by Donna Pointkouski, What’s Past is Prologue
My “Pointer Sister” Caroline has asked me to write a guest post about the “tech tools” I use to research. Technology can mean different things to different people. When I think of tools I use to research, I don’t think of technological gadgets like my digital camera, Flip-Pal scanner, my laptop, or iPad (as much as I love them all). No, when it comes to research, I think of web sites that assist me, and the internet is a technology tool even though we sometimes take it for granted as if it has always been there. But the internet is definitely a research tool! Sites help me drill down through names and data, pry open a family mystery, or nail down that elusive ancestor. In considering the internet as my best technology tool, here are the top sites I use to research:
One-Step Web Pages by Stephen Morse – http://stevemorse.org/
Dr. Steve Morse, one of the true Rock Stars of genealogy, has recently experienced a surge in popularity due to the 1940 Census Enumeration District Finder pages he created in collaboration with Joel Weintraub. In fact, the pages are so awesome that both Ancestry and the National Archives sites are using them to help researchers find the right E.D. for the 1940 Census! But Steve’s One-Step pages have helped me for many years, long before the release of the 1940 Census. If you are researching immigrant ancestors who came through Ellis Island (or Castle Garden), the site is a must since the search parameters offer much greater variety than those found on the actual record sites. The One-Step census search tools likewise offer a greater variety in searching. Both helped me find my ancestor’s misspelled entries – I never would have found them otherwise.
Księgi Parafialne – http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/
Polish vital records online? Who knew? Sure, this site is in Polish, but you don’t really need to be fluent to navigate. This site lists all of the towns (and corresponding years) in Poland that have either birth, marriage, or death records available ONLINE. Look for the correct province under “wojewóztwa” and see the current list – but be sure to check back if you don’t find what you’re looking for, because they are updated frequently. This site is just the list of who has what, but if a town has records available online a link to the record site is provided.
Geneteka – http://geneteka.genealodzy.pl/
Geneteka is just one of a dozen or so sites that have Polish vital records online, but they seem to have the most (at least in the province I’m researching). Once again, it’s in Polish, but once you learn some key words it is not difficult to navigate. I wrote an article about it called Finding Polish Records online over at my blog: http://pastprologue.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/finding-polish-records-online/.
Google Books – http://books.google.com/
Although I really don’t know any German or Polish other than some genealogical words, I use Google Books to search for both ancestor and town names for more information. I’ve had great luck finding information on my German ancestors this way – many old German newspapers have been digitized! (Read about Bavaria’s Most Wanted! http://pastprologue.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/bavarias-most-wanted/ ) And the cool thing is that you can highlight a passage and use the built-in “translate” tool. The translation is definitely not as accurate as a “human” translation, but it will give you the general gist of the article (and may provide a few good laughs too).
Of course, the main internet research tool I use is a little site called Ancestry.com. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s not free, but over the years I’ve decided it’s worth it as they add more and more records to their collection. Sure, they’re a big commercial corporation, but if the content is good, the digital images are high quality, and the servers are fast, it doesn’t matter much to a capitalist like me. Now you can add your family tree (keeping the living people private) and sync it to your iPad or iPhone – awesome! I appreciate the free sites above, but it’s the big sites like Ancestry that make me wonder how much more quickly I’d have “found” my ancestors if it had existed twenty plus years ago!
As the name of my blog says, what’s past is prologue (okay, Shakespeare said it first…). I can only wonder where the internet and technology will take our research in the future with great tools like this already helping us research, document, translate, and communicate in record time (no pun intended)!