Of course, there are claims about billions of records online, but how many are there really? Nobody really knows and even if we knew, the number would be meaningless. What is evident is that the number goes up by millions, perhaps billions of records every year. I get many announcements about new record additions to the larger genealogy websites but even though these numbers are impressive they are only a small percentage of all the digitization projects going around the world. Just before I retired from practicing law in Arizona, the Maricopa County Court system serving the largest county by population in the state, converted entirely to digital pleadings. This meant that every document filed with the court from that time forward had to be electronically filed. Unless you work as part of the court system somewhere in the world, you cannot imagine how many digital pages are being generated by that decision over time fueled by over 4.5 million people (the population of Maricopa County as of the date of this post). Hmm. Court documents. Isn't this one of the record collections that are listed as genealogical resources?
I just completed some real estate transactions and except for some documents that required notarization, everything I did was online, digitized and electronically filed and stored. Hmm. Last time I checked, land and property records were also listed as genealogical resources. Oh, by the way, the notarized documents were digitized and are online. If I look at the county recorders' websites online in Arizona, I find that the digitized records contain really old deeds. Here is copy of the first deed recorded in Apache County, Arizona on February 14, 1880.
Maybe we need to start thinking about records that aren't categorized as genealogical records and that don't end up on a big genealogy website?
I live in Utah but I have a library card for a library in Arizona. Yes, I have to pay a fee every year to renew my card but then I get access to the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. I look through thousands of digital books for reference or reading. All of this is online.
FamilySearch.org has a digital book collection with 523,848 books. When was the last time you checked to see if any of your ancestors are in any of those books?
You can begin to see the reality. There are more records both online and still on paper that anyone could completely search during the average lifetime. When you add the number of records to the exponential growth of your pedigree lines as you go back in time, you can begin to see we all need a different methodology for addressing genealogical research.
Let me give the ultimate example. If I am looking for genealogical information, I will usually end up looking in the Internet Archive or archive.org. There are presently 33,024,881 digitized books on the Internet Archive website; all of them completely free to view with a significantly large number of them free of copyright restrictions and downloadable in a variety of formats. The website also has videos, audio recordings, and images. It is also the archive of the internet with over 616 billion internet pages preserved.
To put it bluntly, genealogical research should not be confined to searching what someone has labeled a genealogical record.