Jump Start Your Family Tree Online
by Barbara Ann Renick
Barb@ZRoots.com
©Copyright 2005 by Barbara Renick

 

 

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The first step when doing research is always to see what has already been done on that surname in that locality to avoid a duplication of effort. Today, you can search farther and faster than ever before to jump start your family tree online.

Part I: Introduction

A. Genealogical research is an ongoing process that takes place in five phases. These phases are repeated over and over again as you fill in the missing pieces of your family tree.

bullet1. The Background Phase: The background phase is the foundation for all the other phases. It consists of the knowledge and experience you use to search for records, read and analyze what you find, then evaluate where to look next or how to accurately compile what you have found for publication or sharing. This phase continues as you learn more and more about doing research in a particular locality and time period, for a unique ethnic group, or about a particular type of record (like military records). The background phase also includes a knowledge of how to use advanced search features to search online databases to jump start your family tree.
 
bullet2. The Survey Phase: You seek out what has already been published to avoid a duplication of effort. This phase involves searching mostly in compiled records. This is where you may be lucky and get your research off to a fast start, but it is not without its perils. You are just as likely to be unlucky and find multiple versions of your family tree that don’t agree. To err is human. No where is this seen more often than in compiled genealogies. Computers and the Internet have exponentially increased this problem.
 
bullet3. The Research Phase. You seek out original records to fill in a specific piece of missing information or to determine which version of a name, date, place, or relationship is most likely correct. This phase involves searching in original records.
 
bullet4. The Evaluation Phase: You analyze and evaluate what you and others have found; decide if you have a valid and reliable answer; and if not, determine where to look next. Here you weigh the evidence. This step is almost impossible if your source does not cite its sources.
 
bullet5. The Preservation Phase: You share and publish what you have found so that your work is preserved, and so others may find you to share their additions and corrections to your compilation.

B. There are many online resources to help jump start your survey phase of research. To a lesser extent, online resources help with your background and research phases, as well.

Part II: Databases Online

A.  Varieties of Online Databases.

bullet1. Lineage-Linked (example: Ancestral File)
 
bullet2. Extracted Records (example: parts of the IGI and the Vital Records databases
 at the FamilySearch Internet site)
 
bullet3. Registered Research Interests (example: RootsWeb Surname List)
 
bullet4. Indices to Record Collections (example: DAR Genealogical Records Collection database)
 (example: online library catalogs)

B. Not all lineage-linked databases are the same. Compare the following:

bullet1. Ancestral File vs. Pedigree Resource File at FamilySearch Internet
 
bullet2. Ancestry World Tree vs. Ancestry’s OneWorldTreeSM
 
bullet3. GenCircles (www.gencircles.com)

C. The evolution of pedigree (lineage-linked) online databases.

bullet1. Ancestral File (match/merged by computer)
 
bullet2. Pedigree Resource File (a multiplicity of submissions preserved intact
 and currently published on CDs)
 
bullet3. Ancestry.com’s Post-Ems in AWT and pegging in OneWorldTreeSM
 
bullet4. GenCircles’ Smart Matching
 
bullet5. The future?

D.  Where to Go First?

bullet1. Go for the large, high traffic sites with popular databases (as listed above for U.S.)
 
bullet2. The MyFamily.com family of sites may mean changes in the future:
bulleta. Ancestry.com hosts RootsWeb.com
bulletb. Genealogy.com hosts the GenForum Message Board
 and sells the World Family Tree CDs
bulletc. MyFamily.com hosts a People Finder service
 
bullet3. Search Geographically
bulleta. Try Cyndi’s List (search by browsing her categories
 and by using the site-specific search engine at her site)
bulletb. Use the USGenWeb and WorldGenWeb Projects
 (watch for lists of research links to sites of help for that geographic region)
bulletc. Search geographically in the Research Guidance and Research Helps sections
 under the SEARCH tab at FamilySearch Internet to find links to institutions
 and significant online resources for those areas.
 
bullet4. Other databases can be found using the above three resources
plus the GenSearcher Web site (www.gensearcher.com).
Notice the alphabetical list of links in the narrow frame on the left side
of the Web pages at that site. Or do a location and/or topic search in
your favorite search engine.

Part III: Queries Past, Present, and Future

A.  Free queries (to post or to search) are a standard part of both the USGenWeb (http://www.usgenweb.org/) and WorldGenWeb (http://www.worldgenweb.org/) Project.

