Like most men and women of my generation, I recall childhood play influenced by Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and Hopalong Cassidy.
After debunking family lore that my James ancestors were relatives of the infamous outlaw Jesse, I was greatly disappointed that only one ancestor got farther west than Alabama. So I can claim no Western heroes or villains: no Pony Express riders, no famous gunslingers or bank robbers, no singing cowboys nor saloon hussies.
Unraveling family lore about distant generations is difficult under the best of circumstances. Add to that the romantic webs that novelists and newspapermen spun around criminals and lawmen, and toss in the influence of Hollywood's love affair with the Old West, and you've got a lot of fiction tangled in the facts.
On second thought, maybe I'm glad my ancestors missed out on the fun.
But an understanding of era and place, and faithfulness to solid standard research methods, should get a determined genealogist past the Sirens of the Western gateways.
There are many irresponsible Internet sites encouraging fantasy rather than fact, but here are some that will educate and guide valid research.
•Huntington Library Early California Population Project at tinyurl.com/2okevr
•Library of Congress, Westward by Sea at tinyurl.com/yvsx7j
•Library of Congress, The Chinese in California at tinyurl.com/yjs63f
•Library of Congress, Prairie Settlement, Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters at tinyurl.com/nqoba
•Library of Congress, The First American West: The Ohio River Valley 1750-1820 at tinyurl.com/yr89g
•Library of Congress, Traveling in America at tinyurl.com/u700
•Library of Congress, Trails to Utah and the Pacific at tinyurl.com/26oedpa
•McCracken Research Library at www.bbhc.org/mccracken
•Missouri State Archives, Digital Heritage, Missouri's Union Provost Marshall Papers at www.sos.mo.gov/archives /provost
•National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum at www.cowboyhalloffame.org
•National Oregon/California Trail Center at www.oregontrailcenter.org
•Spanish Colonial Research Center at www.nps.gov/history/spca/index.htm
For those of you who prefer print media, several books offer in-depth research beyond the basics. If your budget is limited try the local library or even interlibrary loan for some of these:
"The American West" by Michael P. Malone (University of Nebraska Press, 1989)
"Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West" by Hampton Sides (Anchor Books, 2006)
"Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869" by Stephen Ambrose (Simon & Schuster, 2000)
"Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West" by Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon & Schuster, 1996)
Most researchers enter information into their computers with genealogy software that can generate pedigree charts, family group sheets and register reports.
But when it comes to keeping accurate research logs, most of us flounder for lack of a good format. If we don't keep a log on each ancestor, we're doomed to waste time searching a record or publication more than once.
The Mid-Continent Public Library has a nifty research log that allows form filing. In other words you can download the form from the library's website, then enter information and save it on your computer.
The research log can be found at tinyurl.com/2uqoaw2. After opening the document, go to your internet browser toolbar and click on "File" and then "Save As." The name for saving the document will show "MGC-research log." Be sure to change that name to something distinct - like your ancestor's actual name. So your document name could be "Smith, Ben-researchlog."
Free online courses
The website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offers some high-quality, free online genealogy courses. Go to www.familysearch.org. In the center of the home page, under "Family History Library," click on "Free Online Classes."
In addition to standard and basic genealogy lessons, the site offers topics such as "Reading Dutch Records" and "Basic Italian Research."