Illustrations by Jen Renninger
Let’s admit it: We’ve been spoiled by the Internet. These days, if we can’t get the answers to our family history riddles with just a few mouse clicks, it seems like such a bother to trudge to a library — the nonvirtual kind, that is — or schlep to the nearest Family History Center and squint at microfilm. Can’t we simply download everything? Aren’t our ancestors someplace on the Web?
Genealogy hasn’t gone completely digital yet, but it’s remarkable to reflect how far we’ve come down that path. Half a decade ago — when we published our first 101 Best Web Sites roundup — we were impressed by just lists of links, collections of queries, family tree files, and Web sites about places our ancestors might have lived. Back then, we focused on photography, scrapbooking and historic-preservation sites because few “hard-core” genealogy sites existed. After all, that was before Ellis Island went online, before various state and foreign archives began digitizing their records and before you could see actual US census pages from the comfort of your own home. Before we got, well, yes, spoiled. Yesterday we were thrilled just to know we weren’t alone in our genealogical quests; today we want answers.
Our 101 Web-site selections this year unabashedly tilt toward the trend of actually being able to “do genealogy” — that is, locate ancestors — on the Web. This best-sites list zeroes in on digital destinations directly relevant to genealogy and essential tools for taking the next steps in finding your ancestors: maps, gazetteers, historical references. But don’t worry: Those of you who love family history how-to pages and links-loaded portals will still find a handful of such sites that were just too good to omit.
For our fifth 101 Best Web Sites, we’ve narrowed the list to five core categories:
• Collaboration: Sites to share research, download GEDCOM family tree files or find friendly folks in far-off places to lend you a hand with your research.
• History and reference: Places to bone up on the past, plus portals for finding libraries and links.
• International and immigration: Web sites for tracing your ancestors’ journeys to the New World and exploring their origins back in the “old country.”
• Records resources: Wide-ranging sites for research in the United States and Canada; many of these include databases of actual ancestral data.
• Regional and ethnic: More narrowly focused American sites, including state archives with online databases, as well as essential starting points for African-American, American Indian and Hispanic research.
As in the past, we’re biased toward free sites. But some subscription or partly fee-based sites you won’t want to pass up. Where we’ve included these, we’ve flagged them with an asterisk symbol (*).
And as always, you can point and click to all 101 honorees from our Web site <www.familytreemagazine.com/101sites/2004>.
C’mon now — that trip to the library can wait. Give your microfilm-bleary eyes a rest. Make yourself a nice cup of tea and settle down in front of your computer. Go ahead, we won’t tell. Let the wonderful World Wide Web spoil you a little — starting with these 101 superlative sites.
Offering a visual twist on sites where genealogists exchange information, AncientFaces helps you find your ancestors and their old photographs. At last count, the site held more than 26,000 scanned photos of some 30,000 individuals. Besides family pictures, you also can search or browse military photos, family stories and even family recipes. Looking for the Gaydon-Shetley clan’s Pinto Bean Fudge? Neither were we, but here it is.
Books We Own
If you’ve ever been frustrated by an elusive fact in a book you just can’t seem to get your hands on, Books We Own is for you. The more than 1,500 volunteers listed here will look up your ancestors in their home libraries — for free! Available resources are indexed by surname and locale, or try the new sitewide search.
Another collaborative site that seeks to reunite families with their old photos, Dead-Fred covers more than 10,000 surnames in its picture collection.
From the creator of GenForum (now part of Genealogy.com) and Family Tree Legends software, GenCircles aims to take the next step in pedigree databases. Its “Smart-Matching” technology connects people in your family trees with the 85 million individuals submitted to the site’s Global Tree.
Similar in spirit to Books We Own (above), the Genealogy Helplist harnesses the goodwill of genealogical volunteers across the United States and in nearly two dozen foreign countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Need somebody to look up an ancestor in the Gloucester County, Va., courthouse? Live too far away to check the vital records for Harney County, Ore., yourself? Look here for a kind soul to do your long-distance spadework for you.
