Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Using The Internet to Research Your Family History

I am constantly amazed by the Internet. It’s not like it’s something new but I regularly find myself wowed when I’m able to find something so easily, when only a few years ago it may have required days of research and possibly a cross-continent trip.

Yesterday I was at the home of a client that we are helping with a large photo archiving project. On the dining room table, where all the boxes and piles of photos and documents are waiting to be organized, was a burlap cap. I asked about it. They weren’t really sure of its origin. One of their fathers had been in a concentration camp, and while they thought it was from there, the name on the side of the cap wasn’t the same name as the camp they knew he had been at.

I said, “well let’s look it up online!” So we typed in the name we could barely read on the side of this cap into Google and after some misspelling attempts, we finally got a hit. The name was of a concentration camp that only existed for a short time before all the detainees were moved to different camps. We found a lot of information about the camp but at the end of the article, there was a link to “search names of people held at this camp.” The link took us to the typical search fields where you type in a first name, last name, and then select radio buttons to indicate whether the name starts with, ends with, or contains what you typed into those fields. We put this man’s last name and first name in and selected the “contains” field and hit search. Nothing came up. We changed the radio buttons and still yielded no results. Finally I said, let’s remove his first name and just search by the last name. Bingo! Up popped a list of five people with that last name and there he was.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I have spent searching Ellis Island records, census records and other genealogy databases, looking for clues about my own ancestors, and never finding a thing. That we found this man’s name in under 15 minutes still boggles my mind.

After we printed off the information about the camp and the listing of his name, we went and put it on the table next to the cap. I stood there for a few minutes staring at that cap. Recognizing that just a few minutes before, it was an unidentified scrap of burlap. Now, all of a sudden, it had provenance. We knew where and when this man wore it and every place it went to after that before landing on this dining room table in Houston Texas in 2010.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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