Exploring Cyndi’s List

(originally posted online 2003)


In April 2002 I had the tremendous good fortune to meet at attend classes given by Cyndi Howells, owner of Cyndi’s List. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this website, this is a short tutorial.

Cyndi started ‘the list’ back in 1995 as a repository for her genealogy bookmarks. Her bookmarks list had grown so large that it wasn’t feasible to store it locally on her computer any more. The prototype for Cyndi’s List was born. Cyndi and her husband are both genealogists. Now it has grown to include countless tidbits of information and links to sites and she calls it "Your genealogical research portal onto the Internet".

First and foremost, Cyndi’s List is a categorized index to submitted sites regarding genealogy. It is cross-referenced and completely searchable. Individuals submit their sites to Cyndi and those submissions are immediately posted to her free newsletter (hosted by rootsweb.com). At some point, Cyndi reviews the submitted site and posts it permanently on her own website, making it available to the public at no charge. Currently there is a backlog of approximately two years between submission by the author and permanent posting on the website. One visit to the list site and you will understand the sheer volume she is dealing with. The site gets over 15, 000 visits each day just on the main index page, and the whole site logs more than 70,000 hits per day. In a typical month she adds about 1500 links, deletes about 300, and updates another 600. Additionally she receives about 200 personal emails a day and manages to address the issues in about 100 of them. There is absolutely no charge for her site. And she does the whole thing herself, with a little help from friends and family on rare occasions.

There are five ways to view Cyndi’s List. The easiest of course is to use the search option. The user simply enters a surname, place, type of record, etc., then clicks the Find button. This function is powered by FreeFind, one of the leading search engines for site searches available. It isn’t your only option, however. You can also search via Atomz, and Google, both of which offer the option of searching only Cyndi’s List. In a more traditional vein, there is the Main Index (the start page) which gives an overview of the entire site with full graphics. There is a ‘no-frills’ index which gives the category title but no additional information on each site. She has another index of the categories listed alphabetically, and yet another index listed simply by general topic. Once the viewer learns to scroll down beyond where the page seems to end, any or all of these indexes work magic when finding resources.

Researchers won’t find a place to post or read genealogy queries on Cyndi’s List. What one will find, however, several links to places that DO accept queries. Rootsweb.com donates the space for The List and with so many places offering query space Cyndi feels it is space better served to put up the links instead. The List also doesn’t have a bulletin board or guest book feature. One can imagine how unruly that would become at 70,000 hits a day!

Cyndi’s List has an enormous section for beginner genealogist and for those who need to go back and brush up on some skills. There are tips and tricks for all sorts of research methods as well as general guides to mailing lists, newsgroups, publications, societies, software and supplies. This index offers related links as well; books, libraries, individual researchers (paid and free) and anything imaginable. One of her best focus points in this beginner section is a link to forms. From her site there are links to every form ever needed, from family group sheets to applying for the SGGS German Card. There are also links to places researchers can download forms right from the web.

Access to new links is what keeps Cyndi’s List current and exciting. Visitors post their link electronically and they become immediately available to those who subscribe to Cyndi’s new link newsletter before she places them permanently on her site. These new links are searchable via Cyndi’s List itself or through the newsletter archives at Rootsweb.com. Instructions for joining the newsletter or submitting your site are easy to find on the site.

Another awesome feature of Cyndi’s List is her internet help section. Here she gives links to virus information (including hoaxes), spam (junk email) and cookies. She addresses privacy issues and copyright information. She even has a section on netiquette (proper behavior online) and information for new net users. There is a section with links to software and yet another with links to information about those confusing computer terms and jargon.

When considering creating your own website for genealogy (or anything else for that matter) there is an extensive section written by Cyndi on exactly how to do it. With Cyndi’s guidance and listed links, even the most clueless site builder can handle the job. Literally everything one needs to know, even for an intermediate site designer, is there or linked to Cyndi’s List Homepage Design Kit. Keep in mind that what she has written is copyrighted, so don’t quote her work, but she does freely allow links to it. In fact, she encourages it!

One more thing Cyndi lists on her site is a calendar of her speaking engagements. At the time of this writing she is fully booked through 2003. That in itself is a testament to the popularity and wisdom of this remarkable lady! If you cannot meet her in person, you will get a real sense of her through Cyndi’s List. The list is an invaluable took for all genealogists. If you can’t find something about your ancestor or a place you are researching, it will be a huge surprise!