Share |

Everything Is Online

Article Date: 
9 July, 2010 - 06:00

Julie Miller, a genealogist with whom I have worked over the past few years writes a column for The Broomfield Enterprise.  She recently wrote and article which started me thinking.  Her article focused on the fact that while the Internet is a great resource, not everything can be found online.
As more records have come online in recent years I have often heard those who are beginning family history assert that anything worth searching is online.  Almost nothing could be further from the truth.  As I write the column, I often focus on records that are online, so I thought I would take some time to write about records that are not yet online.
There are many useful records online, and more every day, but as a percentage of the world’s records those published online are a small percent.  If you limit your research to online records you will be stopped in your research fairly quickly.
US research provides a good example.  The primary US record set that is online is the full set of US census.  While this is a great start, it is only a start.  Birth, marriage, and death records are also important.  Some are online (I wrote about some of the Utah death records in a past column), but many are not.  These records are held at the county level and a trip to the county courthouse will be very fruitful.
Religious records can also be important.  The United States has a long tradition church attendance.  Very few religious records are online.  If they have not been microfilmed then a visit to the church may be necessary.
Military records have a significant place in history.  Records exist for all the wars fought since the United States has existed.  While there are indexes to some of the records, many of the records require a traditional search.  Most of these records are held by the National Archives of the United States.  Some have been microfilmed.  Over the next few decades many of these records will come online, but as of today, most are not.  
Land records are, perhaps, the most important of all the records of early America.  Most immigrants came to the US, at least in part, because they could own property.  This had not been possible in many of the countries from which they immigrated.  Whether the land came as a part of service in the military, as a part of the United States’ effort to push settlement into new areas, or whether our ancestors purchased land, many immigrants can be found in land records.  There are land records at the federal level, but most land records are maintained by county governments.
The large number of our ancestors that owned land means that there are also often probate records.  In order to have the land pass to the person they chose many of our ancestors made wills.  Even when they did not leave a will, if there was property that needed to be distributed to heirs then there will be probate records.  There are almost no probate records available online, but they are a rich source of genealogical information.  They often contain family information and relationships in the wording of the wills.  Where they don’t explicitly identify the family relationship, they leave clues to follow to determine relationships.  Again, most of these records can be found in the county courthouse.  
Tax records can provide good information about our ancestors.  It is often said that the only thing sure about life is death and taxes.  Tax records exist for nearly every culture and during nearly any period.  This is true in most areas where our ancestors lived.  Sometimes it is taxes on land, sometimes property, and sometimes other items.  There was a period in England where there was a hearth tax.  Payment had to me made for each hearth in the house.  Whatever the tax, there are often surviving records.  Again, most of these records are not yet online.  They also often contain family information.  Some of these records are held at the state level and others at the county level.
Lastly, voter registration lists.  Over time lists of registered voters have been kept.  The information contained in these records vary by county in the US and they normally will not have any relationship information, but they are a good source to supplement your research.  Voter registration lists are normally maintained by the county.
This is not an exhaustive lists of records, but gives some examples of additional places to search.  The county court house or archive is a treasure trove of information for United States Research.  If you have not visited the record repository for the county in which your ancestors lived you then it may be time for a visit.  While these records are steadily being made available digitally it will be some significant time in the future before we can even come close to saying, “It’s all online.”