Well, I've done it now. I finally broke down and shelled out the bucks for an Ancestry.com membership. Nearly all of the information I've accumulated and posted about my family history on my webpage in the past three years, and here on my blog in the past year, has come from the internet free of charge. So why am I now willing to part with the big bucks? Am I selling out? Do the pay sites suddenly have vital information worth more than ten dollars a month to me? I don't think so, on either count.
The main thing you get with a membership is comprehensive access to several main sets of database records, the largest and most important of these being the U.S. Federal Census Records and the Social Security Death Index. You can search these records without being a paying member; you just can't see the results. Instead all you get is an indication of the number of hits on your search item in those databases. But simply knowing that there are hits can be a very useful clue. When there are hits, the specifics can often be accessed elsewhere free of charge.
Rootsweb and U.S. GenWeb are large free database projects that make relevant portions of the federal census records and other databases available to localized free genealogy websites. Most counties in America have one or more websites that exist solely for the purpose of making records available to people whose roots are in that locality. So if you know what you are looking for and where to look for it on the web, you can usually find it. What Ancestry.com and other paysites sell is convenient and comprehensive access.
I guess what's happened to me is that I've reached the point where I've decided I don't mind paying for convenient, comprehensive access. First, I can afford it. Second, it's a worthwhile product. And third, I've reached a point where I can start to make use of some of the vast quantity of information that is related less specifically to my particular ancestors. Comprehensive access allows you to make better generalizations based on peripheral data.
I'm fortunate to have at least one fairly distinctive surname to trace. My last name is not one that you encounter everyday. If you were to canvas all of the phone books in America, you would find fewer people with my surname than you would find listed under Smith or Jones in any one small town in America. And with only a few hundred or perhaps one or two thousand total listings to draw on, it's not that hard to eliminate those that are probably not directly related to me.
While the items that I have found and posted on my webpage are not necessarily always the proverbial "smoking gun" of definitive proof, they are often enough sufficient evidence on which to base an assumption or a supposition. And when a supposition leads directly or even indirectly to a subsequent find, it indicates something about the validity of that supposition.
Now for something completely unrelated, I've added another reciprocal link to my blogroll.
In a Dark Time features some terrific wildlife photography and some excellent commentary and personal reflections on poems by many of the most significant modern American poets of the past century. I include it here because of the entries on Theodore Roethke and Nelson Bentley.