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Let's investigate how the most useful Internet resources can by used to quickly expand your knowledge of your family history. The Internet is a truly amazing resource for family historians. It provides

  • fast communications,
  • the ability to post and view queries regarding surnames at particular places and times,
  • search capabilities on huge quantities of information

Real Genealogy - Not Just LinksThe quantity of genealogy information on the Internet is intimidating. There are many web sites with little content that simply link to and search other web sites. Some of these sites have thousands of links to other web sites. How can you review all of this information? My approach here is to cherry pick the important information that will give you quick and easy results. Rather than look at thousands of links, let's concentrate on comprehensive online databases and Internet tools so that you can find information yourself. For more information on the intent of this document, see the About section. For some examples of some amazing discoveries that I've made with the Internet, see the Wow section.

What are the Steps?

Step number one in creating a family tree is to gather family information from known relatives. We do this because this is the easiest and most enjoyable thing to do. This is much preferable to searching through dusty archives. Unfortunately, the memories of our relatives are not perfect and the memories may not go back in time as far as we would like. We need a systematic approach to develop our family tree. Our research steps are as follows.

  1. Gather information from known relatives.
  2. Find someone who already has the family history.
  3. Search for records.

In the past, step 3 would involve searching through paper archives, but now we have the Internet. We need to continue with the approach of doing the easy things first, by searching the Internet before we visit the archives. Not only will the Internet help find records of ancestors and family members, it can also help us communicate with known relatives and find unknown relatives.

Communicate with Relatives

E-mail is another way to communicate with people. It is fast like the telephone and has the ability to transfer volumes of information like the postal service.

Find Unknown Relatives

Finding an unknown relative who is interested and knowledgeable is invaluable. When I first started using the Internet for genealogy, I discovered on an e-mail list, a previously unknown relative who had information on ten previously unknown ancestors and many descendants. Within a week of looking for another ancestor, I received information that went back four more generations. This was accomplished by discovering a distant cousin listed on a surname directory. Rather than doing primary research, it may be much better to search out relatives who can provide information information about our ancestors, i.e. the living relatives might be more interesting than the dead ones.

This is a two-way street. Not only do you want to find other relatives on researcher directories, you also want others to find you. You need to find relevant directories and register your name and e-mail address.

Types of e-mail lists are as varied as the people that create them. Examples of software used to create these e-mail lists are Listserv, Majordomo and Smartlist.

A variation on the e-mail list idea is the message board or newsgroup. Message boards and newsgroups are like bulletin boards. In e-mail lists messages are sent to you via e-mail. In message boards and newsgroups, messages are posted on list that is accessible via the internet. Users need to visit the message boards and newsgroups to see what is listed there. Message boards are normally accessible with a web browser, whereas newsgroups are normally accessed with special newsgroup software such as Outlook Express.

See the Connect section for an explanation of the differences between e-mail, mail lists, and message boards.

Find people with Common Interests

Message boards and e-mail lists have messages that pose questions and have other messages that answer the questions. The message boards and e-mail lists are created to encourage discussion on a specific topic such as a surname, a geographic location, a military unit, etc.  You can pose your own questions or you can eavesdrop on other conversations and learn about issues of other researchers. Sometimes the messages are very short and sometimes people will post hundreds of lines of records. E-mail lists have these messages delivered to you via e-mail, whereas message boards have the messages posted on web pages. E-mail lists deliver the messages to you when they are created. Although you must go to the message board to check for new messages, you also have access to the historical archive of messages. Newsgroups operate in much the same way as message boards but use a different kind of software so in some cases you need to use a program like Outlook Express to read newsgroups rather than a web browser like Internet Explorer.

Find Family History Records

Census record, church records, newspaper records, and many more other types of records provide insight into your family history. Many of these records are now available on the Internet. Finding these records can be a challenge, so I have listed the most important sites in the online database section.

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