If you have solid information about a relative in the US, you should try http://www.usgenweb.org – a group that provides free information through a network of web sites that goes all the way down to the county level. I like their state search located at http://www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/newsearch.htm better than the rest of the site. They have a lot of census records which are great places to take your tree back one more generation. The most recent census counts are grouped by families so that you can see a person’s parents and where they were born. One shortcoming of this usGenWeb is that you can’t do a very specific search and the site doesn’t know the difference between Smith and blacksmith.
As a result, you will get a lot of hits that don’t even apply to your family – tedious work that sometimes pays off. This is an issue with most web sites out there, not just usGenWeb. Just to compound the issue, most sites don’t save your search criteria so that when check back to see if they have more information in a year or two, you have to go through the same long list again. Sigh. One of the brighter spots on the Internet is at EllisIsland.org – a great site to search if your ancestors immigrated to the US via Ellis Island.
There are a lot of networking and bulletin board sites available where people leave information about who they are looking for. The best ones will allow you to search specifically for name, date and location; others only allow you to search by keyword which usually gives you too many results to read. If the site you find is one of the latter, compose a short message about the person you are searching for and include the exact name, the exact location, and the exact time frame when you know they were there. Make the subject information very specific with name, date, and location so that people who are browsing will know if they should read it or not. Subjects like ‘My family’ or ‘grandma’ are just not very useful and almost nobody will read it. If the site you find allows you to search specifically enough, search it and read some of the posts there to see if you can contact a distant relative who can help you.
Join your local genealogical or historical society: Even if you are not really looking for relatives in your immediate area, the local society is a great place to learn, to network, and to give back to society. You will meet wonderful people with vast amounts of experience who can mentor you and make you a better genealogist – and a better person.
Publish you work: Nothing is more satisfying than helping someone else find their roots and one of the best ways to do that is to publish your findings. If you selected the right software, publishing your tree should be relatively easy – still a learning process for many of us. Make sure that you don’t publish information on the Internet about people who are still living. If you are not sure if a person is still living, you can assume they are still living if they were born less than 100 years ago and don’t have a death date in your software. The best programs will do this for you automatically once you set your preferences.
Another good thing to do is to publish your sources – the backup paperwork from your ring binder. This consists of birth certificates, deeds, census records, etc. Sites like usGenWeb and your local society are good places to consider when publishing records like these. Again, you should avoid publishing information about living people for security reasons. If you are interested in reaching a world-wide audience or in donating to your society, you should consider http://www.familytrackers.com. You can charge for your information, distribute it for free, or donate proceeds to your favorite society. As you work through your family, go back in time one generation at a time documenting everything as you go. Once you have followed a branch as far as you can, start searching forward in time from the oldest person you know about.
Brick walls: When you can’t find any more information about a person to determine their parents or other relatives, it’s called a “brick wall.” When this happens to you – and it will – don’t give up. It is just a matter of patience, skill and luck. The best advice I can give you about a brick wall is to go back to the basics; look at the last place and time where you know this person was and start from there. Also, try to find genealogists who link to this person from a different line – your cousins. Even though you may not be able to prove a direct father/son relationship to your ancestor, you might be able to prove father/son/brother through one of your cousins.
About the author: By Gene Hall