POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 10:47 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012
When the holidays come it's all about family. At this time of year, I can't help but get a little misty-eyed when I think of my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and those in the distant past who made me what I am.
With the Internet, getting in touch with the past has never been more accessible. One of the best ways to do this is through a company called Ancestry.com. You've probably seen their TV ads — it's pretty hard to miss them. I decided to jump in and take the plunge.
I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.
The software is intuitive and easy to use. Essentially, Ancestry.com allows you to build your own family tree from scratch. You can upload your own photos of Aunt Clara from your computer and find supporting documents from any number of databases provided by Ancestry.com.
Its access to national and international databases is extremely powerful. I was able to tap into data as diverse as turn-of-the-century phone books from Stuttgart, Germany, service records from World Wars I and II, marriage records, census data, U.S. passport applications, Social Security records, draft records and even turn-of-the-century ship manifests. There were even records available from great-uncles who were in the German army during World War I.
Ancestry.com helps you cull these kinds of details from the terabytes of data by giving you hints. Let's say I'm doing research about my Great-uncle Otto. If Ancestry.com "sees" a document it thinks may be germane to Otto, it will alert me by putting a green leaf icon on the screen next to his name.
For example, if Ancestry.com finds that an Otto Meyer was aboard the Shawnee, which arrived July 11, 1941, in New York from Havana, it will alert me. Of course, it may not be the Otto Meyer I'm looking for, but that's up to me to determine.
In some cases Ancestry.com's databases go back 200 years or more to public records in the U.S. or Europe. The downside is that the data it has on its records may or may not be accurate. It's up to you to do the double-checking. (Obviously, much of the data on older databases has been transcribed, and people do make mistakes).
The more you dig into your past, the more addicting it becomes. As you share your discoveries with other members of the family, you'll find many will want to help. In that case you can provide access to your tree with family members (at no cost to them).
Ancestry.com's support is top-notch.
There's a ton of online help, Youtube videos, how-to articles, message boards and a live customer support person. Ancestry.com also offers DNA tests (for an added fee) to further drill down to your roots. If, for example, there are Ancestry.com members with DNA that matches yours, Ancestry.com will inform you and provide the connection. It's up to you to cross-reference your family trees and find the link.
In short, ancestry.com has more than enough to keep you occupied, and there's a good chance you'll even find long-lost relatives — living and deceased.
With a price tag that begins at $12.95 per month (for a six-month membership for U.S. databases only), it's not that expensive and makes a terrific gift. Unlike a new iPhone, it will last you a lifetime and provide a legacy to your children.
Mike Meyer, former Internet general manager at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, now manages IT for Honolulu Community College. Reach him at email@example.com.