You've begun the paper trail that you are convinced will trace your family roots. But like countless other amateur genealogists out there, the cost of traveling to get the records you need is out of your price range and thus out of the question.
Take heart, there are people who donate their free time to help amateur genealogists find the information they need via the Internet. These volunteers may have a census index or passenger list that they are willing to search through.
Others may be willing to go to their local courthouse and search for a particular family will when provided with the correct date.
Politeness is key when requesting such information and not all requests will be answered without incurring some costs. For many researchers, these online genealogy volunteers are valuable resources who can open a door to the past that might otherwise have been locked.
Volunteers at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, one of the best known genealogy volunteering sites, agree to do research at least once a month in their respective regions around the United States. People making a request are asked to reimburse the volunteer for costs incurred such as copying a record at a courthouse.
This site has some simple rules it asks visitors to follow, including making the request as specific as possible (ruling out those pesky general surname searches). People who use the service are also requested to volunteer in the future.
Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness has volunteers throughout the United States and in many countries around the world, including India, Saudi Arabia and Norway. The site's search engine allows visitors to search for volunteers by town.
Genealogy Helplist also has some international research volunteers - some as far away as Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea. U.S. volunteers are listed by state and county. Sometimes, amateur genealogists can find a new avenue to investigate on their own by just reading the volunteers' resources.
For instance, city directories are often a good resource to find the names of members of a family, such as a great-great aunt whose name you never knew, living in the same household during a given year. But unless you read a volunteer's posting that says they are willing to look up such family names in a directory they may have purchased at a library sale, you may not have known such a resource exists.
Genie Angels is another research volunteer service where the only fees are for items such as copies of records and stamps.
Volunteers at the USGenWeb Project use their time to research and transcribe material, such as census lists, and bring that information online. In fact, the popular USGenWeb Census Project even has a searchable database for visitors, just like some larger genealogy sites. Don't expect large amounts of free information, however. Volunteers may well have another paying job that helps them earn a living, but there is always the chance that the surname you are looking for could already be posted.
Check out WorldGenWeb for genealogy information posted by international volunteers. WorldGenWeb's site sports an e-zine, an automated help desk for researchers and basic information for amateur genealogists just beginning to take their search to another country.
Volunteer Web masters maintain the sites that make up the American Local History Network, which is hosted by US GenNet. ALHN's site links visitors to state and county information, with a helpful topical index on the state pages. Not all of the topics are accessible with a click, but those that are may bring you to your research destination quickly.