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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: That Tool Called the Internet
by Rhonda R. McClure

May 16, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Genealogists often think they should be able to find all of their ancestry on the Internet. However, many people have a complete misunderstanding of what is available online and what isn't. In reality, there is everything and there is nothing. Some individuals find a lot of information and others don't find anything at all. Some researchers find a lot of information on one line but don't find anything on another line. There are many different things that affect that feast or famine.

Getting Prepared

Sometimes the information we are looking for does not exist on the specific individual in question. Many times I stumble on the person I want, when I search on a spouse or a sibling. Why the individuals don't show up when searching specifically for them makes no sense, and could be a bug in the search engine doing the search. But if it is, then it is something you need to be aware of for future searches.

The Internet is often feast or famine.

Other times the problem lies in the fact that I have not done enough research in preparation. I need to have as much knowledge about a person as possible before looking them up online. This is important because, unlike the genealogy library, the Internet offers things for everyone, and as a genealogist I must weed out the non-genealogy sites and pages.

To be prepared I need to have more than just a name. I need to have a date, the names of children and a spouse, or the names of parents. I need to know some of the places this person lived. After all there are many individuals with the same name. Harvesting my ancestor from the crop of others requires identifying him or her and the differences of my ancestor from the others.

Contemporary Research

While there is a lot available online about living individuals, a topic for another day, most genealogical researchers find they have better luck when looking for individuals who were born in at least the 19th century. Older records have have been transcribed and researchers find cousins more frequently for those names further back on the tree.

Privacy laws have prevented the opening of some of the records that we need on our more recent ancestors. As a result, those records have not yet been transcribed because people cannot view them without much difficulty and limitation. The 1930 census is a good example of a record that has just recently been released. Many of us are eagerly awaiting its arrival in our local library. From there we will begin the task of transcribing and indexing that so many genealogical societies do so well.

As for cousins, in most cases the further back a common ancestor is, the more cousins you are likely to find. And, the greater the number of cousins, the better your chance of finding a fellow cousin online who has done some of the research already. By corresponding and sharing, fellow researchers can be helped in their research .

In Conclusion

The Internet is just one of the many tools that genealogists are using. While using the Internet is easier and more convenient than some of the other repositories and record sources, there will always be times when the Internet just has nothing to offer in your search. When that happens, move on but remember to check back often since the Internet is an ever-changing tool.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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