Genealogy on the Internet Guide

Mailing Lists | Portals | Gedcoms | Archives | Government | Full Text Books | Ethnic | Maps | Translators | Fun

Surname & Cousin Searching

One of the first things a genealogist does is try to find someone else who has researched the family surname. We reach out to our family and to cousins. They usually have information and documents that we do not have.

After we contact all the family members we know personally, we seek out distant cousins. Before the Internet, we read queries that people placed in magazines, hoping to find a cousin who had the family history. We wrote to libraries and genealogy societies.

With the Internet, we do this same step, but it is now much faster, and there are more resources available without traveling. When you first use the Internet for your family history research, you will be absolutely overwhelmed – don’t let this put you off. Take a deep breath, slow down, and start again in bite size pieces.

There are now so many aspects of the Internet that you can use, and so many exciting leads to follow – you will never run out of new sites to try.

As you race along, gathering information on the family, it is important to write down where you found the information. In the excitement of finding one fact after another, it’s easy to lose track of where you were. At the minimum, record the URL where you found information, the title, the author, and the date you downloaded the data. Web sites come and go, so look for additional contact information for the author.

It is also important to evaluate what you found. The quality of the information on the Internet varies from excellent to just plain wrong. Did the author of the web page say that Grandpa was born in 1870 and have his first child in 1880? According to the author, did Grandpa live to be 120 years old? Finding this type of improbable information should make you question the reliability of everything on the web page.

Mailing Lists and other “Cousin Finders”

A good way to get genealogy information and ask questions about your family tree is to use genealogy mailing lists.A mailing list is basically the same as email, except that anything you send to a list is broadcast (via email) to all other subscribers of that list.At last count there were more than 27,000 genealogical specific mailing lists.

Genealogy mailing lists cover a range of subjects, the main ones are either surnamed based or regional are abased. To get information, you simply post a query to the list. You might ask something like, “Does anyone have information about Robert James Frost, born about 1811 in Greenbrier County, WV?” Be sure to include as much information as you can about place & date of birth, spouse, children,etc. Your hope is that someone else on the list is researching the same family,or has other pertinent information such as census data, a genealogy book ,or access to some of the genealogy vital records listings. Part of genealogy is helping other researchers, and mailing lists are a great way for genealogists to collaborate with each other.

Subscribing is free and it is easy to do. For example, to get on the Frost surname list, all you have to do is to send an email to “” with the single word “subscribe” (don’t put in the quotes) as the body of the message. That puts you on the list. To get off it, it is the same procedure with the word “unsubscribe”. It doesn’t get much easier. Make sure there is no other text in the body of the message (turn off your email signature line if you have one).

Archives of past posting to Rootsweb mailinglists are searchable. By using this option you can find out if anyone ever mentioned your ancestor’s name. The archives are “threaded” so you can follow the discussion from the first mention to the last. This is an excellent way to make quick contact with cousins.

An extensive listing of genealogy mailing lists can be found on John Fuller’s web site.

WorldConnect is another good “cousin finder”site on Rootsweb. This site allows anyone to post their genealogy research at no charge. You can search the 480 million names on file. When you find a match you click on the link in the “database” column to get the name and email address of the submitter.

Genealogy Portals “everything for everybody”sites.

RootsWeb— The granddaddy of all genealogy sites. The Rootsweb Project has two missions:1. To make large volumes of data available to the online genealogical community at minimal cost. 2. To provide support services to keep it all growing. Many of the best sites in this guide (including USGenweb) are hosted by Rootsweb.

USGen Web–This link takes you to the main page, then you can choose the state and county of your interest. Every state and almost every county in the United States has a USGen Web site.  This project is done entirely by volunteers,so the quality and quantity of information varies widely from county to county.

The World Genealogy Web Project provides links to genealogy resources and information from countries all over the world.

FamilySearch,a site maintained by the LDS Church, has many resources available including the transcribed and indexed 1880 United States Census, the 1881 Canadian Census,and the 1881 British Isles Census. The site is free and easy to use.

Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet — A comprehensive list of links arranged into categories  – can also be viewed by geographical location.

Mysteries of the GEDCOM

One of the great things about the Internet is the ability it provides to share information with people allover the world. This particularly applies to genealogy. An easy way to give and receive genealogical data is through the use of a GEDCOM file. GEDCOM is an acronym for Genealogy Data Communication.

All good genealogy programs have the ability to read and write GEDCOM files. You will usually be able to create a GEDCOM file by using the “Save As” or “Export”feature of your genealogy program.

