Internet Genealogy

Richard “Dick” Hillenbrand of Syracuse has been an avid historical and genealogical researcher since the 1960’s.  He served on the Board of Directors of the Onondaga Historical Association for twenty years and also has served on the Board of the Central New York Genealogical Society.  He has lectured and given genealogical programs for several New York State based genealogical and historical societies, church groups, community service clubs and has taught Basic Genealogical Research courses for the Adult Continuing Education system.

Dick has been using computers for genealogical purposes since 1979 and has a background in the use of computers for industrial automation systems.  He will inform attendees of some of his useful hints and aids in the use of the Internet for genealogical research.



The first online services that I used in the early 80’s were Bulletin Boards operated by clubs, businesses and volunteers.  Some of these had file sharing capabilities and you started to see collections of data being formed.  These were ok for a while if you were lucky enough to have some boards that were in your own calling area because long distance charges became exorbitant.  I then used a national based dial up service of which I can not remember the name and then I joined a UNIX club in Syracuse and all of the members had a free internet account which would let us on the world wide web but you had to use the cryptic UNIX commands on a DOS based computer to tour around and get full use of all of the features.


When the first graphical interface became available it swept in like a storm and there was no going back to the keyboard.  After being a Compuserve dial up user for several years I then became a beta tester for RoadRunner and the world of broadband, on all the time, data and connections just made me a full time junkie.  I have recently moved to a remote area where there is no cable service and have just subscribed to a two way satellite internet service provided by the Hughes Company called Direcway.  It seems to work approximately as fast as the cable based system.

As with all data found on the web, or anywhere else, it should ALL be used with care and skepticism.  One should attempt to document everything found with original source records wherever possible, but use the things found here as a springboard to new research and family connections.  Here are some of the websites that I visit regularly:

www.rootsweb.com   This is one of the early sites that was served by volunteers and genealogical data is freely shared.  Rootsweb is now sponsored by Ancestry.com but the service is still free.  There are search engines, databases and lots of hints and ideas that may be developed here.  Here you can sign up for Mailing Lists that will fill your email box with tons of useless information, however every once in a while a little gem will scream out at you and you will be off on a new tangent.  You can also use the Message Boards feature wherein people post queries about surnames, individuals , localities and various genealogical subjects.

www.usgenweb.com   This again is run by volunteers that provide huge quantities of free data to anyone interested.  From here you can access the individual State’s pages and from there to the County pages, Towns and Cities, etc.  There are individual search engines on each County page that will let you search for things, like gravestone listings, marriages, census, and anything that you can think of.  From the usgenweb home page you can search the early items posted in their archives.  There are several ongoing projects that you can surf through or even offer to become a participating volunteer to add data.

www.familysearch.org   This is the homepage of the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, (the Mormon Church,) (commonly called LDS,) based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  From here you can access a small portion of what is available through the gigantic collection of microfilmed primary records provided by LDS.  One of the best bargains on the web as it is all free.  You may search the complete, all name, 1880 census for the whole U.S., as well as the 1881 British and Canadian census.  From the main page you can search for individual people or surnames as well, however one of the things that I use most is the excellent catalog of what is available through the LDS Family History Center Libraries microfilm rental program.

To search the Family History Catalog click on the top tab that says “LIBRARY,” then the tab that says “FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY CATALOG,” then you have various choices for PLACE SEARCH, SURNAME SEARCH, KEYWORD, TITLE, AUTHOR, SUBJECT, etc.  This will open up unlimited possibilities to be able to access some of the many millions of microfilmed original source documents that you will need to help document your genealogical research.

Once you have documented certain parts of your own family history you may wish to share this information with others on the web and you can register as a user and upload data to the Pedigree Resource File.  This will be a great way to locate other family members that are working on the same lines that you are and will allow you to collaborate with other interested parties.

www.eogn.com  Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.  Dick Eastman has also been an early user of the internet and publishes by subscription a free standard version, and a fee based plus edition that comes out on a weekly basis and is full of up to the minute happenings in the world of genealogical research, primarily computer and internet based.  Dick tests the latest software and services available and gives a very common sense, easy to understand, description of the features and value of items being offered.  You may also search back issues of the newsletters, join a chat room, and add comments to a discussion board.  You may also hear Dick and others on the Family History Radio program that you can access from the internet and there is a link to it on his home page.

