RootsWeb:Navigating RootsWeb

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This article originally appeared in The Official Guide to by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG and Tana Pedersen Lord.


Hunting for your ancestors can yield a great deal of information—some of which you may find important and interesting and some of which you may not. Before you jump right in to searching, think about what it is you wish to learn on RootsWeb. Not everything is packaged neatly under a specific database. If you want to find your grandparents’ marriage record, searching for surname websites is probably not the most effective way to go about it. Think about topics where the information you want might be found. You might want to explore:

  • Surnames. Many of your searches at RootsWeb (and elsewhere) will be by surnames. You can learn more about your ethnicity, variations of your name to use in searches, migration and immigration patterns, and perhaps even discover a few distant relatives.
  • Localities. Learning the local history of places your ancestors lived in can help you better understand them and what challenges they faced in life. Focus on the places where they once lived, particularly as young and middle-age adults; this is the time of life when they likely created records you might find. Additionally, you might discover information about your ancestor in his or her in-laws’ or neighbors’ records.
  • Family Trees. If you want to get a jump start on your research and see what others have learned about your family or you want to verify information you already have, family trees are the place to go. RootsWeb has many family trees—millions of them can be found in WorldConnect and on private websites.
  • Documents. Records are often the most sought after items in family history. RootsWeb hosts millions of Web pages where you might find such things as scans of marriage and census records, or transcriptions (word-for-word copies of records, including errors and misspellings) of wills and court records.
  • Living Persons. If you seek living relatives, the best way to make connections is by posting on the message boards (by surname or locality) and utilizing the mailing lists.
  • How-to Information. In addition to RootsWeb’s Guide To Tracing Family Trees, you can learn more about researching and find a great deal of help through the various mailing lists, message boards, and websites hosted by RootsWeb—both personal sites and those of various historical and genealogical societies and others.

Focus Your Research

Once you’ve decided on the area you want to focus on, you can try out a couple of RootsWeb’s “research templates.” RootsWeb has created pages that group together great lists of resources to get you started. Do you have a surname you are interested in researching? Go to the homepage and find the “Research Templates” section, then click “Surnames.” When you click on a surname, you’ll find links to relevant mailing lists, personal Web pages, and search templates—all on one page. Are you searching for information about ancestors in a specific location in America? Go to the homepage and find the “Research Templates” section, then click “United States.”. You can narrow your search to specific counties where you might find links to local genealogical societies, online records, and, of course, mailing lists.

Navigating Around the Site

RootsWeb can be somewhat of a challenge to navigate. To get the most out of the website, be adventurous and explore, but understand that there is no master search engine that will enable you to find all possible references to your ancestor—somewhere on RootsWeb—just by typing in a surname. You will have to do the digging, but that’s the joy of the search.

Homepage Overview

When you first access the RootsWeb homepage, you might find it a bit intimidating because of the many headings and links. At first glance, it may seem like a lot of information to wade through, but with this and other articles on this wiki, you’ll be familiar with all of RootsWeb’s great features in no time.

At the top of the homepage you’ll notice a bar of navigational buttons: Home, Searches, Family Trees, Mailing Lists, Message Boards, Web Sites, Passwords, and Help. The Home button takes you to the homepage, the face of RootsWeb; the Searches button gives you access to the search engines that are used most often and also the user-contributed databases; the Family Trees button takes you to the “homepage” for the WorldConnect trees, a large database of user-submitted family trees; the Mailing Lists and Message Boards buttons take you to their homepages; the Web Sites button gives you access to websites that are either hosted by RootsWeb or just linked to it; the Passwords and Help buttons link you to help for the site. Regardless of where you are on RootsWeb, these buttons remain at the top of each page, so you can easily navigate to any of these major areas of the site. The headings and sections on the homepage can also direct you.

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