B.  Search past queries online at these GenWeb Project sites.

bullet1. Manually (early ones are difficult to search—you may need to download a text file of early queries and use your word processor to search it)
 
bullet2. With search tools (many have joined RootsWeb’s GenConnect Message Boards)

C.  Message Boards (RootsWeb/Ancestry.com’s GenConnect and Genealogy.com’s GenForum) are places where genealogical messages are archived and searchable.

bullet1. Search for surnames
 
bullet2. Search by locality
 
bullet3. Search for researchers’ names

D.  While online don’t forget to search mail lists, too.

bullet1. RootsWeb hosts 28,946 e-mail discussion groups (most of which are archived
 and searchable at this Web site)
 
bullet2. FamilySearch Internet hosts 198,800 Collaboration E-mail Lists (but the messages posted to these groups are not archived/saved on site)

E.  Resources for locating printed queries in periodicals.

bullet1. Search one electronic library catalog at a time online
bullet2. Or use meta-catalogs online or in a library near you (like WorldCat) to locate a library with that periodical, book, or manuscript source; then search all past issues the old way by going to the library and searching in person.
bullet3. PERSI (the PERiodical Source Index)
bulleta. on fiche at Family History Centers
bulletb. on CD for purchase (or find a Family History Center, society, or library that has purchased PERSI on CD for their patrons’ use)
bulletc. at Ancestry.com online (or at a Family History Center, society, or library that has a subscription for their patron’s use)
bulletd. at Heritage Quest Online (through a subscribing library’s Web site where you have a library card and password)

Part IV: Locating a Family History/Local History Book in a Library

A. In the era B.C. (Before Computers and the Internet), genealogists went from library to library looking for something to look in. Today, genealogists do their homework by searching in online library catalogs before going out to do research on location.

B. However, it should be noted that many institutions have not had the funds to retro-catalog. This means their electronic catalogs contain all accessions after a certain date with all prior acquisitions being listed only in their original paper card catalog(s). It is not uncommon for a library or archives to have more than one catalog covering different parts of their collections.

C. WorldCat is a meta-catalog of materials (particularly local history materials in regular collections, special collections, and digitized materials) in more than 9,000 institutions across the United States and in many foreign countries. This meta-catalog has more than 57 million entries searchable online. Many entries represent non-U.S. materials both in U.S. libraries and libraries abroad. WorldCat is available exclusively by subscription to libraries and organizations. It is not available for subscriptions by individuals.

bullet1. Go to the Web site of any library for which you have a library card.
(Not all libraries require that you be a local resident to obtain their library card.
Some give library cards for free upon request and others charge a fee for non-residents.)
 
bullet2. Check in their special collections or database listings at their Web site for WorldCat, OCLC,
or FirstSearch. WorldCat may be accessible via any of these three routes. These access points may also be listed under "Other Library Catalogs," "General Resources," or possibly in a
genealogy section at your library’s Web site.
 
bullet3. Otherwise, check with your local librarian to see if they can help you find a library in your area
with access to FirstSearch and/or WorldCat. You librarian may be able to search the WorldCat
meta-catalog for you or give you instructions on how to search it on one of that library’s in-house
computers (if not available online via the library’s Web site). Check your local university libraries, too.

D. Heritage Quest Online is a major resource for your survey phase searches.

bullet1. Currently HQ Online includes four resources:
bulleta. Search Census (featuring head-of-household indices and images of all extant population
schedules and slave schedules of the U.S. Federal Census Records from 1790 to 1930).
bulletb. Search Books (featuring 25,000 genealogy and local history books that have been OCR’d
and every-word indexed with images of all their pages online
bulletc. Search PERSI (a subject index, but not an every-word index, with several million entries
from more than 6000 genealogy and local history periodicals dating from about 1800 found
in the Allen County Public Library’s genealogical collection)
bulletd. Search Revolutionary War records database
 
bullet2. HQ Online will soon be adding additional collections and features including:
bulleta. the Freedman’s Bank database may be added soon
bulletb. a subscribing library finder in which you enter your zipcode to find a library that subscribes
to HQ Online within 10, 25, or 50 miles distance.
bulletc. a meta search feature for searching across their census, books online, PERSI, and other
indices may also appear at this site this summer.

Part V: Survey Phase Techniques

A.  Repeat your survey phase at least annually. Genealogical resources are being added to online databases at a phenomenal rate.

B.  During your survey phase you are working mostly with compiled sources—so don’t believe it’s true just because it’s in print or online.

C.  Check out society Web sites (using genealogical, historical, and lineage society sites) for their unique resources and databases.

D.  State library and archives sites are rich in resources plus links to other resource sites, too.

E.  Finding Personal Web sites via Search Engines may be the hardest way to contact other researchers and share information about your family trees.

F.  Search geometrically (not just for your ancestor’s name, but rather for clusters of associated names).

 

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