Internet can navigate users through maze of genealogical roots

March 10, 1995|By Karen Zeiler | Karen Zeiler,Contributing Writer

You can now do research on your family tree in cyberspace.

Information that once took weeks or months to find can be accessed in seconds -- through the Internet.

"It's a way to let the machine do the walking for you, like the Yellow Pages," said George Archer, who will travel the information superhighway with more than 60 amateur genealogists tomorrow at a four-hour seminar at Carroll Community College.

Mr. Archer, a computer expert, lecturer and author of two books on genealogy software, will offer advice on navigating the Internet to unlock clues to the past.

He was invited to speak at the college by Patrick R. O'Donnell, president of the Westminster Roots Users Group, which meets there the second Saturday of each month.

"Mr. Archer is very informed, very learned in this area," Mr. O'Donnell said. "He has been on the lecture circuit for years. He was delighted that I asked him to speak."

Mr. O'Donnell has used the Internet to construct his family tree -- with some surprising discoveries.

He learned that William Bradford, who sailed to America on the Mayflower in 1620 and became the Plymouth colony's second governor, is a distant relative.

"It is so exciting to do the research yourself," said Mr. O'Donnell, who is of Scotch-Irish descent. "It's very addictive."

Mr. O'Donnell also has discovered distant relatives who served in the Revolutionary War; that McCord Air Force Base in Takoma, Wash., was named after a distant cousin, William C. McCord; and that another cousin, Capt. Robert Y. McElory, was the first commander of the aircraft carrier USS Independence, commissioned in 1959.

During his research, Mr. O'Donnell logged on to the Internet to browse through records from the Library of Congress. That led to his discovery of a family genealogy book, "The McCords of Kentucky," written in 1941. The book was given to the library as a gift. In it, Mr. O'Donnell found a wealth of information on ancestors who had emigrated from Ireland and Scotland.

He said subscribers to commercial on-line services, such as Prodigy, CompuServe and America Online, have shown a growing interest in genealogy, and noted that recent surveys suggest that the field has replaced stamp collecting as the nation's No. 1 hobby.

Mr. Archer has measured this interest with his own surveys and has become a highly sought-after resource for amateur genealogists nationwide.

A native of San Diego, Mr. Archer has been doing genealogical research for more than 20 years.

A contributing editor since 1990 to the Computer Interest Group Digest, he has served as acting chairman of the National Genealogical Society Computer Interest Group and is a past president of the Fairfax (Va.) Genealogical Society.

Tomorrow, Mr. Archer will show users how to gain access to birth, death, marriage and land records, Census Bureau reports and court documents that can help people trace their ancestries.

"My objective is not to make them experts, but to show them what's out there," he said.

Over the years, he has directed users to obscure sources of information. He can tell you where to find comprehensive vital statistics from Kentucky, census information from England and land records from Illinois that date from the 1800s.

Knowing exactly where to look can be tricky, he said, but he will offer tips on the quickest ways to locate information.

He cautions users about taking detours, and adds that it is easy to get sidetracked with so much information at your fingertips.

"You can get so lost in the sub-menus, you won't know where you are," he said.

The genealogy seminar, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow, is open to the public, but space is limited. Cable Channel 19 is taping the event and will broadcast it at a future date.

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