Internet Basics

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Internet Basics

By David Ferdinando member 1921

This is the first in an occasional series of articles about the Internet and its usefulness in researching your family history.

The Internet is a great tool for researching your family history. In this series of articles, I hope to take you through the various steps to join the Internet and then build article by article to help you get the most out of it.

The Internet changed my life seven or eight years ago when I first started using it as part of my daily work routine. Today it bears little or no resemblance to those early days of slow modems and text only screens and more vast improvements are on the way. The family historian now has an almost endless and growing world-wide resource available to research their ancestors and enhance their knowledge of the times and areas their ancestors lived in.

Getting on-line is easy. Well you’d expect me to say that! In fact it is surprisingly easier today than it was a year or so ago. At last, those who provide the software and services needed have realised that the majority of us are not computer experts and have provided easy set-up programmes to allow us to simply get on line and start using their services.

To connect to the Internet you are going to need a Computer, a modem, a phone line and an ISP (Internet Service Provider). The Computer needs to be capable of accepting the software you need, communicating with the modem etc. There is no easy way to guide you on the minimum requirements although you computer should be a modern one, a Pentium processor or higher with at least 16Mb of RAM memory to run the various programmes and a 28.8 Kbps Modem although a 33.6 or 56K modem will keep down your phone bills as they will be able to download the information off the net to your computer far quicker. You should also have about 5 to 10Mb of free hard disk (storage) space available for the software. You can, of course have a slower computer and modem but this does tend to limit what you can do and result in higher costs on your telephone bill for the time taken to download. Older machines also have difficulty coping with the modern content of web pages that enhance the whole process of finding what you want on line.

The next step is to choose your Internet Service Provider or ISP. There are a lot of ISPs competing for your custom and their terms and conditions and costs vary dependant on usage. The majority of ISPs these days provide free access to the Internet; you pay for the phone bills at a local cost rate (i.e. about 1p per minute). But, buyer beware! There are a number of catches with these services and you need to carefully choose your ISP so that you get the right package. You should look at the following when choosing your ISP:

Cost: What does it cost you to get on-line? How much time do you get on line and do you have to pay for any extras?

Free: If the service is free, what are the costs associated with the help line? Having to spend up to £1 a minute to talk to technical support to resolve a problem you are having will soon dent your wealth especially as most calls will last anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Do carefully check this before you decide what to do. You might like to start with an ISP that charges a small monthly fee with a free help line so that you can get used to using the internet and then transfer later to a free service once you have mastered the technicalities.

Reputation: Some ISPs are extremely well known through advertising and marketing. Are they really as good as they say they are? Ask around friends and family that are already connected and see what they say about the service and their experiences. If their experience has been good, take this into account before you make your decision. If you are on cable phone or BT, check what your telecom provider can offer. Some of the larger ISPs have had problems dealing with the sheer number of people signing up to them and there are often problems of disconnection and unavailable connections which you should check out. From experience there is nothing worse than finding that piece of information you want only to have the connection die on you.

Software provided: Does the ISP send you a CD-ROM with browser and e-mail software included? This should be included otherwise you will have to try and source this yourself.

Freespace: Some ISPs provide you with Freespace (areas on their server where you can host your own Web site). This may be of interest to you as you can host your own Family Web Site using this space? More on building your own site later in this series. Five or ten Mb is the rule and either are adequate to host your own quite modest site.

Finally, watch some of the TV programmes about getting on-line, go to the local library and see what initiatives are on in your area to give you taster sessions on what the internet is about and how to use it. A number of these sessions are free and are extremely useful as you can ask questions and receive personal advice. And as a last recommendation, pop into a cyber café and play around with the Internet whilst having a coffee. They will be delighted to see you and you can learn with help from the staff as you sip a coffee.

So you’ve made your choice, your Computer is connected via its Modem to a telephone line and your CD-ROM has arrived. Now what? Read the instructions thoroughly, two or more times until you are familiar with its contents. This will give you an understanding of what is about to happen to you and your computer. Have a notepad handy to jot down any information that appears on your screen alongside any error messages that may be encountered. Now BACK UP YOUR DATA. Back up all of your precious data (word processor files, family tree files etc) to a diskette or series of diskettes or other back up device. Whilst this has never happened to me, I have heard stories about lost files due to an installation and you should do this regularly in case of some sort of failure on your computer.

