People want to know how the World Wide Web (WWW) can be of value as a research tool. As a researcher surfs on the Internet, the limitations become glaringly apparent. There are few primary sources. Most of the family information is undocumented. Everyone is searching, but no one has heard of your family.
Where the WWW excels is in providing reference information (maps, gazetteers) and in pointing one to other resources (either organizations or people) that can assist in solving research problems. The following case illustrates how the WWW was of value in determining whom to research, and where, in tracing the ancestry of Edward G. Hughes, of Union Parish, Louisiana.
The 1946 death certificate for Edward Gray "Wes" Hughes indicated that he was born in 1920, in Farmerville, Union Parish, Louisiana, son of Edward Hughes, and that his mothers maiden name was Ward. A inquiry was sent to Hughes 80 year-old sister, who stated that her grandparents were John Wesley "Wes" Ward and Linnie Sawyer, and John Wesley Hughes and Della Cublerson, and that the Cublerson family had donated the land for a church, which was named after the family. She was unable to recall any other information about the family.
The first search was to look for the surnames in the Louisiana General Land Office Records, provided courtesy of RootsWeb and available at: http://searches.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/laland/laland.pl
There were three Sawyers, no Hughes, seven Wards (including a Henry W., John, John T., John M., and William W. but no John W.), and no Cublersons listed in the index for Union Parish. "Cublerson" looked like it might be a phonetic spelling, so a search was made for all surnames starting with "Cu". The RootsWeb search engine makes this very easy to do one simply enters "Cu*" for the surname. This search found entries for John and William H. Culbertson in Union Parish.
To try and confirm if Culbertson was in fact the correct surname, The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Online Database was queried. It is located at: http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/
A search was made for all place names of type "church," in Union Parish. Culbertson Church, established in 1870, was found. The USGS database gave the longitude and latitude of the location, and indicated that it was also called Culberson Church. The location of the church matched the location where John Culbertson owned land. A reasonable hypothesis at this point was that the surname was Culbertson, rather than Cubleson.
The US GenWeb site for Union Parish was then consulted. One can easily find any particular county site from the main US GenWeb page, located at: http://www.usgenweb.org/
Under "First Families of Union Parish," the Culbertson family was listed, with Steve Hughes in Tennessee listed as a contact and giving his e-mail address. An e-mail message was sent to Steve, giving what information was currently available. Steve replied later that same day, and indicated that while some of the information did not quite match, he suspected that the John Wesley Hughes in question was the brother of his great-great-grandfather, David Hughes. He further stated that John was married to Delana Sloan "Della" Jones, not Culbertson, and that John was the son of Wesley Y. Hughes and Elizabeth Culbertson, daughter of John Culbertson and Bethany Heard. Wesley and Elizabeth had died young, and Elizabeths parents, the Culbertsons, had raised David and John. Steve later supplied additional information on several more generations of the Hughes and Culbertson families.
The RootsWeb Roots Surname List (RSL) was checked next. The RSL, with some 400,000 entries from over 50,000 genealogists, is the premier surname registry on the Internet. The RSL can be searched at: http://rsl.rootsweb.ancestry.com/
Searching for the Ward family found nothing interesting. Searching for Hughes and Culbertson found Steve Hughes, who had already been contacted. Searching for Sawyer found an entry for Sharon Van Tyne, in Texas, who was researching the Sawyer family from 1776 to present day, and the family she was researching had migrated from South Carolina, to Lowndes County, Alabama, and then to Union Parish, Louisiana. Again, what information was available was sent via e-mail to Sharon. Sharon replied the next day, and indicated that Linnie Sawyers parents, Samuel Sawyer and Elizabeth Jones, were her great-great-grandparents. She provided much information on Linnies siblings, parents, and grandparents.
Armed with this information, I headed off to the local Family History Center (FHC) to order census microfilm, to start the process of substantiating and expanding on the information now available. While there, the Ancestral File was checked for the various names listed above. Ed Hughes, married to Ethel L. Ward was found. Ethel was listed as the daughter of Henry Wesley Ward and Linnie Cornelia Sawyer, with a great deal of information about four generations of the Ward family. The FHC also happened to have the 1910 census for Union Parish on hand, and an entry was found for Ed Hughes, living with parents John W. and Della Hughes. An entry was also found for Ethel L. Ward, living with parents Henry W. and Linnie C. Ward; Grandmother Elizabeth Sawyer was also listed in the household.
I was able to order exactly the census, marriage, and cemetery records for Union Parish that were needed, because I had the birth, marriage and death dates and locations for all of the direct ancestors of Edward Gray Hughes from 1850 onward. Although the information that was obtained via e-mail, the WWW and the Ancestral File was undocumented, it pointed the way to the exact records that were needed to adequately document the family.
by David Franklin Reynolds, firstname.lastname@example.org
Life Member, Genealogical Forum of Oregon