Footnote Web Guide

Footnote Web Guide

Footnote isn’t just another pretty face in the world of subscription genealogy sites. Combining fee-based content with an array of free member networking features, Footnote is my dark horse candidate for winning the value race.   The team behind Footnote started in 1997 as iArchives, specializing in digitizing historical newspapers...

Footnote isn’t just another pretty face in the world of subscription genealogy sites. Combining fee-based content with an array of free member networking features, Footnote is my dark horse candidate for winning the value race.

The team behind Footnote started in 1997 as iArchives, specializing in digitizing historical newspapers and other records for universities, libraries and publishers. In 2006, with growing public interest in family history and social networking, the company shifted focus to building a platform where consumers could access and share historical resources. Footnote launched in January 2007 with 5 million digitized documents and a goal to “bring the nation’s shoebox to the Internet.”
The site helped usher in a new era of online genealogy competition while distinguishing itself with a unique interface, slick record viewer and well-integrated social networking tools. Here, we’ll show you the ins and outs of this relative newcomer to the genealogy scene.
Starting out

Footnote has two membership levels: Basic (free) and All-Access (subscription; see the Vital Statistics box for prices). As you might guess, All-Access members get access to everything on the site. Basic members can’t view, share or annotate premium images, such as Revolutionary War pension files. (If an All-Access member’s Footnote Page has an image from Footnote’s premium collections, however, Basic members can view that image if they’re invited by the creator of the page via the Share function.)

You can search the site without registering. Many digitized records also are available on a pay-per-view basis of $1.95 per page.
With either membership, you can create pages for people, places, events, topics or organizations. Add whatever information you happen to have—a family story, uploaded photos or digitized documents. You also can annotate and spotlight other members’ uploaded images. 
Register for a Basic or All-Access subscription by clicking Memberships at the top right of the home page. Choose a user name and password, enter your e-mail address and agree to the terms of service. You also can opt to get news from Footnote and let the site forward you messages from other members. This makes it easy for other people researching your family tree to collaborate with you. You’ll receive an e-mail asking you to click a verification link. After that, you’re good to go.
Getting your bearings

Here’s how to access the main content areas of Footnote:
• Account and profile: To log in, click Sign In at the top right. Then use the Your Account link to access and edit your account information and profile, create pages about ancestors, upload images and more. (You can cancel your registration by e-mailing Your recently viewed records show up here; click one to return to that record. Click the arrow by Your Account to manage Watches (records and searches you’re tracking) and Footnote Pages you’ve bookmarked.

Your profile page is public; it links to your person, event and other pages; annotations; connected images and more. Your family members can link to it (they’ll type, except with your user name) to see your discoveries. They can register with Footnote to add their own data. 
• Search: Type a name or keyword into the search box on the home page (expand it using the arrow or Keywords link to bring up more search fields) to search all Footnote’s databases. See Search Secrets for more search specifics.

n Original documents: Click this link at the top of the home page (or look under Explore by Historical Era and click the See all Titles link) for a list of record collections; sort them alphabetically or by recently updated. Anyone can access the collections that have a Free icon. To search a database, just click on the title.

• Member discoveries: Click here to see recent comments, annotations and uploaded images from other members.
• Pages: This link at the top of the page takes you to Footnote Pages and Hero Pages, the database of profiles for everyone listed in the Social Security Death Index and in WWII enlistment records. These pages start out bare-bones; you can search for a profile of someone you know and add information, photos and personal stories. If another member has already added to the page, you can contact that person through Footnote. You can create pages, too—turn the page for tips.
Searching options

Most people want to jump right into searching. The aforementioned keyword search box on the home page is best for topic-related searches, since it looks at all fields in a record. If you’re looking for a person (who isn’t?), click the arrow or the Keywords link to expand the search box. You’ll get search fields for names and dates, and you can choose a state. 

This search trolls the whole site—including member-generated pages and images—so it could return thousands of hits. Unless your ancestor has a one-of-a-kind name, you’ll want to refine your search with keyword filters or by searching within a collection. See the following pages for a demonstration of these search techniques.

Footnote doesn’t perform Soundex searches, though it does use stemming (a search on Michael will also return Mike) and pluralization (type in war and it’ll also look for wars).

You can, however, catch spelling variations by using an asterisk (*) as a wildcard to replace any number of characters in a search term. Footnote lets you use the Boolean terms OR (finds records containing either term entered in a keyword box—also handy for alternate spellings) and NOT (excludes records containing a term). Enclose an exact phrase in quotation marks (such as “civil war”).
Viewing records

In your search results, click Quick Look (at the bottom of each document “thumbnail” image) to view a pop-up box with source information about the document. To see the whole document, click the thumbnail; if it’s a premium record and you’re not a subscriber, you’ll be prompted to subscribe or purchase a record view.

When you find an image you want to see, click it and it’ll open in the Footnote Viewer. This filmstrip-like record-viewing tool (turn the page to see it) is different from what you’ll find on other genealogy Web sites. I think of it as the cockpit of a jumbo jet: From the control strip at the top of the page, you can view a record, adjust the contrast, invert it (switching from black-on-white to white-on-black is a handy trick for reading handwritten documents), share it via e-mail (including with nonmembers) or add it to your Footnote family pages. With all this functionality, some users with older machines or slow connections say they find the viewer sluggish at times.
If you’re viewing a record of particular interest to you—maybe you want to add a variant of Great-grandpa’s surname, for example—the Footnote Viewer controls let you create three types of notes:

• Comments: Write a comment other members can see in a window next to the record image.
• Annotation: Draw a box around the pertinent part of the document and write a short note. Other members see the box and a pop-up note they can opt to hide.  Note you can’t annotate images in the 1860 US census collection.
• Spotlight: Choose the whole document or highlight an area of interest and write a caption. The part of the image you chose and your note appear on your profile page. 

On the right side of the Footnote Viewer is a panel called About This Document. Click the arrow to expand or contract it. The panel has source information and, if you expand the panels called You Might Also Like, Annotations or Comments tabs, you’ll see suggestions for other collections to view and users’ contributions. If anyone has annotated the image you’re viewing, a button in the Annotations panel lets you hide the notes so you can view the document unobstructed.
The viewer’s filmstrip runs along the bottom of the page (you can toggle it off for more space to view the image itself). It’s like a strip of microfilm; click the arrows at each end to “crank” to adjacent records. Select an image in the filmstrip to see it on the main screen.
Creating and editing pages

Footnote members who use the site primarily to search for records might not realize its potential for sharing data with family members and other researchers. If the viewer is the cockpit of your genealogy journey, the personal pages and galleries are its cargo hold. That means Footnote can become your family’s way to share images, stories and vital statistics.

As a registered user, you can create as many pages as you want, as well as upload your own images (photographs or scans of documents) into your Gallery. All member contributions are public and may show up in the Member Discoveries section—the idea behind the site is to share historical records—but webmasters are developing privacy settings.
Before creating a page for an ancestor, search Footnote Pages to see if one already exists. It’s also possible another researcher created a page for your relative; if that person allowed it, you can add to the page. For example, someone set up a George Armstrong Custer page, and I added my photograph of Last Stand Hill in Montana. You also can create pages about places, such as an ancestor’s county or town, and events, such as the county fair.
To create a gallery, log in and click Your Gallery in the top right corner of the page. On the next page, name collections for your images. I suggest one for each surname and major place name. Click the Upload Images button on the top right to choose images from your computer, then drag and drop to add each to a collection. Connect images by dragging and dropping one on top of another. See our step-by-step guide for help building a page. Then start discovering and sharing your family history.
Vital Statistics
Web address: <>

Owner: iArchives, 355 S. 520 West,

Suite 175, Lindon, UT 84042,
(800) 613-0181


• Basic Membership: Free
• All-Access Membership: $69.95 annually; $11.95 monthly


Many records are available to non-subscribers for $1.95 per page. In this case, you’ll get an option to purchase when you try to view a record image.
Basic members: more than 600,000


• 49.5 million digitized documents
• 440 database titles
• 80 million Footnote person pages
• 360,000 member contributions

Major Content Collections

• Revolutionary War service records, pensions and bounty-land applications
• Pennsylvania Archives military, tax, land and marriage records from 1664 to 1780
• Civil War widows’ pensions, Southern Claims Commission files and service records
• World War II Hero Pages and photos
• Naturalization files for 11 court districts and passport applications (1795 to 1905)
• 1860 and 1930 US censuses and annual Indian reservation censuses


1997: iArchives founded in Utah
2005: Library of Congress selects iArchives to digitize its newspapers
January 2007: Footnote launches, partners with National Archives
March 2008: Footnote’s free, interactive Vietnam memorial creates buzz
September 2008: Footnote Pages unveiled at the TechCrunch50 conference