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Electronic Genealogy: Finding your Ancestors Online

"Immigrants Touring Battery Park NY"
From American Memory Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Beginner's Guides to Genealogy
Essential Online Resources
Genealogical Web Site Directories
Genealogy Cooperatives
Immigration
Ethnic/Country Sites
Historical Newspapers
Maps
Deeds, Patents, & Land Records
Official Records and Sources
Libraries and Archives
Societies and Organizations
Selected Books and Guides
Genealogy Software
Advice

 

Note: Resources marked with are restricted to subscribers,
either through Cornell University or your local public library.

 


Beginner's Guides to Genealogy

Genealogy 101 from About.Com
Very basic but useful site. Good search tips for some specific products such as Ancestry and SSDI.
 
Some Mistakes to Avoid:
  • Don't trust everything you find online
  • Don't start with "We're related to someone famous"
  • Don't jump straight to the country of origin
  • Genealogy is more than just names & dates
  • Don't limit yourself to just one spelling
  • Don't neglect to document your sources
  • Don't accept family legends as fact
  • Don't forget your living relatives
Where to Start
Beginning tips from the LDS site. Good for understanding documentation and terminology.
GenTutor
From Rootsweb--see below. More of a collection of links--but laid out in a way useful for beginners, with some tips.
Genealogy Lessons
Good narrative-style approach to research with real life examples.

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Essential Online Genealogy Resources

Ancestry Available through Cornell or a local public library
This is the premier site for searching US Federal census records and viewing the schedules online. Also contains draft registrations, passenger and immigration lists, SSDI, and much more.
Heritage Quest Available through Cornell or a local public library
A good complement to Ancestry for the census. Also features indexes to tens of thousands of genealogy books and PERSI, an online index to genealogical journals.
Family Search (LDS)
This site has several databases and services. The main search is newly designed. Also recommended: International Genealogical Index(IGI) index of birth and marriage registers from all over the world submitted by volunteers who transcribed information from the microfilms of original records collected by the FHS; Family History Library an online catalog. Microfilm can be borrowed through a local Family History Center.

Mocavo.com is new and claims to be the world’s largest free genealogy search engine. It provides access to free genealogy content on the web, indexing publicly accessible websites.

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Directories of Genealogical Web Sites

Cyndi's List
The largest collection of genealogical lists on the Web today, Cyndi's List is now almost the "official" Web genealogy site. It's so big it can be difficult to use, but perseverance pays off.
Genealogy from the Yahoo Directory
More manageable but not as inclusive.
Source List for Genealogical Research
This is a focused task-oriented list with links you would have difficulty discovering elsewhere.

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Genealogy Cooperatives

RootsWeb
RootsWeb is the supporting organization for thousands of surname discussion lists. It also features many primary documents that have been transcribed or scanned by volunteers and made searchable in the GenWeb Archive. These include obituaries, county histories, tax lists, cemetery lists, etc.
The USGenWeb Project
The Project is run by volunteers and non-commercial. Organized by county and state, it provides you with links to all the state web sites which, in turn, provide gateways to and email discussion lists for counties.
The GenWeb Archive
A collection of ongoing volunteer transcription projects for census records, marriage bonds, wills, and other public documents.
GenForum
Another option for finding other people working on your family and to share information.
Find a Grave.com 60 million records. Includes forums for discussion.

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Immigration Web Sites

Ellis Island Records (1892-1924)
There's no cost. Registration allows you to view complete records.
Records from Castle Garden (1830-1892)
Castle Garden was the precursor to Ellis Island. Over 73 million Americans can trace their ancestors to this early immigration period. Although the great wave of European immigration began around 1880, many groups came earlier, for example the famine driven Irish emigration of 1848-1860.

Finding Passenger Lists & Immigration Records 1820-1940s (arrivals at US ports from Europe)
Clear, readable and understandable.

National Archives--Immigration Records: Passengers arrivals & Border crossings
Includes some online indexes.

