Computer Monitor

Surfers Beware

(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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Did you have fun last month learning all about Boolean searches, net etiquette and visiting the USGenWeb site? I'm sure you did. (By the way, wandering around the web is called "Surfing the Web").

In last month's article I sent you to visit The USGenWeb Project and touched lightly on some sites that require you to subscribe (haul out your credit card) before you can use the information on their sites. These are just a few of the web sites that can help you in your search for your ancestors. There are many more that you will want to visit.

However, before we start to madly click away let's take a minute and talk about what kind of information you will find on the web to help you in your search for your ancestors. There are actually four kinds of genealogy sites on the web (well five if you count the scam artists).

The first of these are reputable sites that offer you information for free. They range from the USGenWeb Project all the way to a wonderful list of links called Cyndi's List. These sites are hosted by volunteers and the information found on the sites are usually for one given location (a state, a county, a town) or one subject (census transcriptions, marriage records, death records, migration trails, passenger ship's lists, etc.).

The second type of sites are the Subscription Sites. The big three are; Ancestry, Heritage Quest and Everton Publishers. Of these three Ancestry is far and away the largest and offers the most information.

The third type of sites are those hosted by government agencies, universities and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). All of these types of sties are free and offer wide spread information that is not confined to any one specific location or subject. Here you will find the most wonderful information on such things as history, old government records, old photos and - well, the list goes on and on and on.

The fourth type of sites are called Home Pages or Personal Sites. These are web sites put up and maintained by an individual. There are literally thousands and thousands of these home pages on the web.

The fifth type of sites are the scam sites. The places that offer to sell you a copy of your family crest, or your complete family history or ask for a fee to give you access to sites that are already free or places like KindedKonnections that takes genealogy information from individuals then displays it on their site saying they have copyrighted the material. Here is a site that you need to bookmark (in Netscape) or add to your Favorites (IE). It's a site maintained by the BlackSheep Society that posts the scam sites.

No matter which sites you visit there is one thing to keep in mind and that is that the information you are looking at (unless it is an actual scanned copy of a document) is not a primary source. Not familiar with the term Primary Source? Okay I'll digress here for a second.

A primary source is any document (or piece of information) that was produced either by your ancestor (a diary, a letter, etc.) or that was produced in the presence of your ancestor (a deed, a will, a marriage license, etc.) or a recorded account of an event or thing that was produced while your ancestor was alive (a census record, a tax list, a voter's list, a family Bible record, a military roll, etc). The official definition of a Primary Source is: "Personal testimony of an eyewitness or a record created shortly after the event by a person with personal knowledge of the facts".

A secondary source is information or a document that pertains to a person but the person may or may not have had any input into the information or was not alive when the information was produced (death certificates, family or county history books, etc.). The official definition of a Secondary Source is: "Evidence that is copied or compiled from other sources or that is written from memory long after an event occurred."

Now back to business. Almost everything you find on the web will be secondary source information and as such should not be added to your family's history until it haas been substantiated by a primary source. In fact, there's a lot of information on the web that's just plain wrong. Some is due to errors that are made when an original record is transcribed (we all know what trying to decipher old handwriting is like), some is due to sloppy research on the part of the person publishing the information and some is due to incorrect information being passed around between genealogists that after a time gains "creditability" just because it keeps showing up.

The old adage "buyer beware" should be your motto while collecting information from the web. And, while we are on the subject of buyer beware a quick comment - please do not post or share information on any of your living relatives and do not post (or share) much personal information about yourself either. Not on the web or on any of the e-mail lists. I talked about the web being a dangerous place in one of my previous articles. I meant that sincerely. There are unscrupulous and sometimes dangerous people who surf the web. Protect yourself and your living relatives - keep personal information private.

Now that you are forewarned about what you will find on the web let's look a bit closer at a few sites for you to visit. The URLs (addresses) of these sites will follow the name of the site. Remember you must, I repeat must, type the link exactly as shown or you won't get to where you want to go.

The USGenWeb Project ( is an excellent place to start (as you should already know). This Project has a web site for every U.S. state, county and town. Be sure to check out the Special Projects for such things as transcribed census records, cemetery listings and much more. Information on these sites ranges from excellent to nothing much more than a place to post queries. (Keep in mind these sites are maintained by volunteers). There are a few other projects like the USGenWeb Project, but most of them are still in their infancy. One such is American History & Genealogy Project (

You need to drop by Ancestry ( and see what they have to offer. Although this is a subscription site you can perform a search for your ancestor and see what turns up. While you are there subscribe to their free newsletter. It contains a lot of hype about the company but its one redeeming feature is that it announces the new databases Ancestry is putting on-line. Ancestry's gift to the genealogy community is making each of their databases free to all comers for the first 10 days the database is on-line. This is information you don't want to miss. Visit the other two main subscription sites: Heritage Quest ( and Everton Publishers ( and see what they have to offer.

There are four other sites I highly recommend that you visit. The first is Rootsweb ( where you find all kinds of information. This is the place to sign up for e-mail lists for your surnames and/or location lists for your ancestor's areas. You will also find an up-to-date death list of Social Security information where you can leave post-it-notes on your own ancestors records. Be sure to take the time to read some of the great lessons on genealogy that you will find there.

The second is the Nation Archives ( What a wealth of information they have! You can browse their microfilm for rent listings. Find out how to order pension, military and other types of records and other general information pertaining to the Archives.

The third is my own home page (yes I know I'm tooting my own horn) ( where you will find a lot of information about how to do research (besides just some fun things) and a list of Great Links that will take you to many interesting places on the web.

And, the last place is the ultimate list of links - Cyndi's List ( It's the largest gathering together of links for genealogist to be found on the web.

I hope you have enjoyed our chats as much as I have but I feel that you are now ready to surf the web on your own so it's time for me to leave you. I may pop up again, off and on, if I find really good spots for you to visit. And, if I can answer any questions for you please drop me an e-mail and I'll do my best to help. Enjoy surfing the web and the best of luck.


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