But a company that started life as the soul of simplicity -- a nearly blank page and an I'm feeling lucky option -- has grown to ginormous size, and taken on a fair bit of complexity in the process. That's not a bad thing, because some of their more obscure internet search tools can really lend a lot of depth and power to your family history research, starting with...
Plain Old Google, but use it wisely, as in this ...kaff...kaff...
Google News Archives, a very rich newspaper resource that extends back hundreds of years (at least to the 1750's, maybe further), reaches around the world, and grows by leaps and bounds. Visit it often.
Google Books lets you search the text of millions of books in the space of a few heartbeats...it still amazes me that such searches are even possible. There's also Google Scholar, which searches through tons of legal court cases and university journals.
Google Patents makes it easy to search through a few centuries worth of patents, looking for the inventors in your family history.
Google is also getting more and more sophisticated at handling non-English languages. They offer several tools that can be incredibly useful in getting a handle on what an obscure foreign-language webpage or document is all about. Google Translate can handle (reasonably well, too) about 50 languages, everything from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Their transliteration and scripting tools make it easier (I didn't say easy) to work with foreign alphabets.
Lastly (for now) I'll mention Google Alerts, a very valuable tool for setting up automatic searches to look for new information on your family as it appears on the web.
Don't make the mistake of thinking your family never got written up in old newspapers, books, patents or other historical resources. They did! And it's up to you to find them. Google helps in that search, more than I would have thought possible just a few short years ago.
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.