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Ethnic and Country Specific Web Sites

JewishGen
This is just one of many ethnic and country pages. I've listed a few more, but you'd have to use a resource like Cyndi's List (above) to see them all. Watch for various tutorials on ethnic genealogy offered by the major sites.
African American
AfriGeneas is an excellent African American site with a full range of services: chat, message boards, surname lists, etc.
Ireland
GENUKI is one of the best umbrella sites for Ireland and, in fact, all of the British Isles.

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Historical Newspaper Databases at Cornell

ProQuest historical newspapers Available through Cornell or a local public library
Full-text and full-image articles for newspapers. Ongoing project. The New York Times, 1851-2001 -- The Wall Street Journal, 1889-1987 -- The Washington Post, 1877-1988.

Access Newspaper Archive Available through Cornell or a local public library
Contains tens of millions of searchable newspaper pages, dating as far back as the 1700s. Especially good for regional newspapers.

Early American newspapers, 1690-1876 Available through Cornell or a local public library
Full text. Concentrating primarily on those papers that began publication before 1820.
Google News Archive (formerly Paper of Record)
Historical archive of full-page newspaper images dating from the 1700's.
Historical newspapers online Available through Cornell or a local public library
Indexes only. Palmer's index to The Times [London], the Official index to The [London] Times.

More: Guide to American Historical Newspapers
Note many sources described on this site are restricted-- Available through Cornell or a local public library.

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Maps

Land Ownership Maps
These maps of counties and towns from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century show who actually owned property. Now available online through Ancestry.
Sanborn Map Collection Available through Cornell or a local public library
A collection of historic fire insurance maps. Detailed maps of thousands of localities in the US over successive years.
Cornell Library Map Collection
Located in the lower level of Olin Library. About 250,000 maps, many historic. Website includes many freely available online mapping tools and sources.

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Deeds, Patents, and Land Records

The Bureau of Land Management
A very useful site for locating persons who might have homesteaded or taken out land patents. Eventually the actual document will be available.
Illinois Land Patents
This site from Illinois also presents land patent data.

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Official Records and Sources

The National Archives (Archives.gov)
ARC currently contains descriptions of 45% of the National Archives traditional holdings. Many of the records are described broadly at the record group and series levels. For some series, ARC includes specific descriptions at the file unit and item levels. This site can be used to locate microfilm rolls. The archival search engine, ARC, is of limited utility for surname searches but useful for broader searches.
Military personnel records can be ordered from NARA.
Making of America
Contains the War of the Rebellion and Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies.
Use Heritage Quest for Revolutionary War records.
State Archives
Many state archives are now putting their material on the web. Maryland is a good example. The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut provide another approach--an online index. Similarly the Massachusetts State Archives.

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Libraries and Archives

 

 
OCLC WorldCat Available through Cornell or a local public library
OCLC, the nearest thing we have to a national online catalog, is also available from most public and academic libraries. WorldCat recently became freely available to anyone in the world:

For material you discover that is not available at your local library, talk to local reference staff about placing an interlibrary loan.

Try OCLC's helpful guide to using online library catalogs for genealogy.

Library of Congress
One of the great genealogical collections in the world. Access, however, is mostly local, although some material is online, and the catalog is available over the internet.
Making of America
Search the full-text of dozens of 19th century magazines, history books and the War of the Rebellion; Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies!
Archives USA Available through Cornell or a local public library
ArchivesUSA? is a current directory of 5,550 repositories and 149,218 collections of primary source material housed across the United States. Powerfully integrated with detailed subject indexing, this research tool is a central collection of descriptive archival information.

