Check These Out – Five Interesting Genealogical Web Sites

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

I will be the first to admit that time flies. I have watched school reunions (note the use of the word “watched” rather than “attended”!) pass by. It didn’t seem so bad when the fortieth high school graduation anniversary (1965) passed, nor the fortieth college graduation anniversary (1969). But this morning, I realized that 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of my graduate school degree (1971). Wow! When I realized, however, that one of my library school courses was called “Mechanized Information Retrieval” and involved IBM punch cards, I realize how far the electronic world has come in a reasonably short period of time. This realization is further emphasized by the explosion of Internet content and its use over just the past five years. Every day I discover new sites that offer assistance to my client and personal genealogical research – and content for these continuing blog articles. I thought I’d share with you five interesting sites that I’ve discovered during the past year. I’m sure that you will find them as beneficial as I have.

1.       Accessible Archives. Note: This website is not free, but its annual individual subscription at $59.95 is very reasonable for the information provided. Founded in 1990, Accessible Archives provides access to large collections of newspapers and books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As many of these resources have only been available in formats such as microfilm, their provision in an electronic format is most welcome. The annual subscription provides access to sully searchable full-text pages from newspapers, magazines and books, including a collection of eight African-American newspapers covering the time period from 1827 to 1902; American county histories to 1900 (currently for the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, and Mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Histories for southern states are scheduled for the next addition); a large collection of Civil War materials providing first-person perspectives from newspapers, soldiers, generals, the Midwest, and even Iowa; Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830-1898); The Liberator (William Lloyd Garrison’s Boston newspaper from 1831-1865); The Pennsylvania Gazette (1728-1800); various Pennsylvania and South Carolina newspapers covering the time period 1779 to 1870; and The Virginia Gazette (1736-1780). All databases may be searched at once using a unified interface which offers full Boolean search capability as well as “field restriction, limiting, truncation and stemming, linking, browsing and sorting.”(?) The strength of this web site is its provision of “eyewitness accounts” of historical events, vivid descriptions of daily life, editorial observations, commerce as seen through advertisements, and genealogical records.” My standard keyword search for “Barclay” discovered 1,612 articles including several stories from Godey’s Lady’s Book; a marriage notice from the Village Record (Pennsylvania) announcing the marriage of Mr. A. Wayne Dampman of Springfield, Chester County, to Miss Sarah Barclay of Carnarvon, Bucks County, in the Springfield M.E. Church on 17 November 1869; and a report of actions taken in the House of Representatives (34th Congress, July 1, 1856) by a Mr. Barclay. This web site is well worth the subscription price and an excellent User’s Manual is available online, downloadable to your computer. Should you not wish to subscribe, check with your local library to see if it provides access to an institutional subscription. Regardless of where you access this site, you will want to search it often as new materials are added.

2.       Papers of the War Department 1784-1800. I particularly enjoy military research, although not particularly in time periods prior to the Civil War. This web site, however, is helping to change my opinion and, I believe, will assist you in researching a time period for which many of the official records were destroyed during a November 1800 fire in the War Office. The project to reconstruct this collection of documents began over ten years ago, but when the project director, Ted Crackel, left in 2004 to edit the George Washington Papers, the project was suspended until 2006–when it was transferred to the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Virginia. Today, this digital project will make 55,000 documents available to historians and researchers. As the project’s website states, “These Papers record far more than the era’s military history. Between 1784 and 1800, the War Department was responsible for Indian affairs, veteran affairs, naval affairs, as well as militia and army matters…The War Office did business with commercial firms and merchants all across the nation.” The best of the entire site is free and provides digitized images of each document. Once again, I searched for “Barclay.” Fifteen documents are available including a letter from Matthew McConnell. Commissioner of Army Accounts in Philadelphia to Joseph Howell, Paymaster General in New York, that provides the orders for the month’s pay for Lt. Jno. Barclay and Andrew Johnston “for the use of the Society of the Cincinnati.” If you are researching government archives during this difficult period, this site is a must.

3.       Their Own Words. Anecdotal information is vital to the narration of the lives of our ancestors, but can often be difficult to locate. Their Own Words is a site which provides a collection of books, pamphlets, letters and diaries. The documents provided were gathered from the collections of the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections. Dickinson College, chartered in 1783, is one of the oldest institutions in the country. The database contains 34,500 full-text searchable page images, including fifty-seven books, thirteen pamphlets, seven letter collections, and one diary that span 150 year of American history. The project was funded in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. A keyword search for Barclay (other searches include author and title) found nineteen entries. One entry is a list of jurors for the Christiana Riot and Treason Trials of 1851, a momentous instance of antebellum racial violence in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, occasioned by the Fugitive Slave Act passed the previous year. Among the jurors was Andrew C. Barclay, gentleman, of 147 Arch Street in Philadelphia, who was challenged by the defendant, although unfortunately the reason for the challenge is not included.

