Your Family Tree Online
What the Internet Offers the Genealogist
Value of the Internet
In a nutshell the internet is the most exciting and most powerful single tool available to the genealogist.
When records first came available through the internet many professionals were dismissive. They thought the internet was never going to compete with the traditional archives, and that the idea of tracing a family tree online would never be possible. How wrong they were! Today it is unthinkable to trace a family without using the internet, and every single area of family tree research is to some extent covered by the internet. Once the internet supplemented archives; now it is the other way round, with archives supplementing the internet sources.
A key concept is that you should regard the internet as an enormous index, which directs you to resources. Often the records themselves are online; alternatively you may need to send off for them. Sometimes transcriptions of records are available online, which are as accurate as the person who entered the information. In such cases you really should check back to the originals. The sorts of materials that are available online are as follows:
- Very many family trees are available on the internet. It is possible to link in to an existing tree and make fast progress in this way.
- Very many researchers have posted their details, so that it is possible to contact fellow researchers, who are likely to be your distant relatives.
- The internet offers access to documents, either transcribed or as pdf images of the original documents – or both.
- The internet offers access to indexes of documents. Access to the documents themselves can then be organised.
Of course the internet cannot offer everything. The biggest area not covered by the internet is the importance of speaking with relatives. Most family trees start with the memories and recollections of relatives. All family trees benefit from some help from traditional, non-internet sources somewhere along the line. However, the internet has become the single most powerful tool for research, and even a tool which can be used without reference to relatives or archives.
Provision of online materials is excellent for the UK. This book concentrates on these UK records, though it does not ignore non-UK sources. Additionally, many of the concepts set out here are applicable to researching families worldwide. In general, online records for Europe and North America are good, as are those for Australia and New Zealand. Elsewhere coverage is patchy, both in terms of records that have been preserved and in terms of what is available on the internet. Yet even in the case of countries with poor provision of records usually something can be done. At the very least the advent of genetic tools in genealogy esearch means that something can be discovered about the ancestry of every human being.
Fig. 3. A Google search result on an unusual name – Aquila Bates.
Have you Googled?
The most basic way of searching for your ancestors on the web is to use Google or another internet search engine. In the region of one-fifth of British people born in the nineteenth century or before are mentioned in an internet source which can be found simply through using Google. The key to finding them is the format of your search. For names which are not too common – something like ‘Henry Brooks Bates’ (or ‘Aquila Bates’, see Figure 3) – you can try the following:
- Simply enter the name in the Google search box.
- Better enter the name in speech marks so that Google searches for the exact phrase. A feature of Google is that you need only the opening speech marks, so ‘Henry Brooks Bates.
- Enter the name as surname first: ‘Bates Henry Brooks’.
- Try with a middle initial only: ‘Henry B Bates’ and ‘Bates Henry B’.
- Try without the middle name ‘Henry Bates’ and ‘Bates Henry’.
- For women, try both maiden and married surname.
Further search terms can be entered in addition to the name in all these formats. If you are looking for a common name, then a further search term is likely to be essential. You can try a place associated with the ancestor. This might be a village, a town, a county. A search for ‘Daniel Clift’ is frustrating because it generates too many possibilities, but ‘Daniel Clift’ and ‘Bramley’ (a village in Hampshire) found together may well be useful. You can try an occupation. ‘Walter Harris’ is not useful, but ‘Walter Harris’ and ‘stone-mason’ looks more promising. With a married couple, you can try to trace the names of both together. It is also worth trying a search for the name of your ancestor plus the year of birth, as many genealogists reference ancestors in this way.
Google searches in these multiple formats do take a few minutes, but they do often yield results. Looking at the results and checking that they really do relate to your ancestors can take some time also. If you try googling in these multiple formats the names of a dozen ancestors born in the nineteenth century or before, you would be unlucky not to get a hit or two which is relevant.