Recent News Articles

Are You Missing Most of the Available Genealogy Information?

23 May 2023 9:04 AM | Anonymous

I recently received a message from a newsletter reader that disturbed me a bit. He wrote, "I have been doing genealogy research for 10-15 years but only through the Internet." He then went on to describe some of the frustrations he has encountered trying to find information. In short, he was disappointed at how little information he has found online.

I read the entire message, but my eyes kept jumping back to the words in his first sentence: "... but only through the Internet."

Doesn't he realize that 75% of the information of interest to genealogists is not yet available on the Internet? (75% is a “guesstimate” on my part. It might actually be a higher or lower number, but in any case, the MAJORITY of genealogy information is not yet available online.)

To be sure, many of the biggest and most valuable resources are now available online, including national census records, military pension applications, draft cards, many passenger lists, land patent databases, the Social Security Death Index, and more.

The national databases were the "low hanging fruit" a few years ago as the providers of online information rushed to place large genealogy databases online. These huge collections benefited a lot of genealogists; these databases were the first to become indexed, digitized, and placed online. We all should be thankful that these databases are easily available today and are in common use.

As the national databases became available to all, the online providers of genealogy information moved on to digitize regional and statewide information. State or provincial censuses, birth records, marriage records, death records, naturalization records (which originally were recorded in many local and state courts), county histories, and much, much more are still being placed online. 

Of course, this is great news for genealogists who cannot easily travel to the locations where the original records are kept. For many of us, this is even better than having information on microfilm. Most of us don't have microfilm readers at home, but we do have computers.

Yet, I am guessing that 75% of the information of interest to genealogists has not yet been digitized. Why would anyone want to look for genealogy information "... only through the Internet?"

State censuses, birth records, marriage records, death records, naturalization records, county histories, and more are all "work in progress" projects. That is, they are not yet complete. In fact, I doubt if all of them will be available online for at least another two decades! If you only look online, you are missing a lot.

In many cases, church parish records, local tax lists, school records, land records (other than Federal land grants), and many more records are not yet available online and probably won't be available for many years. If you are limiting yourself to "... only through the Internet," you are missing 75% of the available information.

If you have the luxury of living near the places where your ancestors lived, I'd suggest you jump in an automobile and drive to the repositories where those records are kept. There is nothing that matches the feeling of holding original records in your hand. Make photocopies or scan them or take pictures of them or do whatever is possible to collect images of the original records.

If you do not know where to start, I would suggest reading “Begin your genealogy quest” at for some great “getting started” information. Also, check out the links to many valuable tutorials and reference material in my earlier articles. 

Which option would you prefer: accessing 25% of the available records or 100% of the available records?


  • 23 May 2023 11:16 AM | Anonymous
    Good day,
    I agree with the basic premise here, because it seems that a lot of people who do ~some~ genealogy research, will limit themselves to what they can do from the internet. Thanks to the amount of data on ancestry and familysearch alone, most people never walk into a library or government office to find records.

    That said, the amount of on-line data has probably brought hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people into genealogy who might otherwise have never considered trying.

    I'm not offended by the photo of the blind man that accompanies this post, but it is not always about not wanting to see the whole picture. It is about the practicality of visiting record repositories in cities far from home. Most of us do not have a ten generation pedigree in the same locality. This means taking time off work to fly around the USA to look at probate records or maps or whatever, or visit a broken gravestone somewhere. All very important, but not always practical. And for the millions of us descended from Europe or elsewhere, this type of research is even less likely, and I went to Italy to work with the church records in 2003, so I am not against the concept.

    For a lot of us, we have internet access to a huge percentage of available records, way more than 25%, and can find anything we need to, within privacy laws. I know that I personally am not missing 75% or whatever the actual number is, of the available information, and if I am, it is a matter of not hopping a flight to Europe every weekend in the private jet to check out some tax rolls.

    So I do not agree with the premise that those of us who don't spend a lot of time down in the genealogical trenches are "blind".