This pedigree database with an international flair boasts nearly 90 million entries. Searching is powerful and flexible, and you even can set up an e-mail alert when new entries that match your criteria arrive. Frequent users pay about $50 a year for Privileged status, but you can get plenty out of this site for free.
Search a variety of databases — including the Ellis Island records — totaling 1 billion names with just one click, or delve into the site’s own Ancestry Archive of 164 million pedigree-linked names. You can upgrade to more search options for $100 a year, or earn credits by submitting your own info.
History & reference
American Civil War Portal
Explore your Civil War ancestor’s world at this handsome site, which offers thousands of links, a photo database, battle reports, regimental histories and message boards.
Imagine having your grandfather’s library in searchable, digital form. That’s Bartleby.com, where you can pop into pages of the past, ranging from the Harvard Classics to Fanny Farmer’s cookbook. Also click here for a few more-modern reference works, such as the Columbia Encyclopedia and Gazetteer, the World Factbook and the Encyclopedia of World History.
Canadian Genealogy and History
A perfect portal for researching your Canadian roots, this Web site serves up nearly 2,000 categorized, linked listings reaching from the Atlantic provinces to the Northwest Territories.
Still the queen of genealogy-links lists, Cyndi Howells’ mammoth collection of categorized sites — more than 230,000 in 150-plus categories — makes it the Yahoo! of family history.
*Early Canadiana Online
A digital library of Canada’s history, from the first European settlers to the early 20th century, Early Canadiana Online is an ever-growing collection of more than 1.5 million pages from more than 8,600 volumes. You can search and access many of those tomes for free; a subscription ($55 annually) is required for the 727,000-page Early Official Publications collection.
Now under the aegis of Ohio State University, eHistory offers more than 130,000 pages of historical content, 5,300 timeline events, 800 battle outlines, 350 biographies and thousands of images and maps. Most notable here for those with Civil War ancestors are the searchable 128 volumes of the conflict’s Official Records (OR).
Genealogy Resources on the Internet
This all-purpose site offers tips and resources geared for all levels of expertise — even “junior genealogists” — plus state-by-state links.
One of our favorite “undiscovered” online resources, this simple-but-deep site is now running on updated software. Just a few clicks will find the name of that elusive ancestral town, from Aberdeen to Zwickau.
Looking for a library in your ancestral hometown? Search or browse this index to 18,000 libraries worldwide. LibDex includes links to some libraries’ online catalogs.
Library of Congress
The site for the nation’s library includes such glimpses into history as the American Memory Project <memory.loc.gov>, a collection of more than 7 million digital items spanning 100-plus collections, and the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog <lcweb.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html>, wherein about 90 percent of entries are accompanied by digital images. Don’t overlook the library’s regular catalog <catalog.loc.gov> as a reference to pretty much any book you’ll ever need, and the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) <lcweb.loc.gov/coll/nucmc/nucmc.html>, which indexes manuscripts placed in repositories nationwide since 1986.
Making of America
OK, we’re cheating a bit here. This is really a pair of sister sites — the other is at <library5.library.comell.edu/moa> — both serving up searchable digitized material from the 19th century. The University of Michigan version contains 8,500 books and 50,000 journal articles; recent additions include 149 volumes focusing on New York City. The Cornell site encompasses more than 250 monograph volumes and 100,000 journal articles, plus the OR of naval activity during the Civil War.
As evidenced by the wealth of sites in this category, our neighbors to the north really know what they’re doing when it comes to putting their heritage online. This slick multimedia celebration of Canadian local histories brings to life tales of the Irish at Grosse Île, the American invasion of 1775, the Klondike Gold Rush, historic forts and trading posts, and much more.
Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection
When it comes to maps, this University of Texas library collection is as big as the Lone Star State. The collection comprises mostly historical, out-of-copyright maps — perfect for genealogical purposes. Whether you need a guide to Sioux Falls, SD, streets circa 1920 or a map of 1882 Italy, you’re likely to find it among the 5,000-plus cartographic creations digitized here.
International & immigration
Among the many excellent online offerings for researching English branches of your family tree, AncestorSuperSearch.com covers 1.46 million birth and census events from 1755 to 1891.
