Genealogy Websites Worth Surfing
Jeff Chapman recommends the best of the Internet's thousands of genealogy websites.
This column, which appears in every issue of Family Chronicle, is one of our most popular features. Assuming you're reading this online, you need no introduction to the power of using the World Wide Web for genealogy, so let's jump right into it:
Treasure Maps: the How-to Genealogy WWW Site
This attractive site is an excellent starting point for those new to genealogy. It features several articles on getting started and overcoming initial roadblocks, and offers many useful links to further advice and data in an organized way. Among the features helpful to beginners are introductions to US governmental resources, Family History Centers and tombstone rubbings. Uniquely, there are also several articles promoting the concept of family closeness, including recommended family projects.
RAND Genealogy Club
This excellent page is maintained by employees of the RAND Corporation in their spare time. It supports the popular Roots Location List and Roots Surname List, which list locations and surnames and the people who are searching them. Another useful utility is the Soundex Converter, which allows visitors to enter a surname and find out its Soundex code (used to determine links between last names which sound similar although spelt differently). The RAND page is filled with links to many useful documents and sites, organized either by type or by regional, ethnic or religious group. Most of the information is American, but an attempt is made to include resources for other nationalities.
Pitcairn Island Web Site
Though it is unlikely that this site will help you much in your personal research, it is interesting to peruse. The Pitcairn site is one of the few sites in the world that can claim to list information about every single inhabitant of the country it profiles. This page introduces the viewer to each of Pitcairn Island's 50-or-so inhabitants and then plots their relationships.
Try not to be frightened by those instances where women's married names are the same as their maiden names - almost everyone on the island is descended from one of six Bounty mutineers, and only four surnames have survived! There are links to sites which trace the descendants of these founding fathers. The site presents a fascinating genealogical oddity, and with its abundance of photos of the beautiful, remote South Pacific island, the Pitcairn site is a pleasant place to investigate on a rainy day.
Federation of East European Family History Societies
With over 35.3 megs of information online, this site is a tremendous resource to those with Eastern European roots. This site is somewhat cluttered; its link lists are presented inside long paragraphs of text, and there are no graphics or open spaces to give the eye a rest. The FEEFHS site redeems itself through the sheer bulk of information available: 50 detailed maps covering all of Eastern Europe and Russia in 1882, several large databases of names from various nationalities, listings of census information broken down in ethnic, religious and national indexes and more. An online newsletter also relates what's new in Eastern European genealogy. With over 20,000 useful links, this site is unmatched in its usefulness to those with Eastern European roots.
Arduini and Pizzo: An Italian Genealogy
This site is both the most attractive and the best organized family homepage we've seen on the World Wide Web. The Arduini/Pizzo page is noteworthy not only for its attractive color-scheme and professional-quality icons, but also for the quality of its content. Like all family pages, it features a family tree and links to other related pages, but the Arduini/Pizzo page goes beyond names and dates, offering background on the families' home towns, the meanings behind their names, family stories and legends, and photos, reports and documents.
This site offers more than basic genealogy facts, and in so doing pays a tribute to the ancestors it describes.
Genealogy Software Springboard
Karen Basile's Genealogy Software Springboard is the starting point for anyone interested in purchasing genealogy software. Over a dozen of the most popular packages, including Family Tree Maker, Family Gathering, Brothers Keeper and Roots IV, are profiled, reviewed and compared. The profiles are thorough, listing release dates, prices, system requirements and recommendations and special features of each package. The reviews are presented as lists of Pros and Cons of each package, and visitors are encouraged to add their sentiments to either list. After looking the various packages over and comparing their features to each other, and to your own needs, link directly to the homepages of the various packages for further information and order forms. The Genealogy Software Springboard lets you shop around thoroughly not only from the comfort of your own home, but from the comfort of a single page.
As far as name searching goes, AltaVista is probably the most useful search engine on the Internet. Its simple and straightforward user interface may lack the flair and advanced features of subject-index style search engines such as Yahoo, but only AltaVista can claim to access the entire text of over 30 million locations on the World Wide Web and articles from 14,000 newsgroups. If a name is on the Internet - in a list of phone numbers, as part of someone's online family tree, as an e-mail link on someone's homepage, in a message header in Usenet - Alta Vista will find it for you. AltaVista can be used to find all active, contributing Internet users with the surnames you are researching. Who knows how many potential relatives AltaVista could turn up for you?
