The USGenWeb Project is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so I've been thinking a bit about how much change has taken place in the way we reseach our familiy histories. The changes that have taken place over the years make it hard to even remember how we used to conduct research back then, though it's safe to say that the emergence of the internet has had the largest impact.
Though my interest in my family roots predates the 'birth' of the internet, it was mostly a matter of listening to the old family stories. It wasn't until I bought my first computer in 1989 that I began to start compiling those piles of notes into any sort of order. In the late 80's, personal computers were just starting to become affordable, but it would be several more years before the browsers would be developed that would allow us to search online for those ever illusive ancestors. My first trips online in search of roots were done using CompuServe, connecitng to the internet with a 300-baud modem, complete with those horrible screeches announcing a successful connnection. Soon after, AOL appeared and the queries that used to appear in genealogy newsletters had a new home online. Mailing lists, focused on one surname or area soon became a very popular way to connect to our fellow researchers. Those lists were very active, many of them seeing several hundred posts a month, and a great deal of information was exchanged.
The advent of browsers such as Mosaic added the ability to display pictures on web pages and the addition of style sheets on web pages allowed for more advanced displays of data. By 1996, when the USGenWebProject was started, the web was beginning to be a viable place to share data. About a year later, Ancestry appeared. Since the USGenWeb Project provided access to records for researchers for free, it remained a very popular destination even after Ancestry opened its doors. For quite a while, the county pages within the US GenWeb Project were far and above any other genealogy project of the time. In later years, however, other places to research began appearing online, with sites like Facebook becoming very popular for researchers. Ancestry also reamins a strong contender as their databases are continually being updated with new works, such as the Quaker records form Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the Wills of Pennsylvania.