Fee or Free Online Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850



The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), The Essex Institute, and others were commissioned to publish Massachusetts Vital Records up to 1850 for various towns in Massachusetts.

From AmericanAncestors (NEHGS): “At the turn of the twentieth century NEHGS was instrumental in introducing and passing legislation to appropriate funds to produce books of vital statistics to the year 1850 for the cities and towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. …Not all Massachusetts towns are included.”


FEE options


AmericanAncestors has a Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 Collection that includes these commissioned books as well as some substitutes for towns whose vital records were not collected/commissioned. You can search by individual town volume.

Ancestry has these individual books available online and you can search by individual town volume.

FindMyPast has this collection available online searchable across the entire collection.


FREE options


OnGenealogy has a list of the free, online Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 books including a few substitutes for towns whose records weren’t commissioned. Most of these books are out of copyright and the versions not currently available online (for the towns of Ashfield, Charlestown, Eastham, Fairhaven, Harwich, Lowell, Marshfield, Milton, Montague, Otis, Pepperell, Sandisfield, Swansea, and Taunton) may still be under copyright.

If you’re trying to find free records for a town not included in this list, Internet Archive, Google Books, or HathiTrust are great places to start searching. Also try Massachusetts Births and Christenings, 1639-1915 at FamilySearch.

Best in your searches whether they’re fee or free!




April 10, 2017 |

Fee or Free African American Newspapers


African American newspapers are one place to look for news about black communities that wasn’t always reported in the popular press. It’s possible to find names, marriages, and births and deaths in these collections. (And for African American research you won’t want to limit yourself to strictly African American newspapers, just don’t overlook them.)

I’m easily distracted in newspaper research and find myself just reading random articles which isn’t a very efficient use of time, but I have one relative I could only trace through newspapers. He was in the theater circuit and moved from city to city and lied about his age. I found his family by following him through newspapers. They’re a valuable resource but it’s easy to get sidetracked and just soak up the historical context. That’s my disclaimer if you lose a day or more in newspapers.

Fee or Free African American newspapers


Fee/Subscription African American Newspapers

Accessible Archives

Accessible Archives has 9 African American newspapers ranging from 1827 to 1909. “The collection also provides a great number of early biographies, vital statistics, essays and editorials, poetry and prose, and advertisements all of which embody the African-American experience.”

Ancestry has a collection called US, African American Newspapers, 1829-1947 with over 200 African American newspapers.

Genealogy Bank

Genealogy Bank touts itself as being the “largest newspaper archive for genealogy research.” I’ve used their site before and it was a fast and efficient way to get newspaper search results.  From what I remember, I paid for limited access, so only a certain number of searches/month but they have an unlimited access subscription price of $35.00 for 6 months which seems very reasonable. “Search our expansive collection of African American newspapers to discover the details about the daily lives of millions of Black Americans from 1827-1999.”


ProQuest used to be the company for digitized papers and they have a collection called ProQuest Historical Newspapers – Black Newspapers. “Each of the nine Historical Black Newspapers provides researchers with unprecedented access to perspectives and information that was excluded or marginalized in mainstream sources. And, all are cross-searchable with all other ProQuest Historical Newspapers–including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times–allowing researchers to evaluate history from multiple points of view. …The ProQuest platform offers powerful and easy-to-use tools, including: full-page and article images in easily downloadable PDF format, complete newspaper runs, and the ability to search 21 different article types.”


Free African American Newspapers

The Ancestor Hunt summarizes African American newspaper collections by state and has online tutorials for newspaper research. This site will list both fee and free collections. links to current Black/African American newspapers and says some of these papers have online archives. “Listed below are links to major African American newspapers, magazines and journals.  In some instances these links also include the archives of these media sources.”

Chronicling America

Chronicling America is the US Library of Congress’ website with free, digitized collections. They have a list of all known African American newspapers and where they can possibly be found (over 2,000 exist but most won’t be online). Or a list of 55 African American newspapers digitized and online at Chronicling America. There’s a new free app, OldNews USA, currently only for Android phones, which aids in searching newspapers at Chronicling America. OldNews USA won the 2017 RootsTech Innovator Showdown so it’s worth checking out if you want to search these papers on a handheld device. (Be sure to search all the papers at Chronicling America, not just the African American ones I linked to above.)


