Computer Monitor

Genealogy and The Web

(c) Linda Haas Davenport

(Articles written for Washington Co, NC Genealogy Society Newsletter and the Mt. Echo Newspaper, Yellville, Marion Co, AR. These articles were intended for people who had not yet gotten on the web or who were new to it)

Dividing Line

Now that you have an understanding of this thing called the Web, let's take a look at genealogy on the web.

When I first began researching my family the web, as we know it today, did not exist. I spent my time writing letters (and more time waiting on replies), looking at microfilm and saving money to visit those areas where my families once lived. I subscribed to at least a dozen magazines and belonged to even more genealogy societies. Family hunting was fun but, oh, it was so frustrating and so slow. Then came the web.

In the beginning there was very little on the web for the average genealogist. It was fairly easy to keep up with because, at that time, the web itself was very small. One of the first places that genealogy information started showing up was at a place called the USGenWeb Project. It was a loose knit group of individuals who had a dream - a dream to have a web site for every state, county and township in the U.S. The dream was to put as much information about a location on-line as possible and make it available to anyone searching for their family in that location. Rootsweb (a server) shared the same dream and offered to host (store) these web pages on their computer at no cost. That was several years ago and today that dream is a reality and information is going on-line at the project's web sites every day. But, putting information on-line takes time and a lot of work. Just think of the number of record books in the average court house or even the amount of information you personally have compiled on your own family. Think of the number of pages on any one roll of census film and then multiple that by all the rolls of microfilm for all the years of the federal census. It's staggering. There are many volunteers who spend hours and hours transcribing old records and getting them on-line, but it's a slow process.

It wasn't long before some of the big genealogy companies took their businesses to the web. Everton Publishers, Heritage Quest and Ancestry joined the genealogy web community offering their own services plus transcribing and putting data on-line. However, their information is not free. To access their information you must pay a monthly or yearly fee. These companies are in business and they must make a profit to stay in business, so we should not fault them for their fees. They are spending a ton of money on the man-power to transcribe old records, and/or buy existing transcriptions, abstracts, and copyrighted books to put on-line for our use.

Let's digress here a second. I told you in a previous article that the web is much like our idea of the old wild west - uncontrolled, untamed, wide open and at times dangerous. Here's one of the areas where the web becomes dangerous. There are many places on the web that want you to pay before you can access the "genealogy information" they claim to have available. Don't do it unless the site is one that you already know and trust - Everton's, Heritage Quest, and Ancestry are the big three. Until you have spent some time on the web and e-mail lists so you have at least some idea of the scam sites keep your credit card in your pocket. We're going to talk more about some of these sites later. Please just trust me for right now. There are enough free sites on the web to keep you busy without paying for dubious information.

Now back to our discussion of the web and genealogy. For those of us who started researching our families before the web was around sending copies of our family group sheets and/or narrative histories was commonplace. We all struggled to make connect with a long lost cousin or find someone, somewhere who was working on our family lines. The web offered a way to reach untold people and individuals started to itch to put their own family information on-line. To hopefully connect to a long lost cousin who might be able to knock down some brick walls or supply a missing great-grandmother. Local ISPs started making space available on their computers for these home pages. Suddenly home genealogy sites abounded.

A desire to speed up the letter writing process (and eliminate a bunch of wait time) was burning in most on-line genealogist's breasts. In answer to that desire News Groups and then E-mail lists sprang up giving people a means of communicating with others searching for the same surname or in the same area.

Suddenly one day the web was huge and there was no card catalog, no address list (and there still isn't) - just thousands and thousands of web pages, hosted on thousands and thousands of computers scattered all over the world.

Next month we will talk about how to navigate around these thousands and thousands of web sites without becoming so frustrated you swear off of genealogy forever. See you next month.

Dividing Line

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