Search billions of records on



Pastfinders Computer Users’ Group

October 15, 2008

Are Your Ancestors Hiding on the Internet?

Searching in General: Searching requires a bit of thought and a plan if you are to get the most out of it. There are ways to broaden a search such as search only the surname. There are ways to limit a search such as putting a full name in quotation marks or including a location as well as a name or including husband’s and wife’s surnames. Most sites that you’ll be searching offer search tips and other help. So before you start, gather whatever information you have about the subject of your search and plan how to use it to maximize your benefit.

Where to Start: There are many places to search on the Internet to find records of your ancestors. One of the best places to start is Cyndislist which now has 264, 400 links to genealogy web sites. There are also many links on Pastfinders home page. We’ll discuss a few of the best in the pages that follow.

Now they you know what’s out there, where to begin searching depends somewhat on what you’re searching for but perhaps more by what sites you have access to. Several require a subscription so we’ll try to get as much as we can from free sites. Ancestry is available by subscription or by using a library computer or through your own laptop in the library. It is no longer available from home through the library. Footnote is making all of the records from the National Archives available on the Internet, but to see or download many of the records requires a subscription. Nevertheless, it does tell you what the record contains so it’s worth searching. And information frfom the Philadelphia Archives is free as are several other types of records. There are others as well and we’ll touch on some of them.

RootsWeb: We’ll start our search at Rootsweb looking for Levi Pratt . We know that he was born in Bridgewater, MA and served in the Rev. War from there. We’ll go to and enter his name in the search box.

Rootsweb says that it found matches in 10 of 46 databases. We can dismiss some of them out of hand; SSDI and Texas Death Records. Just looking at the records we can see which may be applicable. One of the databases listed is WorldConnect. It is a data base of family trees submitted by people and is subject to errors, especially if there are no sources provided. There are 261 family trees that include a Levi Pratt. If we know anything more about him we can limit the number we have to review. If we include his birthplace of Bridgewater, we are now reduced to 14 trees and we can search through them to find the most complete. You can download the GEDCOM for one or more of them to examine in more detail. Note that you are limited to 6 generations and you could download 6 generations of Levi’s ancestors and 6 of his descendants. If, however there are not 6 generations of ancestors listed, you could move to one of his descendants in your line such that 6 generations in both directions are available.

While we’re at RootsWeb, lets see what the rest of the site has to offer. Move to the top of the page and click on Home. Here is the main listing of all of RootsWeb’s offerings.

If you’re not familiar with RootsWeb, spend some time on the pages listed under getting started. That will give you a feel for what’s available and how to get it. Obviously there’s much more here than we can cover so take some time to acquaint yourself with all that’s available. We’ll spend some time on just a few.

We’ll click on Websites at RootsWeb and we’ll find two headings of interest; Regional and Surname. Quite often you’ll find information about an ancestor by checking out a website devoted to where he lived. Let’s click on Canada, Nova Scotia and Hants County where my father was from. We could browse though it to see what it has to offer but let’s start by searching the site for the name Dill. We get 91 hits and as we scan them we come across one that’s the 1901 census for Windsor Town. We click and see two families of Dills, one headed by my ggrandfather John and his wife, Jane Rachel and the other by my grandfather, James Frederick (listed as Fred J.) living side by side. My father was yet to be born. To save this information we highlight all or the rows starting with Dill and click CTRL-C to copy (or Edit Copy). We then open a file to paste it in and press CTRL-V (or Edit Paste). See . Surely there’s more in these 91 hits but we’ll move on.

Click on the back arrow (or Alt-Left Arrow) to go back to the Registry of Websites at RootsWeb and then move down to Surname websites and click on Di-Dq and scroll down to DILL and click on smartherbs. That’s Dotty’s and my website. We have two websites hosted by Rootsweb besides the Pastfinders site. Sites are free to anyone who wants to post genealogical information without any commercial information. Go to Request for Website.

Go to the top of the page and click on Home. Scroll down and look in the left column. Under Family Trees you can search for a name across all family trees. This similar to our original search for Levi but limits the search to just trees. You can also submit your family tree so others may learn from what you’ve done. Remember what your mother taught you about sharing when you were little. It’s a great way to find cousins that you never knew about. (See our CUG meeting handout for January 14, 2004, . Further down on that page you’ll find Mailing Lists and Message Boards. Both are also great ways to find cousins as well as gather new information. We’ll click on Archives Search under Mailing Lists. David, John and Mungo Dill left Ireland for Canada about 1770. Although I descend from David, a search for Mungo will limit the number of items to look through. I may broaden it if I don’t find what I want. There are 13 responses; three are mine and one is from my half-brother. If you would like to join a group, start by searching the Surname List Finder for the surname that you want and then follow the instructions to subscribe. You can subscribe to receive every email from the list (-L) or the digest form (-D) that sends one email a day with the headings of the day’s traffic so you can choose what you want to see. The manner in which email addresses are posted makes them so that they cannot be harvested automatically so you won’t get any spam. Some Message Boards are “Gatewayed” to a mailing list of the same name so that you get messages posted on Message Boards as well as the Mailing List.

