Family History via the Internet


The Internet is a powerful tool for Latter-day Saints to gather family history information and also to share it with others.

Lindsey, an only child, didn’t know much about her extended family. Using the Internet, she searched the Social Security Death Index and found enough information to send for various vital records. As she located living relatives, she began corresponding with them. Two years after starting her search for extended family, she had attended one family reunion and organized a second. She created a home page and searched others. On a home page created by her second cousin once removed, she found colorful stories about the second-great-grandfather for whom she had been searching. Now Lindsey expresses gratitude for the Internet, which helped her find the extended family she might never have known.

For years, the Internet has helped those interested in family history to seek out their roots. Now, with the establishment of the Church FamilySearch™ Internet Genealogy Service Web site, we have an important tool that provides easy access for the gathering and sharing of family history information.

This article briefly surveys popular Web sites, including FamilySearch, and provides helpful hints for Internet research. A list of computer terms is also provided. *

FamilySearch on the Internet

In May 1999, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched the FamilySearch Internet Genealogy Service at www.familysearch.org. This Web site offers access to four databases: Ancestral File™, the International Genealogical Index, the Family History Library Catalog, and the Internet Index to the Pedigree Resource File.

  1. 1.

    Ancestral File is a collection of millions of names from individuals, families, and genealogical organizations throughout the world that are organized into pedigrees and family group record forms.

  2. 2.

    The International Genealogical Index is an index of more than 330 million names of deceased persons gathered since 1970.

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    The Family History Library Catalog describes the books, microfilms, and microfiche in Salt Lake City’s Family History Library.

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    The Internet Index to the Pedigree Resource File will let you know if your family history is part of that collection of family histories submitted by individuals via the Internet. The Pedigree Resource File is available for later publication on CD-ROM through LDS Distribution Centers. Information is organized in family groups and pedigrees. It is printed exactly as submitted and not combined with information from other submitters as is done in Ancestral File. Nine such CDs are currently available.

This Web site also offers Internet-only services, including (1) a free copy of the latest version of Personal Ancestral File, a family history computer program—available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French—that allows you to record and publish your family history; (2) more than 100,000 Collaboration Lists; and (3) an index to thousands of other Web sites around the world.

Gathering Family History from the Internet

Alan Mann had found his ancestor, Daniel S. Corley, in 1850 and 1860 census records for Bell County, Texas. He diligently searched the 1870 census without success. Alan went to Ancestry Search at www.ancestry.com (which contains an extensive index to U.S. census records) and found Daniel S. Corley in an index for the 1880 census for Johnson County, Texas. Further searching located Daniel S. Corley in the 1870 and 1880 censuses of Johnson County, providing the names of two children who had not had their temple ordinances performed.

Many Latter-day Saints have been aided by other Web sites on the Internet. Following is a sampling of index Web sites organized by name, place, or category.

Name indexes use your ancestors’ names to find information about them. The largest name index is Internet Family Finder, located at www.familytreemaker.com/ifftop.html. This site indexes more than 100,000 published family histories and other information located on thousands of Web sites around the world. Other major name indexes include www.ancestry.com and www.genealogylibrary.com and www.genserv.com and searches.rootsweb.com/htdig/search.html and www.gendex.com. More name indexes are listed at www.geocities.com/Heartland/Acres/8310/gens.html.

Place indexes use the place your ancestor lived to find records and data about them. These indexes list specific records and resources available on the Internet for that location. The two oldest place indexes are USGenWeb at www.usgenweb.org and GENUKI at www.genuki.org.uk. USGenWeb has Web pages for every state in the United States and for each county within each state. GENUKI lists resources for the United Kingdom and Ireland. When completed, GENUKI will have Web pages for more than 15,000 parishes in the United Kingdom.

Other major place indexes include WorldGenWeb at www.worldgenweb.org (which seeks to create Web pages for every country in the world) and the Federation of East European Family History Societies at www.feefhs.org for Eastern European countries.

Category lists help users identify research sites. The best known of these family history Web sites is Cyndi’s List at www.cyndislist.com (which lists more than 50,000 Web sites in over 120 categories, such as places, subjects, and ethnic groups). Another major comprehensive site is Genealogy SiteFinder at www.genealogy.com/links which lists over 76,000 Web sites. Both have searchable indexes of their lists. Two alternative smaller lists that allow you to search for any words on the Web sites they index are FamilySearch Browse Categories www.familysearch.org/Browse/browse.asp and www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/main.htm.

To use these indexes, think about what you know about a specific ancestor or surname and then look in the appropriate categories. If you were trying to find information on a Quaker couple married in Virginia in 1766, you could look in categories for marriages, Virginia, Quakers, or Colonial records. Comprehensive Web sites also help locate information about an ancestor’s culture, traditions, homeland, and history. This information gives you a greater appreciation of your heritage, the sacrifices your ancestors made for you, and a better understanding of what their life was like.

For example, Marvin Zautcke, who is the only member of the Church in his family, has roots that go back to Pomerania. While searching the Internet, he came up with Web sites devoted to the province of Pomerania: its people, history, and traditions, and even ethnic organizations devoted to the preservation of Pomeranian culture. He found information on individuals who came to the United States in the 1800s and settled in southeastern Wisconsin, where he grew up. This has helped Marvin meet descendants of those who emigrated from the same area as his second-great-grandfather and others involved in preserving Pomeranian traditions and genealogies. As a result of information found there, he has been able to identify and provide temple ordinances for many of his ancestors.

The Internet also has reference works, classes, and tutorials teaching proper methods of research and documentation. These include the FamilySearch SourceGuide at www.familysearch.org/sg and Online University at www.genealogy.com/university.html and the Learning Center at www.ancestry.com/learn.main.htm.

If you don’t have a computer or an Internet connection at home, you can often use one at your local library, university, or community college.

Sharing Family History on the Internet

Among the many ways to share family history information with others on the Internet are collaboration lists, research coordination lists, mailing lists, queries, newsgroups, and help or lookup lists:

  1. 1.

    Collaboration lists help put people in touch with each other who are working on the same name, family, or place. Since the Church launched its family history Web site in May 1999, more than 100,000 lists have been registered at www.familysearch.org/Share.

  2. 2.

    Research coordination lists allow users to register the surname they are currently researching. By checking these lists, searchers often find others looking for the same surnames. Every day, dozens of connections are made between relatives using these lists. The largest is Roots Surname List at rsl.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/rslsql.cgi where more than 833,000 surnames have been registered by about 100,000 researchers.

  3. 3.

    Mailing lists are free discussion groups where individuals with a common interest share information with each other by e-mail. There are thousands of genealogical mailing lists. Many are listed by John Fuller and Chris Gaunt at www.rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail.html.

  4. 4.

    Queries are requests for information about a specific ancestor, couple, or family. Besides accepting queries, most sites allow you to search the queries left by others. These include www.usgenweb.org and www.genforum.com and query.genealogytoolbox.com.

  5. 5.

    Newsgroups are discussion groups that are stored on the Internet until you request the messages. There are dozens of newsgroups and tools that will search these messages. For more information, see members.tripod.com/~Genealogy_Infocenter/genealogy-discussions.html.

  6. 6.

    Help or lookup lists provide e-mail addresses of people willing to look up information for you at no charge. These are volunteers who do quick searches in various books, records, and record offices as a public service. USGenWeb at www.usgenweb.org has lookup lists for each county in the United States.

Sharing Brings Returns

The Prophet Joseph Smith told us “to cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 316). So it is when we cast our family history information upon the waters of the Internet. By sending out our family data, we will reap a rich harvest. Our knowledge of our forebears will increase, our family on both sides of the veil will grow closer, testimonies will be strengthened, and the opportunity to do temple work for our kindred dead will bless lives.

Both of the authors have come to know this from their own experiences. They’ve posted their family data on the Internet (see www.zautcke.com and www.geocities.com/Heartland/Farm/6266) and have received hundreds of e-mail messages from distant cousins in North America, Europe, and Australia with information that enabled them to do temple ordinances for many of their deceased relatives.

The work inspired by Elijah’s bestowal of priesthood keys in 1836 has grown with astonishing speed. The Lord has now blessed us with computers and the Internet to help us communicate easily with people around the world. E-mail makes the sharing of family data almost instantaneous.

As we gather and verify information obtained via the Internet to provide temple ordinances for our own dead, we fulfill promises we made to our forefathers, weld eternal family links, and draw ourselves and our families closer to God.

Internet Vocabulary

E-mail: Short for electronic mail messages that are sent from one person to another.

