Mining the Wealth of Online Genealogy Data

In an article by Lan N. Nguyen of the Wall Street Journal, republished in the Post-Gazette Business News and Technology, the article “Going Online to Mine Wealth of Genealogy Data” reviews some Internet sites that offer to help you research your family history.

Genealogy is also big business. Most genealogy Web sites grant access for a price, some costing as much as $360 a year. This means a roots-research hobby can quickly turn into an expensive habit. Before clicking onto the Internet and paying for access to a world’s worth of records, first go local, experts recommend. Hit up any living relatives for dates, names, birth towns, occupations, and historical details such as time spent in military service. Then reach out to the hometown library or historical society for more background information. Once armed with all that can be gathered locally, you’ll be better equipped to navigate all that is online.

Before opening our wallets to one of the fee-based Web sites, we tried four free sites to research our husband’s genealogy.

In the review, they found it hard to get much information without some family specifics such as middle name, spouse name, parent name, or location. Dates help even more. They also admit that genealogy research is very time consuming, so setting aside five hours to do this research test for the article review was certainly not enough time.

Familysearch.org came out fairly well as a good starting point for free. Ellisisland.org, another free site, was good, but name spellings complicates things, and there are a lot of records to plow through. However, if your ancestors passed through Ellis Island, then it is likely you will find them with diligent research.

Rootsweb.com was highlighted for it’s message boards, allowing participants to share and post information on their family’s history and research. But the paid access from Ancestry.com came in best as the fastest way to get information, if you have specific details on your ancestor. Otherwise, you are digging through tons of information that is often a dead end.

Another Post-Gazette article, “Genealogy Sleuthing Online”, by Patricia Lowry, showcases some other free online research sites to help you find your ancestors through the Internet.

Cyndi’s List is the mother lode of all things genealogy, with online resources that cover everything, or narrow right now to your neighborhood. The Social Security Death Index gives you birth and death information for those who were registered with Social Security.

Focusing closer to the newspaper’s home region, if you have ancestors who lived in the Pennsylvania area, Lowry recommended History Pittsburg Digital Library, The PAGenWeb Project, and the newspaper’s own Post-Gazette Genalogy Page and Archives, with newspaper articles dating back to 1786, a real treasure trove of information.

As with all such research, it helps to have some core information to distinguish your John Smith from their John Smith to narrow down your research paths.

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About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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2 Responses to Mining the Wealth of Online Genealogy Data

  1. Joe Frain says:

    Been working on my genealogy for a few years. You probably don’t have the answer, but I have to ask someone. Why is it that no matter where you try a family nam search, ancestry.com is the only one having the answers? Do they own every bit of genealogical data? All census’, all birth, marriage and death records? Most of this should be public data with free access.

  2. Ancestry.com is not the only “owner”, so to speak, of genealogical data. There are tons of free resources. I’ve included a ton of free genealogy information and resources in my Genealogy Research Resources pages.

    There is a lot of information that is free via Ancestry.com, but they do have expenses to cover as they buy much of the information and then pay experts to convert it all into digital format and databases. This takes money and they want to cover their costs and make a profit, of course. Remember, just because it’s on the Internet does not mean it’s automatically free to access or use. But there are tons of resources to help with your family history research that do not cost.

    This site and the information within is one of them. 😀

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