March 21, 2002
As I sat in the audience, attending the lecture of a well-respected genealogical librarian, a gasp escaped when he suggested a radical concept when working in the library: Go beyond the genealogy department. What was the man thinking? Lots of times we think that everything we want should be found right there in that one section of the library. Of course, the reality is that it isn't. If we can get beyond the "genealogy only" thinking we may find that history books or periodicals offer us additional information.
So often we stick with what we know. We do this in other areas of our life, so it is not surprising that we do it with our genealogical research as well. We stick to the libraries we are most comfortable in. We stick to the Web sites that we are comfortable navigating.
Every day new Web sites pop up, new repositories bring information online, and existing sites add information to their collections. We often miss some of these new sites or information because we don't take a chance and explore the Internet a little more thoroughly.
There are a number of sites that you may not be aware of that offer genealogical information and sometimes raw data. Some of these sites are federal sites, while others are either state or record type specific. Some of these new sites offer digitized graphics (for example, original books whose pages have been scanned) that allow you to view the images as though you were reading the original book.
A Taste of What's Available
One such site that you may not know about allows you to search the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion and The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. This multi-volume set is just one in a collection of information available through Cornell University.
The ability to look up your ancestor is a collection as important as this boggles the mind. It is just one example of valuable information that could be hidden from genealogists who don't take the time to go out and find it. After all, it cannot be found using a surname search in a general search engine. You would need to search on the record type or perhaps the war itself.
Another ever-growing site is the Library of Virginia Digital Collection, or Digital Library Program. The site reads, "The DLP transfers rare and unique Virginia materials into an integrated, user-friendly electronic research environment. Since its inception in 1995, the Program has digitized more than 2.2 million original documents, photographs, and maps, and produced more than 80 fully-searchable databases, indexes, and electronic finding aids."
Take a Little Time
I understand how easy it is to stay put in the safe sites, those that you have worked with for a long time. As genealogists we don't like to have to spend time mastering something new that takes away from our time on genealogy. I think, though, that learning about new sites that explore the history and development of the areas in which our ancestors settled or that have newly digitized resources should be sought out.
Make it a point every once in a while to set aside twenty minutes or so to hit the general search engines and see what might be available on a subject of interest to you. For instance, did you have ancestors involved in the Salem Witch Trials? It may surprise you to learn that there is an impressive site that looks that the history of this travesty and offers searchable documents about the trials and digitized images of a large number of original documents. Imagine being able to read and look at the document that sealed the fate of your ancestress. Witchcraft in Salem Village is just such a project under the University of Virginia in conjunction with many Massachusetts repositories.
While I might have eventually stumbled on this site while searching for my ancestors names on the Internet, it was the specific search "Salem Witchcraft" at Google.com that resulted in what I consider to be an impressive find on the Internet.
The Internet is a genealogical dream come true. While there are more genealogical sites than ever, we must not overlook other informational sites on history and locality. They will be of use in your research and may even hold the one clue you are looking for as you pursue a particularly stubborn line.The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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