In its own words, Switchboard is a free nationwide residential and business telephone directory of the US. Its "find people" feature is ideally suited to tracing long-lost (or short-lost) relatives. Switchboard quickly searches through a database of over 90 million names and presents you with all the links to e-mail accounts of registered users, as well the address and telephone number of all matching entries. Of course, you may find quizzing complete strangers about their ancestry less awkward through the mail.
The Olive Tree Genealogy Homepage
The Olive Tree is neither a general genealogy page nor a page focussing on a particular group; it is a cluster of detailed information on a few seemingly random genealogical subjects. Some of the groups covered include Huguenots & Walloons, the Mohawk Nation, Mennonites, Dutch in New York and Palatines.
The Olive Tree also contains links to such goodies as Ships' Lists, FTP Sites, Tools & Tips and feature articles by guest authors. With so many features, this site is worth a look even if your interests lie outside the eclectic batch of featured nationalities.
The Genealogy Home Page
Though only one of many sites which calls itself "the Genealogy Home Page," Stephen Wood's page is notable for its well-organized links to useful raw data on general subjects such as libraries, maps, geography, deeds, photography, genealogy software, genealogy societies, and upcoming genealogy events.
Geographic Names Information System
Though lacking the free online maps featured on Canada's GeoNames site, the GNIS contains an enormous amount of well-organized data on American place names. The database, developed by the US Geological Survey and the US Board on Geographic Names, does not limit itself to important physical features and population centers. Alongside cities, towns, rivers and mountains are such less notable locations as dams, ponds, bridges, cemetaries, chapels, schools, post offices and seniors centers. Give the search engine a name - any name - and it will find all places of that name in the United States. In all, approximately two million place names are listed. Fortunately, the search can be limited by state, by county or by type of feature. An excellent resource for genealogists attempting to find a location mentioned anywhere in their family histories.
GeoNames (Canadian Geographical Names)
This very informative and fun site is offered by Natural Resources Canada, a government department. It offers the same features and the same thoroughness as GNIS, but with several additional features. After selecting a particular Canadian location, one has additional options to enter a second place name and get the point-to-point distance between the two locations, get a list of places within a given radius of the selected location, and - most importantly - to display a color maps of the general area of the selected location and its location on a map of Canada. Of particular use to genealogists, the GeoNames database also lists historic place names no longer in use.
Social Security Death Index
Sponsored by Infobases, the leading publisher of LDS (Mormon) software, and Ancestry Inc., this site is able to boast an impressive 51-million names online. The index includes information on all individuals whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration since its establishment in 1935. The original database from the SSA contains fields for the following information: Social Security number, last name, first name, date of death, date of birth, the zip code of last residence, zip code of lump sum payment (if any), and in some cases a special state or country residence code (especially valuable if the individual is residing outside the United States). Almost all the entries are for American citizens, though some Canadian and Mexican nationals who resided in the US are also listed.
Since the information contained in the SSDI will provide information on only the previous two or three generations, it is mainly useful as a verification of other sources or as a stepping stone to further research. Knowing an individual's social security number and place of death can help in obtaining obituaries, death certificates and birth certificates. This index will also be of use to those interested in finding out about the recent history of their extended families. Chances are good that some of your dead relatives are resting here.
U.S. Surname Distribution Maps
This amusing interactive site is provided by a software company called Hamrick. To play the surname distribution game, one enters the surname of one's choice into a form and clicks a button to send off the request. Hamrick's computer then automatically generates a colorful map of the United States illustrating the distribution of the requested name throughout the 50 states. Because the maps are not stored online, but individually computer generated based on census information, this site is able to offer maps for the 50,000 most common surnames in the United States.
The color of each state indicates how frequently you will find someone with the requested surname in each state. For instance, if a state is colored red, at least 1 in 100 people in that state have the surname. Similarly, yellow means approximately 1 in 300 have the surname, green means 1 in 1000, and blue means no more than 1 in 10,000. Try Smith or Jones to see a bright red map, Urquhart or Quenby for a nice blue map, or Carlos or Wong to see a map with a wide spectrum of colors. Try and guess where your name will be most common!
