The Do's & Don'ts of Internet Genealogy

by Nik Walker | Mar 22, 2012

The internet is a vital resource for anyone tracing their family history. It is full of valuable information available to view at any time of the day and night and all from the comfort of your own home. No need to spend hours travelling up and down the country to try and find the location of that important piece of information you seek.

However, this wealth of information so easily available can come at a price. With the rush to publish genealogical records online can result in inaccuracies. Incorrectly transcribed names and dates and also information missed completely. For this reason I have put together some simple dos and don'ts to aid in your online journey into the past.

DO: Talk to Living Relatives

Valuable sources of information that cannot be found online are the memories of those who were there or who now hold vital family documents and information passed down through family lines. Sitting down and talking with these family members can often identify that burning question that the family have been wanting the answer to or can help in confirming your research when you come across a piece of information that confirms what you have discussed.

Always be respectful, it is easy to get caught up with the excitement and enthusiasm to obtain information and forget that the information you are trying to obtain is personal to the family member and may hold some very emotional memories. Do ask questions but don't push too hard.

DO NOT: Publish Information about Living Relatives Online

When publishing your research online, utilise your software's privacy settings to ensure your living relative's information is private. Your relatives will not be thrilled to find all of their personal information online.

DO: Look for Source Documentation

There are many sources of information across the internet but just because it is on the internet does not mean it's true. Confirm the original source of the information. Most online databases will contain a source link or will provide the original source information. Ensure you document both the original source and the internet source where you found the information. This will provide a trail for you to confirm the accuracy and for you to view the original source if required.

DON'T: Rely On One Information Source

Just because you have entered a search for information on an online database and it returned no record does not mean the information does not exist. Transcription errors and the limitation to what information is available on sites can mean more extensive research is required. Always cross check with more than one online resource, another site may hold the information you are looking for or may hold a completely different set of records you never knew existed.

DO: Take Time to Visit Archive Centres and Libraries

Libraries and local archive centres hold a wealth of information. With the digitization of many records your local archive centre may hold information from all around the country not just your local area. You can normally view what information is held where on the internet and if possible go and spend some time in one of these establishments. Not all the information they hold can be found on the internet and can only be viewed in these centres. If you get a chance to view an original document it will provide a different kind of satisfaction to that of the internet. To discover what other information is out there will bring a whole new dimension to your research.

DON'T: Rely on Others

Online forums and published family trees can instantly provide you with missing information or provide a complete line of your family tree. However, there is no guarantee of the accuracy. If you find your family tree already published online decide if you wish to view it or continue to find the information yourself. There is a certain degree of satisfaction to finding out this information yourself and approach with caution and decide if you wish to copy someone else's research or continue your own. If you do decide to use this information check for the sources and confirm the accuracy, do not just assume because it is online that it is correct or that nothing has been missed.

DO: You're Homework

Taking time to research some background history of the time, job or location of an ancestor can help us to understand the information we are viewing, it can also help to identify what information we want to find or where it may be held. Doing some homework on what resources are available or what records could exist can save time and effort and the need to keep revisiting your research each time you discover a new source that is available.

DON'T: Become Complacent

After spending months or years researching your family history it is easy to believe we know everything there is to know and become complacent in our research. Internet Genealogy is advancing on a daily basis, new records and sources are appearing all the time and it is important we continue to educate ourselves and advance our research as we go. As our family research advances so must we. Talk to experts in the field, professionals genealogists, local historians, archive centre managers, they can often give advice on where your research should go next, also Subscription sites and Genealogical publications offer a wealth of advice and information and also highlight new developments and any launches of new online resources.

DO: Enjoy Yourself!

Despite the hours and hours of time and effort in your research it is important to step back and remember why we do it. The reward of tracing your family tree, finding out new information and the answers to those family mysteries easily out ways all the effort you have put in. Talk to others about your research, be it your new friends you have made along the way or an update to family members on your progress, this is where you will refresh your passion and enthusiasm you have for genealogy and show you how much you have achieved.


Sign up for a free trial account and begin tracing your family history today.

Start 7-Day Free Trial »