The Online Time Machine: Seeing How Genealogy Sites Looked in the Olden Days

The Online Time Machine: Seeing How Genealogy Sites Looked in the Olden Days


We all like genealogy. The thrill of tracing your ancestors back over the decades and the centuries provides a sense of satisfaction that other pastimes just can’t match. Knowing where you came from gives you a deeper understanding of why you are who you are now – and where you might be going.

With that in mind, this post will take you back through some of the history of the online genealogy community. A genealogy of genealogy websites, if you will. Using images, we’re going to show you what some of your favourite blogs used to look like several years in the past. It’s a bit like flicking through your old family photos, except instead of relatives we have websites, and instead of the smooth gloss of photo print paper we have the steely embrace of hyper-text markup language. Still, it might give you an insight into what some of your favourite sites were like in the past, and how they looked before they turned into what they are today.

So buckle up. It’s time for Web 1.0

GeneaMusings, May 2008

Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings blog is a proverbial cornerstone of the online genealogy community, and is read and respected across the globe. Randy’s clear-thinking, straight-talking style is reflected in the site’s design: a no-nonesense combination of reds, whites, and blues. But go back just two years, and we see something quite different.

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Now this colour scheme is quite a shock, and is a radical departure from the current layout of Randy’s site. And yet it’s compelling, in a strange way. It’s a bit like ruffling through your parents’ old photo albums, to finding a snap of your father dressed in a tie-dye shirt and lounging in front of a Vokswagen camper van while reading a Jack Kerouac novel. Kind of cool, in a way. But quite surprising.

Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, December 2004

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This is what we know Eastman’s site to look like. A cool, earthen colour. A genealogist with a cowboy hat, riding out into the desert to lassoo census records and serve them up to the thirsty crowds at the Last Chance Saloon. But it wasn’t always like this…

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Here we have Eastman from 2004. The colours are more plain, and the cowboy hat is nowhere to be seen. Quite a difference in style, but the content was of extremely high quality, even back then.

GenealogyBlog, 2004

In evidence of another radical makeover, witness the transformation of GenealogyBlog. What is now this…

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…used to be this:

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In a reminder of times gone by, ‘Election 2004’ is a ‘Hot Topic’ in the list at the top of the page. Ahh, those were the days.

Dear Myrtle, April 2002

We’re now deep into Web 1.0, and as we go further back in time even the most prestigious blogs begin to tail off into non-existence. But ever present is Dear Myrtle, who’s been soldiering on since the 1990s – and some claim was active even in the 1980s. This is Myrtle, to be sure, but not as you know her today.

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We’re so far back now that the term ‘Genealogy Column’ is widely used and considered non-eccentric. These were the days when ‘blog’ wasn’t even a word, and when people were still trying to adapt existing terminology to the internet rather than just making up nonsensical, pointless jargon. Nonetheless, the geneasphere was clearly beginning to grow.

And yet, while Myrtle’s layout is quite different, the general look of the site isn’t too far off what it is today. One might be tempted to believe that Myrtle has been using these pink shades since the dawn of time. But one would be wrong.

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And here we are, back in 1999, with the deep green vista of Myrtle’s homepage on display for all to see. This is, truly, ancient history. These were the days when you’d curse a webmaster for including lots of photos on his page, as you watched in horror at the excruciating incremental loading of graphics. The days when someone was actually considered witty for having ‘Site Under Construction’ as a placard on their infant homepage, alongside .gif animations of mechanical diggers and workmen with pneumatic drills. Gone are those days, but at least we can treasure the internet’s past. And on that note, we have one more image left to share with you., a long time ago

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This is an old snap of ours. We’ve seen how others’ sites used to look several years ago. So here is ours.

Would you like to learn how to search through the archives of the internet? Is L Ron Hubbard a Scientologist?

Tomorrow we’re going to briefly talk you through how you can do this, and how you can explore how sites used to look before the present day. Stay tuned.

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