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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: What the Internet Means to Me
by Rhonda R. McClure

March 15, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

I sat talking with a colleague in regard to an upcoming project. There was concern about the time that would be involved on the computer. I assured my colleague that my family was used to my attachment to the computer. I mentioned that prior to the birth of my youngest, I had begun to use the computer on my genealogical research and eventually for writing and other projects. As I mentioned this, I realized that my youngest was now eleven and my use of my computer was second nature to me.

In talking with other genealogists I heard similar stories about how the computer, and more importantly the Internet, had become one of their principal research tools. I encourage you to seek beyond the information on the Internet, but it certainly does offer methods to aid us in our research and speed up some of the processes.

The Internet has become essential to our research.

More Than the Internet

I recently asked a colleague to write a short essay on what the Internet meant to her and her research for inclusion in an upcoming project I am working on. She was kind enough to take the time out of her schedule, which was hectic, to respond to my request. This got me to thinking, though, about what the Internet meant to my own research and me.

First, I must explain that in my thinking back over the years I included not only the years that I have used the Internet, but also those many years before the Internet when I was online with a commercial service known as Genie.

Before the Internet

Online communications brought me my first research partners for trips to Salt Lake City. While I would love to say that we go all the time, the truth is that some have passed away, and others can no longer make the trips. Even those of us who can go occasionally would agree we don't get to go as often as we would like. Of course, truth be told, I suspect that some of us would like to just simply move there, but the rest of the family has something to say about that.

It was through the online world that I met my first fellow STANDERFER researcher. Up until this time, I was convinced that I was the only person working on this family. He felt the same way. Through him, I received pictures of the tombstones of my ancestors buried in Illinois and many other useful records. He also brought a group of us together online to work together on this difficult lineage. This allowed us to make some major progress.

The Internet

The Internet has offered me a myriad of sites to learn about record availability, as well as learn about specific record types. I have found useful information on the census at a time when I needed to know more. I have found new methods for searching for my ancestors and a host of other tricks and bits of knowledge. I have also made a wonderful set of new friends, many of whom I have had the chance to meet in person over the last few years.

While there have been some original records, such as the digitized census pages now available with a subscription to Genealogy Library and the 1900 census project, most of the information I have found has been the result of hours of volunteer work transcribing or otherwise digitizing information for sharing on the Web. Without the Web, I wouldn't have learned from which county in Kentucky my McCLAINs were before settling in Orange County, Indiana. Without the mailing lists on the Web, I wouldn't have been able to take that same McCLAIN line back further into Pennsylvania, adding information on children I only had names for.

With each new break on the Internet, I return to the tried and true records. I go to libraries. I look at primary documents. In essence, I recreate that wheel. The difference though is I am not shooting in the dark. At the very least, I have an idea of where I am going. Sometimes the documents don't back up that hypothesis, but more often than not they do and they take me another generation or two back on a given line.

In Conclusion

The Internet to me is another tool in my research. Through it, I have made contacts with fellow researchers. Through those contacts, I have grown as a researcher. And through that growth I have learned that I must never forsake the original documents and the original methods of research upon which I first began.

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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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