GEDCOM gets around the problem of compatibility between computer programs. It is a format specifically designed for genealogy, containing all the significant text information stored in a genealogy program. Since it is a standard, there are many GEDCOM resources available on the Internet, many of them free. A GEDCOM file is a simple text file. To see what makes up a GEDCOM file, simply load one into your word processing program and have a look.

The most obvious use of GEDCOM is to exchange information with other family tree researchers or with relatives who may be living hundreds, or thousands of miles away.

Archives – Original Records Online

When an experienced genealogist makes a “road trip” a stop at the Archives is always part of the plan. Make sure your online research also includes a visit to the State Archive of every state where your ancestor may have lived. Plan to spend enough time to explore the site fully. Look for any of these words: database, online, virtual, digital.

Although the State Archives usually lead in providing online records, in some states it is the State Historical Society, Genealogical Society or State Library.

Online records posted by the official archives vary widely from state to state. Some states have fabulous resources, while others are just getting started.  Here are a few examples of states with extensive online records:

National Archives – Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are considered so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept forever. Those records are preserved in the National Archives.  Only a tiny faction of these are available online.
Online records useful for genealogy include (but are not limited to!)

Archival Research Catalog (ARC)is the online catalog of NARA’s nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC,area; Regional Archives; and Presidential Libraries. ARC is a work in progress;currently just over 50% of the records are described in ARC.
HINT: look for the yellow search button on the left side of the main screen.

Repositoriesof Primary Sources – A listing of over 5300 Web sites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar. Clean interface, easy to use.

Archival Internet Resources – This service from Tulane University is an archival “meta index,” or index of archival indexes. From here you can find almost every major database of archival resources around the world.

ARCHON is the principal online information gateway for archivists in the United Kingdom and users of manuscript sources for British history. It is hosted and maintained by the Historic Manuscript Commission.

For researching online ARCHON provides access to digitized records through DocumentsOnline.

Beyond the Archives – other Government Agencies and Universities provide great FREE genealogy sites

Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Land Patent Records Site provides live database and image access to more than two million federal land title records for the Eastern Public Land States, dating back to 1820. Search Federal Land Patents databases, print out copies, and request certified Land Patents.

Geographic Names Information Server — Search the USGS Geographic Names Database. You can limit your search to a specific county in a specific state and search for any geographic feature including: populated place, cemetery, stream, bridge, hospital, church, and more than 50 others.

National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System –a computerized database containing very basic facts about servicemen who served on both sides during the Civil War. The initial focus of the CWSS is the Names Index Project, a project to enter names and other basic information from 5.4 million soldier records in the National Archives.

Virtual Jamestown  is a collaboration of several prestigious organizations and has won several awards. In addition to extensive information on the colonists, you can search records of more than 15,000 indentured servants.

American Memory Project from the Library of Congress offers more than seven million digital items from more than 100 historical collections.

American Social and Cultural History from the Smithsonian.

National Register Information System (NRIS), a database that contains information on places listed in or determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Ellis Island American Family Immigration History Center Research records of passengers who came to America through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. offers free access to an extraordinary database of information on 10 million immigrants from 1830 through 1892, the year Ellis Island opened. Over 73 million Americans can trace their ancestors to this early immigration period.

Missouri Digital Heritage – This project brings together representatives from the archives, historical society, library, and museum communities. The Virtually Missouri web site offers easy central access to digitized collections throughout the state.

Library of Congress Digital Library Loan – Small items that are too fragile to circulate on interlibrary loan are usually supplied through a photocopy. But photocopying often shortens the life of the original. The Library of Congress Collections Access, Loan and Management Division now scans this type of material and delivers the images via the Web. This makes public domain items widely accessible for current and future requests and contributes to the preservation of the original.

Full text History and Genealogy on the Internet

Heritage Quest Online is designed specifically for public library patrons.  It is not available to individuals but may be accessed only by library cardholders through a link on the library’s web site.  With over 20,000 books, the entire U.S. Federal Census, and other expanding collections, HeritageQuest Online gives any Daniel Boone Regional Library patron the chance to tap in to one of the largest collections of genealogy material in the country.

Ancestry Library Edition is available to patrons while they are inside the Library Building. You may access Ancestry from any of the Library’s Internet Computers or from your own laptop equipped with a wireless modem.

USGenWeb Special Collections provides an entry page to scanned out-of-print books on family studies, historical books and various journals permanently stored in the USGenWeb Archives for free access. Included here is the well known William & Mary Quarterly, and the Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish in Virginia, as well as many others.

The American Colonist’s Library is a site focused on primary source documents pertaining to early American history. A valuable collection of historical works which contributed to the formation of American politics, culture, and ideals. You probably won’t find a book about your ancestors in this collection, but you will find the books your ancestors read and lived by.

