Article, December 2009
Genealogy Online– Using the Internet’s Tools to “Dig Up” Your Family Tree
Written by Terri Neary, a member of the ICON PCUG, Inc., New York
The ICON Graphic, Newsletter of the ICON PCUG, August 2009
This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).
Everyone has their own ideas about how computers and the internet can help them the most. For me, it is my genealogy project. I am trying to find out who my family were, what they did, where they lived, and even how they lived. I would like to confirm or disprove several family stories and be able to give the generations after me a sense of where they came from. Trying to do this without a computer and the internet would be the equivalent of using a horse and buggy in the 21st century. But searching for your family history can be an expensive project. There are many ways to cut down the cost.
Now one of the easiest websites to search is http://www.Ancestry.com. However, this can be a pricy option unless you know of a library with a subscription to it. Personally I travel to the Bethpage Library to use theirs. The databases available on this site range from the basic Social Security Death Index, which gives you the option of writing to the appropriate department to get a photocopy of the original application, to the Federal Censuses, to Passenger Lists coming from multiple locations to multiple ports in the United States and over a thousand different databases in the United States alone. Each of these databases can give you information regarding your immediate line of family members as well as their siblings. Every little tidbit can help you to find more out and help to confirm or deny family stories. By searching their World War I Draft Registration Cards, I discovered that my grandfather, who died before I got to know him, was born in Hungary on the 24th of January in 1896. In addition, I learned that he was considered ineligible for the draft, not because he was an alien residing in NJ, but because he was missing the first joint of his third finger on his right hand. This small piece of information appears to help back up the stories I have heard of him losing this finger while a butcher at his brother‘s shop, though it does not confirm it.
Another site that can be expensive to use is http://www.heritagequestonline.com. However many libraries are paying for access to this site so it can be easily employed if you can locate which library near you that has access. Farmingdale allows you to log on from your home computer so it makes it even easier to use. Through this site you can search though the censuses, the Periodical Source Index for genealogical publications and many thousands of books for information on your missing relatives.
One of my favorite sites is one that actually connects you to multiple sites, some free and others not. It is run by Stephen P. Morse in San Francisco. His site, http://www.stevemorse.org, is designed for ease of use. The home page lists multiple databases including records from Ellis Island, Castle Garden in NY, Passenger records from New Orleans, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as well as census records from the US, Canada, and Britain, in addition to Vital records and other assorted information that make it easier to locate that elusive relative. Steve Morse has designed his own search engines for each of the sites he lists that are easier to use than then the search engines on the actual sites. Using his Ellis Island search engine, I was able to find an aunt that came to the US in November of 1922. I had been unable to find my grandfather coming into the country, even though I was sure he was born in Europe, but with the information from the passenger lists, I determined that his first name must have been altered. When using most of the Morse site‘s search engines, you can limit the information you give them to search; for example you can put an “E” in for all spellings of what we spell as Elizabeth. My aunt‘s name was listed as Erszebet and it indicated she was going to live with her brother Malzas – a bad spelling of Mathias. With this information I will be able to track down additional information on his entry into the country.
Another site that is very good for searching vital records is run by the Church of Latter Day Saints, http://www.familysearch.org. They are updating their site to include records from Ohio court records to Florida state enumerations. I actually find that I have the most luck using the computers available at a Family History Center, such as the one in Plainview. Using their records, you can obtain copies of actual birth certificates for relatives without having to pay the high fees that the actual source would charge you. They will charge you for copies, but it is usually much less than you than you would pay otherwise. In addition, there are members who will actually help you to determine where the records are held. The one thing I will mention is that the members will not try to convert you to their religion. They are only there to help you with your research.
A site that is maintained locally with many records is http://www.italiangen.org. They include databases for naturalizations and vital records for New York City as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties. These records are constantly being updated and are not limited to only those of Italian descent. They include on their site a form for obtaining actual copies of the records from the NYC Archives. I have found a great grandparent‘s death certificate number on this site and by using the Family History center obtained a copy of the actual certificate. It lists the cause of death as influenza on June 2, 1918 which appears to confirm another story that he had died in the flu epidemic of 1917 (which actually lasted several years).
Then as much as people think that going to cemeteries is for visiting immediate relatives graves, there is a great deal of information available if you can locate where your ancestors are buried. One of the easiest sites for this is http://www.findagrave.com. You can search this list by surnames, birth and/or death dates as well as location of the cemetery. You can also browse cemeteries for people who might be relatives of yours. If you find one relative, it can be advantageous to actually visit the grave. Headstones often list multiple people, some of whom you may not recognize, and frequently families purchase graves near to each other. You might find an aunt or uncle just by looking at the next headstone. It used to be the custom that you would take rubbings (with charcoal) in order to keep the record of what the headstone indicates, but with digital cameras you can get better images of the headstone of interest as well as those neighboring yours for much less work. If you don‘t find your family on Find a grave you should try http://www.interment.net. Even though this site has fewer records than the other, it has multiple special collections you can search covering flooded cemeteries, California mission graveyards and Veteran‘s cemeteries.
Finally a site that most of us use on a daily basis, http://www.google.com, is a haven for a large amount of information. I recently began using this site to search out information about my relatives. While I have not yet been successful, the NEWS section of Google links you to articles in multiple newspapers around the world. By entering a name you can find articles from the very current to archives pre-dating 1910. The articles come from major newspapers as well as some smaller ones and can give you an idea of what was occurring at the time of your ancestor‘s life. Comparing what you find or know about your family with what was going on in the world at the time can give you a real sense of what their lives were like. Google News can help you to locate information about the “black” sheep of your family by possibly showing you the newspaper articles indicating what helped to make them the “black” sheep.
By researching your family, you can find out your history. You may be able to solve some family mysteries and prove your family stories. You can locate information about the possible murderer or embezzler as well as the great aunts and uncles who died in World War I. Since life is changing so quickly in this era of computers it helps us keep some things in perspective as you realize your great-grandfather came into the country with only $10.00 in his pocket and no job waiting for him. Or that the census record indicates that the apartment your parents were born in had a rent of $24.00 per month. Not all the information you want is available online but the search for what is, makes it fun.Click here to return to top