|Jump Start Your Family Tree Online|
|by Barbara Ann Renick|
|©Copyright 2005 by Barbara Renick
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.
|1. 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.|
|2. 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.|
|3. 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.|
|4. 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.|
|5. 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.
|1. Lineage-Linked (example:
|2. Extracted Records (example: parts of the
IGI and the
Vital Records databases|
at the FamilySearch Internet site)
|3. Registered Research Interests (example:
RootsWeb Surname List)|
|4. Indices to Record Collections (example:
Records Collection database)|
(example: online library catalogs)
B. Not all lineage-linked databases are the same. Compare the following:
|1. Ancestral File vs. Pedigree Resource File at
Ancestry World Tree
vs. Ancestry’s OneWorldTreeSM|
|3. GenCircles (www.gencircles.com)|
C. The evolution of pedigree (lineage-linked) online databases.
Ancestral File (match/merged by computer)|
Pedigree Resource File (a multiplicity of submissions preserved intact|
and currently published on CDs)
Post-Ems in AWT
and pegging in OneWorldTreeSM|
|5. The future?|
D. Where to Go First?
|1. Go for the large, high traffic sites with popular databases (as listed
above for U.S.)|
family of sites may mean changes in the future:|
|3. Search Geographically|
|4. 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.
|1. 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)|
|2. 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.
|1. Search for surnames|
|2. Search by locality|
|3. Search for researchers’ names|
D. While online don’t forget to search mail lists, too.
hosts 28,946 e-mail discussion groups (most of which are archived|
and searchable at this Web site)
|2. 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.
|1. Search one electronic library catalog at a time online|
|2. 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.|
|3. PERSI (the PERiodical Source Index)|
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.
|1. 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.)
|2. 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.
|3. 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.
|1. Currently HQ Online includes four resources:|
|a. Search Census (featuring head-of-household indices and images of all
schedules and slave schedules of the U.S. Federal Census Records from 1790 to 1930).
|b. 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
|c. 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)
|d. Search Revolutionary War records database|
|2. HQ Online will soon be adding additional collections and features
Part V: Survey Phase Techniques
Repeat your survey phase at least annually. Genealogical
resources are being added to online databases at a phenomenal rate.
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
Check out society Web sites (using genealogical,
historical, and lineage society sites) for their unique resources and databases.
State library and archives sites are rich in resources
plus links to other resource sites, too.
Finding Personal Web sites via Search Engines may be the
hardest way to contact other researchers and share information about your family
F. Search geometrically (not just for your ancestor’s name, but rather for clusters of associated names).