Friday, November 28, 2008

Wikipedia can be a helpful resource

I've been working on my Guide to German Ancestors page -- and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me add my gratitude that I don't have to go Germanic research! One tool I've used earlier, but found exceptionally helpful when dealing with an area that is completely new to me is Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia? It's a Wiki. What is a Wiki? It's a website that is created by users. Someone needs to host the Wiki, of course. At an open Wiki, anyone who can figure out how to do it can add information. And anyone can search and read he information added. Doesn't that mean silly, erroneous or even objectionable material can get added? Yes. But most Wiki's are closely watched and such information gets removed or corrected fairly quickly. Some Wiki's limit who can add or view information.

Look up a place name in Wikipedia and you usually find a succinct but helpful history, links to related jurisdictions, with further information, a map (that's not always very good) and sometimes links to websites that might provide further helpful information.

In the case of Germany, the links to related jurisdictions are quite complicated because of power and boundary changes over time and I'm still working on making sure I have links to the useful ones on my website. Usually it it is not this tangled.

If I go to Wikipedia and search Lapeer --where I grew up -- the result tells me there is a Lapeer, Mich, Lapeer County, Mich and Lapeer Twp., Mich. Also that there is a Lapeer, N.Y. Linking to Lapeer County I find a map that locates Lapeer Co. in Michigan, dates of county formation, listing of surrounding counties, with internal links to information about those counties and at the bottom of the page internal links to information about the cities, villages and townships in Lapeer County. Internal links take you to other Wikipedia pages. The Lapeer page ends with external links to online information summarized on the page in a "notes" sections. And at the very bottom of the page, any external links that might be relevant and helpful. In this case we get only one: a link to a bibliography of Lapeer County created by the Clarke Historical Library. When I get to the list I learn it only contains material owned by the CHL.

Wikipedia pages aren't created for genealogists, so as with much of what we use, we have to find the information we need as best we can. Wouldn't it be helpful to have a Wiki that was by and for genealogists? Oh Wait!! Some are already available! Familypedia is a Wiki you can use to create (or read) pages about your ancestors. We Relate is another. WikiTree is a place to link (and fine people in) family trees. Dick Eastman's Encyclopedia of Genealogy is a Wiki. And the one that will probably prove to be most valuable to genealogists over time is the Family Search Research Wiki.

As always... for more information, follow links on Cyndi's List Wikis For Genealogists page.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Online Research with Google

On my page "Your Guide to Finding Ancestors with Google" I mentioned that that there were several books available about using Google, but none specific to using it for genealogy -- yet.

That is about to change. Dick Eastman posted a blog today about a new book -- Google Your Family Tree. Of course I immediatley went on line to reserve a copy of the book.