Executions in England from 1606
This page, originally written by Paul Zwierzanski but now maintained by Jeff Alvey, contains information extracted from the 1895 publication 'Haydn's Dictionary of Dates'.
Chances are fair that someone in your family tree has been executed: according to the information on the page, no less than 72,000 criminals were executed during the 38-year reign of Henry VIII. "Executions in England from 1606" lists a few hundred of the notable executions which took place between 1606 and 1895, together with the location of the trial, the reason for the execution (including the names of victims, where applicable), and the location of the execution.
Not only is this site fascinating simply in terms of the famous names which are mentioned and some of the rather bizarre reasons given for the executions, it is also a good starting point for those eager to add a forger, thief, pirate, murderer or enemy of the state to their family tree.
Searchable Genealogy Links
Lauren Knoblauch maintains this extensive list of links to various genealogy sites, all of which contain search functions. This site is an excellent starting point for the person who is bored of reading genealogical advice, family histories and anecdotes, and wants to find some hard facts relevant to their own search.
Knoblauch's site is a gateway to gigabytes of online information. Approximately 200 featured sites are grouped geographically. Each site is briefly described, so one knows exactly how many millions of individuals are lying at the other end of each link.
US Genealogy Web Project
The USGenWeb site links together the GenWeb sites for all 50 US states. The idea behind the USGenWeb project began with Jeff Murphy's KYGenWeb site, when he had the clever notion to create a site which would index Kentucky genealogical information on a county-by-county basis. Murphy established a system whereby a central index page would contain links to a separate page for each Kentucky county. To acquire the time and talent needed to maintain this large collection of sites, Murphy then placed each Kentucky county up for 'adoption' by a moderator. Visitors to his site claimed and began tending to the genealogical needs of each Kentucky county.
It was not long before Murphy's idea spread to other states, and soon enough states were involved to merit a central index page. Thus the USGenWeb project and its associated web site were born (a WorldGenWeb project is also in development, but so far appears disorganized and understaffed, check it out at www.worldgenweb.com). The USGenWeb site contains information about the GenWeb project, a clickable map which links to all the state GenWeb sites, and, for some bizarre reason, a collection of pet photos.
Ontario Cemetary Finding Aid
From the OCFA site: "The Ontario Cemetary Finding Aid is a pointer database consisting of the surnames, cemetary name and location of over 1.1 million interments from approximately 2000 distinct cemetaries, cairns, memorials, and cenotaphs in Ontario, Canada." Morbid? Maybe. But very useful to genealogists with relatives interned in Ontario soil. The online search is fast and thorough. Punch in a name and up comes that person's final resting place.
The slightly newer BCCFA (www.islandnet.com/bccfa/homepage.html) provides essentially the same service for gravesites in British Columbia, but features only 100,000 or so entries.
World Wide Cemetery
While we are on the subject of gravesites, the World Wide Cemetery is one of the gravest sites on the Web. As visitors enter the site, they are greeted with black iron bars and several color pictures of the recently departed. The page's link lists use headstones as bullets. On the whole, the site is about as fun and cosy as a cemetary, which is its goal, after all.
Yes, the World Wide Cemetery is a Net necropolis, wherein visitors are encouraged to inter loved ones electronically for all to see. Monuments can be viewed by alphabetical order, geographical location or by interment date; visitors can also leave electronic flowers and take a look at the site's special memorials. The main purpose of the site, though, is to collect rememberances from various visitors for money. Since there is a fee involved for these commemorative services, do not expect to find too many dead ancestors buried here unless you or one of your relatives is willing to pay for 90s-style solace.
This new phonebook-style site amazes some and terrifies others. Like other sites such as the US-wide Switchboard (www.switchboard.com) and the Canada-wide Canada411 (www.Canada411.com), the North America-wide World Pages site allows visitors to search for a string of text amid its huge database of addresses and phone numbers lifted from phonebooks. Visitors have the choice to search for people, businesses or governments. The database at World Pages is about as thorough and up-to-date as its rivals (i.e. not very).
