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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Is looking in online databases "real" research?

A commentator made the following observation and request for my comments:
I was recently told that doing my research, via, was not doing research or real genealogy/family history. If it weren't for what I find on, the documents, census' and other things, without the help of the trees which I use only for possible hidden/lost children, I wouldn't be able to do anything. I am home bound, cannot get away from the house for very long, therefore going to the FHC and off to SLC or other places is virtually impossible for me. 
I would be interested in your take on this. Am I just doing the "internet thing"? I also use Google and other sites but Ancestry is my main source of documentation. Please, do advise. Thank you
It appears to me that whoever made this statement to you has no idea what they are talking about. I have gotten some very valuable documents from and many other similar online sources. If I obtain a copy of the U.S. Census from,,,,, or some other website while I am sitting at my computer at home, why would that make them any less or more valuable than doing the exact same search on a computer in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah? The person that made that comment doesn't actually believe that we look at the paper documents when the copies are online? If they do, they must be woefully unfamiliar with how genealogy is done in the 21st Century.

When I first started to become involved in genealogy, I went to the Family History Library and was told to look at the U.S. Census records. At that time, they were all on microfilm and I soon determined that many of them were entirely unreadable. As a result, until the microfilms were digitized, I never really used the U.S. Census much.

The only thing I would recommend to the commentator is to broaden his or her online search efforts and use some of the many, many other fantastically valuable websites. I would suggest using the Research Wiki for a good place to find links to other valuable online records. I would also suggest that he or she may wish to give a copy of this post to the "friend" who gave the advice.

The simple answer to the question posed in the title to this post is yes, looking at digitized copies of original documents online is real research.


  1. I fully agree. I can't travel a lot either due to a handicap, so I'm glad with all the sources on the Internet. Now has posted all those batism, marriage and death books I can look at the real thing, as much as looking at a copy in an archive!

  2. Perhaps encourage the person who was such a naysayer to do the ground work for you (anything you need from a bricks & mortar research facility). This will have a win-win result (1) you can research online in peace and (2) that person will be doing something useful with their time rather than judging others.

  3. For this very reason, we have established A network of over 250 professional researchers who have access to over 600 of the archives and repositories throughout the world. As a result, we are bringing the world's archives to people who otherwise would never be able to access them. Plus, by having professional researchers do the searching, we are able to locate even the most difficult records.

  4. I agree completely. Why is the work of hundred of thousands of volunteers and organizations dedicated to digitizing and collecting the records of the world being dismissed? The digital age has brought all of us closer to together, and that includes me with those records in some distant archive that I'll never visit, but that I can access online. Yes, admittedly there are archives that are not digitized, and may never be, but thank goodness for those that have been, and the dedication of those that do this work.