Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: July 11, 2002
There are many key locations on the World Wide Web that can serve as important sources of genealogical information. One of the best is the United States Genealogical Web, a huge group of volunteers that set up and maintain web sites for every county in every state of the United States. The USGenWeb Project is an incredibly broad and diverse undertaking.
The backbone of the system are the County Coordinators, the persons that maintain a web site for every county in the United States. I believe that the web site for each of the counties currently exists, but not all have coordinators, volunteers that monitor the site and add information as it is gathered. They are responsible to the State Coordinators, who in turn work with the Regional Coordinators to ensure that the sites meet requirements for consistency and accuracy.
Not only does a county web site provide information on that county, it is likely to have links to cemetery records, maps, census data, excerpts from vanity histories, and Bible records. Links to neighboring counties, the appropriate state web page and other sources of information are included. Usually the county coordinator is an actual resident of the county they are maintaining, but not always! I maintain Lander County, Nevada and have never been there!
The most valuable feature of the GenWeb sites may very well be the Look-up. Some place on most of the GenWeb county pages, you will find a set of individuals that are willing to do look-ups for you. There is usually a specific resource listed that person has access to or owns.
Remember that these people are volunteering out of the goodness of their hearts, and their love of genealogy, to look up names and information for you. So here are basic some rules:
1) Be specific. Provide a full name, and as much information as you can about what you are looking for. Don't send a five page history! Five lines is more appropriate. The individuals occupation and date/ time frames are a big help.
2) Limit your query. One or two names, or a specific family group for each request. In addition to making it easier to answer, it allows the volunteer to finish your one question, send an answer and move on to the next. If you make the request too big, I'll bet it ends up on the bottom of the priority list!
3) General questions can be asked, but think about what you are specifically looking for. Asking if there are any Jones' in the book or resource is okay, but don't ask for all the information on all the Jones' that may be in there. If you ask for any information on Stuhldrehers' you will probably be okay. Don't be offended if any reply you get is short or seems terse, remember they have their own research to do!
4) Use the answer to determine if the resource is something you should get yourself. If there appears to be a lot of appropriate information, or pictures, consider using interlibrary loan to obtain a copy. If it is a unique item, such as a Bible record or limited edition book, offer to pay the costs of copying and postage, don't ask them to type all the info in! And consider asking for a digital picture of the page or picture. I can take a picture of a page much faster than I can scan it, and I don't have to visit the library or copy shop and pay for copies. And I have never had a problem reading the text in the pictures.
5) Be polite and be grateful! When I get a response to a look-up, I let them know I got it and that I appreciate it. If it is particularly important results, I let them know that, too. Knowing that you have successfully helped someone find a link or piece of information that they didn't have before always gives me a good feeling, and I'm sure it has the same affect on others! That reward is part of the pleasure in taking care of a site.
One evening, just before going to bed, I sent off a request for information on a specific cemetery in Franklin County, Arkansas. I checked my email early the next morning and already had a reply, complete with the full text of the tombstones! They also included a couple of other tombstones that appeared to be related, and they jogged some additional memories from my original source!
Many of the GenWeb sites have a query section, where you can place questions for things you are looking for. It may take weeks, months and even years before a response occurs. Think about the address you use when you place the question, and check from time to time to see if there has been any reply. I take advantage of the ability to have the board send a message when someone posts a reply. You also want to keep the email address current, which may entail placing a reply to your own query with a new address if you change providers.
I've had a great deal of success with GenWeb sites in the United States, Ireland and even Germany. I've connected with a number of distant relatives, some with pictures and other items of value to my research. It is very satisfying to connect with that cousin!
I contribute to them whenever I get a chance. My office was located right across the street from a small church, well over 150 years old, with a cemetery attached. The GenWeb site for the county was asking for people to verify the locations of cemeteries, and so I walked across the street and took pictures and sent them in. I also maintain one of these sites. I've discussed the Fairchild Family in Nevada a couple of times in previous articles. Several of the brothers settled in Austin, Nevada and ran newspapers. I adopted the Lander County, NevGenWeb site even though I live in Michigan! I've learned a great deal in the process. Show your appreciation by thanking the coordinators, contributing information and even time if you can. Adopt a county if you have the time!
The best place to start is at the US GenWeb home page. There you will be able to select the state of interest and then select the county. I told you location was important! Don't know the county? Most states contain an area for those 'unknown' counties that you need help with.
Now the genealogists in many countries have created their own version of the USGenWeb project. I have used such resources in Scotland, Ireland, England, France and Germany. The biggest challenge may be to be able to understand the information provided in the other language, but the use of translation utilities can be a big help! If you need help with that aspect, see my article Just What Does *&@#( Mean?