Much of the credit for the current interest in genealogy harks back to 1976, when author Alex Haley published his groundbreaking book "Roots," followed by the 1977 TV miniseries. But, says Mr. Hanna, "the trouble with 'Roots' was that you couldn't do much about [research] other than stumble through archives."
Then along came the Internet, affording users the ability to conduct searches anytime and dig up documents, photos, and more. As the sophistication of Web searches grows along with the mountains of documents available, so does the fascination.
I'm certainly captured. As for Lambert, I've already discovered some compelling details. After he, his wife, and possibly a child or two moved to Fort Orange, Lambert was appointed to the "rattle guard," the policemen of the day who walked the streets of Fort Orange with wooden rattles as they looked for fire, thieves, and "all forms of unruly nighttime activities and breaches of the peace," according to the book "The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America," by Jaap Jacobs.
Part of that tidbit came from a search on Google Books, an ambitious project that seeks to digitize and make available all of the world's books no longer protected by copyright laws and those a publisher has given them the right to scan. Google announced last October that it had already scanned 15 million books out of the estimated 150 million books in the world, although a court ruling in March might put a damper on how many copyrighted books will be available this way.
At Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., history professor Daniel Carpenter is painstakingly digitizing millions of signatures to the multitude of petitions Americans have made since the nation's founding. Inside the walls of the National Archives, he says, there are probably 100 million to 300 million signatures on petitions that called for the end to slavery, suffrage for women, the regulation of alcohol, and religious freedom.