Where the World Pages really get interesting, though, is when one selects one of the matching listings and requests a map. This is not a map of the country or state in which the person or business is found; this is a full-color map of their block, which draws and labels every nearby street, river or other landmark. Like all graphics on the web, these maps are easy to print or download and add to a family scrapbook. Buttons allow visitors to zoom in and out as necessary in order to pin-point the exact co-ordinates of the listing in question. Fascinating, if a little creepy - World Pages makes you wonder how long it will be until the World Wide Web is watching us at all times.
Journal of Online Genealogy
The Journal of Online Genealogy is the latest project of Matthew Helm, webmaster of Helm's Genealogy Toolbox. This electronic magazine accepts articles from net genealogists about genealogical resources and advice available on the Internet. A new issue is released each month, and back issues are kept online. This commercially-sponsored site is always on the lookout for new advertisers and contributors.
The Journal has something for everyone. Sections of the magazine include Advanced Projects, Beginner Avenues, Commercial Sites, GENTECH Column, International Efforts, New Online Sites, Newsgroups and Mailing Lists, Society News and Software Trends. The informative articles are attractive and colorful without being graphically intensive, and the ads are not overly intrusive. Probably a good site to add to your hot list.
NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL)
The American National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is beginning to take its massive collection online. The NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL) is an interactive database which indexes a portion of NARA's holdings.
NAIL can be used to search descriptions for key words or topics, and then to retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings. Each item description contains the contact information for the NARA unit that maintains the material, with ordering information. Some sample data is available in digital form directly through NAIL, including over 3,000 still pictures, around 100 maps and charts, 75 sound recordings and several hundred textual documents. Many descriptions and select sample documents relate to the American West. The territorial papers collection, 1810-1872, documents America's expansion westward; over 300 petitions sent to Congress in the 19th and early 20th Century reflect America's opinions on Native Americans, polygamy, suffrage and other issues of the day; audio excerpts of interviews with the last surviving Confederate veteran and with a former slave bring the Civil War to life and 100 maps and charts vividly trace America's expansion westward.
Though NAIL contains a wealth of historical material from primary sources, it currently contains a limited amount of data specifically targetted at genealogists. Its major genealogical material consists of descriptions of 52,000 case files of applications for enrollment to the Five Civilized Tribes between 1898 and 1914 (Dawes Commission) to help genealogists trace their Cherokee, Creek, or Seminole roots. In addition, 50,000 Fort Smith Arkansas criminal case file descriptions are online. So far no census, military service, ship passenger or other genealogical data has been added, but NARA has been given a mandate to begin taking its collection online in the new few years.
Although NAIL currently contains over 230,000 descriptions, this represents only a limited portion of NARA's vast holdings. NAIL will likely develop into a very important resource to computing genealogists in the near future.
The Gathering of the Clans
This entire site is very attractive and well organized. It contains links to a chat area and information on Scottish Clans, culture, history and events. A discussion area allows those of Scottish extraction to trade questions and answers about their roots. An index of genealogical researchers in Scotland is also available.
The genealogy section will be especially interesting to people tracing their Scottish ancestry. The Clan Finder, which has an index of over 2,100 names, helps people determine what clan they belong to. In the Great Hall of the Clans, there are profiles for over 65 Clans, including tartans, histories, mottoes, links to their societies and an individual discussion page for each Clan. A great place for Clans to gather.
American Memory and the American Life Histories
Though a lack of thousands of names and their corresponding birth and death dates makes this site unattractive from a purely genealogical point of view, the Library of Congress' American Memory historical collection is an extremely useful resource for those who wish to fill out their genealogy with a little family history. The collection contains around 350,000 documents, motion pictures, photographs, and sound recordings about people throughout the history of the US. Using the People Pathfinder index, one can select either a group of people (including ethnic groupings such as African-Americans, Irish and Chinese, but also occupational groupings such as cowboys, businessmen and nurses) or enter an individual name to search upon. The American Memory project is a work in progress which its organizers say will never be complete.
The American Life Histories page, which consists of data gathered by the US Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) between 1936 and 1940, is one of the American Memory site's most impressive components. The Life Histories collection is the result of interviews conducted with middle-aged and elderly citizens from across the US in the time of the Great Depression, and features the life stories of more than 10,000 men and women from a variety of regions, occupations and ethnic groups. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant's family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion, medical history and diet.
