Find Your Family Tree's Roots Online

I've always known my maternal grandparents came from either Austria or Hungary, but I was never sure which country and didn't have a clue what town they came from. Now I know.

Berl and Lena Platzer immigrated from Zaleszczyki, Austria, via Hamburg, Germany. They arrived at Ellis Island on Oct. 14, 1908, aboard the S.S. Baucher.

I learned this from the Web site of the American Family Immigration History Center (www.ellisisland.org), which provides information about more than 22 million immigrants, passengers and crew members who arrived at Ellis Island and the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924. Although not every record is yet online, the database lists the immigrant's name, gender, marital status, ethnicity, town and country of last residence, and date and age at arrival. The record also lists the ship's name, departure port and the immigrant's line number on the ship's manifest.

I was able to find my mom's parents on the site, but I couldn't find anything on my dad's side of the family, even though his parents also disembarked at Ellis Island on their journey from Russia. I was, however, able to locate my dad's father on Ancestry.com and, once I located him, I found information on my great-grandfather as well as my grandmother and her family.

I've never been much of a genealogy buff, so don't look to me for any inside secrets on how to uncover lost relatives. However, after just a few hours on the Internet, I have been able to uncover a number of useful Web sites that, in turn, may help you uncover a part of your own family's history.

One of the leading genealogy sites is maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. "Members of the church," according to the LDS's FamilySearch.org site, "are motivated by love for their deceased family members and desire to serve them."

You don't have to be associated with the LDS church to use the church's genealogy resources. You'll find people from all religions and ethnic groups. I was able to trace my own family back to the 1857 birth of a great-grandfather in Ukraine.

You'll also find names such as Chang, Gonzales, Kennedy, Kawasaki, Gandhi and representatives of every other ethnic group. Like other genealogy sites, FamilySearch provides access to Social Security death records as well as various international genealogical indexes.

Ancestry.com is a leading commercial genealogy site that claims to have information on more than a billion people. Some information, such as the Social Security Death Index, is free, but there are some premium databases available only to paid subscribers. Subscription plans start at $24.95 for three months of access.

Users of the free service are invited to post the results of their research. Apparently, I wasn't the first person to research my paternal grandparents. Someone else had posted information that I was able to use as a starting point for further research. I used the paid area of the service to locate naturalization records where I found that my mother's father petitioned to become a U.S. citizen in 1919. The record includes an address, so I now know where my mom lived when she was a child.

Other genealogy sites include RootsWeb.com, Familytree.com and The Genealogy Home Page (www.genhomepage.com). You'll find lots more genealogy resources at Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet (http://cyndislist.com/) and www.genealogy.org.

Although these sites have information from all countries and cultures, they tend to be a bit European-centric. There are, however, sites dedicated to other ethnic groups. Christine's Genealogy Website (www.ccharity.com), for example, specializes in tracing roots of African Americans.

Links to help you find Chinese ancestors are at the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (www.chcp.org). Ancestors from China and other Asian countries can also be found at the AsiaGenWeb Project (www.rootsweb.com/~asiagw). You'll find lots more Asian resources at the Berkeley, California-based Center for Educational Telecommunications (www.cetel.org).

The Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York (www.hispanicgenealogy.com) has resources for people from Spanish-speaking countries.

If you're trying to find living relatives anywhere in the world, try your luck at http://www.teldir.com/, which provides links to telephone directories in many countries. You might find yourself at a language disadvantage, however, as I was when I tried looking up a number from a Web page entirely in Russian.

For U.S. searches, Switchboard.com will run a national search even if all you have is a last name.

What I discovered after many hours of genealogical research is that it can be both a satisfying and frustrating experience. It's satisfying because, with a little effort and no expense, you stand a reasonable chance of finding out a bit about your ancestors. But it can be frustrating because it's an ongoing process with plenty of promising leads and dead ends.




A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
Got a PC question? Visit www.PCAnswer.com.

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