*Arkion’s Swedish Census Database
Those efficient Scandinavians have wonderful records, and they must spend their long winter nights putting that data online. This searchable subscription database, for example, concentrates on the Swedish censuses of 1870, 1880, 1890 and 1900 — more than 9 million individuals in all. Recent additions include a database of prisoners released between 1877 and 1925, which links to photos of your Swedish black sheep. Access costs $6 for three hours, $35 for 10 three-hour sessions or $ 110 for a year.
This leading Jewish genealogical publisher makes available online, for free, the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index of more than 370,000 Jewish surnames that appear in 31 different databases.
Danish Demographic Database
Search for your Danish roots in free databases of censuses, probate records and, most notably for researchers on the US side of the Atlantic, emigration records covering 1868 to 1908.
Data Banks on Italian Emigrants
Don’t let the decidedly user-unfriendly Web address — or the requirement that you register to use the site — scare you off. These databases cover 200,000 Italians who crossed to New York between 1880 and 1891 (before Ellis Island opened), along with a million-plus emigrants to South America.
This is the only genealogy Web site whose launch was featured on the “Today” show — and no wonder: Ellis Island, the gateway to America for millions of immigrants between 1892 and 1924, is synonymous with the nation’s “melting pot” heritage. Find your immigrant ancestors in the free online database, then view their actual passenger manifests and images of the ships they traveled on.
Federation of East European Family History Societies
Start exploring your Eastern European roots with these links to member societies, maps and research guides. Don’t miss the expanding array of databases, covering foreign-born voters in 1872 California, World War I Polish soldiers in France, and an ambitious reconstruction of vital records destroyed in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, when the city was home to many European emigrants.
Find Your Swedish Roots
The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies maintains this exhaustive guide, written in both English and Swedish. Recent database additions include old photos and emigrant information. Click on the Anbytarforum link for Sweden’s version of GenForum, where you’ll be surprised at how many participants understand English (at least better than you read Swedish).
Another amazing volunteer endeavor, the FreeBMD project aims to create an online index of English and Welsh births, marriages and deaths. To date, nearly 78 million records, covering 1837 to 1903, have been posted.
Voilà! Your French ancestors are waiting to be found in these databases of civil records, including marriage documents searchable by keyword, name or place.
In addition to how-to help (in English) and links, this gateway to German genealogy offers regional resources; record-request form letters; and databases of place names, GEDCOMs, genealogy groups, marriages and obituaries.
This virtual reference library can help answer your questions about researching roots in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
*Hamburg Link to Your Roots
Even if your ancestors came from elsewhere in Europe, the growing database of emigrants who sailed from this German city is worth a look: Your family might have left from Hamburg, a common departure port between 1850 and 1934. So far, the database covers 1890 to 1905. Searching is free, but you’ll pay for full results according to a sliding scale, which starts at $22 for one to three names.
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild
What if your ancestors didn’t come through Ellis Island? Try this database of passenger lists from more than 5,000 ships, all transcribed by volunteer “guild” members.
You can explore all things Italian at this in-depth gateway site, including genealogy societies, Italian names, occupational terms and emigration information.
Besides being a popular starting point for researching Jewish ancestors, especially European Jews, this site offers an array of databases, such as the Family Finder of 300,000 surnames and ancestral towns; the Family Tree of the Jewish People, with data on more than 2 million individuals; the Holocaust Database of 500,000 victims and survivors; and the new Online Worldwide Burial Registry with 300,000 entries. JewishGen’s ShtetlSeeker will help you locate ancestral towns in Eastern and Central Europe. The site also hosts Stephen Morse’s one-step Ellis Island search tool <www.jewishgen.org/databases/eidb>.
Norway’s Digital Archives
This national archives site is packed with goodies: 1801, 1865, 1875 and 1900 censuses; tax lists; military rolls; and church, emigrant and probate registers. Plus, the new Digital Inn holds user-submitted data.
