Researching online

From Wayne County, Ohio Online Resource Center
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Digital Images

The use of computers and the Internet for genealogy research has changed much since the late 20th century into the early 21st century. Historical documents valuable for genealogy research have become increasingly and more readily available through the computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Images of original documents may be searched and downloaded with a few key strokes. Sources that were once unobtainable may now be found and viewed through a search on the Internet. Researchers are able to easily share photos and information through social networking sites such as Face Book and My Family. E-mail has cleared a path for more timely correspondences all over the world. Genealogy software programs make it easy to insert photos and documents into a family history. DNA testing helps to shed some light on the ethnicity of your family.


With the vast number of resources available through the Internet, many researchers experience information overload. Researchers type in an ancestor’s or a relative’s name and come up with hundreds, even thousands of hits. Other researchers become disappointed. They type in the name and come up with no hits. Usually, this happens because the information they seek is too recent, they have been too specific in their search, or the individual is indexed differently. As a rule of thumb, start general and add other information to limit the search. Also, have an open mind regarding the spelling of names, use of middle names or nicknames, or use of initials.


As you enter into cyberspace to do research, remember that the same research process applies that has always been used. You start with yourself and work backwards in time. You start with the known and work to the unknown. You need to find obituaries; tombstone inscriptions; birth, marriage, and death records; estates, wills and guardianships; and other documents to verify your information. You may need to contact living relatives as well as courthouses, archives, health departments, libraries, churches, genealogical and historical societies, and other similar entities to try to come up with names, dates, and places of events. Obtain copies of important documents from these organizations when possible.

Use of Tools

Before searching online, have the known information organized and near the computer. Have a list of what to search for online. Do not depend solely on your memory. Use family group sheets, ancestor charts, correspondence and research logs, and other tools to aid in your search.

Errors do Exist

Remember that the Internet is just another tool available to genealogists. It is not the alpha or the omega of solid genealogy research. Everything does not exist on the Internet. Thousands of documents exist that may never be placed on the Internet for many reasons. Likewise, not everything on the Internet should be treated as Gospel. Indexing errors, clerical errors, scanning errors, incorrect deciphering of handwriting and incorrect published information may all play a part in why you are unable to locate your ancestors online. Other times, the information simply does not exist online. Information is added online with some human intervention. It does not magically appear there overnight.

Analyze the Information

Be your own critic. If you find information that does not make sense, it probably is not accurate. Eight year old boys usually do not serve in the military. Ten year old girls normally do not give birth to babies. Individuals must be born before they can marry or die. Check other resources to either verify or disprove the information, especially when you find researcher submitted information with no source citations.

Privacy Concerns

Use caution when posting information online. Private information on living people should not be published. Before submitting your family information online, verify the facts and include documentation when possible.