www.cyndislist.com   This is a place where you will find over 200,000 links to websites of interest to genealogists.  These are categorized and easily searched for by subject, names, locations, and anything else that you might dream up.  As the internet is quite fluid and constantly changing, it is a never ending job for Cyndi to keep updating the link list and some of them may or may not be valid at the time that you want them, but be persistent and keep searching the many thousands of possibilities available.

www.ancestry.com   This and the following are generally fee based and various subscription levels are available.  There is some data that is freely accessed but I find the largest value is in the online census data that you can search.  You can search the online index for various census years and if the person is found you can link directly to an actual digital copy of the original census page.  I especially like the 1920 and 1930 all name indexes.  You may also search for individual people and surnames from the main page search engine.

www.genealogy.com   Again, there are free things that you may search for on this service but primarily they are a subscription based service, and now owned by the same group that provides ancestry.com but they both offer some exclusive features.  The 1900 and 1910 census seems more complete here as well as a great 1870 census.  I will admit that in the past couple of months I have not used either very much, though I subscribe to both, due to our recent relocating and some of the features may have changed slightly.  In my opinion, if you are serious about genealogical research you would probably find both services of good value.

GENEALOGICAL SOFTWARE

There are several very good genealogical database programs available that you can download from the internet and many of them are absolutely free.  Most all of them can cross share data through the use of GEDCOM or some other such data sharing capability and you might wish to try several different ones.  I very early tried a DOS based version of Personal Ancestral File (PAF,) offered then for a small fee by the Mormons, but the current version is absolutely free and downloadable from the LDS website.   www.familysearch.org

I then went to another DOS based shareware program called Brother’s Keeper (BK.)  I stayed with that for several years through various iterations and was very happy with it when it became a WINDOWS version.  It is still a bargain and is up to version 6.1.  www.brotherskeeper.com

A couple of years ago I switched to Legacy Family Tree (Legacy 4.0) because it allowed for unlimited notes, comments, and source citations, allowed digital photos and scanned images to be added and the print out forms were very nice.  www.legacyfamilytree.com

Family Tree Maker (FTM)  This is a program that has been commercially promoted very well and has brought many people into the genealogical research world due to it’s huge collection of CDROMs that work in conjunction with the software.  In my opinion there are several programs that are better but it works fine for many. www.genealogy.com

The Master Genealogist (TMG)  This is another very popular program that was developed over time by some very serious genealogists.  I had an early version and thought that the learning curve was a little steeper than I wanted to invest my time in and must say that I have not used it at all.  However, from various discussions I notice that those people that do use it are generally very happy with it.   www.whollygenes.com

There are many other very good programs available to you and each of them has a learning curve that you must get through in order to become comfortable with adding all of your blood, sweat and tears of personal research.  My suggestion is to try several, join user’s groups and talk to other people and keep experimenting.  The choices are endless and constantly changing.

SEARCH ENGINES:

There are a huge number of search engines for the internet and some of the most commonly used are:

http://www.google.com

http://www.altavista.com

http://www.excite.com

http://www.dogpile.com

http://www.yahoo.com

http://www.switchboard.com

http://www.whitepages.com

http://www.askjeeves.com

http://www.hotbot.com

http://www.lycos.com

http://www.webcrawler.com

http://www.copernic.com

There are many more search engines available and each of them have access to different data, and you will want to try many different ones to find the elusive little facts and clues to help you in your search.  My suggestion is to read their instructions and use some of the specific and exclusive features to narrow things down.

For instance a search for ‘SMITH Family’ would return reams of useless information, but if you put some terms in quotations and include some other specific key words with the quoted words you should be able to narrow things down quite well.  Example: [ “SMITH Family” +COWDERY +scribe +Harmony]   This will return some interesting facts about the founding of the Mormon Church and is an example of a way to include common phrases and names with specific search desires.

I have also included an article that I wrote for the Central New York PC User’s group and was published in it’s entirety in their newsletter last year, regarding the “Importance of Using Land Records for Genealogical Research.”   You should find the information and links of interest.  This is just one very specific subject that can be delved into on the internet and is an example of some of the wonderful things that you will find at your fingertips.

I hope that you will all be willing to add more of your favorite sites and hints to this discussion and freely invite you to do so, and HAVE FUN!

Dick Hillenbrand