Who to include
Scams and Tricks
What it is
How you read one
Converting text to GEDCOM
Publishing your data on the Web
Main Genealogy Page
Essays on Genealogy
Why do it at all?
(I first wrote this, in a slightly different form, as a message to the RootsWeb Mailing lists I belong to. It is longer than a "Hint to Heloise" snippet, but shorter than a comprehensive guide to Genealogical research on the Internet.)
In a nutshell: when I start a new line or get some more ancestors, I make a list of everyone I want to check and every web site I want to check them on, using Excel. The checking may take several weeks. The Excel file helps me remember who I have looked for, and where. That was the nutshell. The rest of this is the same idea in a watermelon rind. If you want to bail out now, (there are some horrible puns ahead) pick something from the navigationbar to your left.
This may be old hat to some of you. "What's he going to invent next, fire?" you may ask yourselves, with a wry, ironic chuckle. But, if you haven't thought of it and are interested, read on.
To start, you need a text file of the people in question in the form surname, comma, given names, commas, birthdate. The commas are important. All good genealogy programs will let you format a custom report of selected individuals and print to a text file instead of paper. You may have to read the help if you've never printed to a file instead of paper. You will probably have to make the commas between the given name column and birth date column a literal. My genealogy program, Family Origins for Windows, calls a literal a "Text Field".
Next, tell Excel (or whatever spreadsheet program you use) to open the custom report as a comma-delimited text file. Comma delimited means the data that will go in each column is separated by a comma. One of your ancestors may have been "Ed" and another saddled with "Adolphus Benjamin Charles", but the comma tells Excel those are the given names, regardless of the length. That is, this:Simth, Ed, 1855
Smith, Adolphus Benjamin Charles, 1856
Since you had a comma between the surname and given names, and between the given names and birth date, you now have a spreadsheet with three columns - surname, given names and birth date. They will be columns A, B, and C. The birth dates help on some search engines, and help you determine which Polly Smith you are looking for.
Insert a row at the top for a heading. Fill in the heading row for columns D onward with the places you want to look, on the web and elsewhere. Then, once you check a person on a site, put an "X" in their row for that column. You could do the same in Word or even with a sheet of paper, a #2 pencil and a ruler, but Excel has some nice features. It lets you freeze panes and hide either rows or columns. When you re-open the file, it will come up in the spot you left off the last time you saved and closed. This is particularly handy when your checking takes more than one session. Excel lets you sort the data. I find it easier to ALT+TAB from browser to Excel to my genealogy program than to look back and forth from paper to screen, too.
Now, assuming your ancestors were puckish and omitting some column headings for brevity, you have a spreadsheet that looks like this. Note that I abbreviate; "MA Sur" is short for "Mailing list Archives - Surname".
My first eleven columns are always the same - basic web sites everyone should have in their bookmarks. The rest of this page describes them and the strategies I use.
The LDS megasite.
If you find someone on the IGI, you can usually find everyone else with that surname who is on the same document. Copy the film number but click on the batch number. You'll get a screen devoted solely to IGI entries, with the batch number and region already filled in. Enter the surname alone. If you get too many, you can limit the search by filling in the father and mother's names. Try it again with the film number, which you copied, and the batch number blank.
RootsWeb World Connect / Ancestry World Trees
RootsWeb Surname Mailing List Archives
Once you get the mailing list, you have to enter an argument in the search box and pick a year. Make sure you search all of the years. Since every post to the WILKEN surname list will be about the WILKEN family, if you search for WILKEN in it you'll get more hits than you want. The best bet is to search for a spouse's name, if you have one. County names (or even city names) and given names work too. The search is exact, so if you use a spouse's surname, try alternate spellings.
RootsWeb County Mailing List archives
Most of my ancestors were born in one county, married in a second, and died in a third. They kept moving west. (Whether they were drawn by the lure of the wide frontier or pushed by their old neighbors is subject to debate.) I find it easier to make a short list of likely counties, find each county's mailing list and search for two or three surnames at a time, using the OR argument. You can make a second spreadsheet specifically for county searches. Just remember to have everyone listed three times, once each for his/her birth, marriage and death.
GenForum surname pages
GenForum county pages
US Gen Web County Pages
Family History Boards
Some families lend themselves to different web sites. RootsWeb has a mailing list for seven counties in Southern West Virginia, for instance. Cliff Lamere, one of the mainstays of the NY Columbia County mailing list, has a glorious web site for the counties around Albany, NY. The state of Illinois has a register of Civil War soldiers, and another of early marriages. Columns are easy to add. You could also put columns for census look-ups, land deeds, cemetery records and so on.
Note that if you find someone new - a spouse, for instance - you should add him/her to the list and check her/him against the places you've checked everyone else already. Having everyone in alphabetical order helps a lot, so re-sort your spreadsheet every once in a while to put the new people in their proper place.
That's about it. Feel free to write if you have questions.