Home > Genealogy > Beginning Genealogy > Geezer Skills > URL Hints

URL Hints

The Internet is nothing more than a couple of billion computer files, all linked together. The URL (Universal Resource Locator) tells you where the files are. You can sometimes use it to your advantage.

The URL for this page is


If you can see it up at the top of your screen, fine. If not, you'll have to tell your browser to show it. For Microsoft Internet Explorer, click on
View -> Toolbars -> Address bar
In other browsers, click around until you see something about an address, then make sure it is checked.

The "/" in a URL is a directory, just like you have in your computer. Under your main "Pictures" directory you may have directories for flowers, family and tombstones. So,


would be a picture of your great-uncle Ebeneezer in the family sub-directory on your computer. If my web site had the same sub-directories, great Uncle Ebeneezer would be


For our first trick, a personal confession - I'm a lousy typist. I once posted a reply to a genealogy query about obituaries, directing the lady to


The link didn't work. The lady wrote back. I then directed her to


If you look carefully, you'll see "obits.html" should be "obit.html". If the lady had wanted to gamble, she might have tried deleting the "s" in the URL. She could also have gone to my home page,


clicked on "Genealogy pages", then found "Obituaries and Etiquette".

So, if you get a "Page Not Found" error, look at the URL. You may be able to either correct a typo, or, by going to the home page, get to the page you want.

There are two more sections on this page, Deleting Your Way to Home and Google Tool bar. The Google Tool Bar makes it extremely easy to delete your way home. You can go back to Geezer Skills now if you like, or keep reading.

Deleting Your Way to Home

In the past week I've run across three older web pages devoted to genealogy that had no link to their home page. They are frustrating; if one page has the person I'm looking for, what else might the site reveal? I know why some of them were poorly designed, and I know how to get around the flaw.

My web sites have a link to the home page on every interior page, because I'm obsessive-compulsive. I'm a computer programmer by trade. OCD is considered a virtue in our profession. However, some web pages designed by normal people in the years BG (Before Google) assume every visitor will start at the home page and branch from there, using their "Back" button as necessary. Under that assumption, you don't need links to other pages. Those designers opted to spend their time transcribing more data instead of creating navigation bars. Other pages can't have links to the home page because they are text, not html.

You can get around this flaw by deleting small pieces of the web page URL. For my example I picked a page of text, which can't have a link, because I didn't want to embarrass an elderly but kind-hearted web designer.

This is page 38a of the 1850 Greene County Illinois census, graciously transcribed for us by Phyllis Hill:

(With some space for legibility,
http://www.rootsweb.com / ~cenfiles / il / greene / 1850 / pg0038a.txt)

Note a couple of things - first, the name of the page is really clear and really boring. You can guess what it is by reading backwards. Each slash there is a subdirectory. The page itself is "pg0038a.txt." It is in a directory called "1850". That hints that they may have other censuses. The next directories are "greene", "il" and "~cenfiles".

Let's say you found your great-great grandmother here via Google. She's six years old in a gingham dress with pigtails. Is great-great-grandfather somewhere in the same county, an eight-year old boy destined to spend four years with the 42nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry?

Go to the URL and delete to the first slash:


(If you've never done this, be careful. Click somewhere to the right of the last character of the URL in the "Address" box, use right arrow key to un-highlight the entire URL, use BACKSPACE to delete to the first slash, then press ENTER.)

You get an odd page titled "Index of /~cenfiles/il/greene/1850". Your heart breaks. There are just 11 other files. The good people of the Census Project need some more volunteers. The last file on the index page is "pg0140a", so there are at least 280 pages for Greene County, but only 11 have been transcribed. Your chances of finding G-G Grandpa are slim.

The page has a link, "Parent Directory". That takes us to


(We could have deleted to the next slash, too.) We see they have directories for 1830, 1840 and 1850.

Deleting again, or clicking on "Parent Directory" takes us to


which has a directory for every county in Illinois and still another link to "Parent Directory". That gets us to:


Which is the main page to the US Gen Web Census Project, hosted by RootsWeb. From here you can click back down to Illinois, which will take you to


which has a search engine for the whole sub-site - every census in every county in Illinois. If G-G Grandpa has been transcribed, this would be the place to find him. We missed it on the way "up" because it is a page, not a directory.

You don't always get an index when you delete your way up a URL. Sometimes you get a stern warning that you are not authorized to view that page. Just ignore it and delete up another level.

To review, when you find yourself on a page with no link to the home page, you can delete sections of the URL to find your way home. Once you do, try clicking the links back down again to see what you missed.

Google Tool Bar

After Roots Web Review published my blurb about Geezer Skills, a number of Alert Readers sent me additional tips. Here's one about the Google Tool bar:

If you have the Google Tool Bar, just click on the up arrow to delete your way home - no mistakes this way. Also use "Search this Site" to find the term you are looking for instantly.

Another thing it is good for is searching a particular page. There is no need to CTRL-F; just paste your word(s) in. They appear on the right side. Clicking on it takes you to each instance. The high lighter marks every instance.

Geezers should NEVER type anything - we can't type that well. Copying and pasting is way more accurate.

Geezer Jon on the west coast of Canada.

Sections of my web site:

Home | Christmas Letters | Genealogy | Homilies | Misc. Essays | Peace Corps | Web Design

Problems, comments or complaints? Need an opinion? Send E-mail to:
This page updated: June 21, 2014