To navigate the WWW, you also need a piece of software called a web browser. This is a program that knows how to look for files on the WWW and how to interpret them (display them on your monitor) once it retrieves them for you.
What on earth does all of that mean? Well, with a little practice, you will be able to decipher these cryptic lines too.
The first part (
http in the example above) is some technical
stuff that tells the browser what protocol to use in accessing and
downloading the file you have requested. The most common is
(hypertext transfer protocol) but other prefixes that you may encounter are
ftp (file transfer protocol) and
file transfer protocol). You really don't have to worry about this part but
be aware that every WWW document begins with one of these prefixes followed
The next section is the domain name. This
may tell you (more or less) where the files are located geographically.
In the example above (
www.obliquity.com), the domain name is
obliquity and it is a commercial site (
www part often precedes the rest of the domain name but
Domain names are fun to try to decode! Countries besides the United States
have domain names that end in two-letter abbreviations. Some are obvious
uk for the United Kingdom,
ca for Canada,
jp for Japan) and some are not so obvious (
ch for Switzerland). Academic sites in the United
Kingdom always have
ac in the domain name whilst German
universities usually have
uni- followed by the name of the
university. Every country has its own setup.
In the United States, the
us abbreviation is rarely used. Some
common abbreviations that do appear in American domain names are
net (network), and
org (organisation), among others.
The transfer protocol alerts the browser as to how to handle the files and
the domain name tells the browser on which computer the required file is
located. The remainder of the URL is a combination of subdirectory and file
names. The Meet the Family! home page is in
a subdirectory called
family and the actual name of the file is
index.html. Most documents that are readable on the WWW have
file names ending in the suffix
although there are other possibilities. The suffix tells the browser what
kind of file it is. A
.html file is a text file written in a
text formatting language called
HyperText Markup Language.
(See a simple tutorial at
if you want to learn more about it.) Images are usually
You can certainly use these search engines to look for genealogy resources but some busy beavers have already done that for you and are maintaining assorted lists of WWW sites relating to genealogy. The most comprehensive collection of genealogy listings (and a good place to start exploring) is the fabulous Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet at the URL
Another trick to speed up download times is to turn off the image-loading option on your browser. Images take a long time load and a lot of people, including those who really should know better, have gone overboard with fancy graphics.
Also, be careful when you type in a URL. It is very easy to misspell a word or put a period where you want a slash. It is very frustrating to send for a document, wait several minutes, and then get an error message from the browser complaining that it can't find the requested document, all because you forgot a period or omitted a subdirectory.
However, nothing is permanent in cyberspace and the file that you have requested may no longer exist. If you get a "Code 404 : File Not Found" error but you are sure that you typed the URL correctly, try "backing up the URL." That is, eliminate the last part of the URL (either a file name or subdirectory) and try again. For example, if you try the URL
you will get a "code 404" error because that file does not exist
in that place. However, if you eliminate the file name
contact.html and then try
you will have success! However, if you had gotten another error message, you could have tried
before running out of things to eliminate. At this point you have reached the domain name and cannot eliminate anything more.