I’ve added smaller collections as I’ve found them including runaway slave advertisements from newspapers, and collections related to slaves (not newspapers and not necessarily African American), and also some general African American collections, not just newspapers. My site is a bit slow to search so my apologies in advance-site speed is on my to-do list.


Wikipedia has a good article on African American newspapers as well as a couple of books that are recommended as “essential starting points for understanding the early history of African American newspapers.” This article also includes the names of some African American newspapers, not nearly as complete as the one found at Chronicling America.


I’ve had my best newspaper successes with subscription sites, because they do the work for me and return the specific newspaper page I need to see, so it’s harder to just browse the paper. But, some of these papers and free sites will have search engines that may yield similar results. Again, I almost hate to recommend newspaper research because it’s so easy to lose track of time, but if you’re learning the history and culture of the area where your ancestors lived, I guess that’s time put to good use. Best in your searches, whether they’re fee or free!



March 13, 2017 |

1921 Canada Census at Ancestry – Fee or Free


UDPATE — Rather than rewrite this blogpost, I’ll just update here by saying you can now access the 1921 Canadian Census for free at Library and Archives Canada. Options to use Ancestry’s collection are still valid, but both the images and index are available at LAC!

One of Ancestry’s popular collections is the 1921 Canadian Census. This is the most recently published census in Canada and this collection is hard to replicate for free outside the Ancestry subscription site. It will probably cost your time and travel to truly have these records without owning an Ancestry subscription.

Fee or Free 1921 Canada Census

Why this is such a great collection, from “The Canadian censuses are a key starting point for Canadians interested in discovering their family story. They provide vital details such as names of spouses, immigration years, occupations and so much more.”

Library and Archives Canada has the original 1921 Canadian Census and in a records deal with Ancestry, gave exclusive access to host the images and make an index of the records.*

Best free options include:

  • If you are Canadian and have an email account with gmail, yahoo, or hotmail *, you can login in to and have access to the images in this collection for free. For advanced searches, including the indexes created by Ancestry, Canadians with free access to the images will be to required to use the subscription access.

  • *updated  Library and Archives Canada (LAC) now hosts the index and images for free at their site.

  • Many Canadian Libraries (not related to LAC) pay for an Ancestry Library edition with access to the 1921 Canada Census (index and images provided by If your library pays for the Ancestry Library edition you probably will have access to this collection on-site at your library. Ancestry Library edition does not permit remote access (off-site access, including home computers).  

  • Many American Libraries have an Ancestry Library edition that may or may not include access to the 1921 Canada Census. You’ll need to check with your own library. Ancestry Library edition does not permit remote access (off-site access, including home computers).  

  • Automated Genealogy, a free site that hosts transcribed Canadian genealogy records, has part of the 1921 Canada Census transcribed for New Brunswick, if that is where you’re lucky enough to claim your heritage.

Why do I want it?

Some of the questions asked in the 1921 census to give you an idea of the information you might glean from this collection:

From “Enumerators recorded answers to the following queries:

  • number of dwelling in order of visitation

  • number of family, household, or institution in order of visitation

  • name of each person whose place of abode was in the household

  • place of habitation

  • tenure and class of home (owned or rented, rent paid, class of house, house occupied by family)

  • sex

  • relationship of person enumerated to the head of household

  • marital status (single, married, widowed, divorced, or legally separated)

  • age at last birthday

  • country or place of birth (if Canada, specify province or territory)

  • country or place of birth for person’s father and mother

  • year of immigration to Canada, if an immigrant

  • year of naturalization, if formerly an alien

  • racial or tribal origin

  • nationality (country to which person owes allegiance)

  • can speak English

  • can speak French

  • religion

  • can read and write

  • months at school since September 1, 1920

  • chief occupation or trade

  • employment other than chief occupation or trade, if any

  • employer, employee, worker, or working on own account

  • principal product, where employed (e.g., ‘in drug store’, ‘on farm’, etc.), or nature of work

  • total earnings in past 12 months

  • currently out of work

  • number of weeks unemployed in past 12 months

  • number of weeks unemployed in past 12 months because of illness”

* Special thanks to members of the Ontario and Upper Canada Genealogy Facebook group for helping me research this information, especially Deborah Crawford for locating the archived information! Don’t forget to join Facebook groups for areas you’re researching-they can be an invaluable resource.

