Family history, family tree

Family History – Don’t Just use the Internet

This blog is the offshoot of a family-owned, brick and mortar publishing company, so we may be a little biased in what we’re about to say: We believe that while researching your family history has gotten increasingly easier by using the Internet, relying too heavily upon, or solely utilizing online resources, is detrimental to establishing your true family history.

Certainly there are limitations on how much family history research you can do without the Internet, and we’re not advocating an approach that doesn’t take advantage of online records, forums or search tools. We’ve written previously about how amazing forums can be to getting started in your research, as well as encouraging development into a genealogy expert. But, we love and encourage the roll up your sleeves approach to genealogy research. When it comes to your family history, there are entire decades of information that can’t be found online because your grandmother never put her stories there. There are tasks that are better accomplished in person, like a visit to the county courthouse. Even when you find information online, records ought to be verified by, or based upon, information that exists in its original form offline, like death records.

This article came on our radar back in February. In his piece, Don’t let the internet be your first stop when researching your family history, Dr. Fraser Dunford, a professional genealogist and member of Kawartha Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, discusses how using the Internet as the sole starting point for your family history research can lead to a bad genealogy.

Please read Dr. Dunford’s article below, and let us know how you feel about the role of the Internet in researching your own family history in the comments section:

People deciding to look into their family history often make the mistake of first looking to the internet.

This has resulted in an astounding number of bad genealogies. You have some work to do before looking at what others have done.

We estimate that, of the genealogically interesting records in Ontario, only about five percent are online. If you use only the internet, you will have a rather pathetic family history.

Genealogy has a number of sayings that help keep you on track.  You should remember these sayings and always follow them.

The first saying is: Work from the known to the unknown.

You know about yourself. You know when and where you were born. Do you have your birth certificate? If not, now would be a good time to get it.

You know who your parents are. You know when and where they were married. Do you have their marriage certificate?  That may be a church certificate or it may be government issued. If you do not have it and your parents are no longer alive, you may have difficulty getting a government certificate (more on that in a future article).

You likely know when and where your parents were born. Do you have your parents’ birth certificates? If they were christened, do you know which church?

You may know about your grandparents – birth, marriage, death. You probably do not have documentation of those events.  What do you know of your grandparents’ children, your aunts and uncles?

Now you can start drawing your Family Tree.  (Here’s background on how to do that.)

Start with an Ancestor Tree, with you at the base of it. Put in your father and mother, and your four grandparents. With each name, put in their birth date.

If you have a lot of aunts, uncles, and first cousins, you can try your hand at two descendant trees, one for each pair of grandparents.

Start creating family records. If you have children, do one for your own family. Do one for your parents’ family, and do one for each of your grandparents’s families. That will give you four family records.

In each one, enter everything you know about the father and mother, and enter each child with birth date. For each piece of information, make a note of why you know it. In particular, note those for which you have proof and those for which you have only been told.

If you know anything about your great grandparents, repeat the process for them (you have eight great grandparents).  As you go further back, you have less and less proof, and more and more blank spaces. Now you have very specific questions to ask about your ancestors.

Talk to your family, particularly the older generation. If they are quite elderly, talk to them now. Every genealogist has questions he wishes he had asked his grandparents. Most people like to talk about their early lives so you probably will get a lot of information.

Write it all down.

Remember that oral information has to be verified. It will tell you what to look for but does not excuse you from looking.  You will hear family stories. Write them down carefully but do not make the mistake of believing them.

Here is another genealogical saying: Family stories are usually untrue but tend to be based on something.

Every family has the story of being descended from royalty. It may be nothing more than one of your many-greats grandmother having the maiden name King (of course you are descended from the King!).

Image Credit: Genealogical Tree of Maria Justina und Johann Maximilian zum Jungen, By unknown Middle Rhine Master [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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