Did you "Net" your ancestors?

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Did you "Net" your Ancestors?

In the last article I explained about the use of search engines, portals and forums to start you off on your family history research. I thought I’d take a moment of your time to update you with how I got on and pass on a few extra tips that I did not cover. I decided to test out three search engines for similarities of result and found that I received different answers with each. The three that I tested were: http://www.ussc.alltheweb.com/ , http://www.google.com/ and http://www.altavista.com/ . Alltheweb gave me the better results although I could not (at that time) specify that I wanted the results in English only, as you can with altavista and google. However, you can now customise the set up for alltheweb and save the settings. This is extremely useful as you only have to do it once rather than keep selecting (and remembering to select) the drop down boxes on the other two. My advice is to use a number of search engines with the same search string, perhaps keep three browser windows open with a different search engine on each and cut and paste your query between each of them. This way you are sure to get good coverage on specific searches.

Having decided to use these three engines, I then determined to see if any of the popular names of my family were recorded on the web. Using the structure [forename surname] enclosed in quotes (i.e. "Joseph Ferdinando") I could then see all the resultant pages with a possible lead. Working through from Aaron onwards I happened upon a site in Australia recalling one of my ancestors Benjamin James Ferdinando. However, I wasn’t searching for him at all I was searching, at the time, for "James Ferdinando". The reason behind this is that by enclosing the search in quotes I am asking the search engine to find two words as an exact phrase, in this case James followed by Ferdinando. In the previous search for "Benjamin Ferdinando", the search engine would not pick this up, as there was a James between the two names and not a perfect phrase match. This is particularly useful if you want to narrow down your search but I thought I’d share this success and the limitations of search engines. If I had widened my search using James + Ferdinando I would still have got the information I wanted but would have had a lot more results as the search engine would give me all the results of web pages containing both of the words and not in a single phrase.

The Web page I discovered opened up a lot of history about Benjamin James Ferdinando. He had moved to Australia and we also knew that he had become the Mayor of the Sandringham district of Melbourne however; the bonus on the web site, besides the part he played in a local historical event, was two pictures of him, fantastic! If you would like to see the site the URL is http://localhistory.kingston.vic.gov.au/eve/sand.htm

Here is a picture of Benjamin James Ferdinando

This picture was downloaded off of the web page by simply clicking on the right mouse button on the picture and selecting "save target as" on the drop down menu that appears. I then saved the file to disk and have been able to send it on to CA by e-mail. As I wanted to publish the picture with this article, I had to ask permission from the site owners explaining what I was doing and why I wanted to publish this particular photograph. An e-mail to their historian was all that was required explaining what I wanted to use it for and they replied with their assent. Their copyright/permission is shown at the end of this article. Generally you can use a photograph like this one for your own use but you must not publish it or sell it to others without prior permission. You must also duly acknowledge who owns the copyright even if the picture is of a member of your own family. I have also made use of the pictures on the EoLFHS site of the local churches to add to my Family Tree Maker package and can then look at an individual together with other relevant information i.e. a picture of the church they were christened or married in. You might find this a useful tool, if your family tree package handles it, as you can print out pictures of the churches against the names and see patterns throughout your family. This is a good aid in seeing how many from the same family were christened at the same church but again, I must stress, you cannot publish this or sell it to others without consent.

Another useful tool I mentioned were forums. I again had some success in this and have found some very knowledgeable people who provided me with some hints about the origin of my surname and provided me with census and burial details as well; this is on a moderated forum. I was obviously delighted with getting all this extra information. I then logged onto http://genforum.genealogy.com/, this hosts a number of surname and country genealogy forums. These are un-moderated. I could not find a Ferdinando Forum and so requested, through an on-line form, that they start one. After a three or four week wait, I received an e-mail saying that they had accepted this and the forum was now live. The only caveat they had was that if there wasn’t sufficient use of it over four weeks it would be discontinued. A hasty mail to all my on-line relatives and correspondents quickly got the forum started and you can see this at http://genforum.genealogy.com/ferdinando/ . Try searching for your own surname and see if there is a forum already set up. The site is rather American in flavour, but don’t let that put you off looking and using the search facilities. There is a United Kingdom Forum at http://genforum.genealogy.com/uk/ and a recent London one at http://genforum.genealogy.com/englandcountry/london/. It is a good way to share information, especially if there are a number of you researching. The only problem I can see is that some of the forums tend to get a bit "out of hand" and stray off the point or enter some long running argument between correspondents. This is the price you pay for un-moderated forums however, they do seem to get results most of the time. There are also some general interest forums dealing with the most popular family tree software titles that could be of use if you are having trouble printing or changing information for instance.

I also happened upon a search engine that looks through the Usenet groups it is http://www.geocities.com/robkuysten/mirror/deja.html and it searches all past and archived genealogy Usenet groups. I searched Ferdinando and found that someone had posted a query about Ferdinando, in London and so was able to contact them and now have another reference point for expanding my family history. The Usenet groups are generally un-moderated although I believe there is some sort of filtering equipment on the Server. Again, reviewing some of the articles, I’d advise some caution as I did find some unsavoury threads (a series of messages linked together) although once you have learnt to spot these you can easily avoid them. I’d suggest you just read through these groups to start with and then, once you get to know the format and some of the pitfalls, join if you want.

When contributing to these forums, make your subject as obvious as possible. Subjects like "help with family" or "looking for relatives" are far too vague and do not catch the eye of those using the forum. Try Surname, Date, Location, or similar combinations. These would also help others when searching for specific names. Again, look for the help or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) sections to read their recommendations.

After my first article, I was delighted to receive your comments and ideas. Please keep them coming so I can work on what you want to see in future articles. In addition I had two e-mails from EoLFHS members with ancestors related to my family and then we discovered that all three of us had the same connection through one of them! Truly, e-mail speeds up the process of family research and that long wait between sending and receiving responses by post (snail mail as it is called on-line).

The Latter Day Saints Web site has added a source guide that you might find interesting if you are new to family history research or even an old hand. Go to http://www.familysearch.org/sg/ and follow the links to all sorts of information and how-to guides.

Finally, do you have a success story using the Internet for your research? Why not let the Editor know and share any tips and tricks with us on Cockney Ancestor.

David Ferdinando

Member 1921

Acknowledgement: Picture of Benjamin James Ferdinando, Courtesy City of Kingston, Melbourne, Australia.


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