Trace Your Family’s Roots

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Discover the connection between computers and genealogy,

By Frederick S. Sherman

April 1, 2002

From TechTV.Com


People who are interested in genealogy happily spend their time trying to identify their ancestors and learn about the places and conditions in which those ancestors lived. As you’ll discover on today’s show, computers and software effectively keep track of what they have learned and where they learned it.

With the Internet and email, it’s easy to share this hobby with others who are interested in the same families, places, and events all over the world.

Here are some tips for those of you just getting started:

  1. Start at the beginning
    • Visit Cyndi’s ListThis site has more than 126,700 links to sites for genealogists. Click on “Are you new to genealogy?” to get a list of websites to get you started.

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  2. RootsWeb

    Once you know some interesting tidbit about your family tree, find out if anybody else knows the same fact. The RootsWeb mailing lists is the perfect place to find surnames or to locate places (usually counties in the United States).

    Log on, find a list that interests you, and subscribe to the list.

    Post a query about your family. Give enough date-and-place info to identify your branch of the surname and ask a fairly specific question, such as, “Has anyone seen a family bible for this branch of the family?”

    Don’t neglect the locality mailing lists. If you are sure your family lived in Fulton County, Illinois, subscribe to ILFULTON-L@rootsweb.com. You may encounter kind people who will look up a marriage record or visit a cemetery for you. Many of these lists have a host who owns a good collection of books and pamphlets about the county.

  3. Free databases

    The Internet provides extensive databases for locating ancestors, but these only help if you already know enough to recognize your ancestor when you see a record containing his or her name. Here are three free sites:

    • FamilySearchThis database has been built up over the decades, partly by extraction from official Latter Day Saints or government records, and partly by collecting information sent in by members of the church.
    • American Family Immigration History CenterThis site gives access to records generated during the arrival of immigrants and others who entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. Successful use of these records requires some prior knowledge of name changes adopted by your immigrant ancestors.
    • Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office RecordsThis site presents information about land patents issued to individuals by the US government between 1820 and 1908. It is mostly for the Western states, but goes as far east as Ohio and Alabama.

  4. Find a genealogical society close to home

    These sites typically tell you about its host society, its services, and its current and upcoming activities. Most provide links to other societies, to local libraries of interest, and to favorite databases.

  5. Find completed histories of your family surname

    These are analogous to the printed volumes about individual families that abound in the libraries of genealogical societies. Like them, they vary from very trustworthy to highly suspect. The main difference is that the authors of the books are mostly dead by now, whereas the creators of the websites are mostly still alive, so you can hope to discover why they believe what they publish.

Rick Sherman is the director of research for the California Genealogical Society.