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Genealogy on the Internet
Part 1: Online Genealogies
(updated 2009)

By Jim Rice

What I am calling Online Genealogies are the research findings of others that have been posted on the Internet. They can primarily be found in:

These online postings can be some of the most immediately rewarding things available to us on the Internet, especially if the submitters have done their homework properly and presented sound genealogical research results. It is important that, when we find something of interest, we look for the proofs. If they aren’t evident from the postings, we have to try to contact the submitters and follow up. Some people tend to avoid searching these online genealogies, but I am reminded that one of our COGS speakers, a noted GA genealogist, said that he would much rather fix somebody else’s research any day than to have to start from scratch himself.

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1. Compilations of Contributed Genealogies

There are several online databases where genealogical research findings, contributed by various individuals, have been compiled and made computer searchable and viewable. At least two of these can be accessed for free, while others require a subscription to get full details. I will explain the two main free services and one of the subscription-based ones in some detail and briefly mention the other subscription-based ones.

With all of these databases, I find the best approach is to look to see if they contain anything on my earliest proven person of interest in one of my known surname lines and, if so, whether they have additional information. I generally avoid being too specific in my first search, and I suggest you start using the given name, surname and date and place of birth, marriage or death of your person of interest. If you get too many hits, you can then enter more dates or data on the spouse to narrow things down. If you get few or no hits, maybe try omitting the date of birth, marriage or death. Remember that you will only find relevant information if someone, frequently a cousin you may not yet know, has submitted their findings.

a. The LDS Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File

These are two of the largest compilations on the Internet, and the Ancestral File is, I believe, the oldest of all compiled genealogies. Both can be searched by going to http://www.familysearch.org/ and then looking near the Search button and clicking on Advanced Search.  From the Advanced Search page, you can do an All Resources search and get hits in all of their databases.  Alternatively, you can limit your search to the Ancestral File, their Census Records (1880 U.S., 1881 British or 1881 Canadian), the International Genealogical Index, the Pedigree Resource File, the Social Security Death Index (generally for people who died in 1962 or later), the Vital Records Index (a limited collection of vital records for Denmark, Finland, Mexico, Norway and Sweden) or Family History Web Pages (a feature I have found to be of limited value).

I suggest you start with an All Resources search and revert to individual database searches as needed. The only real problem I’ve noted with an All Resources search is that hits in the 1880 U.S. census are not race specific, and that can be a bit confusing for all. A search in the 1880 census by itself lets you specify race.  You may find that hits in the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File and the International Genealogical Index (IGI) to be the most immediately rewarding.

b. The Ancestry World Tree (AWT) and World Connect Project (WCP)

These two databases are supported by Ancestry.com. The AWT was started a number of years ago by one of Ancestry.com’s corporate predecessors. A few years ago, Ancestry.com bought RootsWeb.com and its World Connect Project database. As best I can tell, these two databases have now been fully merged, and a single search should yield hits in both. Although Ancestry.com is very much a subscription-based service, they have continued to provide free access to the AWT and WCP. Go to http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm and do a search for your person of interest. Again, avoid a highly restrictive search at first and narrow things down with more detail as need be.

In addition, one can go to http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ and then scroll down to the World Connect Project Main Page link and click through to search it separately.

c. The World Family Tree

Genealogy.com has its World Family Tree (WFT). After the Ancestral File, the WFT is probably the oldest and largest of compilations of contributed genealogies. Originally, the WFT was mainly a CD based program, but that appears to no longer be the case. Go to http://www.genealogy.com/ifftop.html and fill in the search entry form for your person of interest. This is one case where you may want to be fairly specific in your search entry, since the search program may otherwise swamp you with essentially unrelated results. The page of results that you get from your search will likely contain hits in a number of databases, most of which will require a subscription or the finding or purchasing of a specific CD.

d. There are several other compilations of contributed genealogies, including ones at Everton and Kindred Konnections,but they are subscription based and seem to me to be largely redundant with the ones previously described here.

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2. Genealogies Found Through Postings to Various Message Boards and Email Lists

RootsWeb.com (now part of Ancestry.com) supports message boards and email lists that are variously specific to surnames, localities or topics (including ethnic groups).

a. Message Boards at RootsWeb.com

Go to http://www.rootsweb.com/ and scroll down to the Message Boards group. To do a surname search, click on Surnames and then do one of the following:

    1. Type in a surname, click on surnames and do a search
    2. Drop down to the alphabetical surnames and work through the one, two and three letter steps to get to the board for your surname of interest.

In either search, you can look for a first name, a spouse name, a location, etc. to find messages that may be relevant to your interests.  Note however, that searching for surnames that are also independent words may yield numerous irrelevant hits.  For example, my search for Childs yielded a lot of irrelevant hits relating to a child’s records.