Databases that can be used to find archival material:

ArchiveGrid Available through Cornell or a local public library
ArchiveGrid provides easy access to the archival holdings of The Research Libraries Group (RLG) and affiliates. A friendlier interface than RLIN Eureka.
American Memory
American Memory is a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. The site offers more than 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections.
The National Archives (Archives.gov)
ARC currently contains descriptions of 45% of the National Archives traditional holdings. Many of the records are described broadly at the record group and series levels. For some series, ARC includes specific descriptions at the file unit and item levels. This site can be used to locate microfilm rolls. The archival search engine, ARC, is of limited utility for surname searches but useful for broader searches.
State Archives
Many state archives are now putting their material on the web. Maryland is a good example. The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut provide another approach--an online index. Similarly the Massachusetts State Archives.
New York State Library
There are many primary documents available at the New York Public Library. This link to their genealogy research room will give you an idea. But be sure to check out their Vital Records Indexes. This is an extraordinary accomplishment as anyone who ever attempted to use the paper death certificate indexes can attest.
Allen County, Indiana, Public Library. Genealogy Section
The Fred J. Reynolds Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library was organized in 1961 by the library director for whom it was named. The department's renowned collection contains more than 300,000 printed volumes and 314,000 items of microfilm and microfiche. This collection grows daily through department purchases and donations from appreciative genealogists and historians.
OCLC WorldCat Available through Cornell or a local public library
OCLC, the nearest thing we have to a national online catalog, is also available from most public and academic libraries. OCLC has a useful guide to using WorldCat for genealogy, and by extension other online catalogs, for genealogy.
Steele Memorial Library
A local resource in Elmira NY with a large genealogical collection. Particularly noteworthy is the collection of NY State and US census microfilm.
Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints Family History Center (Ithaca NY)
Microfilm of FHC records can be ordered here. 114 Burleigh Dr. Ithaca, NY 14850 (607) 257-1334

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Societies and Organizations

National Genealogical Society
One of several national societies
New York Genealogical and Biographical Society
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, popularly known as the "G & B," was founded in 1869. As a non-profit educational institution, its purpose is to collect and make available information on genealogy, biography and history, particularly as it relates to the people of New York State.
New England Historical and Genealogical Society
Extraordinary collection from which they will lend to members. In fact, membership is required for almost all access.

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Selected Books and Guides to Genealogical Research

The Source: a guidebook of American genealogy. Edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. Salt Lake City : Ancestry, c1997. (Olin Library Reference CS49 .S65x 1997) Recently became freely available online.

Genealogy Online For Dummies by Matthew L. Helm and April Leigh Helm. (2011)

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Genealogy Software and Digital Preservation

Legacy 7
A very full-featured commercial software program absolutely free. The "Pro" version is one of the highest ranked in the "Report Card."
Software Reviews and Comparisons
A useful comparison site "Genealogical Software Report Card" from the National Genealogical Society. It will give you an idea of what kinds of features to look for in a software package. Macintosh users might consider Reunion 8; more Mac options at Cyndi's List.
Personal Archiving The Library of Congress' guide to preservation of personal digital information like photos.

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Advice for Genealogists

Use Software

Start with what you know. Collect as much information from relatives as you can, then get it organized, preferably with some genealogy software package, before turning to the internet. When you're organized you'll be able to take advantage of what the internet offers.

Evaluate everything you find! Nowhere is the computer adage GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) more true than in online genealogy. Almost all the material must be double checked. Many web genealogies are strings of wishful thinking repeated from other strings of wishful thinking. This includes information from LDS's Ancestral File, FTM's World Family Tree and Ancestry's Ancestry World Tree. Very few online genealogies are documented. Treat online information as hints to guide further research, not material to copy blindly into your genealogy. Follow the advice in Evaluating Web Sources and Standards for Genealogy Research

Don't fire off e-mail with general questions to historical societies, libraries, discussion lists, etc. Many organizations (academic libraries) will not do genealogical research, but will help you use or locate material that is unique to them. Lurk on discussion lists and observe the traffic and how queries are phrased. Often there are specific rules for subject lines. Some common surname lists may distribute dozens of messages a day. A subject line such as "Got anything on John Smith?" will get some surprising answers.

Don't ignore print resources! Electronic resources are useful portals to information--but often you will still have to order microform, photocopies of records, etc. Many print resources will not appear online for many years. Don't wait!

Genealogical Research at Cornell
This is Olin Reference's guide to doing genealogy in the libraries at Cornell. Much of the information will be useful and transferable to other libraries.

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Good Luck with Your Research!

Virginia Cole

06/09/2011 - 12:27pm - vac11