10/27/01 rev. 11/21/18
The original version of this piece was posted nearly two decades ago, and since then much has changed in using the internet for researching family history. Although I updated this article last year, I thought another revision was in order, especially having published “E-Genealogy 101: Three easy steps to woodshedding the family tree” * in the quarterly Mennonite Family History. You might consider this a sequel to that instructional work online. Of course I will be constantly checking and revising this article on my website, but for those of you who may eventually read this in print form, the onus is on you.
Each time I send out any of my articles before posting, via e-mail, I ask for input from friends and family: simple feedback, additions, corrections, or newly fleshed-out facts. Some members are actively involved in research and quickly respond, while others may just read the stories for enjoyment and/or save them for future reference. I have no doubt that still others, disinterested yet not wishing to offend the author, delete them as quickly as they are sent. Some may even be concerned about viruses, although we periodically update our scanning program and scan the drives each time this computer is turned on. Anyone involved with computers knows that there is only so much one can do against evil in the modern world, and we personally feel that the risk is worth the reward where technology is concerned. I’m reminded of the dangers and criticism the developers of earlier communications technology faced:
• The Guttenburg printing press was feared by the medieval Church as it loosed the power of the printed word. Not only was the Gospel available in the languages of the people then, but new thinking on subjects like science and philosophy could be disseminated quickly and without approval.
• Great philosophers such as Plato argued against the use of the stylus in recording the dialectic of students and teachers. After all, he said, once something is written down, it can’t be changed. Thank heavens he didn’t heed his own advice, but rather left his wisdom in writing for the ages.
• I can imagine that the beginnings of oral tradition had its trials too. Some early caveman/lawyer probably feared that once his client abandoned the “grunts and groans” for articulate speech, that stooped and bearded wonder would be accountable for every word that left his mouth. Abstract animal sounds are easier to defend than language. I always envied the simple vocabulary of my livestock when I kept sheep, cattle, and a pony. Now I truly believe I understand the simple responses of dogs and cats also.
So, what follows is a collection of websites, homepages, and search tools for you to do genealogical research. The important thing to remember is that everyone starts as an amateur. Yes, there are professionals who make a living at this work, available to verify something important you may uncover down the road. But, I believe we need to know what questions to ask them, and the only way to know the terrain is to jump in with both feet. I’m reminded of philosopher John Dewey’s critical thinking model; he said we must find and analyze the problems first, before we can solve them. More often than not, the professionals are too busy and too expensive to turn to with “the small stuff.” With today’s technology we can lay a sensible, and sometimes impressive, foundation for our children and grandchildren. But, time is short. We need to record the interviews and map the memories quickly. Then, I believe, we can all help verify the findings. Even though I believe now that much of my British non-conformist Pearce-Austen Original Family Narrative and my wife’s Amish-Mennonite Lee-Miller adoption tradition are probably factually inaccurate in places, they have provided marvelous places from which to begin the process of studying our roots. Had the persons who remembered them and eventually wrote the information down waited for the invention of the tape recorder or the computer, I’m certain we wouldn’t have the rich sense of family connection we have today. I continually ask myself, “Where will we be 100 or 200 years from now, thanks to the persons who are recording our family narratives today?” So, here are some tools with which to begin. You may click on these, if you’re online, to go directly to the sources. They are alphabetically arranged rather than in order of importance. (You can decide THAT for yourself.):
ACCESSGENEALOGY.COM – will provide you with, in most cases, a massive background on family names and origins. The Pearce Origin is two pages in 10-point, single spaced. Ouch, my eyes!
ANCESTRALFINDINGS.COM – was founded over 20 years ago by someone with a physical disability and a desire to find the origins of his family and help others do the same. This site offers a wide variety of services, including a regular podcast and newsletter.
ANCESTRY.COM, GENEALOGY.COM, ARCHIVES.COM, AND ROOTSWEB.COM – are separate databases continually combining and adding additional names. A half-billion people from around the world are expected to visit these sites this year, looking for relatives like you. Some of the information is free, but access to most things here requires a small membership fee. Try them out on a free trial basis. Expect to find birth, death, and marriage certificates, as well as census and immigration records.
