The Genealogist’s Internet

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3. Online Starting Points

The British Isles

General genealogical gateways

Subsequent chapters in this book are devoted to particular types of genealogical resource or internet tools. This one looks at some of the online starting points for genealogy on the web, sites which provide information about and links to other resources. These go under various names: directory, gateway or portal. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there are in principle distinctions to be made:

In genealogy, since the audience is defined by its interest in a particular subject, it is not always possible to maintain a clear distinction between gateways and portals. ‘Portal’ tends to be the preferred term in the case of a site which has some official status or which aims to be definitive. Both gateways and portals are selective and only include links to recommended resources, whereas directories tend to be less scrupulous.

Directories, gateways and portals are not the only way to find information on the internet: general-purpose search engines such as Google <www.google.com>, discussed in Chapter 19, can also be used to find genealogical material online. The differences between directories, gateways and portals on the one hand and search engines on the other are summarized in Table 19-1 on p. 332. The most important is that directories, etc. provide lists of websites while search engines locate individual web pages, so the former are better for locating significant resources on a particular topic rather than mere mentions of a subject. This makes them preferable for initial exploration. The fact that the entries are selected, and perhaps helpfully annotated, makes them even more useful. However, there are certain things they are poor for, notably information published on the personal websites of individual family historians, and material relating to individual surnames.

In addition to the genealogy gateways discussed below, the general directories of the web — the best known are Yahoo at <dir.yahoo.com> and the Open Directory Project at <dmoz.org> — also provide a small selection genealogical links. On the whole, anyone who is sufficiently interested in genealogy to be reading this book will probably find these directories much less useful than the dedicated sites mentioned in this chapter, not least since they do not seem to be edited and maintained by people with expertise in the subject, and cannot aim to be comprehensive.

The British Isles

Official sites

Since the closure of the FamilyRecords site in September 2009, there is now no official gateway for UK family history, a site which collects together links to the websites of all the relevant official bodies.

There is a general-purpose government gateway called GOV.UK at <www.gov.uk>. This site provides access to all official information online, with links to all branches of local and national government. It therefore covers local authorities, who are responsible for county record offices and public libraries. For local government websites, from the home page, select ‘Home and community’, then ‘Your local council — services and information’. This page even links to a brief ‘Research your local, family or house history’ page. Library and record office websites are covered in Chapter 13.

Any body that holds archival records will be listed in the ARCHON directory (see p. 205) which has links to each repository’s website.

The official website of the Irish government will be found at <www.gov.ie>, and this has links to sites of government departments and state organizations. The National Archives of Ireland at <www.nationalarchives.ie> has a genealogy page at <www.nationalarchives.ie/genealogy> with links to information on Irish sources and other useful websites.

Genuki

The most comprehensive collection of online information about family history for the British Isles, with an unrivalled collection of links, is Genuki, the ‘UK & Ireland Genealogical Service’ at <www.genuki.org.uk>. Genuki describes itself as ‘a virtual reference library of genealogical information that is of particular relevance to the UK & Ireland’. As a reference source, the material it contains ‘relates to primary historical material, rather than material resulting from genealogists’ ongoing research’. This means it is effectively a handbook of British and Irish genealogy online. But Genuki also functions as a gateway, simply because it has links to an enormous number of online resources for the UK and Ireland, including every genealogical organization with a website.

Genuki has its origins in the efforts of a group of volunteers, centred on Brian Randell at the University of Newcastle and Phil Stringer at the University of Manchester, to set up a website for genealogical information in 1995, when the World Wide Web was still very young. Genuki has always been an entirely non-commercial and volunteer-run organization. All the pages are maintained by a group of about 50 volunteers on many different websites, mostly at UK universities or on the personal sites of the volunteers. Many other individuals have provided information and transcripts of primary data. Genuki started as an entirely informal group, but is now a charitable trust.

There are two distinct parts to Genuki. First, there are a number of pages devoted to general information about family history in the British Isles:

Second, it provides geographically based information and links to online resources for all the constituent parts of the British Isles, with pages for:

The county pages in turn provide links to the websites of:

Images

Figure 3-1: A Genuki county page

Each county page (the top of the Sussex page is shown in Figure 3-1) has a link to a list of individual towns and parishes, and many of these have their own pages with local information and links.

Most material on Genuki will be found on these geographical pages, which are organized hierarchically. Figure 3-2 shows a diagram of the hierarchy.

