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Top 5 Tips for Making the Most of Online Genealogy Databases


There's no doubt about it. The Internet makes it much easier to trace your family history. Thousands of databases offer a range of information -- from government records of birth and death, to passenger lists detailing immigrants to and from countries around the world. Maximize your results from online genealogy databases with these five simple tips.

1. Keep a Log

With thousands of genealogy databases available online (and new ones going up every day) it can be difficult to keep track of where you've searched, who you've searched for and what you found where. Keep a research log to record the sites you've visited, the searches you tried, and the results of those searches. Because Web sites are constantly being updated or added to, you should also use your log to keep track of when you last checked a site, so you can go back and recheck them periodically.

2. Use Advanced Search Options

You can't just type your ancestor's name into a database and expect to find your entire family tree waiting for you. It's not uncommon to spend a half hour or more trying various search combinations to locate a particular individual in an online database. When compared to the time you are saving in travel to a repository, scrolling through microfilm, etc., that half hour is nothing! Become familiar with the advanced search features for each database you use, and try every possible search alternative before giving up.

3. Cite Your Sources

Whenever you find a new piece of information online and enter it into your family tree, take a few extra minutes to include a full citation of the source where you found the information. For online sites, this generally includes the name of the database, the name of the Web site, and the URL of the site where you found the data, as well as the original source of the data (which should be noted in the "about this database" section). You'll be grateful for this information down the road!

4. Evaluate the Reliability

While useful as a clue or a starting point for further research, some of the family history information you find online is more fiction than fact. While some databases are very reliable, others offer information that is unsubstantiated or of questionable validity. Learn to recognize the good data from the bad.

5. Follow Up Offline

The Internet has made researching family history easily accessible to just about everyone. But for every bit of information that is available online, there are hundreds more tucked away in archives, courthouses, libraries and other repositories. Follow up the clues you find online with original sources. The only exceptions are digitized copies from original documents found online. While technically considered a derivative source, these are generally considered to be an acceptable alternative for the original source document.

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