Particularly for Rootsweb right now…

The Rootsweb website and all of its vast genealogical resources — taken offline by Ancestry in December because of a data breach — remains offline and inaccessible to researchers here well into the New Year.

Now The Legal Genealogist is well aware that, for some of the Rootsweb resources, there are available alternatives and the lack of access right this minute isn’t devastating.

But for much of those resources — and particularly the huge array of information in family pages by individual researchers and family groups — there simply isn’t any real alternative resource out there.

So the inability to access these pages is hampering us, right now, in a very real way.

And that leaves us with only two choices, doesn’t it? We can sit around at 3 a.m. in our bunny slippers and curse the hackers who caused the data breach, the Ancestry security system that hasn’t figured out how to get the data back online safely yet, the fates and more.

Or we can go back in time.

Back to the time before the breach… when the data was available online.

No, I haven’t invented a time machine.1 But the sharp cookies at Internet Archive have.

It’s called the Wayback Machine.

Wayback Machine

And we can use it to access a whole bunch of those now-offline Rootsweb sites until Ancestry gets its act together and gets the site back online.

As the website explains, the Wayback Machine allows us to “Explore more than 310 billion web pages saved over time.”2 Any site that’s ever been searched by the service may have a version sitting there that we can still get to. This won’t be everything from Rootsweb, and in many cases the version available will be out of date, but it will be quite a bit — and that’s better than nothing.

Here’s how it works.

First, we need the web address — the URL — of a page we want to look at. So we’re going to need to use our favorite search engine, such as Google or Bing or — for genealogy — a search engine like the one at Family History Daily or any of the other specialized search engines listed on Cyndi’s List.

By searching for Rootsweb Davenport family on Google, for example, I come up with a bunch of options. For now, I’m going to skip over the ones where the web address shown begins with “wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com” — in general, I found that those weren’t available through the Wayback Machine. But there are some where the web address begins with “resources.rootsweb.ancestry.com” or with “freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com”.

If you find one of those for a family page you want to access, copy the URL. Now be careful here. Don’t right click and choose copy link location or whatever your browser says. Because you’ll get a very long web address that only the search engine uses. Instead, you need to actually highlight the web address shown (usually by holding down your left mouse button as you drag the mouse across the link) and copy it (with a Windows machine, CTRL+C).

For what’s shown as the Davenport Families 1086 – 1944, that gives me a web address of
“freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dav4is/ODTs/DAVENPORT.shtml.”

Now take that over to the Wayback Machine and paste it into the box there, and then click on the button for Browse History.

Voila. You will find that that page has been searched and saved 19 times between 2008 and 2017.

Wayback Machine results

Choose one of the colored circles on one of the calendars shown, click on that, and it’ll take you to a saved version of that web page.

Pretty cool, huh?

Now… for the other sites, the ones that the Wayback Machine can’t find, look on your search engine to see if it has a cached version. For example, when I tried to find the Davenport-McRoberts Family pages shown in that Google search, they turned out to have been cached:

Google cached website

Use that dropdown arrow on the right to open the button for the cached page, and then click on that.

And voila again. The page that was saved by Google will open.

I know this isn’t perfect. I know we all want Rootsweb back up and running. I know not everything will be found using either of these methods.

But something of what we need is available… and something is better than nothing.

And better than cursing the fates.


SOURCES

  1. If I had, trust me, my first use of it would be to find my rascal second great grandfather George and force him, under penalty of excruciating consequences, to reveal the identities of his parents. And my second use of it would be to find my second great grandmother Friedricke and force her, under penalty of equally excruciating consequences, to tell me who fathered her child, my great grandfather Hermann.
  2. “Wayback Machine,” Internet Archive (https://archive.org/web/ : accessed 8 Jan 2018).
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