Beginning May 31, the site unveiled records starting with the first English settlement at Jamestown, Va., in 1607 and including all war records through the Vietnam War. The names of 3.5 million U.S. soldiers killed in action, including 2,000 who died in Iraq are also available.
Susan Harmon, PCPL's head of Local History and Genealogy, sees the new release having a large impact on genealogy research.
"There will be so much more information available that people haven't been able to access. There are news articles and newsreels, photographs and many previously inaccessible records," she states.
The database includes 37 million images, draft registration cards from both world wars, prisoner-of-war records from four wars, military yearbooks, Civil War pension records and unit rosters from the Marine Corps. All information came from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Ancestry.com, which is owned by Generations Network, spent $3 million to digitize the military records. Their research took nearly a year, and included some 1,500 handwriting specialists who spent up to 270,000 hours reviewing the oldest records.
Library volunteer and self-described genealogist "of sorts" Lou Fontaine states, "It's a tremendous tool that may change the way people do genealogy research. It's a great starting point to lead you to the original documents. However, as with any online information, unless it is a genuine document, it is subject to question," he adds.
Specialized search engines on sites like Ancestry.com, Genealogy. com and FamilySearch .com, along with general search portals like Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc., have helped fuel interest in family ancestry research.
Subscribers to Ancestry.com can set up their own family tree pages and combine personal information with public records from the site. If they want to restrict access to their pages, privacy controls are available. And information posted about people who were born after 1922, or people born earlier but who are still alive, is automatically blocked from public view.
Genealogists collect oral histories and preserve family stories to discover ancestors and living relatives. They also attempt to understand the lifestyle, biography, and motivations of past relations.
Fontaine has already been to the site and looked up family history that contained documents in recognizable handwriting. He reminds people that the library has index books for Putnam County that will tell researchers where to go to get the birth and death records by page and volume number in the courthouse.
Access to the new website is free of charge until June 6 which is the anniversary of D-Day. After June 6, users will have to pay $155.40 a year to join Ancestry.com for unlimited access to the military records. Harmon hopes to acquire a library package with the information sometime after June 6. Library patrons can access the regular Ancestry.com site at the library.