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Online sources: Should you use them?

In this fast paced, information age for almost any topic that you can imagine you will probably be able to find adequate information for it on the Internet. For better or worse, the Internet is the go-to place for almost any subject under the sun. In fact, the Internet is such an effective source of information that many researchers neglect other sources completely and base the bulk of their research efforts on Internet searches. While this is not an entirely ill advised course of action to take, in the field of genealogical study, such an approach will fail to include many other excellent sources of information to the detriment of the research.

In the present time, and quite likely for the next several years, much of the information that you will need to have access to for genealogical research purposes will only be available on physically tangible materials such as paper or vellum manuscripts, printed books, microfilm or microfiche collections in various libraries, civil registries, record offices and archives. This would most likely be the case whether you are seeking information on a local or national level. For this reason, restricting your research efforts to online resources will place you at a severe disadvantage and will close off the possibility of access to many other important documents that you can use in your work.

No matter how comprehensive the archives are of many online genealogical research websites (and there are a significant number of these) you can hardly expect them to contain every little bit of information that has been recorded in your particular geographical area or time frame of interest.

The fact of the matter is, the best currently available sources of genealogical research information has and continues to be resources which are available via non-electronic means. This would be the aforementioned actual physical documents stored or archived in the premises of various organisations, and not to neglect one of the most effective sources of information: actual living, breathing human beings.

While it is true that many historical societies, civil registries and libraries have begun the arduous process of transferring their microfilm or microfiche documents to online web pages, this number pales significantly in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of documents and records that have yet to be transferred.

All this is changing, however, and the transfer of these important documents into online locations continue to grow at a healthy rate. The LDS's FamilySearch website for example (which contains the IGI and LDS library catalogue) is a particularly effective resource and has been used in many successful projects. Scots Origins, which contains Scottish civil registration indexes from the period of 1855-1898, the 1891 Scottish census index, and the pre-1855 Church of Scotland baptism/marriage index are other popular online resources as is the FreeBMD website which has computerized records of English and Welsh civil registration indexes. Many of these websites will actually point you to other resources, both physical and online.

So to answer the question, Should you use online resources? The answer: Yes, but not to the exclusion of all others.

Original Authors: Doods Pangburn
Edit Update Authors: Nicola Norfolk
Updated On: 06/02/2007

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