Among the many colorful character profiles are an Irish maid from Massachusetts, a woman who worked in a North Carolina textile mill, a Scandinavian iron worker, a Vermont farm wife, an African-American worker in Chicago meat packing house and a clerk in Macy's department store.
The informants tell stories of the world around them, as well as the world they remember, the record stretching back well into the 19th century. Among the stories are tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the Chicago fire of 1871, making the pioneer journey to the Western Territories and fleeing to America to avoid conscription into the Russian Czar's army. Though the data presented has been converted to hypertext, few other changes have been made to the original forms which participants in the project filled in. It is clearly pointed out where a word has been crossed out and a new correction handwritten in. Staying this close to the original source documents bestows the site a certain authenticity. Facsimile images of the original documents are also available online, allowing researchers to compare the transcriptions to the originals.
Searching for the word "Chapman" with the Life Histories keyword search brought up 71 separate documents, including both pictures and the extremely interesting personal stories. Searches on more common names such as "Williams" brought up hundreds of listings.
Articles such as "Odd Traditions Of Brooklyn's Streets" are not only filled with references to people and places of interest to a family historian with ancestors who lived in Brooklyn, but also make for great reading. Imagine finding a tie-in with a character such as "Crazy Denton", a highly religious grocer. The WPA employee who profiled Mr. Denton has even transcribed some of the man's conversation with his clientele: "Good morning, Mrs. Jones! God bless you! I have the nicest spinach you ever saw. Yes, five cents a pound; all fresh. Thank you, ma'am! Are you saved? How about some nice wax beans, lady? Do you believe in Jesus? Those tomatoes are just off the vines. Remember, lady, Christ died to save sin - yes! sure I'll pick you out good ones. Come to Jesus, lady! I have some nice bananas. Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"
Human Languages Page
A broader but less immediately useful resource is The Human Languages Page. This site is an index of over 1000 language resources on the World Wide Web, many of which are written by site author Tyler Chamber and located on-site. Among the many resources available are online language lessons, language tutorial software, and translating dictionaries. There are links to online books and poems in other languages and commercial products and services.
Though this site was not constructed with the genealogist in mind, its links to foreign language dictionaries and phrase books make it a very useful resource for those not of pure English extraction, and for those who use foreign language records. The 120+ languages covered range from Aboriginal dialects to Yiddish, and include all European language groups. Braille, sign language, Morse code and even Klingon are also represented. No word yet on when the Human Languages Page will be expanding to include languages used by other species.
Although it has yet to achieve the notoriety of search engines such as AltaVista, Lycos and Yahoo, Deja.com is one of the most useful information gathering tools on the World Wide Web. Unlike most of its competition, Deja.com doesn't concentrate its attention on the web, but on Usenet newsgroups. Deja.com is a colorful and all-but-complete web-based interface with Usenet; not only does it allow visitors to browse through their favorite newsgroups each day, online forms also allow visitors to post messages directly to Usenet without ever leaving the comfort of the web.
As the name of the site implies, one of the most attractive functions of Deja.com is its archival of newsgroup postings. Deja.com saves copies of almost every message posted to Usenet, with the exception of binaries and some spam (junkmail) messages. All of these messages can be quickly searched for keywords. DejaNews has indexed and archived most messages posted to Usenet newsgroups since March 1995. This amounts to more than 175 gigabytes of searchable data! As if this wasn't enough, Deja.com plans to extend its scope further back and index all newsgroup postings since Usenet began in 1979.
What, then, are the practical applications of this technology for genealogists? There are several. Those with interests in a particular name or area can search for those keywords, providing they aren't too common. Genealogists who stumble upon an occupation or abbreviation they can't understand can search for that keyword - the odds are very good that someone else has had the problem before and it's already been solved. Deja.com can also help users identify the newsgroups in which they're most likely to find information of interest, so users can then either subscribe to these newsgroups with their regular news reader or just browse them when they next visit the Deja.com site. And if they don't get a chance to check Usenet for four or five years, no problem. Their mail will be waiting.
