Sunday, January 15, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Free Online Genealogy Tools

Week 3 – Free Online Genealogy Tools: Free online genealogy tools are like gifts from above. Which one are you most thankful for? How has it helped your family history experience?


It's an amazing thing to be in on the ground floor of a success.  Of course, we didn't know it was going to be a success at the time.

Around February 1996, there was some grumbling on a genealogy mailing list I was on.  This was in the fledgling days of online genealogy.  "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a central place we could find information on our ancestors?"  This was before, before, before....anything!  Censuses and other records weren't online.  These were the days when research meant ordering microfilm/microfiche and spending hours at the machine.  Aspirin or some other over the counter pain reliever was always in your research bag because of the headaches caused by eye strain or the ache in your arm from scrolling.

One day, someone on this list put forth the idea, "Well, there's not a central place, but what if we came up with one?  Who would be interested?"  Suggestions flew fast and furious.  We all had bits and pieces of information on the various counties we were researching.  What if we put that information, as well as any that might be submitted by other researchers, on the Internet?  That meant we'd have to learn how to code web pages.  That meant we'd have to learn to do graphics.  That meant that we'd have to find web space and learn how to upload our pages there.

How are we going to organize this brave new endeavor?  We decided to divide it by county.  You have family in <insert county here>?  Great!  You're the new coordinator for that county!    

Over the next few months, we struggled and learned and laughed and raged at this project.  Just who was the idiot who came up with this?  And who are the people trying to do this?  

Once the word got out in the genealogy world, other state mailing lists took up our cause.  Once the other states organized, we merged under one entity.  Next thing we heard, there were other countries who were following our lead.  And a world project was born.

Those frantic early days can be summed up in the following blurb that was to appear on all main pages in this project:

In the spring of 1996, a group of genealogists organized the Kentucky Comprehensive Genealogy Database Project, which evolved into the  KYGenWeb Project.  The idea was to provide a single entry point for genealogy data and research for all counties in Kentucky.  In addition, the information for each county would be indexed and cross-linked to make it easier for researchers to find a name or data that they sought.

In June 1996, as the KyGenWeb Project was nearing 100% county coverage, interested volunteers decided to create a similar set of pages for all sates, establishing the USGenWeb Project.  Volunteers were found who were willing to coordinate the efforts for each state, and addition volunteers were and are being sought to create and maintain websites for every county in the United States.

Was it easy?  No.  Does everyone get along?  Do they ever?  Was it a perfect project?  There's no such thing as perfection.   However, in those early days of genealogy research on the Internet, it came pretty close.

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