Internet Genealogy – Proceed With Caution

The past few decades have seen a phenomenal interest in researching one's family history and lineage. The recent resurgence in pursuing genealogy as a popular past-time has largely been due to the growing accessibility to the internet and its copious genealogical websites which offer web visitors use of their extensive databases.

Some genealogical websites encourage their users to upload their own research findings (accurate or not) so that others may access the data. Such postings are usually in the form of family trees, transcriptions and abstracts of public and private records, family folklore, photographs, cemetery translations, or just about any other bit of information that may help to make a genealogical connection, general or specific, to a research goal.

The overwhelming abundance of these postings has been a boon to both experienced and budding genealogists. However, without a researcher views them merely as "tools" or "leads" in deciphering a lineage and then seeks out to obtain the necessary "primary evidence" (official birth, marriage, death certificates) to support his findings, then his own research is pure speculation at best.

One of the most beneficial tools to find its way to the internet is the census index. Some genealogical sites also provide their members digitized images of the original census sheets, as well. A census, although it is a public record, is not a piece of primary evidence in proving one's family genealogy. Census enumerators would in earlier times go from dwelling to dwelling and record information about inhabiting living in those dwellings. The information given to the enumerators was often, but not always, stated by an adult living in the household; sometimes it was the result of questioning a child or neighbor. In any case, none of the personal information submitted by the enumerator was officially verified as being accurate; the main purpose of a census is not to record the identity of individuals, but to tally a count of the population. Sometimes family members or entire households were omitted from the enumerations or family relations and other data were either either misrecorded or given in error. Although census enumerations can tell us with a high degree of certainty the exact geographic locations where enumerated families and individuals dwelled during a census year, particular information regarding the individuals should not be considered as absolute fact, and must be further documented by locating and citing primary evidence.

Another popular tool on the internet is the "family tree" or pedigree. The number of family trees posted on the internet has spread like wildfire over the past decade and can be found on personal websites and genealogical sites which encourage their members to share their research with other members. This sudden influx of family trees is primarily the result of researchers extracting information (accurate or not) from one or more of the previously submitted family trees, adding his own research (accurate or not) and then uploading the finished product to the website. A scant few of these submissions can be classified as reliable works that have cited proper documentation to support the facts; Unfortunately, the majority of these postings do not meet the criteria.

Some genealogical sites also offer digitized images and transcripts of well-known, previously published genealogical works. As always, when consulting these sources, as well as any other form of non-primary evidence, the researcher must simply use them as "leads" and not assume that the information they contain is correct. One must keep in mind that even lineages compiled and published over the years by some of the most authoritative genealogists and historians have been proven to have inaccuracies in light of newly discovered evidence.

Although the internet has given genealogists many helpful tools and leads to help unexplain the story of an ancestry, and numerous sites offer free use of a limited number of databases, complete access to the premium websites which include the most critical databases is not free-of charge. Subscription memberships to these premium websites amount to hundreds of dollars per year. One must keep in mind that performing proper genealogical research can not and should not be connected on the internet alone and that the additional expenses incurred over time, as well as the website membership costs, could well exceed a professional genealogist's fees for researching a multi-lineal project.

Tracing one's own ancestry and unaware that hidden lineage without the skills of a more experienced or a professional genealogist requires an expertise which takes a considerable number of years for the novice to develop. However, if one has the true initiative and zeal to go forward and produce a well-documented family history, his personal rewards will be immeasurable.

Copyright 2007 Darlene Scotti-Tribou

Source by Darlene Scotti-Tribou