RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Online records are slightly overblown

It seems like there is a constant stream of comments about this or that huge collection of records going "online" in digitized indexes or even copies of the original documents. Then why is it that nearly every time I look for a county or town record, if there is a copy, the only copy is in a library or other repository and is an original record, or on microfilm or in a print book? For example, nearly all my earliest family lines come from Rhode Island and FamilySearch.org only has eight collections yet digitized and only one of them covers the pre-1700 and early 1700s time period. Most of the New England records fall in the same category. Ancestry.com claims hundreds of more records for Rhode Island, it has town records for only Providence. Of course, the records are available from the Family History Library on microfilm.

So let's suppose that FamilySearch achieves its goal of digitizing all of the microfilm in its collection. Is that it? Does that mean everything will then be on the Web? Not likely. I am personally aware of substantial collections of records that are not on either microfilm neither have they been digitized. It is my guess that none of us should hold our collective breath waiting for "all" of the paper records to be digitized.

What does this mean? We will be looking at paper for a long time if we want to do thorough genealogical research. But, it is widely believed that "everything is on the Web" so I find people surprised and even upset to find out that this is pretty far from true.

It is true that there is a tremendous amount of information online, but so what? The total amount of information online consists of a huge amount of stuff in which I have no interest at all. The largest database is of no use to me if it doesn't contain the information I need.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. There are still huge stacks of books, there are still a huge number of drawers of microfilm. There are still tens of thousands of microfiche. True, there are a lot of computers and a whole lot of online sources, but it is not surprising to me, as I help people do research, that we almost always run out of online sources rather quickly.

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