THE CYBERSPACE ANCESTOR HUNT
by Ian Richardson
media writer and lecturer, genealogist
So, what is your image of the average modern-day genealogist? Aged over 50? Probably. A retired professional? Quite likely. Someone who spends all day hunting through dusty files and library records? Wrong.
Increasingly, family history enthusiasts are hunched over a computer, rather than straining their eyes at a microfiche or film reader at the local library or records office.
The past five years has seen an explosion in the use of computers and the Internet in tracking down ancestors. There are some excellent family history computer software packages which, can for instance, create a family chart in seconds. My preference is Sierra's Generations: http://www.sierra.com/titles/genealogy/
An excellent starting point for those who want to do their research on the Net is GENUKI, or Genealogy United Kingdon and Ireland, to give the full name. Point you browser at www.genuki.org/ and the past will open up before your eyes. Don't expect to be amazed by graphics and fancy do-dahs - there aren't any - but you will be astonished at the range of the material sitting in various places around the world, just waiting to be discovered by you.
Next stop should be the stylish website for the Public Records Office at Kew in West London. The PRO is proud of its world-renowned records and their accessibility to the public. Most recently, I used the PRO's Second World War records to discover the truth about how an Australian uncle died while serving with the RAF in Yorkshire. To see what's on offer, go to www.pro.gov.uk/ These sites, though immensely useful, barely scratch the surface. To really move your family history forward, join a newsgroup, such as soc.genealogy.britain, or better still, subscribe to an equivalent genealogical mailing list, such as GENBRIT, GENIRE, GENANZ or AUSTRALIA. The GENUKI site tells you how to go about this.
Brace yourself for hundreds of emails each day, but it's worth it for the sense of community and for the information so willingly swapped by subscribers. Recently, I sought information about a relative found dead in an Australian bush town in the 1970s. I posted a message asking for the name of the local newspaper. Within hours, two messages had been received, giving the name and address of the newspaper. Astonishingly, one informant was in Colorado, while the other was in Singapore. Later the same day, a third subscriber living in the town concerned offered to check through the newspaper files for me.
Now beat that.
"by Ian Richardson
courtesy of BBC Online Web Guide (www.bbc.co.uk/webguide)"
REF: email to Jenny Brandis by Ian Richardson on 6 July 1998