Genealogy Hacks: RootsWeb

Genealogy Hacks: RootsWeb

Do your online ancestor searches feel like exercises in futility? Use our tricks to crack this top genealogy Web site.

Admit it. You return again and again to the popular genealogy Web sites – FamilySearch, USGenWeb, RootsWeb and others – looking for clues about your ancestors. If you’re repeating the same searches but not finding much, it’s time to give your technique an overhaul.

We’ve taken a fresh look at seven familiar sites, examined their search options, and even figured out how to use Google <> to probe them more efficiently. So get out of that rut – and finally find your ancestors – with these “hacks” for effectively mining the Internet’s most-frequented family history stops.

RootsWeb <>
The largest free genealogy site boasts some of the Web’s best tools for collaborating and communicating with other genealogists. RootsWeb’s World Connect Project holds thousands of family trees – totaling more than 460 million names – submitted by researchers like you. A close runner-up in usefulness, the RootsWeb Surname List contains 1.1 million surname entries from hundreds of thousands of genealogists. RootsWeb also has many user-contributed databases with census, military, newspaper and vital records, as well as cemetery transcriptions, high school yearbook entries and book indexes.

Family historians can communicate via RootsWeb’s mailing lists and message boards, which cover thousands of surnames, places, ethnic groups and other genealogy topics. The site has a slick way you can attach notes to its databases, and although it offers several search engines, you can perform even more-powerful searches of RootsWeb using Google. Try these tricks:

Leave Post-em Notes. When you find a relative in a RootsWeb database, leave a Post-em Note with your name, e-mail address and comments. You might add details, make a correction or just express your interest in exchanging information.

Search all of RootsWeb. On the homepage, look under the Search Engines and Databases category for links to search the World Connect Project, RootsWeb Surname List, Social Security Death Index and other resources. A creatively named “SearchThingy” combs much of Roots Web, but we suggest taking advantage of the more-advanced features in a general Web search engine. For example, you can use Google to find an ancestor’s name within RootsWeb- just add site: plus its “domain” (address) to your search terms. You can specify a subsection of the site, too, as you’ll see from these sample queries for the exact phrase jonathan hall:

1. “jonathan hall” (taps all Web pages within the RootsWeb domain – note that entering will fetch only pages that begin with www)

2. “jonathan hall” (narrows your search to the personal Web sites, called Freepages, that RootsWeb hosts)

If you get too many matches, narrow the scope of the search by adding the name of a town, county or state, like this: site: “jonathan hall” “new york.”

Google RootsWeb’s mailing lists for Internet cousins. Messages posted to RootsWeb mailing lists get stored in searchable archives. When you subscribe to a list, you receive a set of guidelines for using it, including instructions for searching the archives. But RootsWeb doesn’t let you search multiple mailing lists or years simultaneously. You have to do it year by year for each list – a tedious job.

You’re much better off using Google to sift through most of RootsWeb’s archived messages at once. They reside in the domain, so limit your Google search to that part of RootsWeb by typing along with your search terms in the Google search box. You might search on an uncommon surname or a person’s full name (put it in quotation marks to search on the exact name). If the surname or full name is common, add a town, county, state or country name.
From the May 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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