Computer Monitor

OK - Who Hid the Card Catalog?

(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)

(Note: Remember these articles were printed on paper. However, since you are now reading them on the web I have added the hyperlinks to the sites I talk about <g>)

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We are now educated on what the World Wide Web is, how it works and how genealogy came to be such an important, well to us it's important, part of the web. Now let's talk about how to find your way around the web.

In one of the prior articles I touched lightly on hyperlinks (links) but did not explain what they are or what they do. Hyperlinks (called links) are short cuts from the web page you are on to another web page. In your travels around the web you will find many instances of a word or a www dot com address that is underlined. When you move your cursor over the area the arrow turns into a hand with a finger pointing upward. This is the browser's way of telling you that the item is a hyperlink. By clicking on a hyperlink you will be immediately moved to a different web site or different location (page) within the same site. You don't have to type in a web address, just click the link and away you go. You can move all over the web in this manner, but you can also lose your way back to where you began if you are not careful. Without these hyperlinks we would all be lost because, as I said before, there is no card catalog or address listing for the multitude of sites on the web.

To help folks find what they are looking for search engines started appearing. Think of them as the web's 411 ("information please") system. The two oldest are Yahoo and AltaVista and they are still the most popular. Search engines are programs that "crawl" the web with a high speed indexing program called a "spider" (if we are going to have a thing called a web we can't expect the associated programs to be called something not related to a spider web can we?). It's the spider's job to read everything on a web page and index the key words. It then finds all the hyperlinks on the site and follows those links to spider the new sites. All of these key words are saved in huge files on the search engine's home computer. However, the web is simply too huge for any one computer system to hold information on the millions of individual web pages. Each search engine haas it's own criteria as to what it checks, what it saves and how if ranks each site. Therefore, you can search for the same word or phrase at different search engine sites and come up with different links at each.

Most people new to the web head straight for whatever search engine is shown on their main browser screen or to one recommended by family and friends. They immediately type in the name of the ancestor they are searching for and are so excited when the screen fills with (usually) hundreds and hundreds of links. But, after hours of clicking away on the hyperlinks they get frustrated at finding all kinds of sites that have nothing to do with genealogy or their own family. If you are using a computer at work or at your local library you simply don't have the time to look at a thousand sites. It is better to spend your time, especially in the beginning, searching sites that are dedicated to the area where your ancestors lived or to only genealogy. Leave the big search engines for later.

I need to give you a quick lesson on something called a Boolean search. The more sophisticated the search engine the more you can narrow down a search by using phrases or combinations of names and phrases. Many genealogy web sites offer you the opportunity to search just their own site. Some of these tiny search engines allow you to only search for one word but more and more of them allow you to use a Boolean search. In a nutshell here's how it works. There are a group of words and/or symbols that let you narrow your search through the use of quotation marks, +, -, near, and. Rather than take up a lot of space here explaining these to you I'll give you the URL of your first site to visit. Ready? OK here we go ----

Be sure your browser is open and you are on-line. Look at the top of your window under the toolbars and you will see a box that displays something like http://www.(something).com. Quick side trip - there are several normal dot some things. Dot com stands for generic web sites. Dot gov stands for a government site. Dot edu stands for an educational institution. Dot org stands for an organization. Dot htm or html means a web page. Now back to business. In Netscape this address (URL) box is called Location and in Internet Explorer it is called Address. It is the place where the address of the web page you are on is displayed. If you type in a new address in this box and hit the enter key your browser will take you to that address (web site).

To read the instructions for a Boolean Search you must first get to the web site where the instructions are stored. To do this - first highlight the existing address in the box (it will turn blue) and then hit the delete key. You now have an empty box. Type in the following address.

You must, I repeat must, put in every single colon, dot, slash and word exactly as shown or you won't get to where you want to be.

When you are finished reading how to search (and I hope you printed the pages out on your printer for later reference) I have one other educational site you need to visit. This site is dedicated to "newbies" (cute term for people new to the web and/or genealogy) that explains "Netiquette". Save yourself some rude and nasty comments, not to mention getting your feelings hurt, by learning the etiquette of the web and of e-mail lists. 

And, just because you have been patient through all of these dry and boring explanations I'll give you your first genealogy site to visit. The USGenWeb Project's Home Page. (Whoops a term I forgot to explain - A Home Page is the term for someone's or something's web site and it also refers to the 1st page you see when you enter a site.). Once at the USGenWeb's Home page just click on the States Listing and then chose the state and county you are interested in. You'll have lots of practice clicking on hyperlinks.

OK, I'll leave you to learn all the fun things about Boolean searches (you need to know this information before you get to the genealogy sites), learn to conduct yourself in the correct manner in cyberspace and give you time to explore the genealogy sites. I'll see you next month with more fun places to visit. Enjoy!


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