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October 17, 2007

Pastfinder Computer Users’ Group

Genealogy on the Internet

More and more sites are appearing on the Internet that can help you with your genealogy. Unfortunately, most want to charge you but at least some of them let you see a little bit of what your search has found so you can determine if you want to buy it. Some don’t require a membership; you buy credits as you need them. Others offer a monthly or yearly membership. Here are a few that seem worthwhile.

Searching the Internet ( has a contract with the National Archives to digitize the contents of the Archives and place the data on the Internet. To pay for that effort, they get to charge for a limited time for downloads of data. But some data is free and all of it can be viewed if only in partial views. Lets try a search.

My Grandmother was a Nichols so lets start searching for just the surname, Nichols. Note that we get 31,561 hits and the first person that we come across was arrested by the FBI. Perhaps we can narrow the search by inserting a first name too. Let’s try James. Whoa! Now we’ve got 1,257,511 hits so we didn’t narrow it. What happened? Separate terms can be treated by a search engine as being connected with an AND which means both terms must appear or by an OR which means either of the terms must appear. Footnote treats separate terms as connected with an AND until the supply is exhausted and then it treats the term as being ORed together, thus the huge increase do to a lot of James being found. So we can enter James AND Nichols and we reduce the number of hits to 7,553. You can put quotes around the name as in “James Nichols” and reduce the number of hits to 293; however, Footnote advises against this as the names might not appear together as in James, son of Thomas Nichols but I think that it’s worth a try and if you don’t find what you want in the reduced number of hits you can broaden out. We can reduce the number of hits further by eliminating some results with a - sign. Lets add - Confederate and we reduce the number of hits to 249.

When you find what you want, you can just note the results, use the one week free trial, pay for a one time download, join for a month or join for a year. I would try the free trial and decide whether to continue after that.

To do useful research in Ireland, you have to know the administrative divisions into which the land and communities were divided. Each land grantee was to provide a house and bawn or garrison to be used as protection against warring neighbors. The grant was often named and that became the townland name, often only 50 to several hundred acres. There is a site that has an index to and locations of all of the townlands. Be aware that spelling varies among different documents. A Dill that I have been following lived in County Donegal, Kilmacrenen Barony, Clondevadock Parish on the townland of Tullynadall. But the parish is often spelled Clondevadogg or Clondevaddog and sometimes the middle “e” is replaced by an “a”. Tullynadall is sometimes Tullynadale and the sign defining the townland boundary spells it in Gaelic as “Tulaigh na Dala”.

Go to this site:

If you have ancestors from Scotland, this is a useful site;

You have to register as a new user but the wills are free and you can see some data before you have to buy credits to see the rest.

The two Government archives in Ireland are the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland Both have a lot of data available online but PRONI may have the most, especially about parts of Ulster that are part of Ireland and not Northern Ireland. Many thousands of private records were deposited there years ago and these include landlord records of tenants’ rent payments sometimes defining the entire family. We’ll take a look at both.

PRONI has some records online. People who owned or leased land were eligible to vote and were called Freeholders. Go to the above site and click on Freeholders Records in the left pane. You can search the list of Freeholders for an individual or for all individuals with that surname. Try Dill in the surname box. The first 10 are in County Down; the other 2 in County Donegal.

The National Archives doesn’t have much online but has information for anyone going to Ireland to do research and it has links to many useful sites.

Another useful Irish site is which has a lot of information available online including history books of Ireland.

This site covers only Donegal but it has nice links listed in historical order.

Books on the Internet

Pastfinders has a list of sites offering genealogical or historic books in an article on it’s web site. To that we can now add Google which has taken the lead in providing books on the Internet. One of Google’s founders, Larry Page, is a graduate of the Univ of Michigan and when he asked how long it would take to digitize the 7 million volumes in the UM Library he was told 1000 years. Larry told UM president Sue Coleman “We’ll do it in 6 years". Google books come in four flavors; snippet view, limited view; full view and the dreaded no preview available. Searching is similar to searching Google; enter terms for what you seek. You can limit books to search by selecting only those with a full view but you may miss something. Start out, at least, by looking at all books.

To start a Google Books search, go to and then click on more and scroll down to books. You can save that page as a favorite if you plan on doing more searching. Enter your search terms and scroll through the results. When you find a book that looks promising, what can you do? That depends on the view that you are afforded. For a snippet view you get to see all the places where one or more of your search terms showed up. You can search for other terms but again, you only get a snippet view. In addition, you can find out where to buy the book or what library near you may have it.