APGEN.ORG – is the site of The Association of Professional Genealogists that will make referrals to a member who can help you with a particular problem or question, for a fee of course.
ARCHIVES.GOV – is a tax-payer service of the U.S. Government offering lots of tools and ideas. Its Catalog Guide for Genealogists is especially helpful.
BEHINDTHENAME.COM – is a site I love because it allows you to get the background of most any name you can think of. It’s too good to be free!
BIBLIO.TU-BS.DE – represents the World Biographical Index, a fascinating place to find information on someone famous, if you can read German.
BOARDS.ANCESTRY.COM – will allow you to post questions and information for residents of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. This is the location of Pine Creek and North Park, my original American Pearce and Austen settlement. If you can’t find your surname or location, start one!
BRITANNICA.COM – will provide a limited amount of information for free on subjects pertaining to the British Isles that is usually unavailable anywhere else. Subscriptions are available.
BYUTV.ORG – offers solid research tips and interesting television programing centered around family history. Of course you’d expect that from this Mormon broadcast operation. Just search “genealogy.” It’s available free with most CATV upgrades, satellite services, and WiFi streaming apps like ROKU.
CYNDISLIST.COM – a very large, almost personal collection of sites to check out. Cyndi and I must be soulmates.
ELLISISLAND.ORG – must realize that most of our families came to American long before records were kept at New York’s historic immigration point. However, this database contains 22 million people who arrived between 1892 and 1924. You may also visit the new American Family Immigration History Center in person.
FAMILYHISTORYDAILY.COM – is a collection of “Tips & Tricks” articles on researching family history. Despite containing many specialty organizations, you might want to make its “Free Genealogy Sites” tab a “Favorite/Bookmark.” Not unlike this shorter list, is actually a clearinghouse of 50 different services to click on.
FAMILYTREEMAKER.COM – provides the applications, software, and other formats into which you can dump your research. For example, you may wish to extract and apply findings from Ancestry.com to free you from such membership sites.
FAMILYTREESEARCHER.COM – is a “metasearch engine” that will look up your names and dates on 11 sites. This is a very helpful service with tips and suggestions.
FAMILYSEARCH.ORG – is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) genealogy site. They are committed to the salvation of those who have gone before, but it is first necessary to identify these friends and families. Anyone can use this free and easy format, but warning: there is much duplication, such as military service records. Most of what was recorded on microfilm around the world is now available through your home computer.
FEEFHS.ORG – represents the Federation of East European Family History Societies and goes where many British and West European sources don’t.
FINDAGRAVE.COM – is a free service that allows anyone with a membership to search for and even add cemeteries and burials complete with individual and family data. Two cautions: the information isn’t always correct, probably because some of the stones are hard to read, and one often has to have exact names and spellings of persons and cemeteries. To its credit, the service is growing by leaps and bounds. I’m linking these sites, complete with GPS readings, to all my Vitals.
FINDMYPAST.COM – (previously DC Thomson Family History) is a British-owned world leader in online genealogy specializing in finding your ancestors from the British Isles.
GENEALOGYBANK.COM – relies primarily on over 9,000 historical newspaper articles, books, pamphlets, government documents, and periodicals. One unique feature of this company is that you can link your family history website under a program called “Affiliates” and actually get paid for referrals.
GENEALOGYTODAY.COM – is a smaller New Jersey company offering some one-of-a-kind records and lots of free assistance. Signup to receive a free newsletter.
GENFORUM.GENEALOGY.COM – is a more direct link to forums via Genealogy.com found above. Most any surname you can think of has its own family forum for exchanging questions and information. I have acquired a great deal of contacts around the world, including several long, lost cousins, through this source.
GENUKI.ORG.UK – is a gigantic database on England, Ireland, and the British Isles in general, and there is usually a fee for access.
HOUSEOFNAMES.COM – is mostly an online genealogy gift shop that will tease you with a free excerpt from their lengthy family histories, but they offer some interesting items. There are too many other similar commercial sites to mention here.
