101 Best genealogy websites

Family Tree Magazine, an American genealogy magazine, has published their latest list of 101 Best Genealogy Websites for 2008.

What has this got to do with an Australian, you might ask. I admit that the majority of American websites have little relevance to us here in Australia unless we have ancestors from the US but if you think about it, Americans have similar problems to us. Most Americans’ ancestors came from somewhere else, as ours did.

Once they get far enough back up their family tree they need to know about English and Irish and Scottish and European research just as we do. The US and Canada had large waves of immigration in the same periods as Australia; theirs just started earlier than ours.

So what is in the list of 101 best websites? This year they’ve broken them down into categories so their readers, and browsers like us, can pick and choose according to relevance.

Best for Beginning Researchers This is a category to pick and choose from. Cyndi’s List, WorldCat and FamilySearch have universal relevance, but the US Library of Congress may not.

Best for Web Researchers I was a bit confused by this category – surely they are all good for web researchers. They appear to be sites that you can spend a lot of time in, “in your pajamas”. Many of them, such as Ancestry and WorldVitalRecords, have Australian content as well as British and European. Others are places to link with other researchers and share information, such as WeRelate and Shared Tree.

Best for Military Researchers is purely for American military history, so if you are interested in that I will leave you to check it out on your own.

Best for US Researchers is similarly restricted to American research, as is Best for African-American Research.

Best for Canadian Research may be useful if your ancestors siblings went to Canada instead of coming here, as one of mine did. Others changed their minds about Canada and came here. It’s daunting to realise that you suddenly have to learn about a whole new country and its records and knowing that a good place to start is the Canadian Genealogy Centre, part of Library and Archives Canada.

Best for Immigration Research is best for immigration into America, although The Ships List has Australian and New Zealand lists as well.

Best for British Isles Research has a good list of essential sites, although I’m not so sure about Burke’s Peerage Online. GENUKI is an essential first stop and FreeBMD should be on everyone’s list of favourite sites with English or Welsh ancestry. Scotland and Ireland are not left out, with ScotlandsPeople and Ireland’s History in Maps.

Personally I think this list could have been longer, or broken into smaller categories. What are your suggestions?

Best for Continental Researchers is similarly brief with just seven sites for the whole continent.

Best for Jewish Research is possibly a neglected area in Australia. Less so in the States where Avotaynu is probably the best known Jewish research site.

Best for Genetic Researchers is another universal category. GeneTree is a social networking site that uses mitochondrial DNA test results (from the female line).

I haven’t listed all 101 sites for obvious reasons – you can go there and look around to your heart’s content. An Australian-made list would obviously be different, and every compiler would have their own version.

What are your favourite sites?

What’s for dinner?

When I was young my mother served up much the same thing for dinner every single night. Dinner was some form of meat – chops, sausages, (rarely) steak, cooked quite thoroughly; and three vegetables – potatoes (boiled), carrots (boiled), and either green beans or peas (boiled).

Occasionally dinner was a large piece of meat roasted in the oven, such as a leg of lamb, or (very rarely) a chook. I remember chooks being reserved for Christmas dinner; they were a special occasion meal in those days, roasted whole and served with gravy.

I’m not telling you this to criticise my mother. She was just doing what she learned from her mother. I’ve just put an osso bucco in the oven and it made me think about what my ancestors may have had for dinner on a Friday night. The answer came immediately – fried meat and three boiled vegetables. What else was there?

It’s easy to forget how much the food we eat has changed even in my lifetime. When I was young lunch was called dinner and dinner was called tea. There was no pizza, or pasta, or curries. We didn’t eat pork. All meat had to be cooked and cooked and cooked to avoid serious illness, especially pork. Takeaway night was hamburgers or fish and chips. Chinese food was a special night out, once every year or two. Rice was used for dessert in a pudding, as was sago.

Come to think of it, there was much more variety in the desserts than in the main courses. Steamed puddings, apple pies, bread-and-butter puddings, rice custard, caramel tarts, custard tarts, apple crumble; the list goes on. And then there were morning teas: scones, cupcakes, teacakes, rock cakes, coconut slices, biscuits.

The cooking in a family is usually passed down from mother to daughter, and my mother’s mother came from mostly Scottish stock (small joke there!). I don’t think my Gran was especially fond of cooking, but she made an apple pie that I remember to this day. It probably wasn’t anything special but we knew Gran was a better cook than Mum and it was because of this apple pie. It had sugar on the top.

So it is not hard to imagine what sort of food my great-grandmother cooked in the early 1900s, or what her mother cooked in the 1880s.

Were they healthy on this unvaried diet? You’d have to conclude that they were. My mother’s parents lived on the land and they worked hard so I’m sure that contributed to their long lives; they both lived into their nineties, and neither drank or smoked. Many were overweight, though, and these days the lack of variation and the over-abundance of fat and sugar is still apparent for many people.

