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Family Trees

Baby Boomers, Fascinated by Tales of Their Famous and Infamous Ancestors, Have Made Genealogy One of America's Hottest Hobbies
Daren Fonda
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

(continued from page 3)

Even if you don't think there's noble peerage in your blood, you may be surprised. "Millions of Americans can trace their lineage to Charlemagne. You just have to prove it," notes Beard. "We're such a melting pot, but a lot of people who came over in the seventeenth century had ancestors that went back that far."

Susanne Behling, for one, is now researching a woman named Anna Gould, her sixth great-grandmother. She suspects Gould was a nurse during the Revolutionary War's Battle of Bennington, in Vermont. She's trying to authenticate her story by searching archives, prowling graveyards and county records, surfing the Web and sending letters to strangers in search of clues. She's even become a member of one of the nation's fastest-growing genealogical groups: The Black Sheep Society, a loose confederation of some 200 people who share stories about their more infamous ancestors.

"She [Gould] wasn't a black sheep," says Behling. "but it might turn up some leads." Behling hopes eventually to collect and recount her ancestors' tales in a book. But it seems unlikely she'll uncover any more shocking secrets. "A few years ago, I found out that my parents were distant cousins going back 10 generations," she says. "That's as strange as it gets."

Daren Fonda is a freelance writer based in New York City.



With online genealogy expanding faster than ever, there's a good chance that clues to your ancestors' lives exist somewhere in the digital world. Knowing where to look, however, may still take considerable detective work. You may need to join newsgroups, get on e-mail lists and sort through hundreds of Web pages before turning up a lead. Here are a few sites to help get you started:

A first-rate gateway to online genealogy. Free databases include the Social Security Death Index, the Ancestry World Tree (a database of Ancestry subscribers who have posted their family histories online) and a rotating list with indexes such as civilian draft registrations from the First World War. Subscriptions cost $59.95 per year and enable you to access more than 700 databases. Membership also includes free online support and a subscription to Ancestry magazine. Beginners can access genealogy lessons at no charge.

A noncommercial, privately run site, providing more than 40,000 links categorized and cross-referenced in more than 100 categories. Browsing is free and categories range from the familiar to the obscure: from cemeteries and funeral homes; to prisons, prisoners and outlaws; to Quaker families and Jewish genealogy. Links to all the major U.S. government sites, such as the National Archives and the Library of Congress, plus a helpful section on how to use the resources of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' Family History Library.

Another noncommercial, volunteer-run site providing useful links to county and state archives and resources. Includes links to get you started and links to Web sites posting family reunion bulletin boards, state histories and maps charting county boundaries. Also has links to family reunion pages and state projects, such as records of Civil War regiments.

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