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Is Great-Grandpa on the Internet?

by Ken Conklin

Copyright 1999 Ken Conklin. All rights reserved.

Do you know where your ancestors are -- or were? Was Great-Grandpa's brother a horse thief? Or was he a state senator? Diving into the Internet is a good way to begin your search for those long-lost in-laws and outlaws. After spending years corresponding with other genealogical researchers by snail mail and telephone, I was really glad to see the Internet come along. While I was able to gather a lot of information via prehistoric methods, it was slow and tedious at best. Now I switch on my trusty PC, click on my Internet icon, and away I go.

I started my Internet research in a very unsophisticated way. I merely typed my surname into a search engine. What I got was a plethora of Conklin Web pages and citations where the Conklin name appeared, and although I didn't find my own ancestors right away, it was still enlightening. For example, I hadn't known that my namesakes were involved in such a variety of interesting vocations: a Conklin who makes custom guitars, another who made stylish fountain pens, and a family who operates an agricultural supply business. Granted, these are not my relatives as far as I know, but it was fun see namesakes being successful and fairly well known. In the same listing, I eventually found a Conklin genealogy site that led me to other informative sites.

One of the first sites I visited was RootsWeb. This site is billed as the oldest Internet genealogical search site and claims to have over half a million surnames to search -- for free! I typed in "Conklin" and was given several names of other Conklins doing research. I clicked on some that sounded promising and found a wealth of information about an early Conklin ancestor who hailed from Nottinghamshire, England, came to New England shortly after the Pilgrims landed, and started one of the first glass manufacturing companies in the New World.

A subsite on Rootsweb, called Roots-L, offers several options including that of adding your name to a surname mailing list. I subscribed to this free service and now I receive almost daily email updates from others researching not only the Conklin name but my other family names, as well. From the information I received, I found that my father may have been correct when he argued that some of the Conklins came from Ireland and spelled the name as Coughlan. Email from other Conklins verified that, indeed, at least some branches of the family tree came from the auld sod.

Among the other helpful sites for searching surnames is Ancestry. Ancestry presents access to a huge database of names. When you find a likely name on this site, click on the URL and go to that researcher's records. I've found several Conklin researchers on these Internet locations. Ancestry is an excellent site for finding others who are researching the same surname. Another good tool is The FamilyTree Maker, which claims access to more than 275 million names. In addition to surname searches, these sites offer many services and site links to help you dive deeper into the oceans of ancestral research.

A good many sites provide links to other sites. One of these is Helm's GenealogicalTool Box , which gives access to over 50,000 links to genealogy-based sites on the Internet. Cyndi's List is another place to find links. In addition to presenting a link index, Cyndi also categorizes and cross-references them for easy access. The GenealogicalGateway accepts queries on surnames and then emails the research results to you. The Journal of Online Genealogy and TheGenealogy Site Finder also provide many resource links.

Many of the sites I found by linking from one to another provided much useful information related to genealogy. For example, I found one of my ancestors listed on Census Online. If your Grandpa claimed that you have royal blood, there's a site that will help prove it once and for all: The Directory of Royal Genealogical Data presents the genealogy of British Royals and others who are linked to them.

The Social Security Death Index, which is accessible from many sites, including Ancestry, is an invaluable tool for determining where and when a lost ancestor died. The Social Security Act began only in the 1920s, however, so only they who obtained Social Security numbers will be listed. On the SSDI, I was able to find a friend whom I heard had died. I haven't yet been able to find the fate of my long-lost maternal grandmother who vanished in 1926, however. This is one of the mysteries I hope to uncover one day, and now the Internet gives me some great tools to work with.

If you are new to the genealogy game, I suggest you take some of the Internet online courses. One very good site is the Beginner's Guide to Family History Research, which offers the following advice: "If you can't even spell the word g-e-n-e-a-l-o-g-y, this is the place for you to start. Everyone has ancestors, and if you're wondering who yours are, it's time to get involved in family history and genealogy research." At this stop you can study topics such as Home and Family Sources, Organizing Your Family Records, Using Libraries and Archives, Federal Census Records, Courthouse Research, Military Records, Ethnic Genealogy, A Broad View of the Research Process , Sharing Your Heritage, Special Interests, and Computers for Genealogists.

Family Tree Makeralso has some excellent online genealogy classes. Lesson topics include Mapping the Course and Equipment for the Hunt; Vital Records; Vital Records Substitutes; Trail Guides for Ancestral Hunters; Shedding Light on Your Clues; Your Best Ally in the Hunt -- The U.S. Federal Census; Introduction to Immigrant Investigations; Libraries in the Digital Age; and Genealogy Files Online.

As you have probably surmised by now, infinite numbers of genealogy sites are available, but before you actually begin your research there are some things you should do. Talk to your living relatives. They may provide some names and dates you weren't aware of. For example, many years ago I mentioned to my mother that I was interested n our family history. Mom told me about her first cousin, Alberta, who has been collecting data on our relatives for years. I hadn't known and probably never would have known about Alberta if I hadn't said something to my Mom. Through snail mail I began my quest with Cousin Alberta and she gave me a wealth of information, including documents from Civil War and Revolutionary War veterans in our background.

The journey can be delightful, interesting, enlightening, and frustrating -- all at the same time. I've often given up because I just haven't been able to make some connections that would tie up loose ends on the family tree, but I always return. It's the hope that the next email, or next click on the Internet will reveal long-sought information. Even when I discovered a distant kinsman who was a horse thief and hanged for his misdeed, or a great-great-great-grandfather who swindled the State of Illinois in a land deal, I was pleased to add some colorful characters to a branch on the family tree. To offset these misguided relatives, I've also found ancestors who served in our country's wars, from the French-Indian conflict to Korea. And yet another distant kinsman was a U.S. Senator from the New York. The quest can be extremely rewarding. Good luck in your search.

Ken is a freelance writer and editor with a variety of experience. He was a technical writer/editor with IBM for 18 years, and a technical editor for CSC, Arinc, Rolm, and Infotech. He also has written feature articles for the Gazette Telegraph and Springs magazine in Colorado Springs, published short stories and poems in regional magazines, and has three novels in preparation. When not writing, Ken enjoys woodworking, painting, and sports. He recently competed in, and won three medals in, the Senior Games in Tennessee.


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