Sunday, June 21, 2015

It All Began 20 Years Ago...

Today is the first day of summer, so I have a story to tell you. I do not have the exact date, but twenty years ago this summer I bought a new desktop computer. It came with a screaming fast 9600-baud modem and free America Online software already installed. I went online for the first time.

I was delighted to find that America Online had a genealogy forum. I started participating in the groups and chats there and exploring the file libraries. I recall being intrigued by this thing that existed outside of AOL. It was called the Internet. I bought a book that explained exactly what that was, how it worked, and about the history behind it. I like to know how things work and what makes them tick. This helps me to understand how to make the best use of them. I started exploring the Internet and figuring out how and where to find information that helped my genealogical research.

I have been a genealogist since doing a high school project in 1980. Mr. Esau's class, Contemporary World Problems, included a project to learn about our family history and demonstrate our ethnic diversity. I received an A on that and still have the posterboard with his comments. The year I was born my maternal grandmother, Ruth LaVern (Johnson) Nash, had purchased red vinyl family tree books for herself and her four children. She filled hers out so well that in 1980 I had a firm start on my Mom's side of the family. That same year my Aunt Daisy traveled back to Indiana and Virginia to gather family information for my Dad's side of the family. This was the foundation for my future research. I had been working with computers since the mid-1980s. My job at Puget Sound Bank included working with an IBM DOS-based computer and being responsible for an NCR system in our department. I taught others how to use it and wrote the procedures manuals too. My Dad got a new computer in about 1988. He purchased the first version of Family Tree Maker for DOS for me. I went to his house every day for several weeks in order to enter all my genealogy information into the database. So, several years of computers and genealogy were about to collide as I went online in the summer of 1995.

As I explored online I learned how to make "favorites" in AOL. Netscape Navigator called them "bookmarks." I started bookmarking everything I could for genealogy. I joined the popular ROOTS-L mailing list and starting talking with others around the world about my favorite thing, genealogy. I have often thought about how the Internet opened up my genealogical world. I live in Washington state. Prior to the Internet my research was done in a vacuum that existed in the northwest corner of the United States. I didn't have the money to travel and do research in the midwest and the east where my ancestors had lived. All of my research was done by mail, at the library, at the National Archives branch in Seattle, and with microfilm at the local Family History Center. I joined the local genealogical group, the Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society, and became an active member of the board. I attended my first national conference, the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference, in Seattle in late summer of 1995. My genealogical window was opened wide.

During the summer months the TPCGS group doesn't hold monthly meetings. In September we get back together and do a show-and-tell of what we did over the summer. I remember that meeting in 1995 very well. Nan came and brought a quilt she had made over the summer. The squares had old family portraits and photos that she had printed and ironed onto the fabric. Others told about genealogical vacations they had taken, visiting courthouses and cemeteries and all their discoveries. I had decided to share my list of bookmarks. I had printed it out on one whole page. I wasn't sure if anyone would care about this Internet thing. Computer owners were in the minority at the time and even they weren't all online. I made ten copies of my bookmark list in case anyone else was interested. They were. In fact, they were all so interested in it that I had to run upstairs to make more copies. That's when Cyndi's List was born.

It's all Nancy Peterson's fault. She was the editor of the TPCGS quarterly. She came right up to me at the meeting and asked if I could turn my one-page list into an article for the quarterly. Maybe five or six pages long. I said I could, but I would have to categorize the bookmarks. That's when that started. I scoured the Internet for all-things genealogy. I found topics and ethnic groups and locations that I knew nothing about, but I figured others would find them useful. The article was published in the late fall of 1995. I need to find a copy of that article for my archives. I didn't keep a copy that I can find. And I had no way of knowing what it would become.

In January of 1996 I decided to create my own personal web site. I taught myself HTML and created a very basic, very rudimentary site. I included articles that I had written. So, I figured the list of bookmarks from that article might be useful if I put it on the site and made them into clickable hyperlinks. It was one web page with 1,025 links. I titled the page, "Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet," which was long and cumbersome, but explained exactly what it was. I now think it was a silly name, but it worked then. I told other genealogists on ROOTS-L about my personal web site and the list of links that I had included. I was immediately swamped with emails from people asking if I would add a link to their genealogy site. I did. And that is how it grew and grew and grew.

In honor of the past twenty years of my life dedicated to this site, I have decided to blog here about Cyndi's List. About its history, its growth, its popularity, how to use the site, and what it takes to maintain the site.

It is hard to imagine that two decades have passed and Cyndi's List is still growing and evolving and is still incredibly useful to millions of people worldwide. And it is still free for everyone to use. There has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that I've put into the site. And a lot of my own money too. It has been both a blessing and huge job for me alone. I upgraded the site in 2011 at a cost of $40,900.00. Over the past few years I have incurred another $20,000+ in administrative expenses. When I upgraded the site I added a PayPal Donation button. It was one of the hardest things for me to do. I do not like to ask for help. My friends and colleagues tell me that I need to do this. So, here it is. To date about 74% of the upgrade expense has been reimbursed through donations by all of you kind people. This means that there is still about $30,000 outstanding including the upgrade expense and the administrative expenses. I do appreciate all the thoughtfulness and help that I've received to date. Genealogists are a wonderful group of sharing and giving people. I am thankful.

Regardless, Cyndi's List will continue to grow and I will continue to maintain it. I hope you all find it a helpful research tool online.

See also:
Cyndi's List: How to Submit New Links
Cyndi's List on Facebook


Charles said...

I remember going to a conference at Stadium High School and you and someone else came in with sweat shirts that said see Cindi's List on the Internet. Not sure what year that was, but the High School is a vivid memory, beautiful setting for a school.

Unknown said...

I remember Root-L and the birth of your list. I was in college at the times and loved the resource. Still love it today.

Iain M Cooke said...

It's the goto list and it always will be, great work!
Iain @
Four Bears Links

Marie B said...

Cyndi, Thank you for all you do. I remember the excitement that I felt when I stumbled across your list for the first time (and bookmarked it)! I started my genealogy (also) before there were so many internet resources, so it's been a real joy in the last 10 years to see how much information is out there now. I, for one, really appreciate the time and effort you put into gathering all of these resources in one spot. If I hit a brick wall, your site is one of the resources I use to ensure that I have availed myself of all of the possible resources for that area. Again, thank you and I hope you continue to get supported by the users of your resources.

Amy Archibald said...

I remember the very beginning of this list. Thank you for all your hard work on behalf of so many others.

Jana Iverson Last said...


Thank you for your wonderful website!

I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Seeds to Tree said...

I speak for many when I say thank you for all your hard work. Twenty years is quite an achievement. Congrats!

Seeds to Tree said...

I speak for many family researchers, thank you for all your hard work and dedication. Your website is a premier go-to for so many people. Congratulations on 20 years!

Julie Goucher said...

I was looking in the filing cabinet for something yesterday & in a file marked Miscellaneous was a print out from your site back in 1999 & I still use your site & recently uploaded the URL for the Orlando DNA project (one-name / surname research rather than place!)

Mary Foxworthy said...

It is impossible to explain the value of your list. It was a treasure trove for me when I began 16 years ago; and it still is. So many of us are very very grateful for your hard work and generosity.

Anna Matthews said...

Thank you, Cyndi, for all you do here on your site. Loved hearing the story of its evolution. I've only been recently acquainted with it, but it has been a great help to me already.

Seeds to Tree said...

I know I speak for many when I let you know that your hard work and dedication is appreciated. Thanks Cyndi for all you add to genealogy research.

Unknown said...

I remember the very beginning of this list. Thank you for all your hard work on behalf of so many others. best diet pills