Best in your research, whether it’s fee or free!

January 16, 2017 |

Fee or Free US City Directories


One of’s most popular record sets is US City Directories, 1822-1995.

It’s a useful collection if you have an Ancestry subscription. Type in a name and place and you’ll likely find one or more records for the person you’re investigating.

But more and more, city directories are being digitized and hosted at free sites, allowing you to do similar searches without an Ancestry subscription. You’ll do more legwork and you won’t always find the same directories available, but there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find your family in the free US City Directories. Just remember, you don’t need to find them in every consecutive directory to get useful information.

FeeOrFree City Directories

FeeOrFree City Directories


The lowdown on City Directories

City Directories pre-date telephone books and can work as a census substitute and allow you to locate individuals in a city and potentially get their spouse’s name, their profession, and their address. With an address you can often do reverse lookups in city directories and by looking up the street address you can see who their neighbors were. Often family lived near each other and you’ll find relatives with the reverse lookup feature or you might have old, partially-identified photos with your ancestor and neighbors and the reverse lookup will allow you to identify them with their full name.

City Directories will usually include some historical information about an area, possibly a gazetteer with maps, street locators, churches, schools, and more. They can help you locate streets and buildings that no longer exist. And city directories usually have business directories as well, with a separate section for a listing of businesses. There are advertisements throughout the directories that give you a taste of yesteryear.

If you’d like to try your hand at free US City Directory searches, you have multiple search options. searches

You can start by using this link to with “directories” in the “Search for” window and type the state you’re researching in the “Near” search window, then hit “Search” and inspect the results.

OnGenealogy Directories searches


Internet Archive searches

You can go to Internet Archive and search for the city or state and “city directory” in quotes and see what results show up. I’ve been adding these city directories to OnGenealogy and organizing them by city/state/year so there’s a good chance you’ll find these at OnGenealogy and they’ll be in consecutive order, rather than random years/cities.


Internet Archive free books

Google Books searches

You can use Google Books and be sure to specify you want results for free books. Here’s a blog post with directions for finding free books at Google Books. I’m currently adding these to OnGenealogy.


Google Books searches

HathiTrust searches

You can visit HathiTrust and search for the city or state and “city directory” in quotes and see what results show up. I’m currently adding these to so if you don’t find them at OnGenealogy, definitely try an exhaustive search at HathiTrust.


Hathi Trust for books


DPLA searches

You can visit the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), a digital library aggregator, and let it point you to the online archive that holds the city directory you need. This might be a better way to search for HathiTrust directories because the HathiTrust search engine isn’t perfect. At DPLA you can enter “city directory” and then HathiTrust and a city, not necessarily in quotation marks, and the results should give you directories for that locale hosted by HathiTrust.


DPLA for free city directories

Visit a Local Repository

Most libraries and many genealogy societies have original city directories on their shelves. If you’re able to do offline research, check out for a catalog (not complete) of which institutions have directories or microfilms of directories for each state/locale.




Lastly, you can do a general Google Search and see if you find something that hasn’t yet been added to OnGenealogy, InternetArchive, GoogleBooks, HathiTrust, or DPLA. There’s always an outlier and maybe it will be the one you’re looking for. Good luck with your research and Happy Hunting!

January 2, 2017 |

Fee or Free Genealogy Sites-a Comparison


In these Fee or Free posts I’m going to highlight popular subscription site collections and share free alternatives.

Fee or Free Canadian Census Records


I currently use these subscription sites:

  • Ancestry

  • MyHeritage

  • FindMyPast

  • AmericanAncestors

and I’ve used GenealogyBank in the past. I love them all. ???? Each has valuable collections that aid research but many hobbyists don’t keep a subscription with one or any of these companies and they do a lot of legwork hunting for free genealogy records.