4.       U.S., State and County Boundary Maps and Old American Atlas Maps. Even more than military research, I love maps. I currently am serving on an exhibit committee that has the task of choosing only two or three maps to illustrate our county’s history. With two of us “map people” on the committee, you can imagine how well that decision is progressing! Nevertheless, maps are genealogists’ friends and can add much detail to our work.

I guarantee that The U.S. State and County Boundary Map web site will make your geographical heart beat faster! The first section, Old Atlas Maps, provides digital images of maps dated from 1776 to 1880. Of particular interest are Carey’s American Atlas Map (1795); Carey’s General Atlas Maps (1814)  – just click on the state name – the first atlas printed in the United States to use standard colors; and the U. S. General Land Office Maps (1866) which accompanied the Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office. Historical maps provide a wonderful opportunity to identify your ancestor’s place of residence within his or her historical context. My favorite section provides Rotating Boundary County Maps with links to “rotating animated maps showing all the country boundary changes and all the country boundaries for each year overlayed… with past and present maps.” (And yes, the quoted section does consistently spell “boundary” as “boundry.”) These maps have, with permission, been created with Animap 3.0 software.   The Downloadable County D.O.T. Maps section provides state Department of Transportation maps in pdf or tiff file formats. (Please note that not all states are currently available.) Additional sections include a series of map links, ranging from 1775 to 1920, and rotating census maps (Note: These maps may be useful on a research trip where weight is an issue; otherwise, stick with Thorndale’s Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Census, 1790-1920 (Genealogical Publishing Co.) and rotating county maps for the entire United States. This web site will provide hours of happy “map cruising” in addition to answering your more specific geographical questions.

5.       Open Library. As researchers, we often encounter books that we would like to get our hands on. While you may have used WorldCat to identify a library that owns a specific title, or used Project Gutenberg or Google Books to locate an electronic copy, you will want to look at Open Library (although it is not without some problems as discussed below).

This site is a catalog project that began in 2007. Its goal is to “list every book – whether in-print or out-of-print, available at a bookstore or a library, scanned or typed in as text.” The site claims a current listing of over 20,000,000 records (many from some of “the world’s largest libraries,” with access to 1.7 million scanned versions of books. A secondary goal is to “get you as close to the actual document you’re looking for as we can…whether that is a scanned version courtesy of the Internet Archive or a link to bookstores.” Searching the site, I found 38,964 items under the topic “Genealogy,” and 38,932 under the topic “genealogy” – note case differences; subcategories can also be searched. A caveat, however, is that the subcategories, inexplicably, are not listed alphabetically, but by the number of titles within each subcategory. Entries are described by type: subject, place or people. Searching further, I looked under the subcategory for North Carolina Genealogy, finding that 111 entries, but no e-books are currently available. A timeline chart provided a snapshot of the publications dates represented by these 111 entries. At the bottom of the page, a series of further subject, place, people, and historical time periods were provided. I also searched under the subject “Marriage Records” and found 2,372 titles. A link took me directly to the e-books available (3 titles; 4 editions), one of which was the Vital Records of Winchendon, Massachusetts to the end of the year 1849. I could then read this book on-line or, by going to the book’s Open Library page, download a pdf version to my computer or send it to a Kindle. I also searched under author and selected Thomas Jay Kemp (authors are again listed by number of editions included on the site, not alphabetically by name).  Four editions of Tom’s International Vital Records Handbook (Genealogical Publishing Co.) are listed. No e-book versions are available, but the site does indicate that copies can be borrowed (link to WorldCat) or purchased from a list of bookstores including Alibris, Amazon, AbeBooks,, and Powell’s. It is worth noting that your author search for Tom’s books must be formatted as Thomas Jay Kemp; there are no see references from Tom Kemp, Thomas Kemp, or Thomas J. Kemp. also, like Wikipedia and other such sites, offers users collaboration opportunities. Under a specific title, you may select the EDIT button and provide information such as content descriptions. You will know when opportunities to edit exist if you see such unfortunately cutesy statements such as “Pooh! There’s no description for this book yet. Can you help?”

While I realize that this evaluation cites so many caveats that I might ordinarily discourage using the site, I still think that its content, when found, balances its shortcomings. The ability to know whether an e-book is available for a specific title, as well as to follow links to WorldCat to borrow a copy, or to bookstores to purchase one, is of significant value to researchers. Additional Open Library features exist. Be sure to read the FAQs to learn all of the options available.

I hope you will make an opportunity to visit these sites and use them in your research.

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