The Internet has drastically changed how genealogy research is done. The amount of information posted on the Internet is increasing at an amazing pace every day. The ads may say that you can find your complete family history by searching on their Web site, but even though the Internet has billions and billions of pages filled with information, not everything is on the Internet.
When I started my research over thirty years ago, I used a notebook, handwritten pedigree charts, Family Group Sheets, and a binder for storing my information. I relied heavily on printed publications for methodology and geographic information and spent hours looking at records on microfilm at libraries and archives.
Today, the Internet has made it easier and more convenient to research in records such as census, passenger lists, and newspapers. Ancestry, Footnote, FamilySearch, and the National Archives are just a few of the thousands of sites on the Internet that contain genealogical data. Some of the information is free and some is on paid subscription sites.
Although these sites have millions of records, they represent only a fraction of the records that have been preserved over the centuries of human record keeping. If only the Internet is used to collect information, the majority of family history will be missed or recorded incorrectly.
The Internet has made genealogy information more accessible to millions of people. With only a minimum amount of data, most people are able to get a quick start on their genealogy by using the Internet. It is an important part of any good research plan.
I was recently helping a woman start her family history. She knew very little about her family and knew nothing about how to find the information. We were able to gather quite a bit of basic information from online census records and newspapers. But with only these sources, we were not able to make the connections necessary to continue with the research. I told her that the next step was to look at land records, probate records and histories (town, county, church). We checked the location where her ancestor lived and did not find the needed records online. She would need to look at microfilmed or original records. Unfortunately, I could not convince her that the land and probate records that she needed were not online. She searched online for over two hours; insisting that the information had to be there.
You must go beyond the Internet to find some records. Courthouse records such as deeds, wills, probates and tax records are just some of the records that are still not readily available on the Internet. Many of the indexes are online but the digitized records are less likely to be there. These records need to be accessed through the facilities where they are stored or through microfilmed copies.
It would be impossible to give a list of what genealogy information can be found on the Internet because it is changing so rapidly. There are guides, indexes, books, maps, indexes, and digitized documents. These items might be found on a site dedicated to genealogy, or they may not be associated with genealogy at all. The Internet will help with genealogy research and should be utilized whenever the information is available there. But the Internet is one source for information, not the only source.
The misconception that all genealogy information can be found on the Internet continues to persist. Some Internet sites proclaim that everything needed for genealogy research is on their site. Many of these sites are very official looking and appear to be run by experts. Do not be fooled into believing the claims.