When I was in college, I dabbled a bit with genealogy.

I haven’t touched it in a decade and a half. Lately, I’ve felt that I needed to find my own names to take to the temple so I started messing around a little online and all I can say is: WOW.

In the olden days, you went to a stuffy, overcrowded little family history center in your ward building and scrolled through microfiche or film that you had to send away to from Salt Lake, pay a few bucks for, and wait three weeks to show up–and hope that it had what you wanted.

I kept records by hand then–now I downloaded (free) the new, swoopy, software that makes it extremely easy to keep very detailed and accurate records. This weekend, in the space of a few hours, I was able to look at (free, thanks to a two-week trial from census records and trace a line back for three generations. I was also able to see the original ship manifests for several different ancestors who came to this country via Ellis Island (which in addition to raw numbers has all sorts of interesting tidbits such as physical descriptions, literacy level, language spoken, and occupation–not to mention whether they were anarchists or polygamists), as well as pictures of the ships. I was able to look at an image of the draft card that my great-great-grandfather filled out for World War I. I found myself tearing up frequently as I would see a signature in the hand of someone who was responsible for my curly hair or temperment.

In short, if you haven’t done any family history since Bill Clinton was inaugurated, you really should poke around online. It is–dare I say it?–fun.

15 comments for “Wow

  1. random me
    September 26, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    my husband would ask that you please not encourage me. i had to take a break because it was so enthralling that i frequently slunk into bed an hour or two before he was due to wake up.

    all of the libraries i’ve been to lately have had subscriptions to ancestry and access to most of the census records… all for free! :D

  2. Paula
    September 26, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Most LDS Family History Centers should have ancestry available also. And, you can get amazing help from people all over the world for free now too, through rootsweb lists. And when you get looking there are cool databases all scattered in different places, like the British National Archives– you can download many wills for a per download fee, about 3 pounds per will. All very very cool. I’ll solved several old family genealogy mysteries, through online databases, or through help I’ve gotten from people on rootsweb lists.

  3. September 27, 2006 at 12:17 am

    The elijah disease is catching, no? I hear there is no cure. Which is a bummer, since I have exhausted all the low-hanging fruit provided by Ancestry (I’ve had a subscription for years and years . . . since they were created. I polished the skills I now use in Law School by doing genealogical research!) Now to press further, I have to do the dusty work (like, go to Croatia, or poke around in actual courthouse records). But fear not, the online stuff is singularly excellent for getting all your lines (in the US, Canada, and Britain) back to about 1800 or so. Enjoy yourselves.

  4. Sara R
    September 27, 2006 at 12:21 am

    Have you already checked out [url=]PAF insight[/url]? It automatically checks your PAF files against the IGI so you can see if work has been done without entering in each person individually. Very cool!

  5. Sheldon
    September 27, 2006 at 7:07 am

    I’m a cynic, but #4 sounds like an advertisement.

  6. Ardis
    September 27, 2006 at 9:08 am

    5 Sheldon – 4 is an advertisement, sorta, because it’s a commercial product, but Sara R probably didn’t think of it that way. PAF Insight is touted by missionaries at the SLC Family History Library and elsewhere because it is so handy. Because they can use it at the library for free, I doubt that most of its advocates remember that it’s an outside commercial product.

  7. September 27, 2006 at 9:41 am

    I just received a copy of the Legacy software in the mail yesterday. I’ve got it on my computer but haven’t actually worked with it yet. My mother says she prefers it to PAF.

    Anyways, as I get more into genealogy I’ll probably have more opinions on the matter. I’m just happy to find it interesting for once. For years I just had no interest at all.

  8. MW*
    September 27, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Ohana software makes software where you can pre-screen your names yo see if they’re work has already been done using the online data called PAF insight. So you can have a faster trip when you have to get your names ready for the temple.

  9. anon
    September 27, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    Within the next year, the church is supposed to be unveiling a new genealogy system so that it’s all online, you’ll clear and submit your names from your home computer and print out the cards yourself to take to the temple. A guy who works at our stake family history library is one of the programmers on it, so he’s told us some about it. Can’t wait!!

  10. Paula
    September 27, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    I was one of the testers for the new online system. It looked really cool, but still had a lot of bugs last fall when I was in the testing. One nice thing, besides online temple submissions, is that the new system has a much better search engine. I found several records that I can’t find in the current familysearch system. Also, you’ll be able to contact people who submitted the names to the IGI– now it just tells you that no information is available after 1991 submissions.

  11. Sara R
    September 27, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Sorry for #4. I’m a real person, not a spammer and I don’t make any money from the product. I thought it was a good use of $25, since I’m a mom and it’s a pain to drag kids to the library.

  12. Ardis
    September 27, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    Sara R (11) — And on behalf of the rest of us patrons, thanks for not dragging your kids to the library! [big, big grin] You’re right, it’s a convenient improvement to PAF. Anything that encourages a more thorough search for previous temple work, thereby cutting down on duplicate ordinances, is something to applaud.

    Another one of my favorite developments for internet genealogy is the USGenWeb ( system, with a site for every county in every state. The sites are all run by volunteers so the quality varies wildly, but if your ancestors had the sense to live in a county with a good modern-day coordinator, like, say, Chemung County, New York (or Piute County, Utah, she not-so-modestly opines), you’re in luck. Some of the county sites have a tremendous amount of local material put up, and you can often find local people to advise you.

  13. 27yo family historian
    September 28, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    I\’m quite lucky that my parents got the genealogy bug in the late 70s. My mother found quite a bit of information on her family–tracing one line back to 1600s Germany. I\’m now trying to flesh out the records with a social history–photos, memories, history of the times… I hope that I\’m able to make the names and dates my parents found come alive for the future generations. It\’s a little different angle–though I have found some new genealogy leads–but just as exciting and addictive!

    I found Ancestry to be a great tool for finding some obits and little tiny mentions of my great-grandparents in their local newspapers–their gossip/society section–which has been SO much fun! I almost paid for the subscription till my dad told me the family history centers have it and (at least our local family history center) wi-fi! He\’s like, \”you can park in the parking lot and use it anytime–even after hours.\” Sweet!

    Sorry, I know my project\’s a little unrelated, but I just love to talk about it!

  14. Paula
    September 30, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Today’s Deseret News has an article about the upcoming changes to familysearch, and the indexing project:,1249,650194998,00.html

    No wifi at our local FHC yet, alas.

  15. Sara R
    February 20, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    Yesterday I found Utah Digital Newspapers. It has copies of the Deseret News back to 1850, Salt Lake Tribune back to 1871, and numerous little local papers. Best of all, it is all keyword searchable! I wasn’t sure if one ancestor died back east or in “the valley,” so I searched the Deseret News and found that she died in the valley. Her son was one of the presidency of the seventy, and when I searched for him I found a lot of info about him–reports from his mission, a note about his excommunication– Very, very interesting and easy to use.

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