How much information is online?

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I came upon a review for Ancestry.com this week that sparked my interest. The review, found here on the PC Magazine website, talks mainly about how Ancestry.com can be used to build family trees and store your data. There are a few lines from it that drew my attention. As the reviewer closed her story she stated, “There’s no need to dig around libraries and county halls anymore because Ancestry.com puts centuries of documents at your fingertips.”

So, is there still a need for the records at libraries and county halls? Yes!

Do the resources at Ancestry.com and other internet archives provide valuable resources that greatly help in researching your family? Yes!

Both the internet and physical libraries and archives are needed to find your family.

One of the first thing I try to teach people about doing research is that there are a wealth of records about their ancestors and most of them aren’t online. I always start researching my own family by looking at records online. These records are easily available and save my time at the archive. My basic search when doing online research, or my preliminary research, follows these steps:

1. Search public trees on Ancestry to see if other people are researching the same people. There is no need to start from scratch, but there is a great need to verify information.

2. Make sure I have census records for every available census year. Many of these are available for free at www.familysearch.org.

3. Do a google search for my ancestor. I include the name and either a birth, marriage, or death date. I’m amazed at what I can find by doing this simple search, and it will often gather information from Rootsweb.

4. Search any other applicable databases on FamilySearch or Ancestry.com. Every family is different so the databases are different each time.

The important thing to remember is to verify information published online. Good research always goes back to the original source. That is why my online research is only my preliminary research. The research that solves my brick walls usually happens in archives in original documents. More and more original documents are being put online, and it is a most valuable tool. Just remember that there is more waiting to be searched than can be found through your computer.

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