Online Genealogy – Mixed Reviews

Online Genealogy –
While more and more records are being entered into computers by scanning and data entry the fact remains that this amounts to an extremely small amount of filmed records or books from published sources.

A year or two ago I had a novice genealogist suggest that they were doing all their geneology research online using online databases. They were looking up information submitted by individuals to various internet sites (,, Genforum,, primarily and using it for all their information.

One of the starting points was Ancestral File (AF) which contains user submitted, undocumented, and unverified information. (See articles concerning AF issues) Next they had message posts from various people in family trees, forums, message boards. The one major flaw in much of this was that it was undocumented information.

Since many online database services have digital images of most Censues 1800-1930 for subscription fees (HeritageQuest, Ancestry, Newsbank, Godfrey, etc) this was a novices’ idea of documentation. Undocumented posts and information from census records. A conclusion that horrifies and frustrates any research minded individual let alone a professional researcher. You need to remember that Census enumerations are secondary records and contain many errors. The quality of the information depends on the enumerator, who provided the information and possibly who copied it from the cards to the hand written registers. AF and online posts are not sources. They are not documentation unless written by someone who attended the event (birth, baptism/christening, marriage, death, burial, funeral, etc.). So until many more of these records are available online research will remain a part of research but not the complete answer.

Does that mean don’t use them. – No. Use what you can but remember the difference between undocumented and documented information and real vital record, civil or church source records and documents. More will continue to be added and make online work more beneficial but for now, don’t forget to use the books and films that are published in addition to the online. You’ll save yourself and others a lot of headaches by properly documenting.

More and more online services are constantly being added and more partnerships and alliances mean more scanning of images done sooner but the volume of work to be done versus what is currently available is staggering. Just walk through any of the major repositories in the country and ask how much is digitized/scanned images, computer entered and indexed and online.

The answers may surprise you. [Update 2011 The Family History Library, BYU and others continue to add more digital images to their online indexes.]

Til next time, James.



Online Genealogy.

Comments are closed.