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Figure 3-2: How Genuki is organized

Genuki also has central listings of:

It also has two important databases: a gazetteer and a church database, both described on p. 256. Its event calendar GENEVA is discussed on p. 378.

Because of the enormous amount of material on Genuki — there are around 60,000 pages in all — it is well worth taking the time to look at the ‘Visitors: Help and Guidance’ at <https://www.genuki.org.uk/org/help/visitors>, which gives an outline of what Genuki is. It includes a detailed ‘Quick Start’ guide to how Genuki is organized at <www.genuki.org.uk/org/help/visitors#quick>.

A particular virtue of Genuki is that it uses well-defined subject categories, which are based on those used in the LDS Church’s library catalogue and have therefore been designed by genealogically literate librarians. Its coherent coverage of every county, with a long-term aim of covering every parish, is the other feature which makes it useful. The list of categories used on Genuki is shown in Table 3-1.

Table 3-1 Genuki subject headings
Almanacs
Archives and Libraries
Bibliography
Biography
Business and Commerce Records
Cemeteries
Census
Chronology
Church Directories
Church History
Church Records
Civil Registration
Colonization
Correctional Institutions
Court Records
Description and Travel
Directories
Dwellings
Emigration and Immigration
Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
Ethnology
Folklore
Gazetteers
Genealogy
Guardianship
Handwriting
Heraldry
Historical Geography
History
Inventories, Registers, Catalogues
Jewish History
Jewish Records
Land and Property
Language and Languages
Law and Legislation
Manors
Maps
Medical Records
Merchant Marine
Migration, Internal
Military History
Military Records
Minorities
(Monumental Inscriptions — see Cemeteries)
Names, Geographical
Names, Personal
Naturalization and Citizenship
Newspapers
Nobility
Obituaries
Occupations
Officials and Employees
Orphans and Orphanages
(Parish Registers — see Church Records)
Pensions
Periodicals
Politics and Government
Poorhouses, Poor Law, etc.
Population
Postal and Shipping Guides
Probate Records
Public Records
Religion and Religious Life
Schools
Social Life and Customs
Societies
Statistics
Taxation
Town Records
Visitations, Heraldic
(Vital Records — see Civil Registration)
Voting Registers
Yearbooks

Some of these categories — Handwriting, or Politics and Government, for example — will be relevant only at the top, national levels, but topics such as church records, local records and maps should be represented on every county page. Since the list of subject headings predates the internet, there are no specific categories for internet-related subjects such as surname lists and mailing lists, so Genuki places these under the Genealogy heading.

Genuki also has a search facility at <www.genuki.org.uk/search>, discussed on p. 352.

Because Genuki is very comprehensive, it can be easy to overlook the fact that there are things it does not do. First, it has deliberate restrictions in its linking policy: it does not link to sites which provide information only on an individual family, pedigree or surname; its links are strictly confined to sites which are relevant to UK and Ireland genealogy. However, as long as what you are looking for is available online and falls within Genuki’s scope, you should expect to find it listed.

Another service Genuki does not provide is answering genealogical queries from individuals. There is a Genuki email address, but this is intended only for reporting errors on the site or drawing attention to new resources not listed on Genuki. See ‘Getting help’ on p. 14 and Chapter 18 for places to post genealogical queries.

Local

While the Genuki country and county pages are the main starting points for links to local web resources, there are other resources which give links just for a particular region, of which the following are a selection.

John Grenham’s Irish Ancestors site has links to the major Irish bodies with genealogical material at <www.johngrenham.com/browse/>, with sub-pages devoted to libraries, societies and individual counties, as well as to passenger lists and emigration resources.

Chris Paton’s blog has a posting with ‘Resources for Western Isles research’ at <chrispatonsblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/resources-for-western-isles-research.html> which has around 60 links for the various islands.

Images

Figure 3-3: The M&LFHS Toolbar

A useful browser tool is the M&LFHS Toolbar developed by the Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society. The toolbar provides links for all the Lancashire record offices and sites with records for the county, but in fact there are dozens of links of broader interest organized under 10 main headings — see Figure 3-3. Versions are available for all the main browsers and can be downloaded from <mlfhs-toolbar.software.informer.com>.

