Genealogists Know Where the Bodies Are Buried
October 7, 2003 2:57 PM   Subscribe

The Best-Kept Data-Superpower Secret on the Web RootsWeb is one of the older sites on the Net, and has one of the densest data collections, but it gets very few props. Almost all of the (we're talking terabytes here) data is a.) free; b.) user-contributed. It was open-source and public domain when Linus Torvalds, bless his soul, was still muddling through high school. Sugar-daddy site does a lot of advertising, but you hardly ever heard about homely, brilliant RootsWeb. RootsWeb hosts many of sites that make up the WorldGenWeb Project, a loose network of genealogical and historical data repositories organized by locality, from the AfghanistanGenWeb through the USGenWeb all the way to the ZimbabweGenWeb. Rootsweb's Social Security Death Index UI is excellent--use it to search for a record amongst 70 million available. The WorldConnect database offers up the family trees of 298,212,965 people. Remember the domain, because after this when you Google, you'll be impressed (I believe) by how many content-heavy sites are hosted by RootsWeb. Any other RootsWeb-hosted sites that MeFites enjoy?
posted by jengod (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Rootsweb is great stuff, but it is neither open source nor public domain. Note the copyright statement and acceptable use policy linked from the main page.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 3:04 PM on October 7, 2003

Any other RootsWeb-hosted sites that MeFites enjoy?

Penny Postcards!
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:06 PM on October 7, 2003

Any other RootsWeb-hosted sites that MeFites enjoy?

Gibson Co., Tennessee Photos of Places, Things and Groups Page
posted by quonsar at 12:52 AM on October 8, 2003

They are great and dedicated people. What a rush of memories.

I was there for the pre-web genesis, back on UseNet when the original net.roots group became soc.roots (gated to the great Alf Christophersen's ROOTS-L mailing list). Back in '94 a couple of us, sensing the impending net explosion and seeing a need to create some order in the pre-Google days, sponsored a reorganization into the current series of soc.genealogy.* groups. My god, that was a harrowing experience -- I'm still recovering from it. As an official proponent jumping through a bazillion Dave Lawrence hoops while opponents lobbed torpedos at us, I was stunned to discover how much friction and dissent and outright hatred the notion created. There was a TREMENDOUS backlash; bitter arguments, old friends screaming at each other, acusations, recriminations. Alf finally broke the gateway -- which only intensified the venom in our community. We ultimately won. The onslaught of new people came. Both the new groups and Alf's mailing list blossomed beyond our predictions. Alf even proposed a nordic group of his own, so it all turned out great. But it was hell at the time.

The people providing that fantastic rootsweb resource were in the thick of that, so I got to know them quite well. I'm pleased by their success and am witness to their dedication and altruism.

Forgive me for ramblin' on ... Grampa Ravin' does that sometimes.

Thanx for the reminder, jengod.
posted by RavinDave at 4:55 AM on October 8, 2003

it is neither open source nor public domain

I'm curious to know if it's cheaper or more expensive now to find map out one's genealogy. In years gone past, you'd be spending money and time making long distance phone calls and leafing through paper records in county courthouse basements. I'm wondering if the cost to use Rootsweb (and, et al) matches up to the proportion of convenience compared to how it was done pre-web.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:50 AM on October 8, 2003

Funny you should post this, as I resumed my genealogy research just a couple of days ago, and have been spending a lot of time there lately!
posted by oissubke at 6:19 AM on October 8, 2003

thanotopsis ...

At one point, I had hit a dead end very early on in a primary line -- a great-grandfather who was a bit of a cad and abandoned his family. His children never spoke of him. No documents. No nothing. I hooked up with an online family association ( in this case) and took that line back to the 1400's overnight (back to the battle of Hastings, if you didn't mind a gap or two).

Never underestimate the power of community.

(On the negative side, I discovered I was Nixon's 6th cousin ... )
posted by RavinDave at 6:44 AM on October 8, 2003

a great-grandfather who was a bit of a cad and abandoned his family.

In a wierd "crossing-of-paths" moment, I have exactly this problem.

The family in question in this instance was the Chippewa tribe, and my great-grandfather was a runaway and a foster child with French-born uncles and aunts. It's a soup to diagram.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:55 AM on October 8, 2003

For being free and open and everything I found it to be very external-linking. I started poking around doing little searches here and there and most of the stuff I found was sending me off to external (and expensive) sites. Boo Hoo.
posted by fnirt at 7:11 AM on October 8, 2003

I was a little freaked out by the Social Security Death Index. In a few seconds I was able to find out the SSNs of several dead relatives and some famous people. Isn't there an identity-theft type problem with this? I realize the people are dead and all, but could their SSNs be used by people trying to create new identities?
posted by jasper411 at 10:30 AM on October 8, 2003 [1 favorite]

soundofsuburbia, the penny postcards site is great! I used to live here, by the way.
posted by taz at 12:14 PM on October 8, 2003

Jasper411- even better, generate the SS-5 letters for each of the dead people in the database and send them off to the Social Security Administration's Freedom of Information Act working group in Baltimore (along with $27 per name) and you can find out their parents' names and where they lived when they applied for their numbers initially and all sorts of good stuff... Talk about identity theft!

I hasten to add that I've only done this--many times--for relatives or suspected relatives, not as a stalker-thing. But yeah, you're right: anyone could swipe one of these numbers and use it, although presumably some anti-fraud system somewhere would check out the numbers to make sure they're not someone else's. I mean, I hope.

While RootsWeb is great, personally I don't find myself using it much in my genealogy searches. I'm an member and think it's faboo and totally worth the $69/year (more, I think, if you get the census images too, which is also worth it). It too has a free Social Security Death Index online, and I personally like its search options better than RootsWeb you can search by birthday and/or date of death and stuff like that.

(Ego-boosting self-link to previous MeFi comment I wrote about free Jewish genealogy records online.)
posted by Asparagirl at 3:35 PM on October 8, 2003

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