Computers and Genealogy

Travels With my Computer

by Wayne Thalls

This morning I decided to make a quick visit to some genealogical libraries. These were all facilities which I have visited previously. I like to return to them occasionally to see what is new.

First I headed off to Edmonson County, Kentucky, which was the birthplace of my maternal grandparents. If I were to travel by air, I would need to take a flight to Louisville or to Nashville, Tennessee. After that 5-6 hour flight, I would then have to rent an automobile and drive for 2-3 more hours.

For my journey today, I traveled by more contemporary means. I used the Internet.

First I logged on to the US GenWeb site ( ). For a first time visitor there is detailed information about the project with lots of tips on doing effective research. Since I am familiar with the system, I go directly to the outline map of the US. There I simply click on the state of my choice--in this instance Kentucky. Incidentally, the concept which became the GenWeb project originated in Kentucky.

When the Kentucky page appears, I select Edmonson County on their outline map. The Edmonson County home page lists several major resources. For example most of the cemetery records for the county are available. A couple of resources are highlighted with a NEW designation. One is the Index to the 1850 Census for the county. In it I find many occurrences of my family surnames.

Another new item is a county marriage index. In it I find nearly 200 occurrences of my grandmothers surname. Included are my great-grandparents, Reubin and Tincy Ellen (Elmore) Vincent who were married 6 September 1860. I saved these web pages for off-line review. I later printed copies the considerable information I had found.

Edmonson County today has a population of only 14,000. I doubt that it has ever been much larger. This means there are far more people in the cemeteries than in the towns. When I visited the area in person a couple of years ago, I started my research at the public library in Brownsville, the county seat. After a couple of hours we asked the librarian for the location of the nearest place for lunch. She directed us to a Foster Freeze at the outskirts of town. Across the street was another hamburger restaurant. These were the only public eating facilities in the county.

The Next Leg

I decide next to visit Berkeley County, West Virginia (then Virginia) where some of my wife’s maternal line lived from the mid 1700’s. We have visited the region for research twice in recent years. Today I want to see if anything new is available on-line. I return to the US GenWeb site, where I select West Virginia on the map. I then click on Berkeley County.

I am looking for information regarding the Civil War involvement of family members. I know that one died at the First Battle of Bull Run. I don’t have information on his Confederate regiment. I find that several links to West Virginia Civil War records have recently been added. You can even access newspaper clippings of the era.

I have previously searched several Civil War Sites including the American Civil War Research Database ( ). This is a commercial site with a $25.00 annual subscription fee. Their goal is to provide the complete rosters of both the Union and confederate armies. Thus far they claim about 68% of the Union roster is completed. The site also includes unit histories along with details of the engagements fought. Name searches of the database may be made for free. They provide enlistment locations and dates. They also indicate if the individual died in service. I find several probables. More research is needed.

I have written several interim reports on the families. I looked for period photos to include with my story. Great photos by Matthew Brady and other photographers can be found at the Library of Congress web site ( ).

If you are looking for more detailed historical information you may want to visit the US Civil War Center operated by Louisiana State University ( ). To find links to other Civil War sites around the country, visit The Civil War Homepage ( ).

Next Stop

My next visit was to the Bedford County Pennsylvania genealogy site. I reached this county in the same manner--first going to US GenWeb, then to Pennsylvania and then to Bedford County. Quite simple, really!

I checked for recent additions to their resources. I did find several queries relating to Rosemary’s kin had been recently posted. I immediately composed and sent off e-mails to a couple of these people. One was bounced back almost instantly as undeliverable--an all too common occurrence as people change service providers or simply abandon on-line research.

Just One More

I decide to make another visit to a site I haven’t checked for quite a long time. Maybe they have added some new resources. I click my way via the GenWeb to Blackford County, Indiana. I have been looking for information on my mother-in-law, who was born there in 1897. I have never found her birth record. Unfortunately there are no new records available for searching. I make a quick scan of the query postings for the past year. No familiar names there.

The Bottom Line

How many weeks on the road would be required to conduct the identical research I just completed in little over an hour? I would have traveled at least 5,800 miles to make personal visits to these locations.

After this journey, I decided to check the availability of county histories for a couple of the counties mentioned above. I went to the web again. This time I contacted the Latter Day Saints Church site ( ). There I went to the on-line catalog of the Family History Library. I didn’t even need to drive across town to the local Family History Center. I will need to visit the FHC to place my order for the microfilmed publications I found in the catalog.

My virtual journey certainly didn’t accomplish all the things which can be achieved only by an actual on-site visit. Why, I didn’t tramp through a single cemetery. I didn’t have the enjoyment of actually meeting a new cousin or two. I did find a considerable amount of new data during my ninety minutes of searching. All in all the time was well spent. The computer is becoming a more useful tool.

© 2000  From the newletter of the Genealogical Society of Santa Cruz County (CA)

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