Searching out Faulkenberry’s history has been as challenging as his own recollections of the battle. The clue that led me to his pension file—and, I hope, an avenue to his earlier years—was found in an afternoon’s foray on the USGenWeb Project, www.usgenweb.org.
You can use USGenWeb to network with other family researchers, read census transcripts, search Civil War rosters, view old photos, post queries and trace migration routes. The fruits of its volunteer projects are available to everyone for free. It’s the premier site for American research, and it’s growing daily.
The USGenWeb’s initial claim to fame was providing Web sites for every county and state in the country. From there it’s grown into a genealogical Fort Knox. Here’s how to cash in on this repository of family history treasures:
This project is organized by state, with links to each county. Although the state-level pages are linked to valuable resources (such as the Virginia Migration Patterns Project or Hoosier Homesteads), your most effective networking will be done at the county level. In each US county you’ll find a query page and a list of surname researchers, including their e-mail addresses.
What’s posted beyond that depends on the county coordinator, and content will vary as much as the fixins for Saturday night goulash. In Shelby County, Ind., for example, coordinator Phyllis Fleming posts Bible and baptismal records, obituaries, letters, journals, biographies, cemetery records, historical maps of the county and townships, newspaper articles, historical briefs and census records. She also sends e-mails to the Shelby County mailing list whenever something new is posted, which is almost daily.
To find as many ancestors as possible, post queries and surnames on the USGenWeb pages for each county your family lived in or traveled through, then scour the sites for clues in:
• county histories
• military rosters
• vital records
Imagine never having to squint into a microfilm reader again, trying to decipher the chicken scratches of an 1850 census taker. This scenario is becoming reality thanks to the USGenWeb’s Census Project (hosted on the equally invaluable RootsWeb site). Begun in February 1997, the project aims to transcribe the entire US federal census. Anyone who’s ever read a census microfilm can appreciate the ambitious scope of this project.
You can click on the state’s name to see which census years have been transcribed for which counties. Better still, you can also perform a surname search of all the transcribed records to see where your ancestor’s name pops up. You can’t do a Soundex search, though, so be sure to try searching for all known surname variant spellings.
Youll also find actual images of census pages at www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/cen_img.htm.
If you’ve transcribed a copy of Great-grandpa’s will, there’s a home for it in the USGenWeb Archives (where you can also find the Census Project). Here the goal is “building a virtual courthouse.” The Archives contains transcriptions of public domain records—it’s where I found David Faulkenberry’s pension information, transcribed from the Tennessee Pension Roll of 1835.
The holdings are a hodgepodge of genealogical records. You may find copies of a marriage bond, land records, the history of the Sugar Valley Baptist Church or the Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement of Virginia. You can search the Archives using either the national or state search engines. Try both.
This project is brand-new, so you won’t find much today, but check back in six months. Its goal is to provide transcriptions of military pension-related material for all wars prior to 1900. When completed, these transcriptions will become a part of the Archives.
Digital Map Library
If you’ve ever traced your ancestors’ migration routes using old maps, you’ll appreciate the Digital Map Library. An outgrowth of the Archives, this project is attempting to make high-quality archival and new maps available on the Web. What can you expect to find? A little bit of everything, such as an 1835 map of North Carolina, Indian Land Cessions to North America in 1845 and 1876 township maps from Berks County, Penn.
Are you one of those people who like roaming around old cemeteries? If so, you’d probably enjoy volunteering for the Tombstone Project. Volunteers walk through cemeteries, transcribing the tombstones before time and weather ravage their sentiments and their data.
The Tombstone Registry lists, by state, the cemeteries that have already been transcribed and those that are in the works, with links to the completed records. These pages also include information on how to participate in the project.
This project is in its infancy, and it needs volunteers. Even if your ancestors are in Maryland and you now live in Texas, adopting a Texas cemetery may inspire someone up in Maryland to transcribe your family’s plot.
Help for Researchers
This is the most eclectic section of the USGenWeb, where you’ll find all those wonderful tidbits of information that don’t fit anywhere else. It contains links to getting started in genealogy, information on immigration and passenger arrival records, tips on photo preservation, how to care for old documents and how to write queries. Other items include:
• Naming patterns in 1700-1875 England
• History of names and nicknames
• Free blank census forms
• Links to passenger lists and the ships they were on
• Old occupations (did you know a “hacker” used to mean a guy who made hoes?)
• An animated formation of the 48 contiguous states
Once you’ve made the most of USGenWeb’s resources, consider volunteering yourself by visiting www.usgenweb.org/volunteers/volunteers.html.