Now move down to Message Boards. Here you can search through the archives and once up to date you need only read the latest messages posted. There are surname boards and locality boards. In searching, you can search for a name or a place or both. My 3ggrandfather was James Nichols of Athens VT. I selected Surname Boards and then searched Find a Board for Nichols and found a Nichols Board. I searched it for James Athens to find a message that contained both the words James and Athens. While I didn’t learn much, I found that I had a cousin named Roger Nichols of Sioux City Iowa and have been in contact with him for several years. When you find a board and attempt to search it, RootsWeb will change your search from the present board to all boards. Click the appropriate box to select the board that you want to search. Searching for James on all boards makes little sense but is productive on the Nichols Board. If you search all boards and include James Nichols in quotes, Rootsweb will remove the quotes so you’ll find listings that include James and Nichols but not necessarily together.

GenForum: There’s another good message board at . I use both message boards and this one is similar to the one above but when you search, you search only the present board, not all boards.

FamilySearch: One of the great free sites is the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) site, Lets go there and conduct a search and then explore the site a bit.

We’ll search for Levi Pratt who was born in Bridgewater, MA and died in NH.

We’ll find records from the Ancestral File and The Pedigree Resource File where people post some genealogies. There are also the 1880 US census and the 1881 UK and Canadian censuses. Finally, there’s the International Genealogical Index (IGI) that has international Vital Records but is only as good as the submitter. Let’s see what FamilySearch has on Levi Pratt. We found Levi in the Ancestral File, the IGI and the PRF. We have his birth date and place and his marriage date and place and his wife’s name. Compare this data with data from the trees that we found before. Before we go on, lets explore what else FamilySearch can do for us.

There are several menu items listed across the top of the page. Just point to any to see a drop down menu. We’ll point to Search Records and then drop down to Records Search Pilot. This is a search area that is not yet mature but it contains many new items not available elsewhere. To see what’s available, click on View all collections. Note the many census items. These are census tables that are being scanned by volunteers and which caused Ancestry to revoke all free access to at Family History Centers. Some amount of peace has been restored since. Let’s search for James Nichols’ son, Reba. We find him in both the 1850 and 1870 censuses for Vermont.

If we point to Search Records or if we point to Library we’ll find Library Catalog listed. This where you can find everything that’s available from The LDS Library and which you can order through the Family History Center. We’ll go there and note the different types of records listed. Let’s try Place Search. I recently tried to find information on the parentage of Joseph Stearn, born 1811 in Rockingham County, VA. Perhaps there are records for Rockingham that might shed light on his birth. We’ll enter Rockingham in the Place search box and Virginia in the Part of box. One record place is listed so we’ll click on it. We are presented with a long list of record categories. To print this record go to the bottom of the list and click on here. There are several promising items listed. Church Records look promising so we’ll click that to see a list of church records. One is a book is Early Church Records of Rockingham County Virginia. We’ll click on that. It lists records from many of the churches in the county and may list a birth record for Joseph and a marriage record for his father and mother. As is the case before, click on here at bottom of the page to print out the record. It will have all of the ordering data necessary to order the book through the Family History Center. Continue looking through other items of interest and repeat the process for any that you want to order. Present the papers to the person at the Center and they will order everything for you; books, microfilm or microfiche. We’ll try to find the book in other ways later.

Google Books: Google has scanned many books and depending on the copyright status you can find them in several categories; Full View which gives you the right to view, download and print any or all of it, Limited Preview which allows you to search it but not download or print it, Snippet View which shows only a line or two including what you searched for and No Preview Available.

Let’s see if we can find the book we talked about above. Go to and search. I entered Church Rockingham Virginia and it was the third item listed; however it has no preview available. But Google offers other options; where to buy the book and where to find it in a library. Under Buy this book there are several dealers listed and you can click on any one to see if the book is available. Under Borrow this book you can click on Find this book in a library. The first time you do this it will ask where you are. Enter your ZIP code. When you click on it now we find that the book is available in both the Orange County Library and the Hillsborough System. Under Orange County, click on Library Information and then click on Library Catalog. Enter Rockingham Virginia in the box as a keyword and the book will be the second one listed.

