Using the Internet for Genealogy

L. David Roper (roperld@vt.edu)
www.roperld.com
March 2000

Contents: General Search | Family History Books and Maps | GenWeb | Family Tree Maker
Free Genealogy Search Sites | Commercial Genealogy Search Sites | Other Web Sites
Your Own Genealogy Web Site | Sharing Data and E-Mail

A Computer for Genealogy
Back to the tutorial Genealogy Using a Computer and the Internet

Some books about using the Internet for genealogy are:

Internet Service Provider

To use the Internet you need to contract with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), which usually costs money. Most ISPs are local with a local telephone access number; when you are out of your calling area you will have to pay long-distance charges. Some ISPs have telephone numbers all over the United States. Some ISPs are also "content providers"; that is, they have extensive files or arrangements that allow their customers sole access to special content on the Internet; e.g., America On Line (AOL), Compuserve (now owned by AOL) and Microsoft Network (MSN).

Physical Connection to Internet

There are several different ways to physically connect your computer to the Internet at different speeds and different costs. I use a Cable-TV Modem, which is about 10 times faster than a 56k modem. (Actually, I use the ZyXEL Prestige 900 series cable modem to connect four computers to the same cable internet line.) Most people use a telephone-line-connected modem either inside the computer case or attached to it externally. If you are buying a new one, get a 56K modem. You may want to consider the OfficeConnect 56k LAN Modem to establish a peer-to-peer Local Area Network, which allows up to four computers to use one modem on a regular telephone line. Other options are becoming available:

Internet Browsers

To gather information on the Internet you need a browser. The two main options are Netscape 7.0 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0. I use both. When you find a URL that you may want to find again, set it as a bookmark in Netscape or as a favorite in Internet Explorer. There is another browser that can create and view mathematical equations: Amaya.

If you need them, there are many Internet tutorials online.

Below is listed only a small sample of the genealogical resources on the Internet. If you use them and other resources that you will serendipitously find during the process, you will find enough data about your families to keep you busy the rest of your life organizing it.

General Search

A good first start on the Internet is to use a search engine to search for a specific full name. I use http://www.altavista.com for this purpose, but there are many others. E.g., "Samuel Roper"; in AltaVista put quotes around more than one word. It is amazing how often one can find new information with this approach, and the probability of success increases every day. Try it for some unusual name in your family that is not prevalent now and you will probably find some data you do not presently have. If you do not succeed with one search engine try another, such as http://www.google.com. The Netscape search allows you to choose from several different search engines.

To locate web sites for specific families try AltaVista advanced searches, such as Roper NEAR family or Franklin NEAR genealogy, without quotes. (For the basic features of advanced search see Advanced Search Help.) There is an exellent book about the AltaVista search engine.

Family History Books and Maps

You can order, through the Internet, books containing data for some families. You can also order or view maps that are relevant to your families. Some of the sources are:

GenWeb

USGenWeb is a massive project well underway to provide genealogical resources at no charge. Every state is involved in the project. Many counties of each state are involved; e.g. see the counties involved in Virginia and see Montgomery County. One can search USGenWeb Archives Digital Library for names.

There is a similar WorldGenWeb project.

Family Tree Maker

Family Tree Maker has many services to offer the beginning, intermediate and advanced genealogist. Some of the services are free, but some cost money. The Genealogy Help pages are quite useful. Beginners might find the Genealogy "How-To" Guide a good place to learn the basics of genealogy.

Free Genealogy Search Sites

There are sites on the Internet that collect large amounts of genealogy data and make them available at no charge Some of them are:

There are many genealogical societies or genealogy societies with web sites, some of whom allow searches of their genealogical data bases. E.g., there is a web site for Catawba County Genealogical Society (NC), one of my ancestral counties.

Commercial Genealogy Search Sites

There are several sites on the Internet that collect large amounts of genealogy data and then charge to search those data. Some of them are:

Other Web Sites Useful for Genealogy

Your Own Genealogy Web Site

You may want to create your own genealogy web page or site (multiple linked web pages). A web site for your family can bring much information to you about the family and can be an effective way to share your information with others in the family. I get 10,000-13,000 hits a month on the pages of my genealogy site http://www.roperld.com. (This web page may increase the number of hits.)

If you know the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), you can use any text editor to write your web pages. However, it is much easier to use an editor designed for creating web pages. There are free or inexpensive HTML editors, including a free add-on for Microsoft Word 95 (later versions of MS Word have HTML editing built in). There are several more advanced HTML editors, and there are advanced web-site creators. I use HotMetal Pro 6.0 and Microsoft FrontPage 2000, depending on which one is easiest to use for what I want to do at the time.

