During the last couple of posts I have been exploring the resources available on Ancestry.com to extend my family lines beyond the current end-of-lines (EOLs). I do have some more admissions to make. I really didn't think Ancestry.com would have any documents, other than user family trees, that would provide primary source documents for my chosen target relative. So far I haven't been disappointed. In the last two posts, I never got to the target relative because supporting documentation for more recent relatives was unavailable in that particular venue.
Specifically, there were no documents showing my Great-great-grandfather Sidney Tanner's parents other than unspecified secondary narrative documents. So, I had decided to commit the ultimate research no-no and jump a generation. The danger of jumping generations is that you may jump right out of reality into never, never land and lose the line entirely. This is available to me, because I already "know" a lot about Sidney Tanner from a variety of sources. And I don't plan on using the research for any purpose other than the illustration for this inquiry.
Searching in Ancestry.com is more productive if you search individual databases or collections in the program. But if I knew which database had the information I was looking for, I wouldn't need to look. A general search returned over 109,000 results, even using all of the information from my Family Tree. I did find Sidney in the 1852 California State Census. Unfortunately, I was still missing a primary source that showed Sidney Tanner as a child of John Tanner. Now we get to the part of the story where you ask, why do you care? You know when Sidney was born. You know who his parents were. What difference does it make?
If I just skate over Sidney Tanner on my way to trying to push back the line on another, more remote, ancestor, then how do I know the traditional story is correct? I have already found some major discrepancies between my researched and sourced pedigree and the more traditional family stories, so why should I believe what I myself have doubted? I can't use my normal way of searching for additional information in Ancestry.com, because I have already opted to include all of the information that I usually add to do research in a database, because Ancestry.com already uses all the information I have entered into my database. I decide to search in Google for Sidney and find pages and pages of either my own contributions or the Sidney Tanner book.
Now, let me give a reality check. The information I am seeking is located in various archives, including the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Note that I said the Church Library, this is the new library and has most of the historical archive information rather than genealogical information except when they are the same thing. Do I really doubt that Sidney Tanner was John Tanner's son or that he was born in Greenwich, Washington, New York on 1 April 1809. Not in the least. My exercise here was to investigate the limits of online searches using the largest of all possible databases.
What about FamilySearch.org? Nothing to speak of there either except the 1889 U.S. Census for Beaver, Utah.
OK, so what is the point? Even though most or nearly all of the attention lately has been on the vast increase in online sources, they are not nearly complete and certainly not infallible. You may still have to get in your car or on a plane and go somewhere to actually do research on any given ancestor. This may seem so obvious that I was wasting my time to make the inquiry in the first place, but it never hurts to check now and again to see if the online sources have made any progress in your area of interest.