Yet another site with extremely lofty aspirations, GeneaNet's goal is nothing short of constructing "a database indexing all the genealogical resources over the world, on-line as well as off-line." GeneaNet's database consists of a list of surnames dating before 1850 which connect to pointers toward further information. One simply enters a surname into GeneaNet's search program and up comes a list of addresses where one can find further information about people of that surname. These addresses could be websites, e-mail addresses or postal addresses. Searches can be limited geographically if one wishes. Among the resources stored in the collection are families studied by genealogists, genealogical publications (including both books and periodicals), manuscripts from libraries and archives and official sources such as church registers and deeds.
One of GeneaNet's nicest features is the ability to sign up with its SearchList to receive periodic e-mail updates on the names one is researching. Registering with the SearchList utility is a simple matter of filling in an online form with the surnames (and regions) in which one is interested and one's e-mail address. There is presently no limit on the number of names one can register.
GeneaNet is free of advertising, and a note at the bottom of its main page proclaims "GeneaNet is free, and will remain free forever."
Travlang's Translating Dictionaries
Though this site isn't particularly attractive or well organized, it does possess some very useful online utilities of interest to genealogists who have to deal with foreign-language documents.
The online Travlang dictionaries are based on easy-to-use translating software called Ergane, which uses Esperanto to assist it in translating from any language to any language. Esperanto is the artificial language created by Polish physician Ludwik L. Zamenhof in 1905 as an attempt at a universal tongue. Ergane operates by converting any word or phrase the user enters into Esperanto and translating this into any specified language. The languages available for online use on Travlang's site include English, Old English, Latin, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Portugese and Afrikaans. The number of words available in each language file varies drastically, but all contain basic genealogical terms such as birth, death, will, mother and father.
If you find you have a lot of translating to do and you find you're spending too much time at the Travlang site, you might want to download the Ergane software for yourself. The small freeware Windows program is available for download from the Travlang site, as are Ergane data files for Latin, Esperanto and most modern European languages. The user must download the data file for whichever languages he or she will be using; for example, to translate from Dutch to French, the user would have to download and install both the Dutch and French language data files. Ergane is a very helpful utility to have at one's side.
Genealogy Resources on the Internet
This fairly large collection of files was compiled and is continuously updated by Christine Gaunt and John Fuller. The site is divided into access types, and then further sorted both alphabetically and by subject matter, making it very simple to find any particular item.
Gaunt and Fuller have been working on this index to Genealogical Resources on the Internet since 1994, making this site one of the originals. Gaunt maintains the website, gopher and telnet listings, while Fuller looks after the mailing lists, Usenet newsgroups, FTP sites and e-mail sites. One actually bounces back and forth between Gaunt and Fuller's separate servers when using Genealogical Resources on the Internet, but this will probably be completely transparent to most visitors.
The site's collection of websites is sorted by subject and is extremely comprehensive, but such listings of websites are fairly common. Far less common are the listings of Gopher, Telnet, FTP and e-mail resources. It's surprising to see a site that continues to acknowledge the existence of Gopher servers, as Gopher has been pretty much forgotten since the advent of the web. But Gopher sites still exist, and Gaunt has managed to round up more than 20 devoted to genealogy! There are a further 20 or so telnet sites, which again are just a little off the beaten path, though perhaps not as close to being Internet antiques as Gopher sites.
Perhaps the most distinctively useful feature of this site is the descriptive link list of 1,572 genealogy mailing lists. These lists cover general topics, software, countries and states; there are also 1,145 mailing lists devoted to particular surnames. These e-mail lists will prove particularly useful to those with limited web/newsgroup access, as they contain a variety of tools, files and message groups one can receive through e-mail alone. The e-mail message lists one can subscribe to cover a much wider range of special interest topics than newsgroups, getting as specific as the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.
The Gene Pool
This large site consisting of almost 300 separate pages is maintained and masterfully designed by graphic designer and genealogy buff Joanne Todd Rabun. The site is fashioned with an aquatic theme, and visitors are invited to dive in and swim through the many different selections currently online. There are almost 30 primary links from the main page. (Incidentally, this is the one serious flaw of the Gene Pool site: everything is lying in a big pile instead of being properly organized. Rabun seems aware that her site has grown beyond easy manageability, as she admits that she has had to use her genealogy software to create a descendancy chart for the various pages of her site. A copy of this descendancy chart is available online... directly from the main page.)
As well as Rabun's personal family history and genealogy, the site features many items of interest to non-relatives. AmeriSpeak is Rabun's compilation of colorful sayings used by Americans in the past. The AmeriSpeak page teaches visitors that when our ancestors said "I'm fine as frog hair split in the middle," what they really meant was "I'm very well." So as not to be Americentric, Rabun has also included a listing of Ye Olde English Sayings. This collection of folk etymologies for a wide range of English expressions explains that the expression "raining cats and dogs" has its origin in the fact that "before sewers any rain, rubbish, etc. was thrown into a ditch that ran beside the road. When animals died they were also thrown into the ditch. When the heavy rains came the dead cats and dogs would be carried away with the water." Other entries are equally charming, and bring us in closer contact with the colorful phrases our ancestors used. One can add to these lists of expressions automatically, but unfortunately the user additions to these pages are in need of a little maintenance.
Other highlights include the knowledgeable advice on how to go about publishing your own family keepsakes, the extensive online list of suggested oral history questions and the Ancestor of the Month, wherein Rabun profiles one of her favorite dead relatives (the winner for June 1997 was Dorothy Cantrell, 'the Cross-Dressing Quaker Grandma').
Historical Demographic, Economic and Social Data of the US
The information here describes the people and economy of the United States between 1790 and 1860. Statistics compiled from decennial censuses are available for any county in most states during this time period. By completing a series of forms, the user selects the census year, state and variables he or she wishes to examine. The user can request an area's total population or ask for the population count to be divided by race, gender, age or a combination of these factors.
This site also features an extensive, illustrated article on the historical background of the census, which describes the circumstances under which censuses were conducted and lists the sort of information asked on each census. Any genealogist who relies on census data should attempt to gain an understanding of the enumeration process through history. The article puts the census in its historical context, and discusses how census taking changed as a result of the creation of new states, the abolition of slavery and the erosion of the American frontier.
The enumeration article contains many interesting facts related to the history of the census. For example, Herman Hollerith, who had been a special agent for the 1880 census, developed punchcards and electric tabulating machines in time to process the census returns, reducing considerably the time needed to complete the clerical work. Hollerith's venture became part of what is now the IBM Corporation.
They say that everyone is related to one another within six degrees of separation. While genealogists have long realized that, broadly speaking, everyone is everyone else's cousin, few have attempted to apply this knowledge in a practical manner.
A free, advertising-driven site called The Seeker invites genealogists to do just this, and to employ the six-degrees tactic in locating lost relatives. The Seeker is not the only site to adopt this six-degrees-of-separation approach, nor is it the best of the bunch, but it seems to be the only site of its kind which was specifically designed with genealogists in mind.
The mechanics of the six-degree search system are really quite simple. When visitors first visit the site, they are asked to check The Seeker's databases and find out if anyone is looking for them. Visitors are also invited to place a message looking for their friends and relatives. By filling in a short form listing the sought-after party, the submitter's contact information and a brief message, one instantly places a free search advertisement online. It is even possible to include a photo with one's message for no extra charge.
Listings are broken down into five sections: Native Americans, Generally Seeking, Militarily Seeking, Seeking Beneficiaries and Relatively Seeking, all of which might be appropriate for genealogical searches under certain conditions. Use the Relatively Seeking section to see if someone is searching for people with your surname, or begin your own surname search. The Relatively Seeking section contains an online listing of adoptees in search of birth parents and vice-versa. This section is also useful to separated siblings attempting to reunite.
The Factually Seeking section of The Seeker offers an excellent introduction to the art of finding people. This section offers dozens of fantastic tips people may never have thought of, ranging from the very beginning steps (try directory assistance and alumni associations) all the way up to more advanced measures (checking for lawsuits, bankruptcies and corporation ownerships). The Factually Seeking section is subtitled "How to find your friends and relatives if they don't have a computer and can't see The Seeker," but this is actually good advice for anyone seeking living relatives.
