Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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Recently I was asked to take a survey on how the internet has changed genealogy research (http: //igcs.survey.curtin.edu.au.). I actually started researching my roots before the internet after we had had our first Hansen reunion. I had joined the local genealogical society, and spent nearly every Wednesday night at the Family History center, ordering and looking at films, copying GEDCOMs from the CDs there, writing letters to other genealogical societies, courthouses, etc. I also spent a lot of time at our local library in the genealogical section and later became a gene helper (volunteer) there.
While computers had made quite an inroad into genealogical research, it would be a while before the Internet became a tool for genealogists. Our library had a whole section of census indexes all done on computers, and there were hundreds of genealogical programs for every computer owner to record their data. CDs were becoming popular, and the LDS had a lot of GEDCOMs, the IGI, and the Ancestral File on this media. Some companies were producing CDs of census indexes, copies of old out of print periodicals, and even collecting GEDCOMs from people. I even helped proof read the Mayflower Descendant CD. I proofread volume 20, and for my effort I got the CD for half price, $89.95. A year or so later that CD sold for $19.95.
I went to a conference put on by the Heritage Quest library in Tacoma, Washington. Heritage Quest was located in the town of Orting, Washington then. At the conference, there was a lady and her husband wearing t-shirts that had on the back "Visit Cyndi‚s List on the Internet." I was on Prodigy then and it had a great genealogical bulletin board. Prodigy was just beginning to access the Internet and I had not been on it much except for E-Mail. A year or two later, I went back to the same conference with the genealogical society as a helper for the societies booth to sell books. Cyndi Howells was in the next booth selling her book Cyndi‚s List. She was a speaker and told how she started, by bringing a few genealogical sites she had found to a Tacoma Genealogical Society show and tell meeting where she was deluged with requests to find more sites. She gave this seminar in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers to show that one could now do genealogical research at night at home.
In Kentucky, a group of people got together and set up a website for each county. It had information that one used to get from The Source, The Red Book orThe Handy Book for Genealogists. It listed what records were available, addresses of where to send for the records, costs, lookup volunteers, and people researching what surnames. Others thought this was a great idea, and soon the GenWeb sites spread across the United States, and even around the world. Today, they also have a lot of databases of local, marriages, births, deaths, census records and maybe wills, or cemetery records. Volunteers all over the world are putting more and more indexes and even copies of the actual records online. Even the LDS has put their library catalog online, also the 1880 census and other databases contributed by volunteers.
Rootsweb started out as a small group of volunteers, hosting mail lists, and message boards for genealogists, and later with a lot of contributions from list owners became a very popular place for genealogists. Rootswebwas nearly always having money problems. Ancestry finally bought Rootsweb and promised to keep it free for all genealogists. Today Rootsweb hosts a lot of genealogical websites, databases, mail lists, message boards, and even Cyndi's List.
What I have written about so far has been about free sites, but during this same time some pay for view websites also became popular. Genealogy.com and Ancestry.com are probably the best known. Both have a lot of databases online. They also charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee to view these databases. I have never subscribed to either, as by the time they came around I had already cranked my way through miles of microfilm at my Family History Center and found my ancestors in nearly all the databases they have in their collections. Nearly all the information in the pay for view areas is available other places, some are free areas, and some like the Family History Centers just charge a small rental fee. However, online access maybe easier or more convenient.
Another popular online service is Heritage Quest online. It is available to libraries as a subscription (not individuals) service. One can access their databases through a library. Our library has Heritage Quest, and it is available to local residents with a library card. This Heritage Quest is related to the one that started in Orting, Washington. The Orting Heritage Quest merged with the American Genealogical Lending Library (AGLL).They called the new company Heritage Quest and moved to the AGLL building near Salt Lake City.
Today there are more and more websites putting records and indexes online. Local genealogical societies, libraries and archives, and volunteers everywhere. This will continue to make genealogical research easier online, but it is still important to get the actual record and not just check online indexes. Some of these sites are putting the actual records online and that is wonderful. No matter how good the index you will always learn something from the actual record.
The Internet has changed genealogical research, and while it is easier than ever to do research, there will still be records that will never be online. The Internet has made it easier to find those records, find where the records are, what the costs are, and addresses to send for the records. You can check research guides, research how to research and you can do the research in your bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.
We all like puzzles of one sort or another. Genealogy is a study of families and just that makes it a puzzle. We learn one fact and that leads to more questions which we want to solve. Sometimes the solving isn't that easy.
Everyone néeds to back up facts with documentation. One néeds to know where he/she got these facts and how they relate to our research. Then if someone else were to pick up our work they wouldn't have to start at the beginning and verify our data all over again. That is one reason and probably the best one for citing one‚s sources.
All of us have puzzles in our research...some people call them "brick walls" because they seem to be insurmountable. At some point in time, we will start on these puzzles to try to solve them or put the pieces together so that they make a good answer...one with which we can live.
Sometimes we have an inkling of what we are looking for but not always. We may not have the person's data but we do have information about someone who is related and hopefully this will give us a clue. I have found lists of children born and christened in the middle of the minutes of town meeting. It seemed that was when they were reported to the town. This was before birth records were mandated by the state government.
We make assumptions based on what we do know. For instance, if we have a person's name, we may be looking for their birth place or what their occupation was. Ultimately, we will want to know their parent's names. If we know where the person was born, we may be able to find out more in church records. A christening record will surely give the names of the parents and sometimes one will find a listing of all the siblings at that time.
Naming patterns will also help us to find parents or grandparents. Don't forget that our parents frequently named their children for family members. One such pattern with which I am familiar is one the Scot's use/used. That is:
Other children following these were named for brothers and sisters of the parents or aunts and uncles of the parents. This is one of the reasons for searching not only the direct line but that of siblings as well. One can see from the first four children especially if the birth order is known, that the parents mother and fathers now become known and one can look for verifying evidence of these facts. As an example of this, my first ancestor on my father's side named his first son William. Now, if he were in fact using the naming pattern described above we can start looking for someone named that as his father's father. Remember though that not everyone even back then stuck with tradition...that is why you must hunt for documentation.
The use of census records can help find these people. These tell us where they were at a given date in time. Most of the census records will tell where they were born...at least the state or country. Census records in the United States since 1850 give much more information thereby making it easier to use them. It is those early records that give us trouble since they usually list only the head of household and no other names are given. All others are listed in age groups with just a numeral signifying one person or the number in that age group. This is done for males and then females in the household.
One of the brick walls that I have concerns a great great grandmother. I can find her marriage record but unfortunately, for me, it didn't list her parents...just where she was from. I am looking for her parents of course. Her death record was destroyed some years ago so using that is out of the question.
Using census records I have checked for the two decades before her marriage. I have made lists of families with the same surname in that area. Through elimination of the families with females in the same age group, I have narrowed my search down to just five families. This has been on the back burner for some time and now I am beginning to look more seriously at these families. Because of the time period, with nobody but the head of household named, I have no names of her siblings.
I have some local history that gives some of the families in that area and I think I can perhaps nail down one or two potential siblings. Using this, I will, at least for the moment, assume that some of these belong to her family. Using other records will help me to find them or to eliminate them. An early map of the area that puts names on the houses of that time may help, also. This ancestor has been elusive for many years and I feel the time has come to find her. With what I know, some serendipity and some luck in finding other documentation perhaps I can do that.