This British Isles umbrella includes subscription access to Griffith’s Valuation for Irish research as well as Boyd’s Marriage Index and Bank of England wills and apprentice records for English research ($9.75 a week). Scottish researchers will find a free parish-level search of the International Genealogical Index (a FamilySearch database), plus free place-name searching. Origins.net also offers Origin Search, a proprietary Webwide genealogy search covering more than 450 million names ($5 a day).
With subscriptions ranging from $8 for three days to $44 a year, this ever-expanding treasure trove of Irish data is a bargain if your kin came from the Emerald Isle. Databases and features include Griffith’s Valuation from 1847 to 1864, Ordnance Survey maps from 1824 to 1846, Dublin wills and marriages for 1270 to 1857, gravestone inscriptions, directories, and free map and photo searches. (You can save a few bucks by paying $35 to join the Godfrey Memorial Library <www.godfrey.org>, whose Web site provides access to Otherdays.com, plus databases of digitized census records, family histories, newspapers and biographies from subscription services sold only to libraries.)
Palatines to America
This organization for descendants of German emigrants — not just those from the Palatine region — continues to beef up its online presence. You can search the online catalog of its 5,000-volume library or find clues and like-minded researchers among seven years’ worth of queries organized by surname.
Popular attractions at this gateway for Polish genealogy include a surname registry, databases such as Polish National Alliance Lodges and Galician Vital Records, and translated entries from the Slownik Geograficzny, a 19th-century gazetteer.
A virtual Highland fling for researchers, this official online source of Scottish parish registers, civil registrations and census records contains nearly 40 million records. The databases — collectively among the Web’s largest — include a searchable index of births from 1553 to 1903, marriages from 1553 to 1928 and deaths from 1855 to 1953, plus census data from 1881 to 1901. You can view, save and print images of many of the original documents you find. But you won’t get off Scot-free here: The cost is about $11 for 30 page credits over 48 hours.
Scottish Archive Network
Thank Scottish lottery players for funding this national archives project, which digitizes a wealth of Scottish history plus 1852 to 1857 Highlands and Islands Emigration Society passenger lists and wills and testaments from 1500 to 1901 (you’ll find these at <www.scottishdocuments.com>).
This bilingual site for digging into your Spanish roots is packed with links, tips and guides to Spanish towns and archives. You also can plumb a 27,000-entry database of Hispanic last names.
A handy adjunct to other immigration sites, this collection of more than 1,000 pages (mostly passenger lists) is particularly strong on ships that arrived at Canadian ports.
This globe-spanning counterpart to USGen-Web is more of a mixed bag than its domestic cousin, and some sites require more foreign-language ability than many Americans can muster. But it’s still a good jumping-off point, and you can reach several European-country sites from here. Among the best are PolandGenWeb <www.rootsweb.com/~polwgw/polandgen.html> and DutchGenWeb <www.rootsweb.com/~nldwgw>.
A link-filled portal that’s also grown into a destination by itself, Access Genealogy is home to biographies and census, immigration, cemetery, military and vital records. Be sure to bookmark this site if you’re doing American Indian genealogy; resources include the 1880 Cherokee census and the Dawes Commission Rolls.
If you’d really rather do genealogy from the comfort of your computer instead of scrolling through microfilm at a library, you probably can’t live without Ancestry.com. Its subscription databases are the closest thing you can buy to genealogy nirvana — more than 3,000 databases in all. Pick from the original US Records Collection ($79.95 a year); the US Federal Census Collection, with images of all censuses from 1790 to 1930 and indexes for all enumerations except 1900 and 1910 ($99.95); the US Immigration Collection of 10 million names ($79.95); Historical Newspapers, with pages from 200 different US, UK and Canadian publications from 1786 on ($79.95); or the UK & Ireland Collection, covering 85 million names ($99.95). Even if you’re on a tight budget, Ancestry.com’s worth a visit for its message boards and pedigree files, which put a different face on the same info as their counterparts at Roots Web.
Bible Records Online
If you can’t find your family Bible, maybe Tracy St. Claire has found it for you. She digitizes the family Bibles she rescues — nearly 1,000 to date, representing more than 3,000 surnames — and puts them on this site, where you can browse them or search by surname.
Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records
If your ancestors claimed federal land in the states of the former Northwest Territory, the “old southwest” of the frontier South, Florida or Missouri, stake your own claim to their land records at this site. More than 2 million federal land titles issued between 1820 and 1908 are online here — many with digitized images — and the powerful search system makes it easy to find your ancestors’ paperwork. Records after 1908, including those in western states, are now being added.
This northern counterpart to the USGenWeb project serves up user-submitted data, pages on every province, Canadian history and tips on starting your Canadian research.
Canadian Genealogy Centre
Bringing together the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada, this umbrella site makes it easy to access the research tools and services of both institutions. Databases here include scanned images of the 1901 Canadian census and a new file of immigrants naturalized in the early 20th century.
Still our favorite gateway to the oodles of free census transcriptions hiding out on the Web, Census Online offers more than 38,000 links to US enumerations, plus lesser collections of census pages for Canada and the British Isles.
City Directories of the USA
Often overlooked as a genealogy resource, city directories can fill in the blanks between censuses and help trace wandering ancestors. But how to lay your hands on them? This helpful site attempts to identify all printed, microfilmed and online directories for the entire United States — and then tell you the repositories where they’re held.
Civil War Rosters by State
Not as pretty as some sites, this nonetheless remains your first stop for links to lists of Civil War unit rosters. Not only can you find your ancestors’ names on the rolls — you also can begin learning about where and when they fought.
Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System
This ambitious project — putting online the names and other basic information from 5.4 million Compiled Military Service Records — now numbers more than 5 million soldier names from more than 30 states and territories, North and South. If you find your ancestor’s name, you can click on his regiment for a brief history and a list (in Excel format if you prefer) of all soldiers in the unit.
A useful starting place for researching early arrivals to America, Colonial Ancestors includes resources for all 13 original Colonies; a “This Day in Colonial Times” feature; and databases of early Harvard alumni, Valley Forge officers and records submitted by users.
Genealogists were thrilled when the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattter-day Saints put online the International Genealogical Index of vital-record data, and the Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File databases of user-submitted family trees. But that’s turned out to be only the beginning of the free resources at FamilySearch, which has since added the US Social Security Death Index, vital-records indexes for Scandinavia and Mexico, the 1880 US census (now linked to images from Ancestry.com), the 1881 Canadian census and the 1881 British census. This also is the place to search the Family History Library catalog, find your nearest Family History Center, tap a trove of research guides and download free Personal Ancestral File software.
Find A Grave
Locate a cemetery or search 5.4 million user-submitted grave records at this popular site, where you also can create virtual memorials or add “virtual flowers” and a note to a loved one’s grave.
Now owned by the same genealogical behemoth as erstwhile rival Ancestry.com, this site continues to grow as a subscription database must-see and to expand beyond its origins as a home for Family Tree Maker software users. The collections here now include the unique resources of the Genealogy Library of digitized books ($49.99 a year) and the Family and Local Histories collection ($79.99), plus World Family Tree pedigree files ($49.99), the International and Passenger Records ($79.99) and the US Census Collection ($99.99), which has grown to cover all years and includes the 1900 and 1910 indexes that Ancestry.com’s census collection lacks. This also is home to the free GenForum <genforum.genealogy.com>, an old (by Web genealogy standards) and thus gigantic collection of message boards, grouped by surname and locality.
Search more than 3.7 million records from 7,800-plus cemeteries worldwide. Can’t find what you’re after? Sign up for the e-mail alert service, which notifies you when new data goes online.
Local Catholic Church & Family History Genealogical Research Guide
Church records can be the answer to your research prayers, but getting started can be, well, hell — unless you have some guidance. This link-filled site is heaven-sent help for finding your Catholic ancestors.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Besides guides to researching at the main archives in Washington, DC, and its regional branches nationwide, NARA’s Web incarnation offers the Archival Research Catalog of the vast holdings at the “nation’s attic,” including almost 58,000 digitized images and 15,000 documents. And the Access to Archival Databases system makes clickable nearly 50 million wide-ranging historical records created by more than 20 federal agencies.
Sort of the newspaper counterpart to USGen-Web (right) — and organized by county like that site — this volunteer project has ballooned to more than 12,000 pages from papers published prior to 1923.
Billed as the “headquarters for researching obits on the Web,” Obituary Central collects links, obituary searches and related tools all under one roof.
Public Record Finder.com
Was your ancestor a dentist in Louisiana? You might never discover that his records are online (via the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry) without this useful library of links to public records of all sorts — not just vital records — organized by state and county, as well as by type.
The Quaker Corner
You don’t have to be a member of the Society of Friends to have a Quaker ancestor. They were important settlers in the American Colonies and kept marvelous records, which this site and its related mailing list can help you discover.
This sprawling volunteer effort can be a bit confusing to master, with more ways to search and more paths to explore than you may have patience for. But it’s one of online genealogy’s great bargains — it’s all free. User-submitted databases include death records, obituaries, military records and cemetery information, as well as the WorldConnect pedigree files and message boards whose data you also can find on Ancestry.com (but many users prefer Roots Web’s setup).
It’s no coincidence that we’ve compared so many of this list’s honorees to USGenWeb. The voluminous volunteer effort, with pages for every state and most counties, is an essential tool for researching your family history from coast to coast. Besides the links, queries and tips found on each state and county page, you can search the user-submitted data nationwide or by state. USGenWeb also houses a gigantic collection of free census transcriptions and a growing tombstone-transcription project.
Where to Write for Vital Records
Sorry, sometimes the answers you need can’t be found online, and you have to resort to the old-fashioned technique of writing for them. At least there’s this online guide to tell you where to write and, if there’s a fee, how much.
Regional & ethnic
Acadian-Cajun Genealogy & History
If you get an ancestral twinge when reading “Evangeline” or stomping to Zydeco music, this handsome, well-organized site is for you. Explore more than 750 pages of tips, links, queries and Acadian-Cajun history.
This frequently updated site is an ideal spot to start exploring your African-American ancestry. It offers message boards and genealogy chats as well as databases. The latter include a surname database, slave manifests, deed abstracts, slave bills of sale and city directories of “Free Colored.”
Alabama Department of Archives & History
Typical of the online explosion that’s added so many state archives to our 101 list, the Alabama Archives recently has added databases of Civil War service records, local government records, maps and photos, as well as two databases on its newspaper holdings.
Arizona Genealogy Birth & Death Certificates
In February, the Arizona Department of Health Services launched this searchable database of 400,000 birth and death records. Arizona’s not the first state to put vital records online, but what makes this site special is the ability to download images of the certificates in PDF format. (To view an image, you’ll need the free Adobe Reader <www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html>.) The database contains birth records from 1887 to 1928 and death records from 1878 to 1953. (Later records are sealed.)
Christine’s Genealogy Website
Another excellent roots resource for African-American researchers, Christine’s site shares articles and links, as well as databases covering slave emancipations and lynchings.
Colorado State Archives
The data collections here stack up almost as high as the Rockies. You’ll find indexes to post-1900 birth certificates, graves of Colorado veterans, Civil War volunteers, Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees and even penitentiary inmates.
Delaware Public Archives
This is a big site for such a small state. Databases cover Delaware probate records (1680 to 1925) and naturalization papers. Digitized archives include historical photos and a variety of documents, from Civil War muster rolls to pages from pauper books.
Florida State Archives
Follow the link to the Florida Memory Project, which includes a searchable database of more than 100,000 photographs. Then click back to the State Archives site and peruse Sunshine State data collections, including Confederate pension application files, Spanish land grants and (a recent addition) World War I service cards.
Genealogical Death Indexing System
If only every state had genealogical volunteers like Michigan’s, who have been busy indexing death records and putting them online. So far, this continuous project covers 1867 to 1897. You can search by your male ancestors’ names only.
Learn about Hispanic surnames and Spanish heraldry, get tips for finding your Hispanic roots and explore the lists of links on this comprehensive site.
