Wired Ancestry Search

Finding Your Roots Online


by Jennifer Harrison

Thirteen-year-old Chris Hagar, Acton, Massachusetts, became interested in his family's heritage at age ten. His family was talking about a long lost relative at Thanksgiving.

"Somehow I got involved and before I knew it, we had scheduled a trip to go to the New England Historical and Genealogy Society."

Since that time, Chris has discovered a family link to King Edward IV of England. This helped him trace his Norse ancestors dating to the second century. Reaching so far back through time is usually a daunting task. But Chris was fortunate. His cousin, Cynthia Hagar Krussel, a certified genealogist, had already uncovered much of his family's history; and helped launch Chris on his own quest.

Chris's hobby is one he shares with many Americans. Over forty percent of Americans are somewhat interested in genealogy. And seven percent, or 19 million, spend a great deal of time tracing their ancestry, according to a 1995 poll for American Demographics.

Ever since Alex Haley's Roots became a hit book and mini-series in the late 1970s, the pursuit of genealogy has experienced a growing following. Surprisingly the interest is most notable in adults aged 35 to 44, with nine percent saying they're involved a great deal with genealogy.

People pursue their roots for many reasons. It runs the gamut from curiosity and the challenge of piecing together a portrait of the past; to becoming fascinated by the historical context of our ancestor's lives, or building a bridge to the past; to wanting medical histories, or deepening our identity and sense of belonging.

"I love genealogy," says journalist Roy Stockdill, Hertfordshire, UK, "the thrill of the chase down the corridors of time; the lure of the detective hunt following tantalizing clues that often lead nowhere, but occasionally to a piece of pure gold dust; the frustration of hitting a brick wall; and the joy of finding that one vital piece of information that takes you through it."

More and more genealogists are tapping into the growing cache of information online. Timothy Cook, Busby, Montana, lives in a remote area, many miles from a library. His online research helped him develop a database of 18,000 people, publish a family newsletter, and allows him to manage four surname mailing lists. Genealogy resources come from different areas of the online cosmos. Proprietary services such as CompuServe (Go ROOTS) and America Online (Keyword ROOTS or on the Life, Style and Interests channel) offer genealogy forums. In these forums, visitors read and exchange messages, and access libraries of documents.

One popular Internet resource: e-mail discussion groups or "lists" organized by topic, surname or region. For example, you might subscribe to Kentucky Roots or a surname list. To subscribe, send an e-mail to the list server (or owner). Participants ask questions, and share information with each other through e-mail.

Another option: numerous News or Usenet Groups are dedicated to genealogy. News groups are Internet message boards, organized by subject, where people exchange information. See the resources at the National Genealogical Society's site (see below). Tutorials at this site will help you get acquainted with these tools, and identify e-mail lists and News groups related to genealogy.

Where is the world are your ancestors? These resources will help you sniff-out your own trail to the past -- both in and out of cyberspace.

Aid Association of Lutherans. Provides a genealogy message board for queries and discussion of genealogy. www.aal.org/lutheran_roots/

Allen County Public Library. Second largest genealogy library in the U.S. Provides an introduction to genealogy research and an overview of their collection. www.acpl.lib.in.us

Cyndi's List. This site is huge -- over 19,000 links -- well organized and helpful. www.oz.net/~cyndihow/sites.htm

Free Surname Indices. 1) Gendex at www.gendex.com/ ; 2) Gentree at www.gentree.com/ ; and 3) Roots-L at www.rootsweb.com/roots-l/ (note the last letter is "l" - not the number one).

Genealogy Online. Many useful utilities and links, an events calendar, archives and vendor links. http://emcee.com/

German Resources. 1)www-personal.umich.edu/
~cgaunt/german.html ; and 2) www.genealogy.com

IMC's Genealogical Listings for the United States. A state-by- state guide to historical and genealogical societies, publications and libraries. www.memphismemphis.com/ genealogy/states/main.htm

National Archives and Records Administration. Order free guides to the NARA archives, including military research. Catalog of micro-film archives, regional NARA offices, and a bookstore. www.nara.gov/genealogy/genindex.html

National Genealogical Society. Resources include course listings, special publications, forms, oral histories, and preservation of documents. George Archer's "Netguide: genealogist's guide to the Internet" tells you how to use genealogy mailing lists (list serves) and newsgroups. www.genealogy.org/~ngs/

Treasure Maps. Provides easy-to-follow tutorials on family research, including an excellent orientation to, and catalog lists for, the Mormon Family History Library and its extensive network of Family History Centers. www.firstct.com/fv/tmapmenu.html

USGenWeb. An ambitious project to connect state and county resources under one roof. Information varies from county to county but may include vital statistics, cemeteries, biographies, message boards and photographs. www.usgenweb.com/

Willow Bend Books. Carries hard-to-find, genealogy books and maps. http://server.mediasoft.net/scottc/       

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Copyright 1997.  All rights reserved by Jennifer Harrison.

As published in Correspondent, Aid Association for Lutherans. September/October 1997