites seem to come and go, the proliferation of digital cameras has definitely made the Web the world’s photo album. Among top-rated free photo-sharing services in a PC Magazine survey were Flickr <www.flickr.com>, which Yahoo! recently acquired; Snapfish <www.snapfish.com>, now owned by Hewlett-Packard; Club Photo <www.clubphoto.com>; and dotphoto <www.dotphoto.com>. All except Snap-fish offer premium memberships in addition to free photo sharing.
The Internet is brimming with free clip-art-including designs especially for family history — you can use to dress up your genealogy Web site or heritage album. Kith ‘n Kin <www.jsmagic.net/kith> offers a graphics gallery tailored to genealogists. If you have noble roots, click on Heraldry Clipart <www.heraldryclipart.com> for more than 3,000 images to help compose your crest. Pages honoring Civil War ancestors come to life with selections from the Civil War Clipart Gallery <www.jewish-history.com/clipartgallery/clipart.htm>.
Online photographs are even more prolific. (Personal use in your scrapbook is almost always OK, but be sure an image is copyright-free before you publish it online or in a book. See our copyright guide in the December 2004 Fimily Tree Magazine.) Here are some of our favorite free photo sites; you’ll find even more in the October 2003 Family Tree Magazine:
? The Western History Photography Collection <photoswest.org> hosts more than 100,000 photos
? Within the Library of Congress’ American Memory Project <memory.loc.gov>, you’ll find 9 million digitized images in more than 100 themed collections.
? Select Photographs and other Graphic Materials to search more than 124,000 digitized images in the National Archives and Records Administration’s Archival Research Catalog (ARC) <achives.gov/research/arc>.
? Dock at TheShipsList <www.theshipslist.com/pictures> to look for a picture of the ship your ancestors arrived on, plus port photos and old shipping-line ads.
You’ll find oodles of online how-tos and ideas for scrapbooking your family history. The dMarie Time Capsule <dmarie.com/timecap>, for example, gives you news headlines, famous birthdays, even popular songs for any date from 1800 to 2002. The advanced page leads you through a “wizard” that lets you decide which details to include. For layout ideas, graphics and more, see Scrapbook Junction! <www.computerscrapbooking.com/pages/funstuff/funmain.htm>, the online magazine Scrapbooking.com <scrapbooking.com> and the Memory MakersWeb site <www.memorymakersmagazine.com>. Printer giant Hewlett-Packard serves up a wealth of scrapbooking goodies — go to <www.hp.com/hho/solutions/home_homeoffrce.html> and click Activity Center. To get templates and instructions for a Genealogy Interview Kit, choose Scrapbooking, Everyday Memories and Genealogy Kit from the drop-down menus. HP rival Epson offers downloadable patterned papers and coordinating embellishments in its online CreativeZone <www.epsoncreativezone.com>.
Forms and Charts
The Web makes it easy to download and print pretty much any research form you need, as well as blank family trees and charts. Ancestry.com, for example, offers free forms including an Ancestral Chart, Research Calendar, Research Extract, Correspondence Record, Family Group Sheet, Source Summary, US Census Forms for each decennial headcount and UK Census Forms. These are tucked in various spots around the site, but you’ll find complete links at <ancestry.com/charts/researchext.aspx>. All are PDF files, as are the Family Tree Chart (it actually looks like a stylized tree), “Grandma’s Box Chart,” fan-style and other charts at Free Genealogy Charts <misbach.org/pdfcharts>.
The widest variety of free genealogy research forms — in both PDF and Word/WordPerfect formats — can probably be found on FamilyTreeMagazine.com at <www.familytreemagazine.com/forms/download.html>. Among the selection of 36 forms, you’ll find a Five-Generation Ancestor Chart, Family Group Sheet, Research Calendar, Repository Checklist, file-folder Table of Contents, Correspondence Log, Biographical Outline, Cemetery Transcription Form, Note-Taking sheets and US census extraction forms.
Paying isn’t the only unpleasant task you’ll avoid with these Web-based genealogy giveaways: You’re also absolved from entering the URLs into your browser Go to <www.familytreemagazine.com/jun06/freebies.asp>, where you can click links to each item — no typing necessary.
Although you can’t get the full-featured versions of most genealogy software gratis, several manufacturers will extend you temporary price breaks — in the form of free demo versions. These popular programs let you download complimentary 30-day trials:
? Genbox Family History
? The Master Genealogist
? Pocket Genealogist
From the June 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.