Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday's Tip - It Isn't All on the Internet!

This week's Tuesday Tip is:

It's not all on the Internet!

We all "know" that this poster is true, but many researchers are seduced by the record images and indexes available on the Internet.  The availability of records on the Internet has significantly reduced the time it takes to find some useful records of our ancestors (from weeks to hours), and to take an ancestral line back many generations into history (with online family trees).  Often, a searcher (not a researcher at this point) does only the Internet search, and then does it again and again, and thinks they are done with their family tree.  What is lost due to this easy access is the "analysis" and "critical thinking" time involved in deciding if the record pertains to the persons being searched, and what other records might be found to add to the knowledge base for that person. 

The fact is that only about 5% of all genealogical records (according to Gordon Clarke of FamilySearch) are available on the Internet in some format, and the number may be much lower - who knows how many pieces of paper are in national archives, state archives, libraries, genealogical and historical society files, etc.  Ancestry.com claims to have about 4 billion records (individuals, not images?), and the LDS Family History Library has about 2.5 million microfilms and about 1 million microfiches with record images (perhaps 2 to 3 billion record images?). 

At the San Diego Genealogical Society Seminar on Saturday, Kerry Bartels of the National Archives at Riverside noted that NARA has over 10 billion paper documents in 200,000 databases.  He spread his arms wide and said that if that represents all NARA records, then held his hands about four inches apart and said that represents the records that have been microfilmed (3,000 data sets microfilmed - about 1.5%) and then held his fingers about a half-inch apart and said that represents the records imaged and indexed by the FHL, Ancestry, Footnote and others.  He estimated that genealogists use only about 5% of all available records.

The takeaway here is that serious genealogists and family historians need to search in ALL of the records, not just online.  That includes records on paper, on microfilm or microfiche, in digital indexes and images, and on websites. 

The "Iceberg" poster above is exactly right - only a small percentage of records are on the Internet in some format, and the records that are not imaged and indexed are in libraries, courthouses, and archives. 


Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Try telling that to my husband. He thinks that if it's not on Ancestry.com, it doesn't exist. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, Randy - there are so many other useful Scottish records at National Archives of Scotland, National Libraries of Scotland and in dozens of small Local Archives Centres or Libraries/Council Archives across the country that people don't think to look at to help with their brick walls when stuck. A quick email usually reveals whether or not they have holdings which will help, and many have a remote research service and will carry out your request for a fee if you can't visit in person or don't want to engage a professional researcher. Jo

Kathryn Doyle said...

Thanks for putting some numbers on the graphic. Now when someone argues the point I can send them to your blog! (And thanks for showing the poster.)

My Genealogy Girl said...

We have had several requests in our local genealogical society to have a presentation on how research was done in the "old days" for newbies like myself. Thanks for the post.

Harriette said...

Although I spend many hours on the web searching for information on my ancestors, I did a year-long research trip around the country because I knew that there were records that would probably never be posted on the internet. I went to town clerk and courthouse offices all around the country and found many new pieces of information on land, marriage and deaths. The most amazing experience was going to a state archives and actually seeing and holding the 17th and 18th century parchment documents with my ancestors signatures on them. That couldn't be experienced on the web!