For a limited preview and full view you have more options. In either, you can use the search box in the right hand pane to search for more pages containing any of your search terms and read the context in which they are found and you can click the associated page number to see the page on which the term appears. You can also search for additional terms that may help decide if you are on the right track. But a word of warning is in order.

Google scans the books using a scanner or camera to take a picture of the page. That’s the image that you see on the screen. But it’s not searchable! So Google using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to make a searchable text copy of the image. When it finds what you are searching for in the text copy, it highlights the same location on the image to show where the term was found. Look closely, because OCR is not perfect and text is often mis-read. Nevertheless, it beats trying to read the whole book to see if your family is covered.

For a full view book you have one more option; you can download it and read the entire book at your leisure. For instance, land in Northern Ireland reverted to the King of England after what was called the Flight of the Earls in 1608. The king handed out land grants to Scottish and English and even tried to remove most of the Irish from the northern areas but they were needed

to tend the fields. It appeared that perhaps the Dills may have been part of the influx of Scots into Ireland. A book called An Historical Account of the Plantation seemed like a good place to start learning the history and although Dill did not appear in the search, it seemed appropriate to download and read the book to see what that period of time held. It also contains Pynnar’s 1618 survey which lists the undertakers that were granted land in Ireland. I have a folder called Downloads and I just click on download and save to disk and I can read the book whenever I want. On a telephone connection this may take a while but it’s relatively fast on a high speed connection. If you have a laptop, come to the library and download what you want.

Downloaded books default to Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format but are not text documents. They are image documents and can’t be searched using the Acrobat search function. You can, however, search on line to find what you want and then read it from your download. If you want to print the book or any part of it, the Acrobat print function supports back to back printing. Depending on how your printer works, you can set up to print all odd page and then all even pages on the back of the odd. You can print in reverse order if necessary. I print even pages in reverse order and then odd pages in normal order. My printer outputs pages face down; if yours are face up you may have to print evens normally and then odds in reverse order. If the last page is odd you may have to add a blank page at the end of the evens to capture it in the right order. Try printing pages 2 and 4 and then 1 and 3 and 5 to find out what works for you.

Lets try a search. You can search solely by surname but if you are interested in that family at a given location, enter the surname and the location. Try Dill Donegal. Some of the results are for Dill authors and some have snippet or limited preview but A History of the Irish Presbyterians looks promising. Click on it and both Dill and Donegal are highlighted. You can go to the table of contents to see what the book contains. Let’s see how often Dill is used in the book. In the right hand pane, scroll down until you get to the search box. Enter Dill and click GO. Every reference to Dill indicates the page it appears on and the context in which it appears. If that’s not enough to impress you, click on more at the bottom of the list. You’ll add several more references. You’ve read enough to decide whether you want to go further with that book or go on to the next. Lets see if we can find it in a library. Scroll up to the search box and click on the minus sign (-) next to it to remove all of the search items. Move up one line and click on Find this book in a library. Libraries are listed in order of distance, the closest being the University of Florida in Gainsville. If this is your first search you will have to enter your location.

Need a Scanner?

If you have a book or document that you want to copy, you can scan it into your computer if you have a scanner or you can use a camera to take a picture of it. With digital cameras this is the method of choice. You don’t have to break the book binding to make it lie flat, and it’s so much faster than scanning. Better yet, you can use this method in libraries that allow it. Some encourage it to prevent book damage and others see it as a loss in revenue. So check on the rules first. You can also take photos of the screen when you are viewing microfilm or microfiche. Take your camera to the Family History Center especially if you are viewing microfilm.

To copy a page in a book, it’s helpful if you can arrange to have the part of the book you are copying placed flat on a table and the other part of the book help upright. That helps the page you are copying to remain flat. If you camera has a macro setting, use it to get close to the document. If the camera has image stabilization, use that also. Take a trial shot without flash and if that is not acceptable, try it with the flash. Hold the camera directly over the document to be copied and don’t tilt it. Digits are cheap so take as many pictures as necessary to find the method that works for you. Note that some cameras have a text mode so check yours out. In that mode, you get a sharp black and white image but can select color if necessary.

Once you have the images that you want you can transfer them to your computer through either connecting your camera to the computer or (preferred) by using a card reader to copy the files into the folder that you’ve designated. You can then use the image as an image or you can convert it to computer readable text through Optical Character Recognition software. Simple OCR is free but limited in what it can do. I use Cuneform which now is Cuneform Pro at $69 when it’s on sale, $129 when it’s not.