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updated 09/04/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/2000 01:00AM

Gene Genie
Genealogy guru Cyndi Howells shows how to bark up the right (family) tree

Maintaining a Web site that's the first stop for millions of roots-seekers is hard work. But when the going gets tough, Cyndi Howells thinks about her great-great-great-grandfather Xerxes Knox, a Union soldier who fled a Confederate prison by hiding in a garbage cart. "Genealogy puts your life in perspective," she says. "If this man had not escaped, I would not be here today."

But the more than 15,000 daily visitors to CyndisList.com are glad she is. Howells, 37, serves up links to some 75,000 online genealogy resources—from slave-ship manifests to poor-house records. The mom of Evan, 3 (husband Mark, 38, works for a wood-products company), first got hooked while researching her own clan's history for a high school project (she got an A) and started the site in 1996. Now sponsored by a software company, it "takes up most of my life," she says. But "all I can think is, 'My grandmother lived in a sod house in North Dakota. I've got a bread machine and a microwave. I think I can handle this.' "

My Favorite Site

Frankie Muniz
The Malcolm in the Middle star has hit that stage when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of...learner's permits. "When I go online, I'm really into cars, because I'm going to I start driving in four months," says the L.A. resident, who I turns 15 on Dec. 5. He parks at the Kelley Blue Book site (kbb.com), which supplies shopping guides. "I've been looking at the reviews," says : Muniz. If he's as mischievous offscreen as on, better hope he gets a slow-poke old station wagon.

Internet Manners

On my e-mail system you can see what time someone read your message or if they deleted it without reading it. When people have deleted mine, I e-mail asking why. Am I doing the right thing?

The I-pry feature offered by some services is handy, but it opens some shaky etiquette ground. To be polite, pretend you never checked up and work an innocent mention into a later conversation: "Oh—didn't you get my e-mail?" Save the confrontational note for a last resort—and first think about why you're being ignored. Could you have forwarded one too many dumb jokes?

I have a friend I keep in touch with online. I have so much to say. Is it OK to write a very long e-mail?

Your friend ought to be delighted. If you're worried about sending her on a guilt trip, add a P.S. assuring her you don't require an epic-length reply.

Click and Get It

Walk a Mile in Their Pants
Celebs drop trou—for a good cause: Jeans worn and autographed by stars, including Britney Spears (pictured), Drew Barrymore, Warren Beatty, Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster, Nicole Kidman, Will Smith, John Travolta and Robin Williams, will be up for bidding through Sept. 10 on auctions.yahoo.com. Proceeds from the Undress for MS auction go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Julia's Best Bytes
Finding cooking tips online is easy as pie—but which sites really have the recipe for success? Online asked legendary chef Julia Child, 88, to sample foodie faves. One she deems "particularly well-done": Epicurious.com, home to a searchable stash of over 11,000 recipes chiefly from Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines. "I can tell by the way the recipe is written if they know what they're talking about," she says. She also gives tongs-up to recipe and kitchenware site Tavolo.com's "wonderful" photo-illustrated pointers—for example, "a good how-to for carving a leg of lamb." StarChefs.com gets a nod for great cooking-school listings; FoodTV.com for the dish about what's cooking on TV's Food Network. In all, the Web is "a lot of fun," concludes Child, but "cookbooks are still easier."

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