Documenting the American South is a collection of sources on Southern history, literature and culture from the colonial period through the first decades of the 20 the century. Unpublished manuscripts of first person narratives, including slave narratives, make this collection unique. Maintained by the University of North Carolina.

The Early Americas Digital Archive at the University of Maryland is a collection of electronic texts and links to texts originally written in or about the Americas from 1492 to approximately 1820.

Making of America is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. The collection currently contains approximately 8,500 books and 50,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints.

Mountain Men Diaries, Narratives, and Letters These documents are accounts of the Rocky Mountain fur trade during the first half of the 19th century. Most of these are  either written by, or as told by those who were actually there.

NetLibrary The Daniel Boone Regional Library offers patrons access to an online collection of 15,000 eBooks through a service called netLibrary. Through the library’s subscription, library cardholders have access to this electronic collection via our Web site. Rather than checking out a physical book from the library and taking it home, an eBook patron can check out and read a book online for up to four hours at a time. Most of the titles currently available are adult non-fiction or classic literature. Our agreement with netLibrary requires that you set up an account on a DBRL computer at one of our three locations, but once your user name and password are established, you’ll be able to check out an eBook from home or anywhere you use the Internet.

The Online Books Page maintained by the University of Pennsylvania, is a web site that facilitates access to books that are available over the Internet. It includes an index of thousands of online books freely readable on the Internet, plus directories and pointers to other archives.

Project Gutenberg is the Internet’s oldest producer of free electronic books. The Project Gutenberg Philosophy is to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search.

Google Books includes both publisher’s and library collections and makes both rare and common books searchable and easy to locate. Search results show useful information about the book, and in many cases, a few snippets – a few sentences to display your search term in context. When a book is out of copyright, you can view or download it in its entirety.

Useful Ethnic and Regional resources

Our Shared Heritage from the National Park Service is a comprehensive review of African American History.

AfriGeneas — African Ancestral Genealogy. Includes a beginner’s guide, links to resources by state, country and world, census records & slave data, and more.

Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory: All 634 pages of the document have been digitized.

JewishGen JewishGen®, Inc. is the primary internet source connecting researchers of Jewish genealogy worldwide. Requires registration.

Jewish Web Index Compendium of thousands of links and bits and pieces of information that may offer value in researching one’s Jewish roots. In alphabetical order by country or subject and it is free.

ScotlandsPeople, the official government source for genealogical records in Scotland with almost 50 million records. This site is not free, but the fees are reasonable and are on a "pay as you go" basis. No membership necessary.

GENUKI United Kingdom Research.

Irish Research

German Roots compiled by Joe Beine.

Historic Maps

Genealogy Atlas: Historic maps of North America Images of old American atlases during the years 1750 to 1900 scanned from the original copies so you can see the states and counties as our ancestors saw them over a hundred years ago. Viewing is free. Full size printed copies are offered for sale.

Library of Congress American Memory Map Collection Although you would expect this collection to be only maps of America, you will find maps of places all over the world. Some are from the CIA’ s historic files.

MAPCO‘s aim is to provide genealogists, students and historians with free access to high quality scans of rare and beautiful antique maps and views. The site displays a variety of highly collectable 18th and 19th century maps and plans of London and the British Isles, and also 19th century maps and engravings relating to Australia.

Genmaps Old maps of England, Wales, and Scotland. These are not as slick and fast loading as the commercial sites above, but there are some maps here not available elsewhere.

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection Maps from all over the world from the University of Texas. This site also has thousands of current maps. This link will take you to the historic maps section.

Translators: Alta-Vista’s Babel-Fish and Google’s Language Tools offer free translation of web pages, letters, or documents.

Miscellaneous and fun…

Higginson Book Company — specializes in reprinting genealogy and family history books. Most of these are "out of print" through regular sources and hard to get through interlibrary loan. Scroll down the main page to find options for browsing by surname or locality.

Name Distributions — Enter a surname into the form and you’ll get a map of the United States showing the distribution of people with this surname within the 50 United States.

Perpetual calendar — Find the calendar for any month and year.

Genealogy Blog was started by Joe Edmon and Leland Meitzler in 2003 as a place for genealogists to come and find the best the Internet has to offer for genealogists. New sites listed almost every day of the year. 

Genealogy Roots Blog is for finding online genealogy databases, records and resources. The focus is on vital records (birth, marriage, divorce & death records), obituaries, census records, naturalization records, military records and ship passenger lists. The Genealogy Roots Blog is based in the USA, but online European, Canadian, and other records sources are sometimes included. Mixed in with all this you will occasionally find a fun post, a book review or genealogy news.

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