My New Year’s Resolution is to post free alternatives to everything I consider awesome at the fee sites.


Maybe weight-loss would be an easier goal? ????

We shall see. It’ll be a fun challenge.

????Happy New Year and Happy Hunting!

December 29, 2016 |

Free Ancestry Record Collections Online


Another idea for #FamilyHistoryMonth is to check out the free Ancestry record collections online.


Free Ancestry Records

Free Ancestry Records


There are hundreds of free record collections available at for those without a subscription membership. They’re listed in alphabetical order and you’ll need to use the right column scroll feature to see all available collections.

Some of these record collections are indexes and some include an index and images. “Index only” collections are labeled “Free Index”.

You may need to create a free account after using the free databases but this account will be free, limited, and not require a trial-membership to continue looking at the free records. Don’t submit credit card information or you’ll be signing up for a free trial that will auto-renew. And if while searching, you’re asked for a credit card number, you’re trying to search a subscription-only collection.

Happy Hunting! #FamilyHistoryMonth

October 25, 2016 |

Top Free Genealogy Message Boards


Genealogy Message Boards and Forums are a fun way to connect with other researchers or jump-start your family history research when you’ve hit a bump in the road. It’s encouraging to chat with others who are working on similar lines. And with the advantages of Social Media you have more options than ever!

Top Free Genealogy Message Boards include:

      RootsWeb and the Message Boards at Ancestry

  • RootsWeb and the Message boards at are the same thing. This is a free family history message board. RootsWeb was purchased by and Ancestry has kept it as a free offering and they have merged the message boards. You can search by Locale, Surname, Topic, or Keyword. They boast 25 million posts over 198,000 boards so there’s a lot of content.


  • GenForum is a free genealogy message board. It was started by which was acquired by and is kept as a separate message board/forum from RootsWeb. It boasts “14,000 online forums devoted to genealogy, including surnames, U.S. states, countries, and general topics.” You can search by Locale, Surname, Topic, or Keyword.


  • RootsChat is a free UK based genealogy message board. “The country’s busiest, largest free family history site. 223,682 members are ready to help you with your questions.” There’s no fee or subscription but you do need register in order to post or private message on the site. An easy way to search this site is to scroll down to the country you’re interested in (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, etc) then select the locale within that country, then scroll through the boards, posts, and especially look at the highlighted links listed for that locality.

    5,700+ Facebook Genealogy links

  • Katherine Willson serves on the Membership Committee for the Federation of Genealogical Societies, teaches Genealogy classes, does private genealogy research, and has compiled this list of over 5,700 Facebook genealogy links. Joining a Facebook community for the locale or subject you’re researching is a great way to connect with other researchers. Each group will have its own rules for posting so read the “description” of the group in the right-hand column (beneath the members names). If you haven’t already joined the Facebook community, genealogy research is a great reason to take the plunge!


  • CousinConnect is a free genealogy message board developed by genealogists for genealogists. Their site allows you to post queries and sign up for notifications when new queries match your surname and region (a free service). CousinConnect boasts over 300,000 queries which can be searched by Surname or Region and they claim their forum is a more effective way to connect with distant relatives because they deliver more relevant results to queries.

    Message boards at 

  • has free message boards. If you want to reply or post you’ll need to create a membership. They have free membership offerings and if you decide you want extra services they provide you can choose a subscription membership. Searches can be made by Locale, Surname, Topic, Keyword, or you can select one of the Message Boards for Beginners.


  • UlsterAncestry is a site that charges for genealogical records in Northern Ireland but they have message boards you can look through at no charge. They’re not accepting members at this time so there’s no posting available if you’re not already a member.


  • is a free and fee genealogy forum site for the UK and Ireland. It’s free to read postings and to post entries and to contact paid members. Only paid members can contact free members. You can search by Village, Town or County, Surname, and Surname within a distance of any locale.



October 18, 2015 |
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