    Which option would I prefer? I would prefer accessing 100% of the records, and all of them on the internet. When I make my first billion, and I'm still waiting by the way, I'll hop a flight to Italy and head straight for the churches in a dozen small towns and feel the books and smell the dust. :)
    Link  •  Reply
    • 24 May 2023 10:04 AM | Anonymous
      I agree with all of the comments. I HAVE been able to copy original Catholic records in Nashville (from late 1800s)
      I HAVE been to Lansing MI to copy city directory listing. We are lucky our family (I'm 77) kept so many original records.
      BUT not able to get to husband's ancestors' location in KY so depend what's online for info we gathered in the past.
      However, because of online resources, we located the original record of my grandmother's 2nd marriage (we had no clue where to even start- divorced Catholics in the 1940s!)
      Link  •  Reply
  • 24 May 2023 8:57 AM | Anonymous
    Great essay, Dick. I've been beating this drum for over 40 years. Seeking out unused sources has been one of my passions. Two examples: The brick walls in 18th century Scottish Highlands research remain high. The majority of the parish registers are lost prior to 1800. Since most of us come from humble origins, the standard sources are, as your reader says, useless. Customs Cash Vouchers are virtually unknown to genealogists, yet their content relates directly to the thousands of men who were involved in the Herring Fishing trade. One must go to Edinburgh to access them. The second category are the pre-1841 censuses of Scotland. What? It's common knowledge that the First National census was taken that year. False! Although many have been lost, some are kept in Edinburgh. Somewhat equivalent in content to pre-1850 censuses in the U.S., They are great for locating heads of families and getting a sense of the age and sex profile. I'm thrilled to report that in one little parish in the Highlands (Dingwall, Ross-shire) the 1801, 1811, and 1821 survived and have been transcribed and just published by Jonathan McColl. Just two of many sources that need access and exploration.
    Thanks for bringing importance of going beyond the internet to the attention of your readers.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 24 May 2023 9:36 AM | Anonymous
    I agree with the basic premise. However, ...

    Your references to online "databases" seem to conflate searchable databases with records available online. It seems to me that your 75% applies to records not in searchable databases.

    Many records have been digitized and put online, but are not indexed. One example is the digitization of millions of microfilms of records by FamilySearch and putting most of them online (subject to legal conditions).

    Now you can scroll through the "film" frame by frame from home in most cases. Not ideal, perhaps, but it beats spending time and lots of money traveling to a distant courthouse.

    Even these sources have gaps. So do original records. Try getting the birth certificate of a cousin born in 1952.

    That leads to the underlying issue in this piece. People now expect instant gratification in genealogy like in other aspects of life. They are willing to consider copying from someone's family tree, or relying on another person to read the census page and enter correctly the name perceived. Type in the name and magically the information will appear, and maybe an image of the source document.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 25 May 2023 3:47 PM | Anonymous
    For many years we traveled for vacations to places I needed/wanted to do research. Then for 10 I went to SLC for a week each summer. Now that I am a senior citizen and soon to meet my ancestors, I can no longer travel. I am thankful to have the Internet so I can continue to recheck some sources and look for new ones. Oh, I wish many times I could go to SLC or the county to search deeds for something I need. I am glad SLC is slowly adding some though.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 29 May 2023 12:27 PM | Anonymous
    I was disappointed with this column. I thought you were going to point people toward the online resources available through the FamilySearch catalog, university libraries, or state archives, but this is a rehash of how relatively little genealogy information is available via online database searches. (I do agree that people depending on indexed records online are short-changing themselves.)

    My research is mainly US-centric, and the FamilySearch catalog alone provides access to digitized land records in most counties and towns, many collections of tax records, many original town records, original probate case files, even original court case files. It complements Find My Past's UK parish register collection with Bishops' transcripts. I no longer need to schedule trips to the state law library to investigate historical laws and court decisions. The list of digitized online resources goes on and on. A page-by-page search and analysis of county or town land records alone has solved several of my brick wall problems.

    Yes, there are even more records available on site, but research trips are not very feasible for me now, and I love being able to sit at my computer (or the library's computer) and page through so many original records collections, just like I used to do at archives and courthouses - and my background research is now more in-depth and frequent than in the pre-Internet days.
    Link  •  Reply

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software