Genealogy From Home

Updated 13 July 2011

The availability of online databases makes it possible to perform a structured search for your ancestors from your home. There may be some things that you can't find and some may need a look at primary sources for verification for which you may have to venture out. But the online databases available to you offer a great way to get started or continue a line of search.

We'll use databases available through our library, databases available to everyone on the Internet and online books for our research. The library databases include Ancestry Plus and Heritage Quest; online databases include Familysearch and Rootsweb; a list of databases is presented below. For a comprehensive list see Cyndi's List.

Census records are available on Ancestry, HeritageQuest and FamilySearch. Ancestry is available only at the library. HeritageQuest is available through the library online databases and you can get it here: http://209.26.59.208:81/rpa/webauth.exe?rs=her . You will have to enter your library card number without spaces or dashes. The Mormon site, FamilySearch can be reached here: http://www.familysearch.org/

There are several approaches to finding your roots on the Internet. The simplest is to enter the name of an ancestor that you know and from whom you want to start your search  into either Rootsweb or Ancestry and see if someone has already done the "heavy lifting" for you. You may find your ancestors' complete history online. If you do, use it as a guide to steer you through finding your ancestors through more reliable sources. We'll demonstrate a search that tries to use the most reliable data available. It follows this general procedure:

Starting with our "start" ancestor, we'll try to find him or her in the first census after the year of their birth. That should lead you to the parents of that child and should indicate the parents' age and birthplaces. You get that information by viewing the census image. Print it out for your records. My choice is to follow that surname until I exhaust all avenues. From the father's age, determine in what census you would find him as a child. There should be more than one. Look at them all to see if a mother or father is missing or changed. If that census is 1860 or later, you'll find him with his parents and you'll find out their ages and where they and their parents were born.  When the father would appear as a child  on censuses before 1860, other approaches are required. Try finding him by searching the Mormon site, FamilySearch and see if there is a birth, marriage and/or death record for him in the IGI. You can search that site by surname only if you don't provide any other information or you can search by given and surname and also limit the search to a state, county and township. Use Heritage Quest to see if you can find a genealogy or town history or gazetteer that lists him. Use Ancestry Plus to see what records that name appears in and see if those offer any information on your ancestor. Also try a search engine like Google. Enter the person's full name in quotes. You can add a space and the word "genealogy" or the state name to limit the search if you get too many results. Note that by putting the name in quotes, you may miss something like "Jim Davis' son, Brad" if you put Brad Davis in quotes. If you know the bride's name, try searching Google with the man in quotes and the woman's maiden name. You can search the State Library in your state of interest and you might find links to records or to other sites with records. You can search your State Archives and see what they have available. You may find that they don't have the records you seek online but will send you copies if they find any for a fee. You can sometimes do this by email, by fax or by mail; but you haven't left home yet.

Unless you are descended from a Native American, you will eventually find an ancestor that was not born in this country. You can search Ancestry Plus or Rootsweb or the Ellis Island Site to find the ship your ancestor came on and where he or she came from. Cyndi's List and the Internet Public Library have links to foreign databases. The National Archives has ship's passenger lists and naturalization records; the passenger list records can be ordered online.

Military records can be ordered online in some cases. Records since 1917 require Form 180 that can be printed online. Prior records can be ordered online. There were many conflicts; the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Mexican War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII as well as many smaller conflicts so there's a chance that your ancestor served. The Pension Files offer the most information, especially if a widow applied for her pension and named all of her children. Not available at the Archives but in many local histories are fighters in the early Indian Wars, King Philip's War and the French and Indian War.

When you've exhausted that surname, go back to the first census that you did and concentrate on finding the maiden name of the mother of your start person. Use any or all of the above databases to find it and then pursue that surname as you did her husband's. Each wife that you find will eventually require this treatment. Start with the closest-in generations and work back. Put the surname that you exhausted on the back burner and come back to it when you've researched everyone else. Keep a list of all of your "dead ends". Try some different databases and start with specifics (first and last name, etc) and gradually broaden your search (last name only; county, not city; then state, not county) and if that doesn't work you may actually have to leave home.

Now the cautions: treat everything that you find with skepticism.  Census data is generally reliable but people's ages and birthplaces may be in error.  Data submitted by others is usually the least reliable.

This link will take you to a brief list of genealogical web sites. The sites listed will link you to many thousands of other sites. The ones we'll rely on mostly for our demonstration are summarized here. Note that the links provided here take you directly to the Heritage Quest login page, bypassing the several Lake County pages described below.

Ancestry Plus. Available at the Lake County Library System. To use it, we have to leave home so we'll generally exhaust the other sites first in the comfort of our living room. We'll use the census data to find the family structure and we'll use other records as appropriate. The census data here is nearly complete for all censuses from 1790 to 1930
except for 1890 and you can see and print the original image.  The 1890 census was mostly lost to fire in 1912.

HeritageQuest. Available through the Lake County Library System through the link above or through the online database list on the library web site http://www.mylakelibrary.org/pac/cml.aspx . Follow the instructions above but instead of Biography Resource Center, choose HeritageQuest. Again, you'll need your library card number. There are four options for searching: Census, Books, PERSI and Revolutionary War. We'll find that in addition to original census images, there are 25,000 books of genealogies, town histories with biographical data and indexes to biographical data that you can search all at once.  You'll want to try the Revolutionary War Records if your ancestors served there.

Family Search. The Latter Day Saints (Mormon) site has the 1880 US census and the 1881 Canadian and British censuses. It also has data from the International Genealogical Index which includes data from many original records but it's less than perfect. Also included is genealogical data submitted by users in the older Ancestral File and the newer Pedigree Resource File. Perhaps more important is the index of all of the holdings of the Family History Library that you can order through the local Family History Center (SR 50 at Green Valley).

National Archives and Records Administration. NARA is the keeper of most government documents. The nearest regional office is in Atlanta. Few records are online but more are becoming available. Some records can be ordered online by providing a credit card; forms can be ordered online for requesting documents by mail. Most important to us are the Military Pension Records and the Ships Passenger List Records. Response time may be 8 to 16 weeks.