I recently received a message from a newsletter reader that disturbed me a bit. He wrote, “I have been doing genealogy research for 10-15 years but only through the Internet.” He then went on to describe some of the frustrations he has encountered trying to find information. In short, he was disappointed at how little information he has found online.
I read the entire message, but my eyes kept jumping back to the words in his first sentence: “… but only through the Internet.”
Doesn’t he realize that 95% of the information of interest to genealogists is not yet available on the Internet?
To be sure, many of the biggest and most valuable resources are now available online, including national census records, the Social Security Death Index, many military pension applications, draft cards, many passenger lists, land patent databases, and more.
The national databases were the “low hanging fruit” a few years ago as the providers of online information rushed to place large genealogy databases online. These huge collections benefited a lot of genealogists; these databases were the first to become indexed, digitized, and placed online. We all should be thankful that these databases are available today and are in common use.
As the national databases became available to all, the online providers moved on to digitize regional and statewide information. State censuses, birth records, marriage records, death records, naturalization records (which originally were recorded in many local and state courts), county histories, and much, much more are still being placed online.
Of course, this is great news for genealogists who cannot easily travel to the locations where the original records are kept. For many of us, this is even better than having information on microfilm. Most of us don’t have microfilm readers at home, but we do have computers.
Yet, I am guessing that 95% of the information of interest to genealogists has not yet been digitized. Why would anyone want to look for genealogy information “… only through the Internet?”
State censuses, birth records, marriage records, death records, naturalization records, county histories, and more are all “work in progress” projects. That is, they are not yet complete. In fact, I doubt if all of them will be available online for at least another decade or two! If you only look online, you are missing a lot.
In many cases, church parish records, local tax lists, school records, land records (other than Federal land grants), and many more records are not yet available online and probably won’t be available for years. If you are limiting yourself to “… only through the Internet,” you are missing 95% of the available information.
If you have the luxury of living near the places where your ancestors lived, I’d suggest you jump in an automobile and drive to the repositories where those records are kept. There is nothing that matches the feeling of holding original records in your hand. Make photocopies or scan them or take pictures of them or do whatever is possible to collect images of the original records.
If you do not enjoy the luxury of short distances, use microfilm. Luckily, that is easy to do although you will have to leave your home. Many (but not all) of these records have been microfilmed, and those films may be viewed at various libraries, archives, or at a local Family History Center near you. There are more than 4,600 of those local centers, so you probably can find one within a short distance of your home. The Family History Centers are free to use although you do have to pay a modest fee for postage when you rent a microfilm by mail. See https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Introduction_to_LDS_Family_History_Centers for details. You can also find your nearest Family History Center by starting at: https://familysearch.org/locations.
If you do not know where to start, I would suggest reading “Begin your genealogy quest” at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Begin_your_genealogy_quest for some great “getting started” information.
Which option would you prefer: accessing 5% of the available records or 100% of the available records?