Internet aids family searches

Posted: October 27, 2012

The Winchester Star

Winchester — The interest in genealogy and searches for family members is more prevalent than ever, largely thanks to the Internet.

According to a 2012 Harris Interactive survey, four in five Americans have an interest in learning more about their family history, said Michelle Ercanbrack, a family historian at

The interest in family history in general has always been there, she said, but the opportunity to learn more and connect with family members has grown exponentially in the past 20 years.

“The great thing about the Internet, and especially with, is we have more than 10 billion historical records online,” Ercanbrack said. “Before, you would have to travel to the places where your ancestors lived. Now, you are able to access those same records from the convenience of your own home.”

On the Ancestry website alone, more than 39 million online family trees have been created, she said.

Thanks to the software the site uses, “shaky leaves,” or family members that overlap in different family trees, can help people to make connections.

The site also has message boards where people can leave information in hopes that others in their family are looking, too.

When seeking lost family members, people shouldn’t discount online searches because they think the person may be too old to use the Internet or even too old-fashioned, according to, a genealogy and family search website.

Grandchildren might have posted some information or people might be included in a story available online.

The website recommends several steps in searching for people. Family members should use several search engines, such as Google, AltaVista, FAST! and MSN Search. If the person may be deceased, they should check the Social Security Death Index; several sites provide free access to this resource.

In addition, they can place an ad in local and regional newspapers where the missing person may reside. They can also consider building a website to disclose their names or the names of the missing people.

Subscription-based services such as and might help if the searcher knows when and where the person attended school.

And for a fee, the use of private investigators and lawyers is always available.

— Contact Laura McFarland