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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Using Smart Technology to Jump-Start Your Genealogical Research: Part Eight

Using Billions of digitized source documents in thousands of archive websites

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the vast numbers of digitized records that exist around the world. Each of the large, online genealogical database websites regularly add millions of new records. There is so much information that it is difficult to even conceptualize where to begin researching. Even if we realize that despite the flood of digitized records, there are still billions of records on paper, microfilm and other formats.

Since I am focusing on "smart technology" I will ignore the traditional repositories of paper-based genealogically important records even though, ultimately, genealogical research will lead you to those repositories. Any current genealogical research should begin online but it certainly does not end there.

Internet websites are generally divided into two major categories: static websites and dynamic websites. "A static web page (sometimes called a flat page/stationary page) is a web page that is delivered to the user exactly as stored, in contrast to dynamic web pages which are generated by a web application." See Wikipedia: Static web page. If you are searching for information online using the Google search engine, you are looking at and finding static websites. But most of the world's genealogically important information is stored in dynamic websites that can only be searched by using the search engine provided by the hosting organization. Nearly all of the libraries, archives and other institutions online that store genealogically important information protect their servers or computers hosting their database from outside searches including Google. For example, the billions of records available on or through the website are only completely searchable by using the Catalog. A simple Google search will not see the records listed in the Catalog. As is the case with the catalog, many of the records you can locate online are only viewable by using the links in the catalog or by viewing the paper originals or microfilm copies. This is what is meant by the contents being generated by a web application or program.

Beginning genealogists have a tendency to be focused on searching for the names of their ancestors. Name searching is of limited utility when you take into account the number of duplicate names that exist. As genealogists gain experience, they begin to realize that genealogically significant records are created in conjunction with a place and a date in their ancestor's life so to accurately find an ancestor, they need to focus on finding the exact location of an event in that ancestor's life. Consequently, most of time spent in doing genealogical research ends up being spent on looking for records. Once the records are identified, it is then necessary to determine where they can be searched. Names only become important after the records have been located and searching has begun.

Since a general web search will only look at some of the possible records that may help you find your ancestors, it is very important to search more generally for repositories where the records may be found: archives, libraries including their special collections, museums and historical societies, to name a few types of locations. It is important to understand that the records may have moved from their original creation location and the genealogical researcher has to discover the records current location as well as identify pertinent records. Here is an example of a catalog search in the Catalog.

Appropriately, a search in the FamilySearch Catalog begins with the place associated with an event in an individual's life as the default search field.

The implication here and correctly implied, is that you cannot accurately find the name of an ancestor without knowing a location to begin your search.

To be continued.

Here are the previous posts in this series.

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