Let’s try another search that may find a Full View book. We’ll search for Nichols in Athens by entering Nichols Athens Vermont. Let’s try the Gazeteer to see what we can find. Toward the bottom of the page we find that James Nichols settled in Athens.... What else can we find in the book? In the column to the right is a box labeled Search this book. We’ll enter Nichols to see how many times it appears in the book. There are 5 listed but there’s a more at the bottom of the column. Clicking that yields many more references to Nichols. To gain further information on any of these we can click the page number to see the entire page and then page forward or back from there.

HeritageQuest: This site that you can get at home through the library if you have a library card offers all US Censuses, Books, PERSI, Rev. War., Freedman’s Bank Records, and the U.S. Serial Set. We could look here for a book on Rockingham County. To get there, go to and scroll to Reference Databases under Online Resources in the left column, then Alphabetical List and then click on HeritageQuest. Or you can go here . Enter your library card number without any spaces or dashes. We’ll try to find something on Rockingham County Virginia. We’ll spell the words out and not abbreviate them since they may not be abbreviated in the book title or subject. When we search we find many returns and we can go to the Index of each book and look for Stearn. But if we refine our search and add Stearn under people, we limit the returns to one. Note, however that there is no Stearn listed on the page indicated. The page we are looking at is an image but in order to provide a search index for each word in the book, it is scanned using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and that can easily turn Steam into Stearn. Thus we conclude that no book exists on HeritageQuest that covers Rockingham and includes anyone named Stearn. Since the name was also written as Stern, Sterne, Starn, and Sturn, we could also try those. But rather than try each one separately, we could enter the name as Stearn or Stern or Sterne or Sturn. We get 7 pages of results but only a few have high relevance (left column). We’ll click on View Hits in the first item and see that there are 7 hits in the book. To view the hits, click on the 1 and not on the Title Page. To see the next hit, we click on the Right Arrow in the Hit Box. For one more search, we’ll go to the top of the page and click on Rev War. We’ll enter Levi Pratt and Massachusetts and we get three results. Let’s click on the third entry. This is Levi and Mary. Let’s jump to page 5. Here is Mary’s application for a pension that was to start on 4 March, 1848. It was for $51.66 per year. She died 21 June 1848 but Levi died on 3 Jan 1846.

Bible Records Online: This is where you’ll find some Bible Records that may surprise you in what you find. . Let’s enter Nichols to see if there are any Bible records for that family. We get 7 family matches and two index pages. Instead of searching we could browse by surname. There are links here to other Bible Record pages.

Gencircles: At you can search for a name and find if it is on any tree submitted by others. You can select anyone from a tree and find out how many “Smart Matches” exist for that person in other trees. We’ll try Levi Pratt and go to his father, John and see how many smart matches there are for him. You can click on John to see him in the tree or click on the file name to see the whole tree that was submitted. You can download some data from the file if the owner has granted it. Contact information is provided so you can email the owner. There is a sister site at that offers a free download of its genealogy program, FamilyTreeLegends that seems to be as good or better than FamilyTreeMaker. And it will import FTM file directly without going through GEDCOM.

Footnote: has an agreement with the National Archives to digitize the Archives’ records and charge people to view them for 10 years after which they become free. Let’s see what Footnote has. While Footnote has Rev. War records, we can get those from HeritageQuest. Let’s try the Civil War. 2ndggrandfather was named Handy Crook and he fought in the Civil War. Type in the name. The first two are about Handy Crook; the rest have handy and crook on the same page. If we had put the name in quotes we would have gotten only the first two results. The first entry is the 1860 census which is available on HeritageQuest. The second is about his service and his widow’s pension. What we get for free is what’s in the right column; Massachusetts Cavalry, Regiment 3, Company F. If we pay, we can look at the record but this is a one page record that does give the microfilm number and pension number. While this doesn’t give you everything we wanted to know, but knowing that the records exist we could view them at the National Archives in Atlanta, or order copies from the Archives.

Ancestry: Ancestry has all of the US Census data indexed from 1790 to 1930 except for 1890 which is only partial. We can scroll down the page to see some new records that were recently added. At the bottom of that entry is See all new records. If we click on that we get a long list of records and in the right column we can click on See all Ancestry titles. You can create your own to do list and you can save items of interest in your personal shoebox.

We’ll start our search in Ancestry looking for Handy Crook. We’ll start by clicking on Historical Records and enter Handy as the given name and Crook as the surname. We find the one we are looking for in the 1850 and 1860 US censuses, 3 entries under Military, 1 under Directories and Member Lists. The other entries all pertain to someone else. We can then click on Family Trees at the top of the page or any other tab to see different record types. Handy appears in 2 trees both based on my input. Too bad no one else is interested in him.

Let’s try one more. My dad was Allan Frederick Dill and we search for him as Allan Dill. We find him under Census and Voter lists, Emigration and Immigration, and Directories and Member Lists.