Family History Computer Software Program: Personal Ancestral File is one of many family history programs for home use. Users enter family history information electronically, thus allowing information to be printed as a pedigree chart, family group record, descendancy chart, or many other formats. Information can also be given to others as a GEDCOM file for instant transfer of family history data.

Family History Center: Local branches of the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are more than 3,400 around the world.

Family History Library: The main library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. It has the world’s largest collection of genealogical holdings and has both printed sources and microfilmed records. It is used by genealogical researchers worldwide.

GEDCOM: Acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, developed in 1987 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the standard file format for exchanging family information between genealogical databases. If you choose, your family history software program can save your family information as a GEDCOM file.

Home page: An individual or company Web page that serves as the table of contents or title page of a Web site.

HTML: Acronym for HyperText Markup Language, the language of the World Wide Web.

Hyperlink: Highlighted text that allows you to jump to other information in a file or to another Web page or Web site.

Internet: A system of computers joined together by high-speed data lines. It is a repository for vast amounts of data, including family history data, that is accessed by computer through an Internet Service Provider and Web Browser. It includes data in various formats (or protocols) such as HTML, e-mail (SMTP), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and Telnet.

Online: Refers to computer connection to the Internet. Made possible through the use of an Internet service provider and Web browser.

Web browser: Software that enables you to view documents on the Internet.

Web page: A multimedia document that is created and viewable on the Internet with the use of a World Wide Web browser.

Web site: Refers to one or more World Wide Web pages on the Internet. Also called a site.

World Wide Web: The portion of the Internet that is written in HTML.

www.familysearch.org: The Church’s family history Web site.

Family History Bloomed after 1836

For Latter-day Saints, family history is more than a hobby; it is a gospel principle. On 3 April 1836 in the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery withdrew behind the veil to offer up a solemn and silent prayer unto the Lord. Rising from prayer, Joseph and Oliver beheld the Savior standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit. Then Moses, Elias, and Elijah each committed specific keys needed to restore the gospel in its fulness. Elijah restored the keys to bind on earth and heaven, which permitted the great work of salvation for the dead to begin in this dispensation.

Before the coming of Elijah in 1836, there had been no organizations dedicated to gathering records of the dead. However, the Spirit of the Lord moved quickly upon the earth after this experience at the Kirtland Temple. Just one year later, in 1837, England and Wales began mandatory recording of births, deaths, and marriages for everyone in their countries. Many countries around the world started recording more information in the census records taken after 1836. For example, Great Britain’s censuses began recording names and ages of individuals in 1841, and the United States added names of family members in 1850 (previously only heads of household were named). In 1844 the New England Historic Genealogical Society was organized in Boston. Today there are thousands of family history societies around the world.

In addition, many individuals were prompted to publish their family histories. The results have been dramatic. Between 1450 and 1836, fewer than 200 family histories were published. Between 1837 and 1935, almost 2,000 more were published. Today more than 2,000 family histories are published each week. The Internet provides a simple and inexpensive way for all with access to a computer to publish their family history, thus adding to a rapidly expanding pool of shared genealogical information. Be aware, however, that any family history is only as reliable as the skills of the one who compiled it. Whether on the Internet, in printed books, or from relatives, family histories should always be verified using original records.

Creating Web Pages

You can publish a Web page of your genealogy on the Internet if you desire. (Make sure to get permission from any living relatives to print their information.) Web publishing is simple, inexpensive, and widely available. Many genealogy programs will create an attractive, well-indexed home page displaying your family tree. One such program, Personal Ancestral File, is available free on the Internet at www.lds.org. Click on “Family History” and follow the links. Or at www.familysearch.org click on “Order Family History Resources” and follow the links.

Publishing your family history on the Internet is as easy as 1–2–3:

  1. 1.

    Use a family history computer program such as Personal Ancestral File 4.0 or higher to convert your family information to Web pages.

  2. 2.

    Select a place to store your Web pages on the Internet. Two companies that offer free Web space without advertising are Zyweb at www.zyweb.com and Netscape at home.netscape.com/sitecentral.

  3. 3.

    Transfer the pages created by Personal Ancestral File 4.0 or other genealogy programs to your chosen Web host.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Alan E. Mann is a member of the Taylorsville 39th Ward, Taylorsville Utah Stake.

Marvin R. Zautcke is a member of the Pinecrest Ward, Sandy Utah Lone Peak Stake.

Show References

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    The Internet does not solve all family history problems, and members can do much work from information they or other family members possess.