Thursday, May 4, 2017

Don’t be an online genealogist estimates that only 7% of the world’s available documents are online. I want you to think about that. Do you have a brick wall that you can’t break through?  Maybe this is the reason. Online records are great and I love being able to sit back in my office and go click click click with my mouse but I also do old fashioned research at courthouses, archives, and libraries. I guess it might be easier for me because when I started out in 1991 I didn’t own a computer. It didn’t matter because there wasn’t any genealogical anything online. 100% of my research was done onsite or by snail mail. Some genealogists just starting out don’t understand this. I get many emails from people telling me they can’t find so and so and I ask them did you check ______? I can feel the deer-in-the-headlights reaction in their answer.

The trick is knowing what records are available for that specific location and time period and then knowing how to access them. There are many resources that can help you with this. Here are a just few books to give you an idea of the type of reference material out there that can guide you.

Breland, Claudia. Searching for Your Ancestors in Historic Newspapers. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Claudia Breland, 2014.

Darrow, Carol Cooke and Susan Winchester. The Genealogist's Guide to Researching Tax Records. Westminster, Md.: Heritage Books, 2007.

Eales, Anne Bruner and Robert M. Kvasnicka, editors. Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States. Third edition. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2000.

Eichholz, Alice, editor. RedBook, American State, County, and Town Sources. Third edition. Provo, Utah: 2004.

Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997.

Meyerink, Kory L., editor. Printed Sources, A Guide to Published Genealogical Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Incorporated, 1998.

Neagles, James C. U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal & State Sources, Colonial America to the Present. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1998.

Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians, Your Guide to Genealogical Treasure. San Jose, Calif.: CR Publications, 2004.

The Handybook for Genealogists. Tenth edition. Draper, Utah: Everton Publishers, 2002.

Szuc, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Third edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2006.

Another great resource is the FamilySearch Wiki. This is the first thing I check when I am working in an unfamiliar state, county or record group.

It is a good idea to keep “locality files.” This is a term from an old Family History Library Research Guide on how to organize your paper files. These Research Guides are what people used before the FamilySearch Wiki. Today most genealogists keep electronic notes in applications such as Evernote or OneNote instead of using paper files. You need to create your own reference material for each county, state, country you do research in as well as general reference material on the major record groups (military, land, probate, etc.).  This will save you time the next time you are researching someone in that same jurisdiction and time period.


  1. Michele, I just gave a presentation on this at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. My main challenge to them: Don't be lulled into thinking that it's all online.

    You gave some excellent advice!

  2. Thank You Michele for this post! As an archivist and being The Archive Lady, I teach, write and lecture about this all the time. It is my mantra! If we don't use our archives and other records repositories, budgets will be cut, staff will be cut and just think about all those records sitting on shelves that can help genealogists!

  3. Wonderful post Michele! I'm reminded of the photo with the iceberg in the water with the smaller visible top part of it representing the online records and the larger part below the surface representing the records that aren't online.

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Genealogy Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Great advice! Though I still have to do my not online research, online as I live in an isolated community, I have sent away for records from archives and historical societies. Just this week I received in the mail a copy of the Marriage Registration of my 2x Great-Uncle. And, over the last year, the General Register Office in the UK has offered special trial phases for a new .pdf program that allows genealogists to order copies of records not before digitized. The final trial ended recently, so we'll see if they come up with a regular ordering procedure for these pdf copies.

    My fondest wish is a windfall that allows me to spend 2 months in England doing good old-fashioned genealogy work in archives, churches, and other repositories. One church I wrote to, the one in which my 2x great-grandparents were married in 1878, still has a copy of their registers - I so want to pick up my copy of the record in person.

  5. I try to instill this in everyone who takes my classes but some just don't want to hear it. Thank you for reminding us.

  6. I think it's hard to genealogists starting today to wrap their heads around this. Often when someone posts a query/question in a group or on a message board, people clamor to give possible ways to search Ancestry or other online depositories. Courthouses, historical societies and other archives are often overlooked.

    I agree, when I began in 1994, there was no widespread computer use or internet. It really helped me hone my skills as a researcher & gave me a wonderful understanding of the records available & how to find them. It's great to keep educating people on these resources!

  7. Some of us want desperately to do "offline' research. We just don't have the means to do it :(

    1. Why not? Most of my offline research is done via phone calls and letters. Most of the copies I get cost me less than $5.00 (usually at courthouses there is a copying free of something like 50 cents a page depending on the courthouse). There are some things that cost more and there are some things you can only do onsite but there is A LOT you can do by phone call and by snail mail.