In August 1780, Pvt. David Faulkenberry battled the British at Hanging Rock, SC. Fifty-three years later, he received a $33.33 pension for his service. By then, the details of the fight were lost in the backwaters of his memory.
Seeking out Faulkenberry’s history has been as challenging as his own struggle to recollect the battle. I found the clue that led me to his pension file — and, I hope, an avenue to his earlier years — in an afternoon’s foray on USGenWeb <www.usgenweb.org>.
You can use USGenWeb in your own research to connect with other family historians, read census transcriptions, 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.
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 — only more accessible. We’ll show you how to cash in on this repository of family history treasures.
State by state
What’s posted beyond the basics depends on the county coordinator. Each site’s content will vary as much as the ingredients you throw into Saturday night’s casserole. 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 i records. Fleming’s sidekick, Melinda % Weaver, sends e-mails to the Shelby County mailing list whenever something new is posted on the site. Not every county coordinator puts this much effort into his or her site, though; extras on some sites may include nothing more than the address of the local courthouse or historical society.
Usgenweb State Index
To find as many ancestors as possible, post queries and surnames on the USGenWeb pages for each county in which your family lived or traveled. Then, scour the sites for clues in county histories, biographies, news-papers, diaries, military rosters, censuses and vital records.
On your next visit to your ancestral county, be sure to network with people studying allied families — the neighbors who signed your ancestor’s will, owned a farm next door or witnessed a marriage. More often than not, your family had a close association (such as marriage) with one of those families. Search for allied family surnames in the queries or surname postings, and then e-mail other researchers about sharing information.
Click to the census
Imagine never having to squint into another microfilm reader or decipher the chicken scratches of an 1850 census taker. USGenWeb’s trying to make this scenario a reality with its Census Project <www.rootsweb.com/~census>. Begun in February 1997, the project aims to transcribe the entire US federal census, and then upload it so anyone with a computer can freely access the records.
Click on the State Index to see which census years have been transcribed for which counties. After each transcribed census is posted online, it’s submitted to the USGenWeb Archives (see below). Census images are available for some counties.
A second census project has been set up in essentially the same manner at <www.us-census.org>. Copies of the transcriptions are in the Census FTP Archives. Click on any county link to view available files; the text files generally include an index to the names on the census and the number of the text file containing the actual transcription.
A virtual courthouse
If you’ve transcribed a copy of your great-grandfather’s will, there’s a home for it in the USGenWeb Archives <www.rootsweb.com/ ~usgenweb>. Here, the goal is “building a virtual courthouse.” The archives contains transcriptions of public-domain records — in fact, it’s where I found David Faulkenberry’s pension information, transcribed from the Tennessee Pension Roll of 1835.
The archives’ holdings include a hodge-podge of genealogy goodies. You might find copies of anything from land records to the history of your ancestors’ church. Search the archives using the national and state search engines, but remember to use various surname spellings, since the search engines don’t use Soundex.
The archives shepherds several special projects, among them transcriptions of military pensions, marriage indexes and obituaries. Instructions for accessing all of these records are located on the archives home page.
If you’ve ever traced your ancestors’ migration routes using old maps, you’ll love the Digital Map Library <www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/maps>. This project attempts to make high-quality new and archival maps available on the Web.
You’ll find national, state and county maps, plus maps documenting American Indian land cessions. If you’d like to use a map on your own Web site or in a family history book, follow the guidelines on the library’s home page.
Do you like to roam around old cemeteries? If so, you’d probably enjoy working on the Tombstone Transcription Project <www.rootsweb.com/~cemetery>. Volunteers walk through cemeteries, transcribing tombstones before time and weather ravage their data.
Click View the Registry to display a state-by-state listing of cemeteries that have already been transcribed and those that are in the works, with links to the completed records. Some of the listings include tomb-stone photos.
Like all of the USGenWeb projects, this one needs volunteers. Even if your ancestors are in Maryland and you now live in Texas, adopting a Texas cemetery may inspire someone in Maryland to transcribe your family’s plot.
The most eclectic section of USGenWeb is Help for Researchers <www.usgenweb.org/ researchers/researcher.html>. Here, you’ll find wonderful tidbits of information that don’t fit anywhere else. Learn how to uncover immigration records, preserve your photos, care for old documents and write queries. Other topics include English naming patterns, old occupations and common research mistakes.