On this All Hallows Eve, it seems fair to ask: Is there a mad scientist in your family tree? Or perhaps even a very sane scientist or inventor, making the world a better place one discovery at a time.
There are two wonderful databases that cover hundreds of years of patents from around the world. Search them to see if one of your ancestors is included.
Google Patents covers seven million US patents (and a million more patent applications) that go back to 1790. Even if there are no relatives of yours listed here, this a fun and amazing resource to poke around in.
A not-so-mad scientist, perhaps.
The European Patent Office boasts one of the largest online databases in existence. They cover patents from all over Europe, of course, but they also have a global reach, with millions of patents from Albania to Zimbabwe, and scores of countries in between. Patent giants like China, Japan, Israel, Germany and Great Britain are here, along with patents from Kenya, El Salvador, and Viet Nam, just to name a few. Here, too, records go back several centuries. You may find an unheralded Edison or Einstein in your ancestry, with a bit of looking.
While you're at it, also pay a visit to WorldCat. If your creative ancestors ever wrote a science book (or any other sort of book, for that matter) they're likely to be listed here, in this massive online catalog of holdings from libraries around the world.
Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.
And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.