Tracking Your Family Through Time And Technology

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When I began creating my own personal Web site, I had a small list of organized bookmarks. I asked my husband, Mark, if I should place them on the site as well. He said, “Sure, why not?” Famous last words. That was two and a half years ago, when Cyndi’s List (www.cyndislist.com) started out with 1,025 links on one Web page. Today it is a vast index to genealogical Web sites, containing more than 38,000 links on more than 270 individual Web pages. It isn’t anywhere near complete, and it never will be, because the Internet is dynamic and ever-changing. When I first started working on the list, I just wanted to show people what useful research tools the Internet had—to help others find the sorts of gems I had found when I first started to explore. I still add to the list each day in a continuing effort to catalogue on-line resources and make order out of the chaos that clutters the information superhighway.

When I first put the site on-line, I had grandiose ideas about how I would expand my family’s personal Web site. That was before Cyndi’s List took on an unruly life of its own. I haven’t been able to work on my own research since then. Despite that, just by putting.up the site, I have added to my family tree in ways that would have been impossible prior to the Internet. I have eighteen newly discovered cousins who found me on-line. We have begun a small, private mailing list on which we talk about our mutual research on the family. It isn’t often that you meet your third or fourth cousins—and surprising indeed that they should turn out to be genealogists too. Since these cousins found me, I have acquired information on two more sets of fourth great-grandparents and a set each of fifth and sixth great-grandparents. I have a copy of a Civil War diary written by my third great-grandfather, Isaac Spears Sanderlin. I have his father’s portrait, taken in his own Civil War uniform shortly before he died at the beginning of the conflict. I have shared my research and family photos with each of these cousins—all of this made possible merely by placing my research on the Web and interacting with the genealogical community on-line. Fifty years ago it would have taken me a lifetime to track down these people.

Several of the new cousins I met on-line happen to live near me in Washington State. (One of my less pleasing discoveries was to learn that after spending an entire summer at the National Archives branch in Seattle, digging through hundreds of pages of census records, I had a cousin just ten minutes up the road who had the same information already completed.) Last year I met with a small group of these cousins; it was a very moving experience. We were all there because of a common ancestor, my fourth great-grandfather. It was about then that it struck me what the Internet was really doing. It was bringing us all back together.

 

At the beginning of this century, my family, like millions of others, was moving apart. Spurred by necessity, people left their ancestral homes; many headed west. Some never returned; many never saw their parents or siblings again. As time passed, it got easier to keep in touch with one another. But by then the people they wanted to keep in touch with were gone. The century waned, and a new technology burgeoned. Now, through that technology, I am being reunited with my family. These cousins are spread across the United States and Canada. We share a distant ancestor, but the intimacy of talking daily over the Internet makes us close. It had to be unimaginably hard for our forebears to leave everyone they knew and loved behind as they moved toward a better life. I like to think that my ancestors might be pleased to know that we have finally come back home together in Cyberspace.

Especially Useful Genealogical Resources on and off the Net