For Locality boards. Go back to the Rootsweb message boards list and click on Localities and then follow through choosing your continent, country and then state or province of interest. Once you get to the desired locality page you can search for a surname, town or village, etc. again remembering to click on the appropriate radio button to confine the search to that locality page.

For Other Topics, including Ethnic Groups, go back to the Rootsweb message boards list and click Topics. You may be interested in one or more of their special topics, but, for ethnic groups, click on Ethnic/Race and then choose the one or ones you are interested in. Note that, for the African-American category, there are separate pages for many states in the U.S.

b. Genforum Boards and Genealogy.com

Genealogy.com’s Genforum service also has surname, regional (locality) and general topic boards. They are, in my opinion, not as well organized as RootsWeb.com’s boards, but their surname boards in particular have been a great help to many researchers and are well worth searching. Go to http://genforum.genealogy.com/ and then do the following:

i. For Surname boards. Click on the initial letter for your surname of interest and, on the resultant page, scroll down until you find the surname you are looking for. Once there, you can do a search for a first name, spouse name, locality, etc. to narrow the search to possibly relevant messages.

ii. For Regional boards. Choose the U.S. or Other countries and follow through to your locality of interest. Unfortunately, Genforum does not break its locality boards down beyond countries outside the U.S. and states within the U.S. However, it does break them down by time. This means that, for a given country or state, you must use the search function to find messages relating your narrower locality of interest. Also, if you want to search all the archived messages for a given board, you have to Click on All Messages, and downloading them may take upwards of a minute or so, depending on your Internet connection speed.

iii. For General topic boards. Choose one of the general topic categories that is of interest to you. Note that African-American and American Indian boards are under the Miscellaneous category. Again, Genforum doesn’t break these categories down further by locations but does by dates of posting, and, to search them all, you must download all messages and then the search function to try to find messages of interest.

c. Email lists at RootsWeb.com

Although email lists are similar to message boards in content, they differ in one very important way. Whereas you have to visit a message board to see what they have, including new messages, you can subscribe to an email list, and, whenever a new message is posted, you will automatically receive a copy. However, subscribing is not the only way to use the email lists. Once you have found a list of interest to you, you can search or browse archived messages, and, for someone new to email lists, this is probably the best way to begin and catch up. You may then want to subscribe and keep up.

Go to http://www.rootsweb.com/, scroll down to the Mailing Lists group and Click on Index (Browse All Lists) to see the various surname, locality and other topical groups or lists they have and then do the following:

i. For Surname Lists.In the Surnames box, Click on the initial letter for your surname of interest and scroll down to see if there is a list for that surname. Once you find a list of interest to you, Click on it to go to the page for that list. Once there, you can subscribe to the list, search archived messages or browse archived messages. Unfortunately, for the search or browse operations, you must do them separately one year at a time, and some of the lists have been around for ten years or more.

ii. For U.S. or International Locality Lists, choose a U.S. state or a foreign country and follow through to included counties or provinces as needed. Again, once you get to a list of interest, you may initially want to search or browse the archived messages and then maybe subscribe to the list to keep up.

iii. For the Other Lists, select a topic and follow through as needed to find a list of interest and then search or browse the archived messages and subscribe if interested in the long run.  Note the wide range of Ethnic lists, including African American (some by U.S. States.), Freedmen and Native American (some by tribes and some by U.S. States.

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3. Genealogies on Web Pages in General and Personal Ones in Particular

Finding web pages of specific genealogical interest to you from all over the Internet is a real challenge, but there are several ways to tackle the problem.

a. Finding genealogies through Cyndi’s List

Go to http://www.cyndislist.com/,look to the right and Click on Search Cyndi’s List. On the resultant page, go to the search supported by Google, enter a surname of interest and let Google search in Cyndi’s List. You can then browse the resultant hits to see if you find anything of interest.

b. Finding genealogies through an All Resources search at the LDS site

As previously noted, an All Resources search using the LDS Advanced Search entry form will yield hits in their collection of Family History Web Sites. See the earlier section 1a for more on this. My experience with these web site hits has been extremely poor, but you may want to explore them anyway.

c. Finding genealogies through a search at Genealogy.com

As previously noted, a Family Finder search at Genealogy.com may yield hits in Family Home Pages and Genealogy Web Sites. These can be searched for free. See section 1c above for more on this. Again, you just have to peruse these sites to see if they are really relevant to your interests.

d. Finding genealogies through searches at RootsWeb.com

RootsWeb.com has at least three search engines that can be helpful in finding web pages of possible interest to you.