It all reminds me of the rations that were given to convicts and soldiers in the early days of the Colony. Meat, flour, sugar, tea. Or the rations the great explorers lived on through their great exertions. Not a great diet, certainly there weren’t enough vegetables.

I don’t remember vegetables being a big deal at home. We had to eat them but there wasn’t a great variety, as I said: potatoes, carrots, beans and peas. We didn’t grow anything at home, but I remember those that did grew mostly salad stuff – tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, some beans. And fruit trees. My grandfather had the best plum tree I remember to this day. No lemons or limes (what could you do with lemons but make lemon butter?).

Pumpkins, too; they grew pumpkins. And made pumpkin scones with them, or roasted pieces with lots of dripping with a roast dinner.

They do say that the English diet was, and still is, the worst, and most unvaried, in the world, and that’s what we inherited here in Australia. Baked cakes and pies and fatty stuff. Bread and dripping! Ugh. It changed quicker in the large cities, but the process was much slower in the country towns like Dubbo, where I grew up.

Genealogy education

dreamstimefree_6456266_320x240No matter how long you’ve been tracing your family history there is always more work to do. Similarly, no matter how much you think you know about how to trace your family history, there is always more to learn. Things are changing all the time as new records and indexes become available, as the internet is used more, and as your research progresses and your interests change.

You may find that a family you are tracing came from Scotland and so you need to find out about Scottish research. Or the family moved to Queensland and you need to find out where to find Queensland death certificates and probate. Or you find that an ancestor became a farmer and you need to find out about land records. Or you can’t decipher some old handwriting, or understand the terms used in an old will.

So how do you learn more?

The obvious way is to buy books, and that is a topic for another time. I’d like to cover some other places to learn that you may not have thought of.

The Internet

It is amazing how much information there is available on the internet. I’m not talking here about doing a search for the name of your ancestor and finding that someone has done all the work and put it on the web; I’m talking about research guides to individual geographic areas or types of documents.

Many websites have guides to research in different geographical areas or subject areas:

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone.  What this means in practice is that if anyone puts something suspect in there someone else will come along and update or remove the offending material. There are many more specialised lists of terms around but Wikipedia is a good first option to look for the name of a place or the meaning of a legal or medical term. Where it gives sources it can be useful as a pointer to more specialised works.

The Encyclopedia of Genealogy works the same way as Wikipedia but is more specialised. It is run by Dick Eastman, the writer of a well-known genealogy blog. Material is being added every day.

Society of Australian Genealogists has some excellent research guides under their Helping You menu, written by highly experienced staff and volunteers.

State Records NSW have many indispensible guides to the records they hold available online. Archives in Brief are fact sheets about specific topics such as Convicts and Passenger Lists and can be downloaded and printed, or collected from the reading rooms.

GenUKI is the best place to find out what is available for UK research. Most counties are managed by a volunteer who keeps the site up to date. What is available and where, which parish is where, what is being indexed and whether it is available online.

Familysearch has a large number of research guides for many countries of the world and States of the USA under their main Research Guidance menu. Australia and New Zealand are not included.

Courses and lectures

I’ve talked about these before. Here is a brief list:

  • State Records NSW hold free seminars on a regular basis on the records available in their archives and how they can help you with your research.
  • The NSW and ACT Family History Societies Annual Conference will be held this year in Dubbo from 12-14th September 2008.
  • Many family history societies have their own annual fairs or conferences.

Internet forums

No matter what your area or preference, there is almost certainly a forum or a mailing list that can tell you more. You can read what other people ask and the answers they receive, and you can ask your own questions and get answers. Most people are very helpful and courteous in these forums.

Rootsweb host a great many mailing lists and message boards for family historians all over the world, including many regions and societies in Australia. Many genealogical societies host their own forums and restrict access to members, but most are open to everyone.

Podcasts

Podcasts are relatively new to the world of genealogy, and the world in general, but are a marvellous way of listening to lectures on many topics from all around the world.

A podcast is a sound or video recording that has been made available on the internet. The ABC, for example, makes many of its radio and television shows available at http://www.abc.net.au/services/podcasting/.

You can download individual episodes or you can subscribe to a feed. A feed requires a podcast reader such as iTunes or Juice which you run on your computer. I use the one that came with my MP3 player, called Zencast. You can then listen to them at your leisure on your computer or download them to your MP3 player or mobile phone to listen to when you are out and about. I listen to podcasts on the train and at the gym.

The National Archives in England records many of its lectures on history and family history as podcasts. I must admit to these being my favourites, even the ones about Oliver Cromwell and Henry the Eighth, neither of whom I’m related to (as far as I know!).

Genealogical Society of Victoria has started recording lectures and making them available to their members on their website. This is a trend that I hope other societies will follow.

The ABC’s Radio National has a weekly program on social history called Hindsight which can give you a broader picture of a place or time or person in history.

There are many more, especially in the United States. So many that I think they should be the topic of a future post.