Searching the Web
The first thing I do when I'm searching the web is to open a file in Notepad that I named "Genealogy Notes.txt". I opened Notepad and clicked on FILE, NEW and in that new file I typed .LOG ( that's a period and LOG in caps) and I saved the file as Genealogy Notes. It will enter the time and date every time that I open the file. I leave it open as I go about my work.
Whether you're new or experienced at searching the "web", the best place to start and return to every so often is Cyndi's List. www.cyndislist.com. The complete index for Cyndi's list is included with this handout. My main interest here is Bibles, City Directories, cemeteries and Ships Lists.
I use Cyndi's list to see what places she includes that might fit with any of my ancestors. Since none of my ancestors ever left New England, I can exclude many sites on her list and concentrate on some that might have information I could use.
When I'm searching for information on a specific person, I'll use one of the following sites:
Ancestry www.Ancestry.com which has both free and subscription data. We'll use it to try to find Mary Ayers. After our first attempt we'll cut down on the results by including her spouse. Note that the database you search here is the same as that used by Rootsweb's World Connect project.
FamilySearch www.familysearch.org which is the site run by the Mormons. Here, you can enter her spouse at the outset and save some time.
Genforum www.genforum.com is a host to message boards and there is one for practically every surname in existence. Here I'll go to the Ayers Family Forum. If I just browse through all of the messages I can spend a long time sorting through them. There are 2817 messages dating back to November 1997. So I enter Mary Ayers in the search box and only messages containing Mary and Ayers in the same message will be shown. It leads to some false alarms but entering "Mary Ayers" may miss John Ayers' daughter Mary. Since she married Nathan Parker I'll go to the Parker Family Forum and search for Nathan Parker. Here I found some significant data about Mary and Nathan so I swiped across it with my mouse, pressed "CTL-C" to save it and then I opened my Genealogy Notes file by clicking on it in the system tray. I pressed "CTL-V" to paste the new data and I added a heading to indicate where I got the data.
The Making of America http://moa.umdl.umich.edu/ scanned many documents that cover the formative years of our country. There are 8500 books that cover the period from 1825 to 1900 and 50,000 journal articles covering the period from 1830 to 1902. The best news is that you can search the entire text of all of them at once. Searching for Mary Ayers found no relevant hits but searching for Mary Parker did. She was referenced in a book on witchcraft.
University of Virginia Electronic Text Center http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ has 1800 texts that can be downloaded to a computer or a Palm PDA. for reading at your leisure. The full text of all books is searchable and the relevant paragraph is presented. You can not look at pages preceding and following to put the information in context as you can with MOA but you can look at the entire text or download it all.
Google www.google.com perhaps should be the first place to start. Mary Ayers got 82,600 hits and Mary Ayers Parker got 16,600; the very first on that list being from our own Pastfinders' web page. (I always told you Google was good!!) There's a lot to look through when you use Google but there are ways to cut down on the extras. Here are some rules:
Enter as many items as you wish with a space between them. Google will find a document that contains them all. Put a minus sign (-) in front of any term you want Google to reject. Put a phrase in quotes if you want Google to find a page that contains the phrase and not as separate words. Dill -pickle -herb tends to limit replies to people, not vegetables.
USGenweb http://www.usgenweb.com/ is rather uneven as some states do more than others. You never can tell what you'll find and new items are added all of the time. Searches should be conducted by state, county and town where appropriate. Cemetery information and census information may often be found. The Vermont Gazetteer is partly on-line and it contains some genealogical information. Other states may also have such information.
Rootsweb www.rootsweb.com where Pastfinders' Home Page is hosted. It's World Connect is the same as Ancestry's but it has a host of message boards and list servers. List servers send email to all who subscribe. I subscribe to Dill-L, Nichols-L, CRV-L and MAWORCES-L. You can subscribe to the digest form as Dill-D and get only the message headers in one email a day and not any messages that you don't want. Use SURNAME list finder to find the list you want. All instructions can be found on Rootsweb home page.
Genealogy of the United Kingdom and Ireland http://www.genuki.org.uk/ doesn't have much on line but it will tell you where to go to get what you want. there are many pamphlets that can be ordered on line. Genuki accepts credit cards.
Public Records of Northern Ireland http://proni.nics.gov.uk/ tells how to use the records center which is in Belfast. Read the questions on their home page to start.
What I've shown here barely scratches the surface. The best way to find out what's there is to "just do it". Use the library computers for fast searching, locate some things that you want and then do your final download at home.
Millard brought us an interesting problem; he had done genealogy on a branch of his family up to about 1880 and stopped following them many years ago. He wanted to know how he could be brought up to date. The family name is Townley ands we suggested the Townley forum on Genforum and also suggested checking the phone lists through something like BIGFOOT or checking the latest (1920) census. I followed up with Millard and found 75 phone listings in the State of New York and 84 listings in New York for the 1920 census. Any further suggestions would be helpful. We didn't see much on the Ancestry.com or Genforum but didn't spend much time on them.