Adventures in Family Tree Research Online — Tips for Doing Genealogy

 at my great-grandparents house, and going off to war in World War I. 

I had more serendipitous finds using direct Google searches.   Deep in a memo gathering dust in the archives of University of Texas I found my father’s name on a photo credit.   He had photographed his physics professor in the 1930s or 1940s, and the memo was proposing that a library be named after this professor.  They used this picture my father had taken while a student there, to illustrate the memo.   I found a 1910 picture in the New York Times of the house I lived in as a child in the 1950s and 1960s.  The house was a converted stables, and the article was just a little sidebar about how this stables in the suburbs had just been converted into a residence.

The thing is, the internet has grown so enormous, and Google is so powerful, you really can find needles in history’s gigantic haystack.   Incredible volumes of trivial stuff has been put online and if there is a match for your search string on page 24 of a memo in the archives of some university, Google will find it.   Search for improbable stuff.  It might be there.

Sign Up for

Now let’s talk about getting more systematic:    Sign up for a 14-day free trial at     This is truly an amazing service.    As a member, you have access to their databases of census records, military records, school yearbooks, birth records, marriage records, death records and more.    In addition, you have access to the thousands of family trees compiled by other members.     Your great-great-great-great grandparents almost certainly have a huge number of descendants.   Some of those descendants may have already done a bunch of research and compiled a family tree with branches that are pertinent to you. will hook you up with their tree (if they have chosen to make it public). has a cute way of alerting you to the existence of possible information on an ancestor.  As soon as you fill in a name, if their computer thinks it has more information on that person, a leaf appears at the corner of that person’s rectangle in your family tree.   This indicates the existence of a “hint” in their terminology.   Click on it, and you will get details about the hint so you can evaluate whether that new information is actually related to your ancestor or if it is a mismatch.  Very often these hints lead you into the family trees constructed by other members who may be related to you.  

Warning: can become an obsession once you get going.   Every box you complete on your family tree creates at least 2 more blank boxes for the parents of that person.    Of course, you want to fill in those boxes.    And that opens up 4 more blank boxes, and so on.   Then there are the spouses, siblings and offspring for each person.  More blank boxes beckoning for your attention.   You get curious about all of them too.   Pretty soon you have mysteries to solve:  Say, great, great grandfather XYZ had eleven children split between 2 different wives ( in succession) and it’s not clear for some of the kids who the mother was.   So you start trying to puzzle that out.  

I had one such mystery:  One of my multi-greats grandfathers was born close to the death of his father’s first wife and marriage to the second wife.    Birthdates of people from earlier centuries are often in doubt, so I really wasn’t sure which wife was his mother, and therefore my multi-greats grandmother.    His middle name was “Cox”  (William Cox Luckett)  and the maiden name of wife #2 was Cox so I was pretty sure that was his mom.   But no!   Further research established with pretty great certainty wife #1  was the mother and the “Cox” middle name came from a business associate, one Mr. Cox, whose family also supplied the replacement wife when wife #1 died.  If you like puzzles, don’t start down this path unless you either have some free time to burn or you have good self control.  Otherwise, it will take over your life!

I want to pause here and acknowledge that genealogical research is difficult to impossible for many segments of the

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