30 May 2010

How Old is Online Genealogy?

by Jan Alpert, NGS President

Since I'm a genealogist, I have saved many printed emails in my genealogy files. Some of them are almost 20 years old. I remember being on a research trip in DC with a friend who had begun to use CompuServe because it had a genealogy forum where you could post surname queries. I went home and signed up. I believe it was the spring of 1992. Of course, it was dial-up and slow - very slow by today's standards! Dial-up access in those days might cost as little as $5 per hour for limited service, nights and weekends, and up to $18 per hour for daytime service.

The year stands out in my memory because it was August 1992 when I discovered my ancestor Martha Allen Carrier was a witch. Up to that point, I had been researching her husband and children, who had moved to Connecticut. I had posted an online query about the Carrier surname, and someone responded that she was one of the accused witches who was hanged. I found it a remarkable coincidence that I would discover what happened to Martha so near the 300th anniversary of her death.

Based upon some of my printed emails, it looks like I was on CompuServe for about 5 years, moving to AOL in 1997. I am amazed at how many distant relatives I have found because of surname lists. I haven't changed my email address since because I don't want to lose touch with those distant cousins.

When did you first use online resources for genealogy?