Computers, especially the Internet, have been a major factor in the increase in popularity of family history over the past eight years. Today’s technology has enabled millions of people to find family data without leaving the comfort of their homes.
Most people like to start their Internet research by typing their surname into one of the large name databases that are available online. These databases, such as LDS’s Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File, RootsWeb’s World Connect, Genealogy.com’s World Family Tree and Ancestry’s World Tree, take family data submitted by individuals and combine it into one giant database with thousands, even millions of names. The problem with these types of databases is there is no control over the information that is published. Information is taken from anyone who is willing to give it to them. In doing so, much of the data is undocumented and unreliable. A totally fictitious family file could be submitted to one of these databases and they would add it to their online database as fact. The information from these databases should be used cautiously, as a tool in the search for the original record. Each name and fact needs to be supported with the proper documentation.
Also in this category are the thousands of personal sites that are used to put family history information on the web. Most of these do not cite the sources for the data. A note to the owner will tell you if the information is backed up with documentation.
Other types of resources that can be found on the Internet are indexes. Some examples are census, cemetery, vital record, and book indexes. The accuracy of these indexes varies. They usually tell where the information for the index was obtained. Again, these indexes are tools that lead you to the original record. Indexes can be found on the commercial web sites such as Ancestry.com, and also on the free sites such as RootsWeb.
There is a lot of information on the Internet about places also. For example, most counties in the United States have web sites under the USGenWeb project. These sites are free and contain information specific to that county. Individual names may be listed on these sites in their indexes. Also, many libraries have searchable card catalogs on-line. These can be useful when looking for published indexes, county histories and family histories for a certain area.
Additionally, there are guides for finding resources on the Internet. The most well known genealogy site is Cyndi’s List. This is a great place to start your search. Cyndi’s List is well organized and is constantly being updated.
Not everything on the Internet is free. Many of the larger sites such as Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com have thousands of databases and indexes but they charge.You can take a look at the list of databases they offer without joining. If you see something promising, a monthly membership is a good tryout.
Below is a list of web sites you could use to begin your on-line family history search:
RootsWeb- http://www.rootsweb.com - The oldest and largest free genealogy site. It is run by volunteers and their goal is to provide large amounts of genealogy related information for free. They have many databases and indexes.
USGenWeb- http://usgenweb.org -Volunteer project to provide free Internet web sites for genealogy research. Each state and county has their own site coordinated by a volunteer. Because each site is maintained by different volunteers, the sites vary as to the content.
FamilySearch- http://www.familysearch.org -Free site sponsored by the LDS Church. Includes Ancestral File, International Genealogical Index, Pedigree Resource File and the Family History Library Catalog.
Cyndi’s List- http://www.cyndislist.com -Free index of genealogical resources on the Internet.
Ancestry.com- http://www.ancestry.com -Fee based site with data such as census indexes, directories, military indexes, World Tree and more. Some things are free such as the Social Security Death Index.
Genealogy.com- http://www.genealogy.com -Fee based site with indexes for vital records, military records, genealogy journals, World Family Tree and more.
While there are many great web sites that have a lot of useful information that can be used for building your family tree, you still have to construct the tree. Don’t expect to go online and find your family back to Adam. If you do find a web site like that, BEWARE. Web sites like that are usually filled with errors and lies.
Today I discussed the database/index aspect of family history researching on the Internet. Next month I will address how to communicate thru the Internet to advance your genealogy research.