JEWISHGEN.ORG – is unique, and though I don’t know of any Jewish ancestors, our list wouldn’t complete without this excellent source.
KINDREDTRAILS.COM – offers every possible service for family historians and researchers, all of which is free. Need I say more?
MAKEUSEOF.COM – lists the Top 10 free genealogy websites, many of which are found here. By bookmarking this service, one can jump back and forth in comparing data.
MYPENNHIGHLANDS.EDU – is how I gain free access to databases that otherwise would otherwise charge a fee. Many college and local libraries offer a similar service. Our community college is the base for the Johnstown Genealogy Society, so with my membership I can use the Ancestry.com library edition at home.
NEHGS.ORG – is the New England Historic and Genealogical Society site and has quite a large and special collection of materials for you to consider.
NEWBERRY.ORG – is a non-profit that you probably never heard of, but Chicago’s Newberry Library has a very old and trusted collection of books and other genealogical materials. Click on the link and look up your name for starters.
NEWSPAPERS.COM – is a handy tool beyond perhaps what your local publication can offer. With a free 7-day trial, and eventually a fee if yoou wish, you can find various periodicals by map and date. Then, just search by name or keyword.
OLIVETREEGENEALOGY.COM – is unusual in that it provides a pathway for the beginner to start research and make findings available to others. One will find links by categories such as ethnicity, religion, and country, a new way to go about genealogy.
PHMC.STATE.PA.US – the Pennsylvania Digital Archives are not yet complete, but they represent the wave of the future, we hope. A great use of tax-payer money, I believe.
THOUGHTCO.COM – is rated one of the top 10 information sites on the internet. Its “Pennsylvania-genealogy-online” section gives easy access to many historical public records, using several different services, although some documents are “only browsable.” This is a good place to learn how personal information is recorded and preserved. Here is a sensible way to start your research.
USGENWEB.ORG – this is the headquarters for one of the newer national genealogy projects that includes everything from cemeteries to census listings.
WIKITREE.COM – whose business model is to grow an accurate single family tree that connects us all and is freely available to us all. I have found their format somewhat disorganized and awkward at times, but I’ve also found lots of new information.
WPGS.LIBRARY.NET– is the huge Western Pennsylvania Genealogy Society library at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. There are several references to the Pearce and Austen families in Allegheny County and the United States. Perhaps your local genealogy society and/or library has such a service.
May I suggest that as you read this you also try some of these online by simply clicking on the blue links (Uniform Resource Locations – URLs). When you find some of particular interest, “Bookmark” them as “Favorites” immediately. Then, you won’t have to go back to your printed copy and type each address in by hand. But I have to warn you that websites do tend to change and even disappear without warning, so don’t be disappointed if some of the above go away without notice. The good thing is that new sites appear every day. I promise I’ll update and add to this list periodically, especially if you’ll send me any new information that you find. Below, I’ve provided space for you to list new sites and tools that you find.
In conclusion, let’s make genealogy through the internet fun and exciting. Please gather and list additional sites in the inquiry section below. I promise to check them out and perhaps include them here. Do come back from time to time to see what we’ve added. We can leave a great legacy for future generations of Pearces, Austens, Lees, Millers, and all our related families.
NEWLY DISCOVERED INTERNET SITES FOR DOING FAMILY GENEALOGY:
Address. . .(WWW unless otherwise indicated) Title/description/sponsor
* These published articles have been modified for this interactive website on the internet. For the printed versions go to Mennonite Family History
“Genealogy 101: Woodshedding the Family Tree.” January 2018. Vol. 37, No. 1
“42 Electronic Sources for Doing Genealogy: An Annotated Bibliography.” July 2019. Vol. 38, No. 3
Look for the upcoming article here and possibly in print, “Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Ancestry Research,” inspired by a recent workshop at the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, with Dr. Michael D. Lacopo, on finding German ancestors. A report on that meeting will be available here and in print.
Last revised 6/2/19