i. Doing a GenSeeker search at RootsWeb.com. Go to http://seeker.rootsweb.com/search.htmland do a search for your surname of interest. The resultant page will be hits for that surname found in web pages registered at RootsWeb.com. This one is well worth a try

ii. Doing a Meta Search at RootsWeb.com. Go to http://resources.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/metasearch and use the Refine Search box to search for your surname of interest. The resultant page will list all the RootsWeb.com databases with hits on your surname of interest. Most of these will be in records databases, but I’m listing it here anyway, since it is a major RootsWeb.com feature.

iii. Doing a Search Thingy search at RootsWeb.com. Go to http://sitesearch.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/search and do a Keyword search for your surname of interest. A simple surname search may yield an unmanageably large number of hits, but you can quickly narrow things down by including a location as well as a surname in the Keywords box. This is another search worth doing, but sorting through the results will take some time. Also, don’t be put off if you find a few broken links (page that have been moved or no longer exist). That’s just a way of life on the Internet.

e. Finding genealogies using the major Internet search engines

i. Using Google.com. Go to http://www.google.com/, look to the right and Click on Advance Search. Using the Advanced Search entry form, you can do a variety of searches, but for openers try this. On the top line (All the word line), enter the word genealogy. On the second line (Exact phrase line), enter your surname of interest followed by a space and the word family (e.g. Rice family). On the third line (the at least one of these words line), enter all the possible variations of spelling for where these people were (e.g. Tennessee TN Tenn. Tn.). Then do a search. This is just one of many search strategies you could use, and you may need to experiment.

ii. Using Alltheweb.com.I believe some researchers favor using the Alltheweb search engine, and it is certainly worth trying. I had bookmarked it some time back but then forgot about it. Go to http://www.alltheweb.com/, look to the right and click on Advanced Search. At this point, you can begin constructing a Boolean search expression in a way similar to what we did in Google. Again, you may want to experiment with the expression and add or drop things as needed to find the most relevant hits.

iii. Using other Internet search engines. There are numerous Internet search engines around, and you can experiment with some of the others. Google is the most well known. Alltheweb seems interesting. Some of the others I have tried are:

  1. Mooter. Go to http://www.mooter.com/and enter a Boolean expression similar to that used with Alltheweb. Exploring Mooter results takes a bit of getting used to.
  2. Ask.com. Go to http://search.ask.com/and Click on Advanced Search. Ask.com’s advanced search entry form is similar to Google’s but isn’t exactly the same. Use the Exact Phrase function for “surname family”, and require the word genealogy and list the various alternate state or location spellings in the “at least one of these words” line.  Ask.com’s results page is fairly easy to follow.
  3. Dogpile. Dogpile is what is called a metasearch, since it searches multiple other search engines (presumably including Google) and reports hits found in any of them. Go to http://www.dogpile.com/and Click on Advanced Search. Dogpile’s Advanced search entry form is very similar to Google’s. Try the search you used with Google and see what Dogpile finds for you. Using my search for Rice family in Tennessee, it only returned 71 hits as opposed to hundreds when using other search engines alone.

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4. Genealogies found on various query lists

In the past, query lists and pages were popular ways of asking questions and maybe receiving information in replies. In recent years, the various message boards and email lists described earlier seem to have begun supplanting them. However, some query lists are still active, and most of them are accessible through various World and U.S. GenWeb pages, although some specialized non-GenWeb ones have been springing up.

a. Query Pages in the U.S. are mainly to be found on relevant county GenWeb pages. Go to http://www.usgenweb.org/states/index.shtml, Click on your state of interest and then go to the proper county page and look to see if they have a queries section or links to separate query pages. If you find queries, you should be able to search them for surnames, given names, locations, etc. to see if any are of real interest to you.

b. Query Pages in Other Countries
can be found on relevant country and county or province pages. Go to http://worldgenweb.org/, scroll down to the world map, Click on your region of interest, then your country of interest and, lastly, your county or province of interest. Once there, look to see if they have queries or surname lists and see what you can find of interest to you.

c. Non-GenWeb Query Pages. There are more genealogical query pages on the Internet than can possibly be mentioned here. Perhaps the best way to find them is through Cyndi’s List. Go to http://www.cyndislist.com/, look to the right and Click on Search Cyndi’s List and then use the Google supported search to look for the word query. As of this writing, that yields a page showing the first ten of 137 hits. The first hit is for the Cyndi’s List category of Queries and Message Boards. Perhaps the most useful part of that page is the listing of Locality Specific query sites

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Genealogy on the Internet Introduction / Part 2 / Part 3

 

The "Genealogy on the Internet" lessons provided on this web site are the property of Dr. James T. Rice and may not be copied to any other web site, print material, or other media without his permission. Permission is granted to link to this page.

 

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