There are so many web sites on any topic that it can be confusing. Add in the idea of looking for ancestors, known or unknown, and it can become a very frustrating experience. The world of online genealogy has exploded in the past ten years, but many of the best web sites out there have been around for a while. Here’s a list of some of the more popular web sites to get you started.
Familysearch.org is a web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Family History Center has made quite a few changes in the past few months. Not only do they have their web site (familysearch.org) with databases that include the Social Security death index, pedigrees, and ancestral files contributed from people all over the world, but they now have another new pilot database project. You can find this new project at http://pilot.familysearch.org/recordsearch/start.html. If you are interested, you can help transcribe records for this new set of databases. Projects range from Arkansas marriage certificates to Argentinean censuses, to the 1916 Canadian census. Of note as well are the country-specific research guides and foreign language word lists and letter templates.
BYU Family History Library
Closely allied with Familysearch.org is the Brigham Young University Family History Library web site. While some of the site’s resources are for students only, there are some projects, such as the Immigrant Ancestors Project, that have great possibilities for researchers. Click on the records link for access to online databases and projects.
RootsWeb and Ancestry.com
Rootsweb.com is owned by Ancestry.com and advertisements are heavily used on this web site. Nevertheless, it. is a great resource. Search databases, email lists, and message boards for family names. One database, WorldConnect, puts you in contact with other genealogists who may be researching your ancestors through contributed family tree information. Like many good genealogy web sites, volunteers and active researchers make up the heart of this site.
Libraries pay for a library edition of Ancestry.com for you—you don’t have to pay for the commercial version. Available are immigration records, census records, military records, city directories, and more. If you are trying to find someone alive today, check out the public records databases. Your local library most likely subscribes and you can therefore piggyback to this site.
USGenWeb and WorldGenWeb
Time has only made usgenweb.org and and worldgenweb.org better. First started in 1996 in Kentucky, this project now includes counties and states from all over the world. Volunteers and family genealogists transcribe cemetery information, family bibles, obituaries and more. This is a great Internet resource to start with and an even better networking tool if you are trying to do your research long distance. Researchers beware; the wealth of information available varies from county to county. Check out the special projects section as well.
If you’ve done your United States research and are looking to track back to the United Kingdom, then this web site is for you. This is the main page that links to three free online projects, FreeCen, FreeReg, and FreeBMD. Indexing records from censuses, registers, and civil registration records respectively, these resources are a real find.
If you are looking to see if your ancestors came to the United States through Ellis Island (1892–1924), then this is the web site to check. If you find them, you can then request an official document and sometimes a picture of the ship that they came in on. If you’re having trouble searching by name and think a ship search might be easier—you can do that as well.
Castle Garden was America’s first official immigration center and is known today as the Castle Clinton National Monument located within The Battery. It was in operation from 1830 to 1892, when Ellis Island took over as the main port of entry for the New York City area. Its web site, www.castlegarden.org. is much like the Ellis Island web site.
Started in 1996, Cyndislist links to more that 250,000 genealogy web sites. Ranging in topic from how-to web sites to National Archives and historical societies to online records, this resource is a one-stop shop for the family genealogist.
Huntington Memorial Library
For a smaller resource than Cyndislist, try Huntington Memorial Library’s Online Genealogy Workshop, a small list of good web resources for genealogy.
Italian Genealogical Group
Not of Italian descent? That doesn’t matter with this great resource for New York City researchers. The Italian Genealogical Group has transcribed New York City area birth, marriage, and death records as well as naturalization records. These records are available in several different databases on their site. Using the information you find here, you can then request an official document.
Ever want to throw your computer out the window because you can’t find what you are looking for? Well maybe it’s your search or maybe it’s the web site you are using. Stephen Morse has done a lot of work to help make searching difficult web sites easier. His one-step approach is aimed at allowing users to search for information using fewer steps than the web sites that index the information, and some allow for searching across multiple web sites at once. Not all of the searches point to free resources, but most do. If you need help figuring out an Enumeration District or street name change, this site is for you too.
Sarah Livingston is the New York State Room librarian at Huntington Memorial Library in Oneonta, New York. She received her Masters in Library Science from Indiana University Bloomington. This is an updated version of a column that Mary Harris, her predecessor at Huntington, had written for the Oneonta Daily Star.