Researching a new area? Start by using GenWeb

In a world that proves more and more quickly the truth of the cliche “the only constant is change,” it’s needed to check in again and again about the websites and methods recommend for genealogists to use.

An outfit I had not checked in with for some time is the USGenWeb project.

This project, started as part of the larger WorldGenWeb project, has made it a mission to keep up websites on the state and county levels throughout America.

But I wondered — with mega-sites such as, and MyHeritage

.com and their public member trees (as well as the ever-growing influence of DNA testing on genealogy) — how are the GenWeb sites faring?

One person answering my query was Jim Cox, the assistant state coordinator for the Indiana GenWeb.

“The USGenWeb Project is very active. Some counties within each state struggle from time to time finding a coordinator, but as a whole and I can only speak regarding Indiana, we have a very dedicated group of individuals who work daily in updating their sites and adding new content,” Cox wrote.

The state coordinator for Penn­sylvania GenWeb, Nancy Janyszeski, who is also a USGenWeb advisory board member, said the “county pages are alive and well.”

Janyszeski noted that the GenWeb network is free and volunteer-based, making it a challenge to spread the word to new family researchers.

“I am often surprised at the number of researchers who have not heard of us,” she wrote.

USGenWeb did have a booth at the National Genealogical Society conferences the last two years, and Janyszeski herself attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference a few months ago.

“We are a working diligently to maintain our national, state and county sites relevant,” she wrote.

What makes the GenWeb sites relevant? While it varies from county to county, the sites feature collections of records (from cemeteries to census to newspaper abstracts), a place for family stories, a listing of genealogical and historical groups in the county, historical maps, photos and general history, as well as a message board for inquiries.

In short, the county GenWeb sites are excellent primers for beginning research in a new geographic area. As your “Roots & Branches” columnist has more than occasionally remarked, it’s the “local expertise” of people either right on the ground or with historical knowledge of that ground that can’t often be found merely in databases or even wikis written far from those counties.

If there’s anything negative in the GenWeb world, it’s just the same “ebb and flow” seen elsewhere in genealogy, according to Judy Florian, the coordinator for Pennsylvania’s Washington County. She hopes a “new generation” of coordinators will continue to step up.

You can drill down to state sites (and, in turn, to the county sites) from the USGenWeb URL,

For a list of the county sites in Pennsylvania, go to the PAGenWeb site at the URL, http: