Wednesday, March 27, 2019
The History of "Now"
Sometimes, an innovation is so new that, in our eagerness to try that something new, we forget to watch its progress as it unfolds. Before we know it, that "new" thing has been tried and loved for a year, five years, a decade, a quarter century—before we realize the time has flown by and "new" has become traditional. In its newness, we forgot to track its history.
That may well have been what happened when we saw the launch of innovative genealogical websites with the advent of the Internet. We were so in love with searching through digitized documents that we forgot to notice the passage of time—and how our new toy was evolving with the years.
Such was the case with one search resource many of us may have tried—which, although it has passed twenty five years of service, is still around to be used. That genealogical resource is the website known as Rootsweb. First launched by Brian Leverich and Karen Isaacson in 1993 as the Roots Surname List, it continues to bill itself as "the oldest free online community genealogy research website."
The website became the place for people to freely share their family trees, distribute information to free subscriber-based message lists based on surnames or geographic locations, and find pages filled with a potpourri of information of interest to genealogists. The US GenWeb projects were hosted on the website for free, as were several websites of local genealogical societies.
As you can imagine, too much of a good thing eventually became exactly that: too much. To keep up with costs—and thus not lose a monumental pile of genealogically-significant details—the site (and, of course, its expenses) was eventually taken over by the parent company of Ancestry.com in June, 2000.
From that point, other than the addition of advertising for Ancestry-related offerings, the website continued to operate much the same as it always had; disaster averted. However, in the latter part of 2017, a security breach was discovered, causing host company Ancestry.com to have to shut down Rootsweb "temporarily." Only recently has the content of the original Rootsweb been brought back online, gradually, and in segments. Some of those portions have, in the interim, been redesigned.
So how does a website like Rootsweb help someone like me in my research quandary about finding King Stockton and his freedmen relatives? The reconstituted Rootsweb still provides a searchable array of family trees containing over six million surnames. One of those trees just happens to be for our King Stockton. While the tree has not been updated recently, it does provide some information on another researcher's path of discovery, and includes a way to contact that submitter.
Rootsweb is not only for freely exploring other people's trees. The website includes resources to find and search over thirty thousand genealogical mailing lists kept since the website's inception—decades of searchable conversations about researching surnames and localities—as well as the other sites it hosts. And while Rootsweb's wiki seems pretty puny, it does include a brief entry for the county in question for our quest to uncover more information on King Stockton.
It may come as no surprise that the computer wiz who created Rootsweb didn't stop at the passing of that website into corporate hands. And that is the next list of lists I want to mention in this catalog of other places that might help us learn more about what become of King Stockton. The new website is called Linkpendium, and as its "About" page explains, its goal is to index every genealogy-related website on the Internet.
Indeed, pulling up a list of what Linkpendium had for the entry "Suwannee County, Florida" showed a multi-faceted spread of options. Of course, some of those results are for websites we've already explored—Rootsweb, Cyndi's List, or FamilySearch.org. But there were also new-to-me resources which I could now use to push the knowledge envelope a little farther out. I can also repeat this search process on Linkpendium for broader topics related to slavery or freedmen or life in the specific states of Georgia or Florida.
Beyond such lists of lists as Linkpendium, or the resources hosted on Rootsweb, or even Cyndi's List, there are other online stops to make in seeking to get a broader understanding of what happened, say, during the Civil War follow-up era of Reconstruction, or at the onset of Jim Crow laws. There are a few other possibilities I'd like to mention tomorrow, as well as news I discovered about projects to bring the less accessible items such as letters, diaries, and other manuscript-format records to the forefront in a search like the one we've launched in pursuit of the Stockton family.