This week I’ve been talking about free websites, their importance in my Journey of Genealogy in the Recession, but also their importance to the genealogy community. In response to Thomas MacEntee’s post What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?, I want to make it clear that I do place great value on the contributions of genealogists, certainly do not expect them to work for free, and believe that most of the internet genealogy companies provide a very valuable service at a fair price. I am also extremely grateful for all of the volunteers who do provide free resources, whatever their motivation.
Today I want to highlight some more of the wonderful free websites that I use.
The US GenWeb Project
This is one of the first places that I go to find information for a certain area. There is often a good overview of the state’s history, a clickable map of counties as well as an alphabetical listing. Sometimes there are contacts for the counties.
The motto of this group of volunteers is “Keeping Internet Genealogy Free.” Its organization is by county and by state — and what is available varies greatly. In some counties, there are transcriptions of census, tax lists, military rosters, cemeteries and more. There may be family biographies and contacts for surnames. Sometimes there is very little, and sometimes the links don’t work. Don’t give up, though; often if you Google the county you can find an active link. Or you can find a backdoor through another county — they often have links to other counties, especially adjacent ones. Here is another page with links to states and special projects: USGenWeb Archives. Take some time to explore the states and counties you are researching — I’ll bet you’ll find some information you can use.
I have discovered some incredible things on this site, which I found a few months ago. This group of volunteers started in 2000 providing data for Illinois and expanded to other states in 2006. On the home page of Genealogy Trails History Group, the first thing you see is
“Our goal is to help you track your ancestors through time by transcribing genealogical and historical data for the free use of all researchers.”
As with USGenWeb, Genealogy Trails is built by state and county and varies to the amount of content within these divisions.
Here is an example of something I found and what it led me to. Perry County, Illinois, has a dizzying amount of information, including photos of the destruction caused by a tornado in Willisville, Illinois. Googling “Willisville Illinois tornado” I then found several newspaper articles which reported tornadoes in 1912 and 1917. An interesting tidbit was the description of the town in each:
22 Apr 1912
“The tornado…swept over central & southern Illinois and northwestern Indiana….Five persons are known to be dead and 21 injured at Willisville, a town of 3000, in the southwestern corner of Perry county.” “…and 16 houses were demolished.”
26 May 1917
“The village of Willisville, in southern Illinois, near St. Louis, was practically wiped out by the tornado. No accurate reports of the loss of life in the little village of 700 souls could be obtained.”
Seeing these photos and reading stories of the devastation and the changes in the town leads me to an entirely different picture of life between the 1910 and 1920 Census than I had before.
RootsWeb has been around for a long time, with the purpose of connecting people in order to facilitate their genealogical research. Since its purchase by Ancestry in 2000, there have been quite a few changes, including the most recent removal of the social security index from RootsWeb, the free site. I like the mailing lists for surnames, counties and topics of interest, such as Irish in Saint Louis. The message boards can be searched through RootsWeb or Ancestry. Check out the older posts; I find a lot of discussion in the 1999-2000 time period. It just might provide you with an important clue. And although it is usually difficult to track down those who posted back then, you might find enough information to do so. Also, use the Search Thingy — “a silly name for our powerful site-wide search engine” — to explore RootsWeb using keywords.
With these three super-links, you’ll be busy for a very long time. Enjoy!