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Genealogy and the Internet:
An Introduction to the USGenWeb Project

(Printed in the August/September 1997 issue of the Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin)

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. Jeff’s 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 it’s 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 project.

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 transcribe
  • 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 USGenWeb’s 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 it’s 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 1990’s 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 county pages.
The national index homepage can be accessed at this URL address:
http://www.usgenweb.org/

The USGenWeb Archives is coordinated by Linda Lewis.
The Archives Table of Contents page can be accessed at this URL address:
http://usgwarchives.net/

The WorldGenWeb Project consists of over 200 country related genealogy web pages.
The WorldGenWeb homepage index can be accessed at this URL address:
http://www.worldgenweb.org/

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 Carroll Counties).
The MDGenWeb project homepage can be accessed at this URL address:

http://www.mdgenweb.org/

 

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This county is part of the USGenWeb Project, a non-profit genealogical resource web system, and is maintained by April Phillips and Connie Burkett with help and information provided by other volunteers.

Last Revised: March 30, 2008

Copyright The Somerset County, PAGenWeb Project.