Illinois State Archives
One of the first states to put a wealth of genealogical goodies online, Illinois has kept pace by recently updating its statewide marriage index (1763 to 1900) and its servitude and emancipation files. Other databases cover public land transactions, veterans and deaths. You also can see what records are held in the state’s regional archives.
Index of Native American Resources on the Internet
Going beyond genealogy, this site will help you explore all facets of your American Indian heritage, from language to art to archaeology.
Indiana State Library
Follow your Hoosier families with searchable statewide indexes of marriages through 1850, biographies, cemeteries, plus a variety of county records and newspaper indexes. Be sure to search the library’s online catalog, too.
Kansas State Historical Society
Don’t be so taken with the handsome design of this site — the “Kansas Territory Online” section is a multimedia evocation of your Jayhawk ancestors’ day — that you overlook the hard data hidden under the pretty exterior. Online databases and indexes include the 1895 state census, 19th Kansas Cavalry (1868 to 1869) enlistment papers, Topeka State Hospital cemetery records and 1906 Kansas cemeteries.
Library of Virginia
Though its pioneering Digital Library program was crippled by budget cuts, the Library of Virginia remains a valuable online asset, with 2.2 million original documents, photos and maps in more than 80 databases. Recent additions include a searchable index to names in Con-federate Veteran Magazine from 1893 to 1932, more than 45,000 Virginia marriage and obituary entries published between 1780 and 1876, and marriage and obituary indexes for Richmond newspapers from 1804 to 1860. If you’re curious about coats of arms, check out the library’s new index to information about and illustrations of heraldic symbols.
Maryland State Archives
The Archives of Maryland Online encompasses more than 470,000 historical documents, including military records. Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll also find the Maryland Church Records, Deaths and Burials Index <www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/stagser/s1400/s1402/html/ssi1402.html>.
Minnesota Historical Society
Search for your Minnesota ancestor’s death certificate in the 1907 to 1996 index at <people.mnhs.org/dci/search.cfm>, or picture his past in the searchable collection of 115,000 images at <collections.mnhs.org/visualresources>.
Kansas State Historical Society
Missouri State Archives
The “Show Me” state lives up to its name by showing researchers a vital-records database of 185,000 pre-1909 records, plus a WWI service-cards database with abstracts of 145,000 Army and Marine cards and digitized images of 18,500 Navy records. You’ll also see guides to local records, an online archives catalog, various court databases and even an index of Civil War provost marshals.
Nevada Online Census Database
Nevada is the first state to put all its federal census data online — 310,000 entries covering 1860, 1870,1880,1900, 1910 and 1920. That’s impressive enough, but the searchability here is eye-popping: You can search by any field in a given census, such as (for 1880) profession; place of birth; parents’ places of birth; and even whether deaf, literate or insane. Want to identify all the widowed women supported by laundry work in Nevada in 1880? Just a few clicks here will find them.
No other region enjoys a resource quite like this, so if you have New England kin, consider investing $75 for a Research Membership, which includes access to the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s online databases — nearly 80 million names in records ranging from court documents to diaries and journals to vital records. Members also can get how-to articles, research information and discussion groups.
Ohio Historical Society
Researchers of recent Ohioans will appreciate the death-certificate index, which covers 1913 to 1937. Those with Ohio ancestors further back in time can explore the complete adjutant general records for the War of 1812 and the Civil War, plus abstracts of more than 12,000 Civil War letters.
Oregon State Archives
The Oregon Historical Records Index covers census, vital, probate and naturalization records totaling more than half a million entries, including Portland births (1881 to 1902) and deaths (1881 to 1917). You’ll also find helpful guides to using county and territorial records, maps and scenic images, plus a descriptive inventory of selected records for each of Oregon’s 36 counties.
Pennsylvania State Archives
Another state that’s made great strides in putting its archives on the Web, Pennsylvania has more than 600,000 records online, with more in the works. These include Civil War veterans’ cards, Revolutionary War abstract cards, World War I service-medal application cards, Spanish-American War volunteer files, Mexican Border Campaign veterans’ cards, and 1775 to 1800 militia officers’ cards.
