Genealogy Hacks: USGenWeb

Genealogy Hacks: USGenWeb

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 <google.com> 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.

USGenWeb <www.usgenweb.org>

Thanks to volunteer efforts, USGenWeb has grown into an immense free source of transcribed records from around the country. The state pages are jumping-off points to county pages, where you’ll find tombstone transcriptions, church records, indexes to wills and much more. Here’s how to scour USGenWeb for your family:

Query the countywide search engines. Many county pages have their own search engines — be sure to read any tips. Some engines, such as FreeFind <wwww.freefind.com> support advanced search functions. For example, you can find an exact phrase by surrounding it with quotes. Use an asterisk to find words that begin the same way (charl* finds Charles, Charlie or Charley), or substitute a question mark for any character (ols?n finds Olson and Olsen). You even can use Boolean operators: (carr OR hall) AND “south bristol” would find pages that include South Bristol and either Carr or Hall. When searching for a name, try all the ways it might appear, such as “henry hall,” “hall henry” and “henry j. hall.”

Use your browser to scour a Web page. Your browser can locate a word anywhere on the displayed Web page. In Internet Explorer, select Edit >Find (shortcut: Control+F). Then type in a word or phrase and click the Find Next button.

Search the USGenWeb Archives for record transcriptions. From <rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/newsearch.htm>, you can comb one state or county’s archives for a name or keyword; click Advanced Search to query on an exact phrase. Once again, however, trusty Google does a better job: Limit your Google search to the domain ftp.rootsweb.com and search on a name or name-and-place combo such as:

1. site:ftp.rootsweb.com “jonathan hall” “new york”

2. site:ftp.rootsweb.com “hall jonathan” “new york.”

Whether you’ve searched these online genealogy standbys a few times or a zillion, don’t assume you’ve tapped all there is to find. Try a new search tactic, and you might be amazed by what turns up.

From the May 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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