When I started this journey over seven years ago, the first website I went to start was Ancestry. I was able to start building my tree, search for records, and review other people’s trees to help connect some dots. Back when I started Ancestry was $14.97 a month. I started with the free trial. I did as much I as could during that 14 day period. By the end of the two weeks, I had a tree with information on it and I had discovered new information on my great grandparents. I canceled my subscription the day before my free trial ended. And that’s when I started looking for other ways to research without using the internet. I read every genealogy book I could get my hands on. Most of the books I first read were older and didn’t discuss the internet that much. So I learned where I could find census records, land records, marriage records, tax records, and church records. So that is how I started researching, by actually going to the library and looking at microfilm.
So that’s what I did for the next two years, I spent time at the library in front of a microfilm reader or with my nose buried in a genealogy book. I even started requesting microfilm from other libraries when traveling wasn’t an option. I had become a wiz with the microfilm and quite comfortable researching in an actual library. I’ve never been that tech savvy, so this research style always worked for me. But the more books I read, the more I read about using the internet to research genealogy. So I thought maybe it was about time I revisit Ancestry.
When I returned to Ancestry, there wasn’t much of a difference except the price had gone up to $19.95 a month. The website was still like I remembered. But I could tell that more people had been using it than just two years prior because there were more public trees available for me to review. Also by this time the 1940 census had been released to the public and was accessible on Ancestry. So I must admit this was the only website I used for a while, almost two years. I had read about others, but I never really tried them out. If I couldn’t find it on Ancestry, I would always go back to my tried and true microfilm. What can I say…I’m a creature of habit? But that would change when I went to my first genealogy conference in June of 2015.
Soon I wasn’t finding any new information on any of my relatives. I felt like I had read every book on the subject, and they all said the same thing. Which at this time wasn’t helping me go further in my research. I found a genealogy conference in Little Rock that was free to the public. The presenter was a lady named Lisa Louise Cooke from Genealogy Gems. I had never heard of her and one of the four presentations was how to use Google in your genealogy research. At first, I was like Google, really. Even I know how to use Google. But it was free and not that far of a drive, so I thought what the heck I’ll give it a try. And I’m so glad I did. First off her presentation on Google was more than just searching names and dates. She explained how to use Google Books and Google Earth, which I had never used before. She also explained how to get the best results from your searching by using quotes and how to search for date ranges. It was like using Google for the first time when I got home. I have been able to find my grandparents in books and other useful information about Jackson and Woodruff counties by searching in Google Books. And I have contacted Lisa and her staff several times after the conference for help or advice and they always respond quickly and are just as interested in my genealogy successes as I am. I feel like we are genealogy friends (in my head anyway).
During that conference, I learned about Lisa’s podcast, Genealogy Gems, so I started listening to it. And a few months later she discussed how Family Search was compiling and digitizing the Freedmen Bureau records. Now, this was big news for anyone researching African American ancestry. I knew about the Freedman’s Bureau but was only able to access it when I was in New York on vacation. And there were no records from Arkansas at the New York Archives, but it was fun to look at and see some of the records. With the news that the Freedman Bureau would be available online later in 2016, I thought I should check it out before hand to see what else Family Search had to offer. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of documents available. It was also during this time that Find A Grave gave Family Search access to their records. Last week Family Search announced that after August 31, 2017, they will be discontinuing their microfilm rental service because they are going to focus on digitizing more records to make them available online. So it looks like Family Search may be the place to be and it is free.
Over the last 18 months or so, I have been using Ancestry and Family Search equally. When I researching on my laptop, I always have each open in a separate window searching for the same ancestor on both sites. Sometimes they have the exact same documents and sometimes I will find different records or information. And I still spend time in libraries and archives at the microfilm reader. For me, the internet hasn’t completely taken the place of microfilm….at least not yet anyway. But as technology changes so do my research methods and techniques. I’m not as apprehensive as I used to be to use the internet to aid in my research. But for me, there’s just something about being in a library touching the books or using the microfilm that makes me feel like a real genealogist. This journey is teaching me to embrace the internet more and more. And this is why my journey continues……
ANNOUNCEMENT: I have started recording a podcast where I talk about my genealogy research project and provide tips and resources I’ve found along the way that may inspire or help you. Click here to subscribe and listen on iTunes.