South Carolina Department of Archives and History
This site’s online index to more than 295,000 documents from 1675 to 1868 lets you search Confederate pension applications, will transcriptions, criminal journals, plats for state land grants and legislative papers. The powerful search engine enables you to pick your database or search across all documents using a combination of terms.
Tennessee State Library and Archives
Besides indexes to Tennessee death records (complete from 1908 to 1912, partial from 1914 to 1925), you can explore databases of Confederate pension applications, Spanish-American War records, names from the Acts of Tennessee (1796 to 1850), Southern Claims Commission files, and even state penitentiary inmates (1831 to 1850). Look for the genealogical “fact sheets” for each Tennessee county, as well.
Texas State Library & Archives Commission
Deep in the heart of the Texas archives’ site, you’ll find databases including Confederate pension applications, vital records, claims documents and military service records. Search the archives’ Map Collection for original and reproduced maps from the 17th century to the present. (For more maps, visit the Texas Historical Commission site <www.thc.state.tx.us>, which has an online atlas of 200,000 historic sites.)
Washington State Archives
Click on Historical Records Search to find your ancestors in county censuses (1847 to 1910); naturalization records; and prison, marriage and physicians’ records. You can search all the databases at once, or check just a few.
Western History Photography Collection
This online database of digitized historical photos comes from the Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Department and the Colorado Historical Society. It’s the only photo collection sweeping enough in scope to make our list on images alone. The 100,000 images depict the whole history of the West, from railroads and mining towns to ranch life and recreation, American Indians and pioneers.
Western States Historical Marriage Records Index
Among the 300,000-plus records you can search in this ambitious project are almost all pre-1900 marriages for Arizona, Idaho and Nevada; marriages in many Idaho, Nevada and Utah counties into the 1930s and later years; and a significant number of marriages from Wyoming, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, western Colorado and select counties in California. The advanced-search feature lets you narrow your search by county.
Wisconsin Historical Society
The society’s Wisconsin Name Index lets you search more than 100,000 obituaries and biographical sketches. Other digital resources include the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, and images from the 19th and 20th centuries. A nice adjunct is the Wisconsin Genealogical Research Service, which lets you use the Web site to search for and request hard copies of pre-1907 Wisconsin birth, death, marriage and Civil War service records ($17.50 for out-of-state nonmembers).
Taking It From the Top
Of course, you can’t expect stellar results from these stellar sites unless you know the tricks to mining them effectively. Conduct more-successful Web searches by following these five tips from the book Plugging Into Your Past by Rick Crume (Family Tree Books):
1. Consider the database’s characteristics.
Before searching a database, get a feel for what you can find in it. Figure out what area and time period it includes. If you know where your ancestor lived, search databases covering that city, county and state, plus national and international databases. If you don’t know where your ancestor lived, first try databases with broad geographic scope. Sometimes a database has incomplete coverage of a time period, so check for notes on missing records and planned updates.
2. Assess the site’s search capabilities.
You’ll want to frame your query to work with the search setup.
• Can you search for any name? Most census indexes cover just heads of households, but FamilySearch’s include every name, as do Ancestry.com’s 1870 and 1930 US census indexes.
• Can you include a middle name? Ancestry.com’s databases don’t have a box for middle initials and names, but you can include that information in the first-name box. Genealogy.com’s databases do have a middle-name or -initial box, but anything you enter in it will be ignored (except on the World Family Tree).
• Does the database have a customized search form? Instead of using the universal search, select the databases most likely to have information on your family. Many databases have their own search forms with more options than the generic version.
3. Check name variations.
Search on all possible spellings of a name, such as Myer, Meyer, Meier and Myers. You also should try including and excluding middle names and initials.
4. Change the scope of your query.
Some genealogy sites allow you to add keywords to narrow your search. If you get too many matches, add more search terms to home in on better hits. If you get too few matches or none, search on fewer terms.
5. Carefully word your search-engine queries.