The Seeker's Sought and Found section is filled with dozens of stories from past users who have been successfully reunited with friends, birth relatives and other lost relatives through The Seeker, many of whom exult the reader to never give up no matter how hopeless the search may seem.
Unfortunately, the sad fact is that these people were among the lucky few. The Seeker probably won't function perfectly until every sixth person on Earth is signed up.
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System
Sponsored by a National Park Service partnership with the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Genealogical Society of Utah and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) is a little gem of a site that seems destined to rapidly become something big. The CWSS is intended to be a computerized database containing basic facts about servicemen who served on both sides during the American Civil War.
Currently, the site offers more than 235,000 names of soldiers who served in African-American units on the Union side. To view names in the database, the visitor enters a name into a search field and is then presented with a detailed listing of soldiers with that name, together with their regiment. What is truly impressive, however, is that the user then clicks on any of the hundreds of matches for further details specific to that individual. Each soldier's full name, rank in, rank out and organizational unit (such as regiment) are presented on an individualized page.
The CWSS hopes to eventually index all 3.5 million men who served in the war on both sides. The fundamental source for all the names being entered into the CWSS is the General Index Cards of the Compiled Military Service Records, which were derived from muster rolls of the Union and Confederate Armies. The site managers also intend to add a list of regiments in both the Union and Confederate Armies; identifications and descriptions of 384 significant battles of the war; references that identify the sources of the information in the database and suggestions for where to find additional information.
The UK and Ireland
The UK and Ireland pages are actually a subset of the large GENUKI website maintained by Phil Stringer. According to Stringer, the pages are intended as a "virtual reference library" to accompany the discussions on the newsgroup soc.genealogy.uk+ireland and the mailing list GENUKI-L.
The UK and Ireland pages provide useful pointers to reference information on England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, as well as information which relates to the British Isles as a whole. Each administrative region is broken down into a separate page offering general information about the region and a linked list of all the counties in the region. Each county has its own page, listing general information for the county as well as links to more detailed information where available. Visitors are encouraged to "adopt" a county and maintain its webpage along the same lines as the successful USGenWeb project in the US.
On top of all this geographically-specific information, the UK and Ireland site provides a wealth of general information on genealogical searching in the British Isles. Among the dozens of topics covered are archives and libraries, censuses, Chapman codes, chronology, church records, colonization, emigration and immigration, handwriting, heraldry, history, land and property, maps, merchant marine, military records, newspapers and societies. Under most subject headings, the visitor is offered a brief introduction to the subject and a handful of links to sources of further information.
Given time and good management, the UK and Ireland pages may well become the definitive starting point for British genealogy.
Books We Own
Books We Own is a cooperative library coordinated by Michael Colvin. The website consists of an categorized list of resources that are owned or accessible to members of the ROOTS-L mailing list. These members are willing to look up genealogical information and share it with other genealogists, either through e-mail or postal mail. Visitors are reminded that resource owners are volunteers with a limited amount of time and resources to spend looking up information, and are asked to keep their queries within reasonable limits. There is a maximum of three surnames per query.
Obtaining information from the Books We Own project is quite simple. The main index page breaks the data available down by country/state/province/county, surname and other categories. Within each sub-index, there will be anywhere from one to several dozen listings of book titles, together with a short list of their contents. These books are the sort genealogists dream of finding. Search the various lists for the information you are seeking. When you find a resource that you'd like the owner to search for you, click on the two- or three-letter code at the end of the resource's description. This links you to a brief request form, that must be filled out and automatically sent to the owner. Follow the instructions on the form to frame your requests.
Genealogy CD Lookup
Those interested in the Books We Own project may also be interested in Lori Hoffman's Genealogy CD Lookup. The CD Lookup site lists several dozen data CDs by number and description, together with the e-mail addresses of the various owners. Among the many CDs that volunteers are willing to browse are Family Tree Maker's Family Archives and World Family Tree CDs, the Social Security Death Index CDs, Federal Census Index CDs, and ProPhone's phonebook CDs for various countries. Though very poorly designed, this page provides a useful service by connecting researchers with the resources they need in much the same way as the Books We Own project.
* Do you know of a high-quality genealogy site of general interest? Please let us know! *
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