Genealogy and the Internet:
An Introduction to the USGenWeb Project
(Printed in the August/September 1997 issue of the Maryland Genealogical
The primary goal of the USGenWeb project is to help new and seasoned
genealogical researchers find research and reference resources throughout
the United States and throughout the world via the Internet. The USGenWeb
project was created in June of 1996 as a global library or online repository
for genealogical research materials. These research materials, mostly
transcribed public-domain records, family databases, and other non-copyrighted
text, were collected and organized by a series of web links allowing free
access by anyone with a computer and modem connection to the Internet.
The original concept of an online genealogical web project came about
after a series of discussions on an electronic GenWeb mailing list hosted
by Gary Hoffman in early 1996. In March and April of 1996, Jeff Murphy
decided to set up the first state web page, simply called the KYGenWeb
(Kentucky Genealogical Web) project. Jeffs original vision was to
see a single point of entry created online to facilitate genealogical
research in the state of Kentucky. Additionally, he wanted to provide
an organized facility to house databases that contained vital records
-- birth, marriage and death information in Kentucky. In June of 1996,
the KYGenWeb project went online as a master index page containing links
to individual county web pages and online databases. By September of 1996,
the KYGenWeb had recruited enough volunteers to create and maintain web
pages for each of its individual counties.
The success of the KYGenWeb encouraged the formation of the USGenWeb
project: a genealogical web index containing a master page with web links
to all 51 States (including the District of Columbia). Volunteers were
recruited to maintain state and county pages, to assist with the collection
and transcription of public-domain records, and to promote the concept
of online genealogical research. In one month, from September 1, 1996
to October 1, 1996 the USGenWeb project homepage received 56,000 visitors
and facilitated over 350,000 redirects to state and county pages. Kentucky,
the original state project, had 100% of its county coordinator positions
filled; Washington DC was also at 100% completion; Indiana was at 99%;
Tennessee was at 91%; Mississippi was at 87% and so on. Over 50% of all
state projects were at 36% or more completed and individual county pages
were at more that 50% completed .
The overall success of the KYGenWeb and the USGenWeb project is due in
part to this straight forward three-step program:
(1) To provide the organization of data on a statewide county-by-county
basis. This includes the single point of entry through a main US index
and the networked links to the state and then to the county for actual
local resource and reference information.
(2) To provide the organization and access of data for online research.
The collection of research materials and their publication online has
enabled world-wide user accessibility through the USGenWeb Archives. Materials
housed here are available for free and can be downloaded and utilized
off-line at the researcher's convenience.
(3) Nationwide coordination of volunteers to create and maintain the
web pages and web links and, in general, support this project. This is
by far the most effective approach that allows the organized and the focused
data collection and representation on the Internet.
As of July 1, 1997, the USGenWeb homepage index has been visited by over
880,000 people. The USGenWeb project actively recruits volunteers at all
levels and strives to maintain a uniformed look in all of
its associated web pages. Creativity and freedom of expression in
web page design are encouraged and few rules and regulations exist to
hinder the state or county coordinator. The USGenWeb is proud of its uniqueness
in representation and prefers to allow its volunteers to develop and promote
their individual state or county sites as their time and their energies
allow. However, every USGenWeb page is reviewed by a special national
design committee before it is allowed to be categorized as officially
online." This committee ensures that each page and link works properly,
that the overall appearance is pleasant to the viewer (no harsh or jarring
colors), and that the page reflects the openness and friendliness of the
Each State web page is given a similar pneumonic name such as the KYGenWeb
or MDGenWeb project. The official logo and any state logos are to be prominently
displayed on the homepage. State pages must include the following information:
- General Information about state level resources
- Information on how to volunteer as a county coordinator or as a data
- Information on how to subscribe to Internet mailing lists and the
state mailing list
- Index of web links to county pages with notation as to the status
of a county page:
- Available for sponsorship
- Adopted but not online yet
- Adopted and online
- Index of state genealogy web links and other global web links
- Return links to the National Homepage
Within a given state, each county web page will include the official
national logo and any state logo as well as the following information:
- Map of the county
- History of the county
- Names of towns and cities, townships or districts
- Postal addresses and/or Internet links to:
- Historical and Genealogical societies
- County or municipal offices
- Other links to family homepages, local county events, etc.
