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GREEN VALLEY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY

From the Green Valley News, Friday December 9 2005, page B9


Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Pros and Cons of the Internet

Youíve probably all heard the radio advertisement that promises you can find 10 generations of your family in less than 5 minutes using a certain website. The Internet is a great research tool, but is it really that easy?

Ancestry.com, a subscription Website, adds hundreds of records daily to the 2 billion plus searchable family names already indexed. But Ancestryís One World Tree is unverified, user-submitted data. Can it be trusted? Ancestry and Heritage Quest Online feature millions of searchable pages digitized from family and local history books. If a book included information about your family it must be trustworthy, right? In both cases, the answer is, "Not necessarily."

Some Websites are more reliable than others. You need to evaluate each on its own merits. Many feature transcriptions of original records, but transcribers are human, and humans make mistakes. Transcribed records should always be compared to the originals.

Until a few years ago, U.S. census microfilms were rarely found outside of the National Archives and major genealogical libraries. Now census images from 1790 through 1930 can be viewed via an Ancestry.com subscription or the Tucson Public Libraryís link to Heritage Quest Online at www.lib.ci.tucson.az.us/. No more tedious cranking of the microfilm wheel hopefully searching for a lost ancestoróenter a name in the online census index and the census page is only a mouse click away. These census images are an important asset to genealogists.

Many government entities such as the State of Arizona display Internet genealogy at its best. Arizonaís Website at http://genealogy.az.gov/ features searchable indexes of birth records from 1887 to 1929 and death records from 1878 to 1954, all linked to .PDF images of the actual birth and death certificates. Perhaps one day all states will follow their example.

Yes, effective research can be accomplished 24 hours a day without ever leaving home for little more than the cost of your Internet connection.

But family fraud is as easily perpetrated today as it was 100 years ago when Gustave Anjou, a charlatan/author, gave wealthy clients what they wanted. He made his living fabricating family trees, and today his books still await the unsuspecting researcher in many libraries. The Internet can be an electronic Anjou. Use the information as a jumping off point for further research but donít make the mistake of assuming that if itís online it must be true.

A Web page that displays family trees or family charts can only be evaluated when the sources of the information are displayed also. Few such sites list sources, although some may give an email address and offer to provide sources on request. Always view undocumented information as a clue not as fact. Incorrect information posted on the Web without intent to do harm is still incorrect.

When the family information you find is not an original record and/or lacks documentation, verify each fact against the original record. Only then can you be confident each addition to your family tree really belongs on it. If you canít locate the original record, be cautious. The Internet can be a timesaver. Donít waste that time pursuing someone elseís ancestor.


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