Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Internet is not a Source

I do a lot of genealogy teaching and lecturing, and develop three or four new talks each year. The past week, I've been preparing a talk on using the internet to find ancestral origins. It sounded like a marketable topic -- something that would appeal to a broad audience. It's also one of the most difficult talks I've ever prepared. We often hear genealogy lectures on types of genealogy sources -- the census, vital records, immigration and naturalization records. This talk isn't about any one type of record, but rather about a place where we find and view information.

The internet is not a source. It is more like a library or achive -- a vast depository of both junk and gems. We find many kinds of sources posted to the internet:
  • published material (much of it "self-published)
  • transcriptions and extractions from original sources
  • digital images of original sources (both primary and secondary)

We use these materials with the same care we exercise when examinng material from traditional "non-virtual" sources.

No one, with the possible exception of Cyndi (www.cyndislist.com), can keep up with everything on the internet, just like no one can know about every source in every library or archive. But, we can be smart about search strategies. That, I have decided, is the key point of my new lecture.