You are now ready to install your software. Follow your instructions to the letter and write down any passwords, Personal identifiers, e-mail names etc. Keep these safe for the future or if you need to call the help desk. The best software does all of the setting up for you and prompts you throughout the process. These load your Browser through which you gain access to the Internet, your e-mail software so you can send and receive e-mails and they also configure your dial up programme (internal to Windows 95, 98 and 2000) so that connection to your ISP can be made. Please note, only advanced users should set up their own browser, e-mail and dial up networking themselves. During the installation you will be prompted to dial in and set up your account details and e-mail addresses. Again write these details down in case you need them in future. Often the software remembers your password and login.

That’s it! You are ready to use your browser and e-mail.

Before you go off surfing the Internet. Remember that if you have only one phone line, you will be on-line for a while and will not be able to make or receive calls!

When you start your browser or ISP software the Browser will open and a dial up connection box will appear. Type in your user name and password (if they are not already there). Click on the save password box so that it is remembered in future and click on connect. The modem will now dial your ISP and log you into the service and the home page of your provider is normally the first web page you will see.

  A dial up connection dialogue box.

Once the web page has loaded you can go and get your first e-mails (often the ISP will send you a confirmation or welcoming mail). Most browsers have a mail icon on the top tool bar this may have a picture like an open envelope on it. Click this and download your mail. After having downloaded your mail you can then go back to your browser and the adventure begins.

The Browser normally has two rows of buttons on it, one with icons which allow you to navigate common features with your mouse and the other has a series of tool bar headings such as File, Edit, View, Favourites (or Bookmarks), Tools and Help. Clicking on any of these displays a drop down list of options you can choose. Under the two rows of buttons there is normally an Address or URL field which is where you type the address of the site you want to connect to. The figure below shows the layout of my Internet Explorer (Version 5) browser and the Address is set as This is the address of the East of London Family History Society. The address can be referred to as the URL or (Uniform Resource Locator). Some addresses are entered as etc. To go to a new web page. Click in the address or URL box and enter the address of the web site you are interested in then hit return and the web site will be displayed.

So lets start browsing. I would suggest that a good place to start is the BBC web site which has news and TV listings but also has some very good information about the Internet. The address is you can learn more about the Internet here and there is a good section on family history at the History zone. Your next address could be our own East of London Family History Society page. Enter and you can get into our own site which is run by Dave Jordan. The rootsweb site hosting the EOLFHS pages is a favourite genealogy site and can be found at Click on a link on a web page and you are directed off to another site or place within the same site. Rather than having to type and re-type these addresses into your browser, use the Favourite or Bookmark section to save the sites you like to your own Favourites or Bookmark folders. Click on "add to favourites" and add the address. This will allow you, in future, to click on favourites, find the site you want to visit, click on that with your mouse and the browser will find your site.

The screen shot below is that of the Later Day Saints Familysearch site at another resource well worth a look whilst you are learning what is available for your research.

The Internet is very easy to use and using your mouse and keyboard you can surf to your hearts content but mind those phone bills! They soon mount up. I will leave you with a few more links/addresses to other family history resources, happy surfing: The UK & Ireland Genealogical Information Service The Public Record Office at Kew  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission One of the largest directories of genealogy links available A search engine helping you to find information

I am planning a series of future articles on the web and how it can be used. These are:

Finding and researching your family history on the web, looking at the information available and how to best use it.

An article on using the Later Day Saints site and getting the most out of its searching facilities

Using Search engines and how to phrase questions to narrow down results

Using GEDCOM files. Downloading these from the web and entering them into your family history software.

Finding and adding photos to your family tree software

Buying family history resources on the Web

Using automatic mailing systems, advantages and disadvantages

Freeware and Shareware programmes available on the web, downloading and installing on your computer.

Writing your own Web pages and how to publish them to your ISPs freespace.

If you would like me to include any other information or have any ideas of what you would like to see in future editions, please contact the Editor.

David Ferdinando. Member 1921


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