Monday, 16 August 2010

Websites for Writers: USGenWeb

Hello everyone! I just got back from hiking the East Highland Way in Scotland. I'll be writing this up for Gadling and will be sure to remind you once the articles go live. I've also been playing around with a bit of horror photography, which you can see by following the link. Now I'm back in Oxford and it's time once again for Websites for Writers, where I highlight a non-writing website that's inspirational or educational for writers.

This week's choice is USGenWeb, a free genealogy website. If you're writing a historical novel, or one centered around a family, be sure to check this out, especially its state-by-state database linking to branches of USGenWeb and other free sites.

The site for Missouri has given me lots of leads. There's a state and county map with clickable links, and interesting projects such as a collection of articles on colonial Missouri and photos of unknown Missourians that users are trying to identify. If these ghostly old images of forgotten faces don't conjure up a dozen stories in your head, you're chasing the wrong muse! Pages for other states have similar projects. Discussion groups can answer even the most obscure questions.

The coolest part of USGenWeb are the family homepages where people have uploaded the results of their research. These real-life family epics can provide a huge amount of inspiration for your own stories. Don't follow them too closely, though, because these heroes and heroines were real people!

Take for example the Helman family of Missouri and Oregon. This site has biographies, photos, obituaries, the story of how one of them founded a town, and little gems like a diary from 1858 and a poem from 1910. And where else would you learn that Helman is the 7,970th most popular surname in the United States?

I would be remiss to talk about genealogy without mentioning This is a pay site so I haven't explored it much, but every amateur and professional genealogist I know has an account because it has important research tools the free sites lack. Writers should be just fine with USGenWeb, though. Unless, of course, you catch the genealogy bug. . .

Ambrotype c. 1860 courtesy David Hoag via Wikimedia Commons.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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