BOOT CAMP 173 (03/05//01)




Imagine an enormous jigsaw puzzle, you have three or four pieces but you have absolutely no idea how big it is or what the overall picture looks like. That's what it's like to research your family tree. It sounds hopeless but it's not, there is an excellent chance that there are lots of people with those missing pieces who are only too willing to share them with you, or able to tell you where to look for more.


Until fairly recently researching your ancestry required determination and specialist knowledge. It could be a time-consuming and frustrating business involving a fair amount of searching through dusty archives. Nowadays, with the help of personal computers, the Internet and email it has been transformed into an absorbing and rewarding hobby that anyone can enjoy. Who knows what you'll turn up, noble or royal blood, a title, a family crest or maybe even a long-lost legacy?


This week we'll be considering some of the ways the Internet can help you to trace your family history, next week we'll focus on how your PC can be used to collect and collate information and construct a family tree.


The Internet opens up several highly productive avenues of research. It gives you more or less instant access to archives and databases around the world; some of them are vast containing tens of millions of birth, death records dating back several hundred years. There are tens of thousands of web sites devoted to genealogical research and family history, countless newsgroups where information can be sought and exchanged and most important of all, email, which allows you to communicate directly with other members of your family.


Time to make a start, the simplest method is to begin with the pieces of the jigsaw that you have to hand, namely yourself and if possible, names and dates for your immediate relatives, which would be parents and grandparents. Normally it is easier to start off by researching the paternal line but there's nothing to stop you tracing your mother's family, or even working sideways, as it were, looking for living relatives amongst cousins, aunts and uncles. However, it is a good idea to stick with one line of research initially, otherwise you will quickly get bogged down. A maps is essential, have at least a country map to hand so you can plot family hot spots and clusters, and if one particular locality is important to your family's history it's useful to have a large-scale map of that area as well.


Next type your surname, or the name you are researching into a search engine, followed by the words 'family tree', 'ancestry', 'genealogy' or 'home page'. If the name is relatively unusual name you may be lucky and get only a few hundred 'hits', more common names may well yield thousands but the first few dozen should lead you quickly to specialist sites and individuals with the same name, some of whom may have compiled a family tree that you can check, to see if there are any obvious links to your own family.


This may well lead you to a number of newsgroups, forums and message boards and these can be particularly fruitful. Here you will find dozens, possibly hundred of 'postings' from other researchers seeking or offering information. It's well worth spending some time working your way through them, looking for any likely connections. You can usually reply or add to any message 'threads' by clicking on a button on the page or you can respond directly to an individual by clicking on the senders underlined email address. Alternatively you may want to post your own message but be as specific as possible and include as many dates and places as you can. Be patient, you may strike lucky and get a response quickly but it is far more likely that you'll hear nothing for several weeks.


Having got your feet wet you are now ready to visit to the world's largest database of family histories containing records of more than 200 million births deaths and marriages. It's the International Genealogical Index or IGI (see 'familysearch' under Links), created by The Church of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons) whose members are committed to research their own family histories. The IGI database has been built up from information sourced from public records, church and parish registers in Great Britain and the US and over 40 other countries.


In spite of its size the IGI is surprisingly easy to use but you can speed things up considerably if you have accurate names and dates and can reduce the size of the geographical search area to a particular country.


The British are famous for centuries of diligent record-keeping and several large Government archives have web sites though the main repository, The Public Record Office (see Links), does not have direct access to documents but it does provide a number of useful on-line catalogue search facilities, a great deal of helpful advice and links to other Government departments. These include the Office for National Statistics, Probate Registry and Ministry of Defence. Another valuable source of information for those with family members who served in the armed forces is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (see Links), which maintains a very detailed register of cemeteries and memorials in over 150 countries.


Sooner or later you will come across the mother lode of genealogical web sites and that is Cyndi's List (see Links). It boasts an incredible 95,500 links to genealogical resources on the Internet and recently notched up its 20 millionth visitor. The site is vast, so save it for a wet weekend, unless you are fairly sure you know what you are looking for!




Next week – PCs and family trees, part 2





Public notice boards on the Internet where like-minded net users can post e-mail messages, articles or announcements for others to read and respond to.



Internet sites that seek out information, by topic, keyword or name. Good places to start a name search are:,  and



Messages in a newsgroup, forum or on a bulletin board linked by a common theme



Display Properties is one of the most frequently used items in Control Panel, so why is it so difficult to get at? Here's a way to open it with a single click from your desktop or Quick Launch toolbar, and you can even specify which tab it opens on, so you could go directly to the Settings or Screensaver page. Here's how. Right-click on the desktop and select New then Shortcut. In the Command Line type in 'control desk.cpl' (without the quotes), click Next and give it a name. To make it open on a particular tab add two commas and then a number from 0 to 5 (i.e. 'control desk.cpl,,1' for the Screensaver tab, 'control desk.cpl,,3' for Settings etc.). You can leave the shortcut where it is on the desktop or drag it into the Quick Launch toolbar. If you want to change the opening tab just right-click on the shortcut and select Properties and change the command in the 'Target' line.

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