Genealogy as a hobby can be expensive. There are numerous ways to spend your money including books, conferences, webinars, society memberships, travel, online subscriptions, and DNA testing.

However, there are many ways to continue your research without spending a fortune. Census records are a good example. Beginning in 1790, the United States counted its residents every 10 years. While the information in each census varies, the tabulations pinpoint our ancestors’ location at a specific time. Starting with the 1850 census, all members of the household are listed along with their ages. Each census adds additional questions and by 1900, the information listed for each person includes month and year of birth, year of immigration, occupation of every person over nine years old, and much more.

With the exception of the 1890 census, which was destroyed in a fire, the records from 1790 through 1940 are available online at several different websites. While most of these sites charge for the information, FamilySearch.org is a free option. All that is required is for you to create a free account to begin searching.

Familysearch.org also has many free options for education. I was recently researching a family using handwritten church records in Latin. I searched the FamilySearch Research Wiki (located under the Search tab) and found several articles on Latin terms and phrases used in church records that allowed me to decipher the records.

If you want to sample some of the online subscriptions without committing yourself to a monthly subscription, watch for free weekends when the online databases are available to anyone with a computer and internet connection. For example, Fold3, a database of military records, frequently offers free access over Memorial Day weekend and around Veterans Day. You can follow these companies on social media or subscribe to email updates to keep informed of their special sales.

Many state archives are digitizing their records and making them available online for free. Simply google the state archives for the state you need and follow links for either genealogy or digitized records.

A free site from Illinois is the Illinois Digital Archives, idaillinois.org. According to the website, “The Illinois Digital Archives (IDA) was created in 2000, as a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library as well as other libraries and cultural institutions in the State of Illinois.” This site contains a wealth of information, including many of the publications of the Madison County Genealogical Society. Since this is not just vital records or databases, you will also find photos, manuscripts, maps, postcards, and much more. New records are constantly being added so if you are searching in Illinois, be sure to check this site often. This site is in addition to searchable databases offered at the State Archives.

These are only a few options available to anyone searching for their ancestors. I am sure you can find many more.

Mary Westerhold has worked most of the last twenty years at the Madison County Archival Library helping others find their family roots.