After you create or edit a web page you need to transfer it to the server that stores it and makes it available to others for viewing. This is done by a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program. I use WS_FTP Pro; you can get a free version. You can use the latest versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer to do FTP transfers: In the location or address box type, for example, ftp://userid@ftp.arts.bev.net, where userid is your userid at that ftp site; you will then be prompted for your password.

Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide 1 to 5 Mbytes or more disk space for subscribers to create web pages, which is not enough for extensive genealogy files. You can buy web space from many companies; e.g. I buy mine (http:www.roperld.com) from Biz Net Technologies.

Here are some sites that provide web space for free (some support this service by selling advertisements):

What should you include on your genealogy web site? My recommendations are:

My genealogy web pages are at http://www.roperld.com. You can look at them as examples by viewing the source code in your browser.

If you have your own genealogy web site, you may want to use it as a location for a family newsletter. This AltaVista search on "family newsletter" should give you some ideas. I have not done this yet for any of my families, but I, of course, have some suggestions:

After your web site is in place for some time, some of the links will be no longer valid. There is a free program for finding broken links for your web site: http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html. I recommend that you use this program and check for broken links every few months.

Sharing Your Collected Data and E-Mail

"Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality." 14th Dalai Lama

You should not feel that the genealogy data that you collect are "your data." Many people helped you collect those data and members of your family deserve to have access to the data; therefore, you are obligated to share those data with others. Knowledge should be propagated, not hoarded.

E-mail was the first way that we had to share information at the beginning of the Internet. It has continued to be a major way to share information on the Internet.

There are two major e-mail programs: Eudora (a version of which is free) and Microsoft Outlook. (The lesser Outlook Express version is included with free Internet Explorer). I prefer Eudora, probably because I used it first.

You get one or more e-mail accounts through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If your ISP connection telephone number is a local number, you might want to get a free Hotmail e-mail userid, which you can use on any computer anywhere in the world that is locally connected to the Internet without incurring any long distance telephone charges. You can configure Hotmail to check mail on your regular ISP or tell your friends to send mail to your Hotmail userid when you are away from home.

I get several messages a day from people asking me to help them find their ancestors or long-lost relatives in my huge data bases. I then do searches and, if I find something, I create a file with the data they want and send it to the person as an attachment to an e-mail. If it is a large file, it is best to send it as an attachment rather than in the body of the message, especially if it is a gedcom file. (If a gedcom file is included in the message, the recipient has to save the message to a text file and then edit out the message parts that are not part of the gedcom.) If the file is large, compress it with WinZip before sending it. If you have a web page, you can put the file on the web page and then inform the person that they can download it from there. Often I already have a family on my genealogy web pages that is of interest to a person making a query; then I inform them of the existence of the downloadable files on the specific web page and provide the relevant link in the e-mail message so the recipient can just click on it to actuate a link in a browser.

When you get e-mail from persons asking for of giving you family data, you should save them in special "mailboxes" for each family. For example, in Eudora use the Transfer menu command and pick out the already-created mailbox or mailbox folder, or create a new one. I have mailbox folders for my Roper and Franklin (my mother) families and then mailboxes within those folders for families connected to those two families.

Some novices at using computers have trouble finding or reading an attachment that has been sent to them with an e-mail message.

When you request data from someone, give them as much information as possible to help them determine if they can help you. I often get requests from people who only give me a name without any dates or places or other members of the family. It will increase the likelihood that you will get the requested data if you send relevant data you already have along with the request or tell how the data can be downloaded from your web site.

There are many e-mail family mailing lists. I disdain almost all mailing lists; my experience has been that most messages on mailing lists are not useful and it wastes too much time finding that out and deleting them. I would rather search out information that I want on the Internet than receive much information that I do not want. Irrelevant information overload is a huge problem when using the Internet.

Occasionally I get a return message back from someone stating that my previous message to the sender was blank. The problem is that she is either using an e-mail facility that does not handle styled text or that she has not configured her e-mail facility to allow styled text in incoming mail. I then set my Eudora Pro with Tools-Options-Styled Text-Send Plain Text Only and resend the original message. This is happening less frequently as Internet users get more modern software and become more adept at configuring their software.

You may want to share your data by creating a book about your family to sell or give away. Some genealogists collect family memories, including pictures, newspaper clippings and announcements. Other specialize in collecting the data that connect families; I do more of the latter, but I appreciate having others doing the memories. If you publish the data you have collected, I urge you not to muck up the data with much verbiage, such as "Wiley Edward Franklin, son of Wiley Ripley and Mary Jane (Foster) Franklin, was born 2 Nov 1878 and married..." It is much easier for someone to understand such data by a simple chart with all dates and places of births, marriages and deaths. Also, do not give dates in the format 1/2/1787; instead use 1 Feb 1787 or 2 Jan 1787.

It is a great joy to get an e-mail from someone gratefully thanking you for sending them information about several generations of their ancestors that they did not know about before.

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