Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Online Sources for Western European Research

I have been working on a handout for a new lecture that I will give for the first time at the end of March at the Fairfax Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference. The lecture is entitled “Online Sources for Western European Research.”

Obviously, this is a HUGE topic. I could easily fill an hour lecture with online sources for just one Western European country. But, I am going to attempt to cover all of them. Of course, I’m not really going to be able to talk about every Western European online source out there. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I am going to attempt to provide an overview. I am not including immigration records since I am giving another lecture which focuses on these.

This lecture is based on an article I wrote for Internet Genealogy Magazine a year or two ago. (Nearly all of my lectures are based on magazine articles I wrote.) I chose this topic because I felt like it was an area that has changed quite a bit in recent years, and I felt that many people are not aware of what is online that could make their lives easier. (And I’m all about making life easier.) I was excited about the article and I am also excited about putting the lecture together.

That said, I am having all kinds of problems. I’m having a hard time choosing which websites to include, deciding how to arrange the material, and figuring out how to make the presentation informative AND entertaining – so that people don’t feel like I am just jamming website after website down their throat (which I believe would make people inclined to fall asleep – a scenario that I try to avoid as a speaker, although I have had on more than one occasion someone snoring in the audience and once even on the front row. I like to tell myself that it was because they took some decongestant that says it is “non-drowsy” but actually is very much drowsy-inducing and not that I am so boring that sleeping while sitting up in a hard chair was more appealing than listening to me. But, I have digressed….)

I haven’t come up with the secret to making a list of websites exciting (except that the websites, of course, are EXTREMELY exciting just in their existence, although not everyone may share my enthusiasm). But, I did want to share just a small sampling of websites here. I’ll start with a couple of overview sites, then include a couple of country specific sites that have original records available.


Similar to US GenWeb, but on a global scale, WorldGenWeb is a geographically organized volunteer-run website. Each Western European country, and sometimes even state or county, has its own site. The sites are all different in their thoroughness and content but may contain maps, descriptions of records, addresses of archives, query boards, social history descriptions, and a variety of other types of information.

ProGenealogist’s Specialty Websites for Genealogy Research

Progenealogists is a professional genealogical service, but it’s site is also packed full of useful information. On this section of their website, you’ll find a list of countries with links. Follow these to find great articles about history, research methodology, and records written by some of the most knowledgeable experts out there. You’ll also find, maps, gazetteers and sometimes extracted records.

Danish Demographic Database

Researchers with Danish ancestors won’t want to miss this site. Start with the “Emigrants” section to find information on nearly four hundred thousand people who left Denmark from 1869 to 1908. The search, which brings up transcribed entries, is free. Also, try the “Census” section to search an extensive collection of census records (organized by parish and then county). The “Other Sources” section contains some other odds and ends. You can pay to get actual copies of the records or have further research done.

Digital Archives of Norway

The Norwegian National Archives channels their material here as it becomes digitized. With free services, lists of databases, and millions of names, this site is the online place to look for Norwegian ancestors. (Do a google search for the title of the website if you don’t want to type in the long address.) Here you’ll find several censuses, and a growing collection of parish records that will eventually include 1.85 millions pages. You’ll also find other records, photos of farms, and links to tutorials in Norwegian research.

Genlias, www.genlias.nl/en/

Genlias represents the collaborative effort a number of archives in the Netherlands. Their ambitious aim is to enter all the data from the open civil registers (the most important Dutch genealogical source covering the post 1811 period). The project is well underway with 14.4 million records representing over 58 million people already available online. The search is free; copies of original records can be ordered for a fee.

Oh, I have to stop…But there are so many more….You see the problem?


  1. I wish I could attend this lecture. It should be really good. And about your "digression" - the man in the front row probably worked the night before, didn't get any sleep during the day, and felt so horrible after the lecture that he couldn't face you to apologize. Ha!

  2. Thanks for that thought Nancy. I will remember that the next time I see someone snoozing...