From the Editor: Superhighway Signs

By Allison Dolan Premium

Recently, I read a newspaper article about traffic congestion on a major highway through my city. The story followed a suburban driver on her morning commute, as she crept along in a sea of brake lights, skirted an accident blocking her usual route and lamented the time lost in her day.

I think a lot of family historians share that driver’s frustration when they try to navigate the Internet. You hop online, optimistic you’ll soon arrive at new clues about your family’s past. Hours later, after multiple detours and perhaps several failed attempts at busy sites that recommend you “try again later,” either you haven’t found your answer — or you’ve spent so much time on Internet back roads that you forgot the question.

Web truly is a fitting term when you talk about online family history: “Googling” for genealogy nets close to 16 million hits. The popular Cyndi’s List of categorized Web sites — the Yahoo! of family history — is about to crack the 200,000-links mark. And not only are a ton of family tree resources parked out in cyberspace, but there’s also a slew of researchers using them. Genealogy-related Web sites are recording more than 13 million unique visits each month, making family history the second-most-popular topic online. So you’d have good reason to feel as if you’re caught in a gigantic online traffic jam.

In some ways, though, I wish the “information superhighway” were more like most interstates: well-marked, direct and speedy (at least when you’re not battling wrecks or rush hour). It could take someone days, weeks or even years to wade through the millions of genealogy-related Web sites.

Believe me — I speak from experience. Since Family Tree Magazine‘s launch four years ago, our editors and experts have constantly combed the Web to uncover the top family history tools — so you don’t have to. We bring you those useful sites in our print pages, free e-mail newsletter and the featured Sites of the Week on our home page. And once a year, we point you to the real cream of the crop: our annual 101 Best Web Sites selections.

Still, wouldn’t it be great to have a genealogical “road atlas” to the information superhighway, with signage signaling key destinations and tips to arrive at the answers you seek? We sure thought so — and here you have it.

Our goal with this special-edition Yearbook was to create the ultimate guide to online genealogy research. Inside, you’ll see strategies for finding ancestral clues on the Internet, whether you’re using search engines, databases or online library catalogs. We’ve devoted a large part of this issue to deconstructing the biggest, most popular family history destinations: to USGenWeb, our Web “masters” reveal their secrets for getting results. In addition to these tips for the “biggies,” browse our compendium of 365 more great Web sites, which feature free content to keep you clicking all year long. You can even learn how to build your own family history Web site.

I hope to see you on the information superhighway, zipping along in the high-speed lane.
From the January 2004 Family Tree Magazine.