- Surname queries including an automated posting form
- Surname indexes
- Resource or reference lookups (which can be in books, publications,
or as a physical lookup -- local library or society visits)
- Links back to the state page and the national homepage
The USGenWeb project attracts a wide variety of volunteers who span cross-cultural
and educational backgrounds. Many are professional researchers, educators,
and genealogists. Many are also business men and women, homemakers, and
retired military. The unifying element seems to be what John Rigdon, the
USGenWeb National Administrator, calls a Webby Personality.
Meaning simply, all USGenWeb volunteers share a sense of interlinking
of interests and a spirit of teamwork. Each volunteer realizes that
team work is the key to making this project a success. The state page
cannot function properly without the county pages as a foundation. Likewise,
the national homepage would not exist without the 51 linked state pages.
The primary goal of creating a virtual research library is the mainstay
of each USGenWeb volunteer. Each person associated with this project feels
connected to each other, as a family of researchers, and is dedicated
to making the USGenWebs goal a reality. This project, working in
conjunction with the advent of the Internet, has allowed formerly disenfranchised
researchers who were separated from valuable research materials by locality
the opportunity to expand their own personal research through the electronic
medium. Researchers with access to the Internet can now meet other researchers
online (either by geographical location or by surname interest), can exchange
research materials, can work collaboratively on a surname or census project,
and can make family connections quickly and easily.
In Somerset County, PA, for example, this USGenWeb county site has literally
assisted hundreds of researchers through its electronic mail discussion
list. Researchers in this county can share family folk lore, surname queries,
tree outlines, and even an old recipe through daily email messages. Family
connections are quickly made as surnames and histories are exchanged.
Most researchers find that they are related to one of more of the discussion
list members. The friendliness of the research list has enabled long-distance
friendships (from Seattle, WA to Palm Harbor, FL) and has started several
research collaborations by surname and by township. Additionally, volunteers
have been recruited to transcribe census data for publication online and
in traditional book form (to be sold through the county historical society).
When queried, the majority of regular list subscribers felt that the USGenWeb
project, in its entirety, was instrumental in the development of their
personal family research.
Overall the USGenWeb project has brought genealogical research into the 1990s and has paved
the way for expansion into the 21st century. Eventually, public-domain records will be made available
to the general research community. No longer will researchers become hindered by the unavailability
of records due to locality logistics. The future benefits to the online researcher will be tremendous
and in effect will allow for the searching of complete and accurate public-domain records, allow
for the reading of family web histories, and allow for the review of hyper-linked GEDCOM databases.
Research that was once slow and tedious will now be quickly accessible and the information gleaned
instantly incorporated into publication ready resource materials.
If you would like to see this project first hand, and in action, please stop by any of the web
addresses listed below.
The USGenWeb -- Online Directory of Weblinks
The USGenWeb Project consists of 51 state (Including Washington DC) homepages and over 3,000
The national index homepage can be accessed at this URL address:
The USGenWeb Archives is coordinated by Linda Lewis.
The Archives Table of Contents page can be accessed at this URL address:
The WorldGenWeb Project consists of over 200 country related genealogy web pages.
The WorldGenWeb homepage index can be accessed at this URL address:
The MDGenWeb project consists of 24 county pages (including the City of Baltimore).
The MDGenWeb homepage maintains two mailing lists:
MDGEN-L@rootsweb.com (for general Maryland research questions)
and BALTGEN-L@rootsweb.com (for local research in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and
The MDGenWeb project homepage can be accessed at this URL address: