One recurring question is whether or not the vast number of records being digitized on the Internet actually increase anyone's chances of finding their ancestors? From my standpoint the answer is a resounding yes. This last week had proof of the possibility, one from Sinaloa, Mexico and another from the Midwest U.S.
It has been the case for sometime that the Family History Library had a very high percentage of the Mexican Catholic Church Parish Registers on microfilm. For many families, once an ancestor was found in a particular parish, it was just a matter of looking at regular intervals to reconstruct the entire family back three, four or more generations. Some of the records go back into the 1500s. It does become difficult to read the handwriting of the Priests, but that is not an insurmountable problem. In the case this week, one of the patrons at the Mesa Regional Family History Center was looking for a Great-grandmother from Sinaloa. The FamilySearch Record Search has the Catholic Church records for that state and the particular city from 1792. Within a short time, we had located the particular marriage record for her Great-grandmother. With that record, it should be possible for her to use the online records to enter her entire family.
The second instance was more of a guess. The patron was looking for a Grandfather in the Midwest born in about 1901. He was quickly found in the U.S. Census records and we also began to find other records for the same family.
In both cases, just a few years ago, both searches would have taken many hours of reviewing microfilm, assuming the films were available. If not, then the ordering process could take weeks. It is not just the speed of finding the records, it is the ability to search in multiple locations for different records during one research session. Some people need the incentive of actually finding something to keep them going, especially when they are just starting out. The Internet can sometime give instant gratification and may turn out to be the incentive that starts a major research effort.
In both cases, the person doing the search had absolutely no idea that the records were available online. In the U.S. case, the patron came with a friend who was supposed to know about "genealogy" and the friend likewise had no idea that the records were available online. So there are two parts to this story, the first part is knowing that the records are online, the second part is knowing how to search for the information. Both are learned skills that take considerable practice. I think that they are difficult skills to learn and more difficult to teach. Whenever I start to explain to someone how to search online, their eyes glaze over and they start staring off into the distance. Learning to find things on the Internet is a skill that can only be learned by doing.