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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: How Are You Using the Internet?
by Rhonda R. McClure

June 27, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

The Internet has become a buzz word among genealogists. We banter it about much like we used to banter about the term published family history. However, the key to using it effectively is in understanding its role in your research. We must be honest that it is not the all encompassing only resource we use in our research. If it is, then you are doing your own research a disservice.

More importantly though, to use it effectively you need to have an understanding of where you are in your own genealogy. We tend to throw good traditional methodology out the window as we search on the Internet. This only results in frustration and negatives results.

Used effectively, the Internet is a powerful tool.

A Tool is a Tool

The Internet is just another tool in the researching of your family history. And like all the other tools, it is important to follow certain steps and keep certain things in mind.

You need to

  • Always work from the known to the unknown
  • Devise a plan
  • Follow through on that plan
  • Cite your sources
  • Evaluate the site honestly
  • Organize, organize, organize

Like all genealogical research, you need to work from what you know. Unfortunately the Internet does not always have information for the time frame we are working in or we get caught up in a tangent of following link after link that looks right.

Don't Get Caught

To avoid being led astray online, you need to devise a plan of what you are seeking and then follow through on that plan. Determine what you know, decide what you are hoping to find out and then base your search on those criteria. Without a plan you will find yourself surfing aimlessly around the Web, with few results.

Once you find some possible information, then it is necessary to cite that source. I also encourage you to print out the page where you found the information since you never know when a web site might move or disappear. Also, you should honestly evaluate the site. Just as we hold printed family histories to a certain standard, we should do the same to the family history information we find online.

While this sounds easy enough, you will find that the links are tempting and soon divert you from your goal. Don't ignore the links, instead, make notes of sites you need to revisit to follow up on those links. Stick to your plan for the night, and then visit those tempting links on the next night.

Organize, Organize, Organize

It is also important to organize the information you are finding. Printing the pages and filing them is one method. You will also want to organize your bookmarks so that they are easy to find and it is easy to return to a given site to re-verify some information or to check a newly discovered surname.

There are a number of books available on organization including Sharon Carmack's Organizing Your Family History Search published by Betterway Books and William Dollarhide's Managing a Genealogical Project published by Genealogical Publishing Company. Both of these books deal more with paper documents, but will give you some idea of ways to organize those Web pages I suggested you print out.

In Conclusion

In the end, you may be unable to find information on your family. This is generally true of those who are just beginning because information on individuals who lived during the twentieth century is not as prevalent as some of the other centuries. You may need to spend a little time in other records before you find the information on the Internet to be useful. However, it could be that you were simply not focused enough and accidentally overlooked valuable information.

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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