Back in 1995, when Cyndi Howells was just another member of Washington state’s Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society, she shared a one-page set of Internet bookmarks with the group. Howells had recently left her job with a bank’s international operations division, and she and her husband, Mark, an information systems auditor, had bought a home computer. At society meetings, members who were online were complaining that they couldn’t find much on the Internet to help them, and when they did find a helpful site, they could never find it again. “I was trying to make order out of chaos,” she recalls.
That, she’s accomplished. Howells put up her own Web site <www.cyndislist.com> on March 4, 1996, with more than 1,025 genealogy links. Today, her one-woman show has more than 56,000 links, with an average of 1,000 more added every month. Categories run the gamut, linking to sites to help adoptees, sites for those whose ancestors came from any part of the world, sites to help people embarking on oral history projects.
She creates every page herself, writes her own HTML code and makes use of Microsoft Word for Windows. She also uses Sierra Home’s Generations Grande Suite software. She has an agreement with Sierra through which a copy of her Netting Your Ancestors book (Genealogical Publishing) is included in the software’s deluxe edition. She also answers two or three genealogical questions each month at the company’s Web site <www.sierra.com/sierrahome/familytree/>.
When she’s not busy with Mark, their 2-year-old son Evan and their dog and cat, she’s answering e-mail, speaking, fixing broken links and writing a column for Heritage Quest Magazine (Mark writes for Ancestry). Another book, Cyndi’s List — The Book, with 40,000 links, was recently published (Genealogical Publishing). And Howells still serves as a board member and as Webmaster for the Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society; owns a mailing list sponsored by the society; and maintains pages for the RootsWeb <www.rootsweb.com> mailing list. No surprise, then, that she gets by on four to five hours of sleep per night.
What’s ahead for genealogy and the Internet? Howells believes more fee sites will evolve, but that they will always be outnumbered by free sites. She sees more records becoming available online, along the lines of Scotland’s General Records Office <www.origins.net/CRO>, where a record can be indexed online at no cost, but a fee is charged for an actual copy of the record, which comes in the mail.
As for the future of local societies like the one she started with: “It depends on how good the societies are. Some are set in their ways, want to do things the way they’ve always done them. They think the Internet pro motes junk genealogy…. The societies need to incorporate the Internet into what they’re doing, just as researchers do. For example, a good society’s Web should be like a newsletter, what ever it takes to encourage people to become members.”
Genealogists must realize “the Internet is not the answer to everything and is not 100 percent accurate,” Howells says. “It’s a tool you add to your already existing suite. You still have to use the library, societies, the Family History Center Yon still have to talk to your own family. The ultimate goal still is to get the primary source information, such as census land records, birth records, death records — and you can’t get them online: You can learn what to do next, find easier ways to get the information. The Internet is like a school for genealogy: It’s a library, but it’s not one giant database where you can find your entire family.”
Ironically, one casualty of the Cyndi’s List success has been her own family history research. “I haven’t done a lick of my own research” since the site launched, she says. But she has found or been found by 25 to 30 third, fourth and fifth cousins.
Cyndi’s List by the numbers
VISITORS SINCE MARCH 4, 1996: More than 12 million
VISITORS PER DAY: More than 15,000
HITS PER DAY: More than 70,000
LINKS: More than 56,000
CATEGORIES: More than 100
LINKS ADDED PER MONTH: 1,000
LINKS UPDATED OR CORRECTED PER MONTH: 500
E-MAILS RECEIVED PER DAY: More than 200
PEOPLE WORKING ON THE LINKS ON A REGULAR BASIS: 1
HOURS SPENT WORKING OH THE SITE: eight to 12 per day, seven days a week
COPIES OF CYNDI HOWELL’S NETTING YOUR ANCESTORS SOLD