General genealogy gateways

If you have ancestors who were born or lived outside the British Isles you will need to look at some of the general genealogy directories and gateways. Indeed, even if all your ancestors were British or Irish, there are good reasons to use other gateways and directories. Since Genuki takes a strictly geographical approach, you need to look elsewhere for genealogical resources, such as computer software, which are not tied to a particular country or region.

Cyndi’s List

By far the most comprehensive genealogy gateway is Cyndi’s List at <www.cyndislist.com>, maintained by Cyndi Howells, along with Genuki one of the oldest genealogy sites on the web. You can get an idea of the scope of the list, which has over 300,000 links, from the 180 or so main categories listed at <www.cyndislist.com/categories> (or click on the ‘Categories’ button on the home page). The categories fall into three main groups:

The geographical coverage is very considerable, both in terms of the countries covered and in the number of links — there are even over 40 links for Antarctica. Coverage for the United States is particularly strong, accounting for around half the links on the site. The main UK & Ireland page at <www.cyndislist.com/uk> links to sub-pages for the various parts of the British Isles, to general UK sites and to British military sites. Within each of those are further categories relating to the various types of record.

Beyond the geographical coverage, a number of the other categories and topics on Cyndi’s List are worth noting. The pages devoted to individual religious groups will be useful if you have Catholic, nonconformist or Jewish ancestors (covered in Chapter 11). The ‘Software & Apps’ page <www.cyndislist.com/software> has a very useful collection of links for genealogy software. The ‘Personal Research’ section at <www.cyndislist.com/personal> lists over 10,000 websites of individuals, while the ‘Surnames, Family Associations & Family Newsletters’ pages linked from <www.cyndislist.com/surnames> has thousands of sites for individual surnames.

While Genuki relies on a body of volunteers, Cyndi’s List is maintained more or less single-handedly by Cyndi Howells. For this reason, it is not surprising that there are some dead links, and some links to sites that are now moribund.

The site has a very comprehensive page of ‘Handy Online Starting Points’ at <www.cyndislist.com/handy>, with over 150 sites which provide general genealogy links.

GenWeb

For ancestors from outside the British Isles, you will find a wide coverage of countries and regions on Cyndi’s List. But there is also a purely geographical gateway with worldwide coverage in the GenWeb projects. In GenWeb, the world is split into a number of regional projects, each of which has its own website, and a separate volunteer is responsible for each individual country or island in the region. Apart from USGenWeb at <www.usgenweb.org> and CanadaGenWeb at <canadagenweb.org>, which are independent, the remainder are co-ordinated under the WorldGenWeb project at <worldgenweb.org>.

In all, there are around 100 countries, islands or island groups for which there are actively maintained websites, grouped as follows:

Images

Figure 3-4: How WorldGenWeb is organized

Most of the links to UK and Irish material at <www.iukgenweb.org> will in fact be found on Genuki, whose county pages are generally more comprehensive. So the real strength of the GenWeb sites, from the point of view of British and Irish family historians, lies in the material relating to former British colonies and those countries from which immigrants came to the UK (see Chapter 11). The Caribbean GenWeb at <www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~caribgw>, for example, is an essential starting point for West Indian ancestry.

There is huge variation in the amount of material available: for some countries there is a single page, while for others there are individual pages for administrative subdivisions, for example French d├ępartements. In general, the level of detail does not go down to the equivalent of individual parishes, though for each US state there are pages for the constituent counties. The structure of GenWeb, taken from <www.worldgenweb.org/help/how-to-get-started/108-aboutwgw/62-policy-and-procedures>, is shown in Figure 3-4.

While most of the pages are in English, quite a few are maintained by natives of the countries concerned and are in the local language. Some, notably the Caribbean and South American pages, are available in more than one language.

On the WorldGenWeb projects, the topics on each page are sorted under the following headings:

Beyond this, the pages do not necessarily have the same layout or look. A useful feature to note is that every GenWeb page has a Query Board where readers can post queries. Such a board is often available for countries which have no maintained web page.

Other gateways

While Cyndi’s List may be the most widely used general genealogy directory, and Genuki is certainly the pre-eminent gateway for UK material, there are many others. Each has its own particular strengths, though many are US-based and are therefore naturally stronger in US resources. There is not enough space here to list them all, let alone describe them in detail, but good examples are:

Many others are listed on the ‘Handy Online Starting Points’ on Cyndi’s List at <www.cyndislist.com/handy>.

Gateways for particular subject-areas within family history are mentioned in the appropriate chapter.

Next chapter: 4 Using Online Sources