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The Increase in Online Genealogical Resources

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 23 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Genealogy Family History Family Tree

That tracing one’s family tree is big business isn’t exactly news. Genealogy has been one of the most-searched terms online for several years now, and there’s been no diminution in its popularity. If anything, the way family history has been showcased in television programmes has made it bigger than ever.

Where there’s demand, there will be supply. So there are more companies, and especially websites, offering genealogical services, mostly in the form of resources to help those who want to trace their family tree. They’ve been aided by the fact that more and more information has appeared online. Most recently, the 1910 census was posted online even before 100 years had passed, giving a real sense of how things are changing; previously it would not have been available before 2012, but people want the information – and there’s also a profit to be made.

What Genealogical Information Is Available Online

There’s such a wealth of genealogical information available online these days that it’s quite possible to trace a family line to the 18th century without any difficulty. That’s using a mix of censuses along with birth, marriage and death records, all without leaving your computer chair.

However, much of that has been available for several years, along with all manner of military records. The big change is that more and more parish records are now becoming available – although it will still be a few years, if at all, before every parish record is online.

For those wanting to look at wills, no longer is it necessary to go and physically search through records. That’s a major leap. Now anyone researching probate records can find them, from the 1500s onwards, on databases that are quite easily accessed online. The National Archives even offers sample wills as free downloads to give an indication of writing styles in different eras, as well as a currency converter to allow anyone looking to translate finances into today’s money.

Some information is available free of charge, but many comes through companies (censuses are a prime example of this). That means you can access the records without payment, but to see a particular document or download it, you have to pay, although the sum is generally small.

Although not everything is available online, within the next five years it’s likely that the vast majority of family history records will be available at the click of a mouse. The amount of material is increasing annually – the demand is certainly there, but there’s inevitably a lag because the records have to be scanned and indexed.

The Problem With Online Records

Payment itself isn’t really a problem, since it’s cheaper than travelling to the National Archives or other places to access records. What does raise an issue is how to interpret some of the records available online. Although there are sites that can offer some guidance, making sense of documents in Latin or other languages can be very difficult, if not impossible, for most people.

Although things have improved greatly, some records aren’t always reliable. The International Genealogical Index, run by the Mormons, is a prime example. It’s free, covers many countries and many different records. But everything is transcribed and put in by volunteers (they don’t scan original documents), which can lead to mistakes in spelling and more, and that can send a researcher off the scent.

In all honesty, the continued increased availability of online records is a boon. With everything from the Domesday book to records from the settlement of Jamestown in the US to some workhouse records having come online in the last couple of years, it’s apparent that genealogy is becoming more and more digital. However, that won’t solve all the problems people encounter. The human element will always remain vital.

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