Out on a Limb: Caught in the Net

By David A. Fryxell Premium

A recent survey found that 35 million Americans had used the Internet to research their family history. The boom in Internet genealogy worries some veteran genealogists, who rightly fret that it will lead to family trees not rooted in the right research. On the other hand, some dabblers in online genealogy find themselves frustrated: Unable to simply download their whole family tree from some magic Web site, as easily as they can get stock quotes or the weather forecast for Abu Dhabi, they give up on the whole thing.

Does the Internet really offer nothing but fool’s gold for genealogists? Is it just a tease that will wind up turning off as many would-be family historians as it entices?

One glance at this issue will show that, whatever its undeniable limitations, the Internet does have the potential to transform the search for our ancestors. This issue’s cover story, by new contributing editor Nancy Hendrickson, reveals the wealth of free tools and data that the Internet puts just a few clicks away. From software for managing your pedigree files to photos of your Civil War ancestors to online genealogy classes, it’s all waiting for you on the Internet — and it’s all free. Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch must not own a modem.

But an even more amazing example of the Internet’s power to bring the records of our past to today’s genealogists is the new American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island, the subject of an exclusive preview beginning on page 30. Though the new center will feature a multimedia extravaganza on Ellis Island, what’s most exciting to genealogists is how its Web site makes accessible some of the most sought-after records of the ancestors of more than 100 million Americans: the ship passenger logs of immigrants’ arrival at the Port of New York.

It’s not just that you no longer have to squint at microfilm, or that now you can access these records 24 hours a day. Some of these Ellis Island passenger records weren’t even indexed, and now you can search the records in ways not possible with a mere index.

We’ve also been expanding and enhancing the ways Family Tree Magazine uses the Internet to help you discover, preserve and celebrate your family history. Our free e-mail newsletter is now weekly, packed with tips, selected sites and breaking news you can use; to subscribe, just go to <>. We’ve revamped our Web site <> to make it easier to find our daily Web site pick and expanded online-only content. And we’ve added a new Ethnic Heritage Toolkit packed with Web sites, books, organizations and tips to help you explore your ethnic roots.

Here in these pages we continue to help you make the most of what the Internet has to offer for your family tree. This issue spotlights hundreds of Web sites; next issue we’ll reprise our popular “101 Best Web Sites” feature with a guide to the 101 best new family history Web sites.

No, you can’t just download your whole family tree. But what fun would that be, anyway? You can, however, find exciting new clues to your ancestry online, and the Internet can make your genealogy research a lot more fun. Count on Family Tree Magazine, in print and online, to show you how.

From the June 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine