Digging through dusty public records isn't the only way to trace your roots. Net surfers can now find their family trees online.
Ancestry.com announced new free services today, including access to the Social Security death index, marriage records from before the 19th century, and digital family trees. The site also pledges to add five genealogy databases per week.
Helping people connect to their past or lost friends is a budding service on the Net. Family Tree Maker, Six Degrees of Separation, and Family Tree House allow users to peruse missing links in their history.
"Our goal is to bring your ancestors to your desktop," said Mike Judson, a spokesman for Ancestry Publishing, Ancestry.com's producer.
On Ancestry.com, people can sift through tips on how to conduct genealogical research or sign up to receive a weekly newsletter on the topic. The site also contains advertisements and an online shop to generate revenue.
For $4.95 per month, visitors can also get a "library card" to get more in-depth materials like cemetery, church, and early American immigration records. Other documents from the colonial period are also available.
David Naess of Rochester, New York, has been researching his family tree for two years with the help of his aunt, who's been at it for 45 years. With his subscription, he's traced back to an eighth-generation grandfather who traveled to America by ship.
"I found out when he came over, what ship he took, what port he left from, and where he arrived," Naess said. "A lot of the immigration papers will tell you what the person had in his pockets when he first stepped onto this continent."
Family Tree Maker also lets visitors play detective on the Net.
The site offers a 1,200-page genealogy "how to" guide. It lets users set up a family-tree home page and has a free index of 123 million names of people who have lived or still reside in the United States.
Another way to hunt down people on the Net is through the Six Degrees of Separation site. People who sign up for the free network can find people they want to know about through their current contacts.
The demand for sites that let surfers follow the footsteps of their relatives or friends seems to be growing. Already Ancestry.com is getting 20,000 visitors a day.
"I would have had to make trips all over the country, and outside of the country, to visit town halls, churches, and cemeteries," Naess said. "Now I can just sit down in front of my keyboard and call up the records."