Genealogy on the Net

By Glen Nuttall at the NWIGS Meeting June 2003

How we use the Internet for Genealogy

These are the notes that were handed out at the June meetings. Thanks Glen!

"Exploring family history through genealogy is a journey of self-discovery that illuminates the present through an understanding of the past. I will cover the basics of genealogical research and we will explore the Internet for the wealth of resources it provides."

0. Online Quick-Starts

I. Primary versus Secondary and Other Records

A. Primary
1. Home and Family
a. Yourself
b. Other Relatives

2. Records
a. Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificates
b. Obituaries (and other information from Newspapers)
c. Family Bibles
d. Photograph Albums
e. Scrapbooks

3. Other Primary Sources
a. Libraries
b. Archives
c. Courthouses
d. Museums
e. Churches
f. Cemeteries and funeral homes

B. Secondary and other Records

1. Family History Centers

2. Local and national genealogical and historical societies

3. Professional genealogical researchers

4. Genealogy books, CDs, microfilm, microfiche and software

5. Online (Internet)

II. Disclosure and Reliability of Data versus Privacy Issues

A. Disclosure and Reliability of Data

B. Privacy Issues

III. Genealogy Forums on AOL and

A. AOL Genealogy Forums [AOL Keyword: Roots]

- - Golden Gate Genealogy Forum


IV. Chat (IRC), Mailing Lists, and Newsgroups

A. Chat (IRC)

Genealogy Chat (IRC) Channels Listed by Networks/Server

AfterNET []


AnotherNet []


DALnet []

#Fianna (Irish research)
#lunie-links (Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia)

EFnet []


IIGS [ or 7000]

NewNet []


RootsWeb [ or 7000]


SCS Net []


Superchat []


B. Mailing Lists and Newsgroups

V. Databases (Linked Pedigrees, GEDCOM Databases, GenWeb™, Personal Home Pages, Family Associations and Newsletters)

A. Linked Pedigrees (Lineage Linked)

Definition: A "lineage-linked" database is what genealogy software programs create as family data is entered - linking each generation together. It is an electronic version of numerous pedigree charts that connect together.


B. Other Searchable Databases

Birth Records
Cemetery Records
Census Records
Death Records
Land Records
Locality Specific Databases
Marriage Records
Military Databases
Surname Databases

C. Personal Home Pages [] - My personal web page

D. Family Associations and Newsletters (Surnames) []

1. Surnames

2. Family Associations

3. Family Newsletters

VI. Search Engines






VII. GEDCOM File Format (GEnealogical Data COMmunications)

A. Understanding it

GEDCOM is a generic database format designed to allow users to share family history database files between differing genealogy software programs.

B. Why It's Important to Genealogy

Easily shared with others via e-mail attachment, on a disk, or uploaded to lineage-linked databases.

Can be converted for use in genealogy companion software programs and utilities that will create things like specialty charts, books, scrapbooks, and web sites.

VIII. Computerized Genealogy (CDs and Software)

A. CDs

Ethnic Groups and Religions
Locality Specific
Publishing on CD-ROM
Ships and Immigration

B. Software

Family Origins
Family Tree Maker
Genealogy Web Page/Site Generators
Handhelds, Palmtops and PDAs
Macintosh Software
The Master Genealogist (TMG)
PAF ~ Personal Ancestral File

C. Tools and Utilities

Data Transfer

IX. Volunteer Online Regional Projects

American History and Genealogy Project (AHGP) []
American Local History Network []
GENUKI - UK and Ireland Genealogy []
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild [] []
WorldGenWeb [] nncludes, but is not limited to:

Canada GenWeb []
USGenWeb [] - Project I am working on []

X. Web Rings for Genealogy []

A web ring is made up of links to web sites with a common topic or theme.

Search Engines

Top ten things to remember about search engines:

1. Search engines are not perfect.

2. Search engines are only as good as the software programs (robots/spiders) that run them. Search engine software is only as good as the programmers that write the code.

3. Search engines are created by various human beings, thus they each work a bit different from one another.

4. Similar commands can have different search effects on different search engines.

5. Each of the major search engines has indexed less than twenty percent of the Internet (as of December 1999). Collectively, the major search engines have indexed approximately sixty percent of the Internet.

6. Each search engine has indexed a slightly different portion of the Internet than other search engines, with some overlap occurring between search engines.

7. After using a search engine, if you don't find what you are looking for, that doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't exist online. It may only mean that particular resource hasn't yet been indexed.

8. Revisit search engines often because their indices are updated at regular intervals.

9. Internet addresses (URLs) change without notice. A URL that was working when a search engine robot/spider previously visited a site may end up being broken when you attempt to visit the same site.

10. Owners of some web sites do not want their site to be indexed and work to exclude some or all search engine robots/spiders. A polite search engine will respect the wishes of the site's owner and ignore sites such as these.

Online Data Should Lead Us to Primary Records, Not Replace Them

Ancestry Daily News
4/5/1999 - Archive
By Juliana Smith

With the wealth of data that is available online, it can be frustrating to find conflicting information everywhere you turn. While the advent of online genealogy certainly has made researching your family history faster and easier than ever, it is important to remember that data found online should be considered a secondary source and should be verified with primary sources.

What does this mean? The Introduction to The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997, edit. Szucs and Luebking) by Robert Anderson, gives the following definitions: " . . . a primary record is one that was created in near chronological proximity to an event by someone who had reasonably close knowledge of the event. A secondary record, then, is one that was created at some remove from the event in question; it represents editorial conclusions based on primary records. The distinction between the two categories is not always obvious."

While there are exceptions, most of the genealogical information on the Internet has been transcribed, indexed, or converted by technological means, there is often a great margin of error in this data. Exceptions are when original documents have been scanned and are available online, but even then, the way the records were indexed for the database may be suspect. Although online collections of GEDCOM files can open up doors where previously only brick walls existed, they often contain undocumented information and should always be treated with suspicion.

So should we give up on the Internet and go back to our "old ways?" NO! We just need to know, now more than ever, how to evaluate our sources. We still need to practice sound and proven genealogical methods. When we find an entry in an online database, it should lead us to primary records, not replace them.

The biggest benefit that the Internet brings us is speed. We can search large quantities of information from the comfort of our homes, and thus save valuable time at archives, libraries, and other repositories. Take the information available at Using the global search template, researchers can search over 1500 databases simultaneously, a feat that would take years without the Internet. In cases where ancestors appear to have dropped off the face of the earth or been abducted by aliens (there's one in every family!), you may be able to locate them in unexpected locations that might not have been searched otherwise (presumably where the aliens dropped him or her off).

The Internet is still one of the greatest and fastest ways to make connections with potential cousins who may information that you have been seeking for years. When you run across information in a GEDCOM collection or on a Web site, check with the person who posted the data and ask them where they got the information. Then verify it.

When you find data online, it is also important to cite where you found it. With new sites popping up and new databases being added every day, it will quickly become overwhelming when you go to document all of the information you have found if you have not kept good records of your Internet activities. When you find information that may be useful, be sure to print out, or note in a log, the site or submitter that it came from, any bibliographic citations, and the date you found it. Then use good sound genealogical methodology to verify the information.

For more information on analyzing and verifying information, the following books may be of help:
The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Revised edited by Loretto D. Szucs and Sandra H. Luebking
Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian, by Elizabeth Shown Mills
Producing a Quality Family History, by Patricia Law Hatcher