Sunday, June 02, 2013


Back when I first started researching my family history, I was what was labeled a
"bedroom" or "pajama" genealogist. The image conjured up by that is of someone
sitting at a computer in the corner of their bedroom, dressed in their pajamas as
they surfed the internet looking for family records and documents. And that's pretty
much what I did.

Well, except for the pajamas. I was fully clothed.

Back then, I was working as the manager of a video store and working weird hours.
Many days I didn't get home until well after midnight, and my one day a week off
was for buying groceries and doing laundry. There was no time to visit archives or
court houses, and even if there were, I barely knew where to begin. Some earlier
visits to those places to find information on John Cutter West had not gone beyond
looking for his birth record because I didn't know what else I should look for. After
my friend Diana told me I could download a free PAF genealogy program I did so and
began filling in information my Aunt Dorothy had sent, and then more from Florence
O'Connor's book about my Ellingwood and Dunham ancestors. Then I started Googling
names, and searching Rootsweb and

I started finding things: Google Books editions of the Essex County Court Files, Pension
Files on Footnotes for ancestors I didn't know had serve4 in the American Revolution.
I found birth, death, and marriage records on FamilySearch and Federal Census Records
on When I started this blog, it brought me into contact with distant
cousins who shared pictures and documents with me. I found newspaper stories about
 fatal accidents and a journal entry from a scientist about a conversation with my 2x
great grandfather and the details about what he told the scientist.

All of this I found online.

And it keeps going on and on. FamilySearch is putting more documents online every day,
They've posted Probate Files for Maine and New Hampshire and recently added the
Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986 collection. I've found more things I might never
would have found as quickly and easily as I have found them online. I'm grateful to them,, Fold3, and all the other websites that have made my search much easier.

I know there are still plenty of things out there that aren't online and that I would have
to go see where them where they are kept. Maybe after I finally get a replacement for the
Late Great Ping The Wonder Car I'll have the chance to do that. There is still some who
are a bit dismissive of those who research mostly online.

But for the moment, I will proudly say I am an online genealogist.

Only now I do it in the parlor, with a laptop, and still fully clothed. 


Frances Elizabeth Schwab said...

I'm part of the online tribe, too. There's so much I've found, it amazes me. The newly posted MA Land Records at Family Search held a real treasure- a deed that had information essential to prove the Mayflower connection I had suspected.

Diana Ritchie said...

Great post (as always!!) Bill! But I'm still going to picture you fully clothed in fuzzy bunny slippers! ;-)

The important thing that researching online has brought me is the cousin contact!! I've found parts of the family history that would have been missing to me forever if I was only looking in archives etc.

I love dusty old records, but there are times when YEARS go by and I just can't get to other places. I love that I can still find undiscovered (to me) things online.

Diane B said...

Bill, I was just thinking about this today. Isn't it great to live in a world where the most personal information - like the fascinating court stories you pull up about your ancestors - are becoming so readily available online? There are a lot of people and institutions out there trying to make this happen with material that is not under copyright. I am very grateful to them, and I think, what better way to move the quality of genealogical work forward. Thank you for giving all of this an eloquent shout out today.

Barbara Poole said...

Bill, I believe a lot of us would confess to doing research the same way you do. Your post was a perfect Sunday morning article.

Susan Clark said...

There have been years at a time, decades even, when all my research was online. The beauty of genealogy today is that one can do wonderful, high quality research from home whether by choice or circumstance.

Pamela Wile said...

Do you have an "online research" hoodie?

L Smith said...


I, like you, do much of my research online. The main reason I do, is that I no longer reside within reasonable travelling distance of the repostories I need to visit. I feel very fortunate that my roots are mostly in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, because so many records are available online. Now when I go "home" to visit, I am able to concentrate on finding information not available online.

I have found over the last 15 years that contacts made through online message boards, RAOGK, and social media are invaluable; as well.

Michelle Goodrum said...

Great article to read first thing Sunday morning! We live in wonderful times. I hate to think how long it would have taken 30 years ago to find everything. IF you could have found it. The Internet sure makes our genealogy lives easier and more interesting.

Hope you get your car replaced soon so you can go find more wonderful tidbits in person.

my Heritage Happens said...

Great, fun article Bill! The benefits of online research is great, especially with the cousins connections! Add to that the convenience! I am sure researchers from a few short decades ago would call us spoiled!

Celia Lewis said...

To me the most wonderful way to start the day - after feeding the cat and the canary - is to sit at my computer in the living room, look down the street at the glorious trees, and do genealogy research. Doesn't matter much what I wear. Doesn't matter much what I find. And since I don't have a car nor the funds to travel, home-based genealogy is the way it is, and it's fine, it's fun, and it's often successful! I'm living in the right time to do internet research. Oh, and I found a long-lost 1st cousin from on-line work! The two of us are genealogy nuts, one on the West Coast, one in Ontario. Thanks for sharing this great post!

Bill West said...

Pamela, it depends on what time of day is is:if I'm doing research in the morning and I haven't changed yet, it's my nighttime hoodie,The rest of the day, it's the daytime hoodie.

But hoodie season doesn't start up again until October. Too hot for hoodies now!

JamaGenie said...

Haha! My online "handle" is JamaGenie, because - surprise? - I chase dead ancestors online in my jammies. The internet was THE best thing that ever happened to genealogy and family historians, although I've waged a campaign for years against newbies who post unverified information at multiple sites simply because they CAN, without taking into account that other newbies will believe that information is "carved in stone" and spread it around the net on even more sites.

GeniAus said...

Presently sitting in bed with my morning coffee. The best way to catch up on genie news and learn from blog posts like yours.