Ask Mr. Modem: Free site is the best place to start a family search

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 03, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Mr. Modem’s sites of the week

Civil War Trust

If you are a Civil War buff, this site focuses on various battles of that war and brings them to you using the latest technology so that you can watch interesting, animated maps. The Photos section presents fascinating historical and contemporary photographs.


Curse of T. Rex

This site will be of interest to anyone who loves dinosaurs — and what’s not to love about the big lugs? This is a companion site to the NOVA TV program of the same name and is a primordial swamp filled with digital dino info. The “Dinosaurs Weren’t Alone” section discusses the flora and fauna back in the day, and the “Where to Dig” section explains how scientists figure out where to dig for fossils.


This Page Intentionally Left Blank

Before electronics manufacturers started providing user manuals in portable document format (PDF), paper manuals often included blank pages for notes. This page is the Internet equivalent. Click the “This Page Intentionally Left Blank” link for a more in-depth explanation why the page is empty — in the unlikely event that an additional explanation is needed. Or, you can just sit and contemplate the Zen-like nothingness of the page itself. Aahhhh …

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Are websites such as,,,, etc., worth the money to help me locate a long-lost cousin?

The answer depends on the results you obtain. If you pay and you find nothing, you will probably feel it’s a waste of time and money. If you do learn the whereabouts of Cousin Lenny, you will probably feel it is worth every penny. The problem is, there isn’t any way to know in advance.

Before spending any money, try Facebook. In this day and age, that’s the starting point for most people searches. If you don’t have a Facebook account and don’t really want one, get a free Gmail address to use when registering so you won’t be pestered by follow-up Facebook emails in your primary email account. When creating your account, remember that you are not under oath.

Before investing any of your hard-earned dollars in a fee-based search site, ask yourself how important it is to find the person you are attempting to locate, and then decide how aggre$$ive you want to be in your pursuit.

To use these types of fee-based investigative sites, you provide your credit card number at the start, then start clicking buttons to see what each database can reveal. Each new database accessed is charged to your credit card, so establish in your mind the maximum amount you are willing to spend — $50, $100, $500, whatever is appropriate for you.

You are always advised in advance what the cost of a search will be, but once your threshold has been reached, you have to walk away. That’s the tough part.

What does 3G and 4G mean that I see in mobile phone advertising? Thanks for being there, Mr. M.

3G and 4G refers to 3rd- and 4th-generation phones — actually, the phone’s underlying technology.

First-generation, or 1G, phones were released during the 1980s. These phones were much larger than the phones we have today and were referred to as “bricks.” The Motorola DynaTAC was one of the more prominent models of first-generation phones.

Unlike first-generation phones that used radio transmissions (AM and FM), 2G phones, introduced in 1991, used digital technology and eventually introduced text messaging and Internet access.

In 2001, 3G networks provided much faster access to the Internet. When the iPhone 3G was released in July 2008, the browsing experience improved substantially. This paved the way for 4G networks, which made their debut in late 2010 and allowed Internet connectivity at speeds up to 6Mbps (megabits per second), which is faster than many broadband connections.

Mr. Modem publishes “Ask Mr. Modem!” each week, featuring PC tips, tricks and plain-English answers to your questions by email. For more information, visit

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