Many Paths to Sources: It’s Not All Online

In the genealogy field, you might see the statement “it’s not all online” frequently. Unfortunately, with so much being online, we tend to think it ALL is. Ancestry, FamilySearch, and others, with their hint systems and click to add to family trees has trained us that if it isn’t online, delivered by a hint, then it probably doesn’t exist. This is simple neurology as well. The brain does not like to work hard.1 So, if there is not an easy way to find or get something, the brain gets on board with “if it isn’t online then it doesn’t exist” mentality. But it’s not all online.

As an admin on the Facebook group The Genealogy Squad, we see this happen all the time. People ask for where they can find vital records, yearbooks, city directories, newspaper articles, and so on. When the answer comes back that the particular thing they are looking for is not online and they will need to call or email a specific repository, they balk. Surely it is online somewhere. Oh, I have to make a call, and possibly PAY for said document?!?

TV shows and movies do not help this either. I watch NCIS and Criminal Minds, all of which would have you believe that the smallest bit of information can be found online, regardless of whether you have a warrant to obtain that information, but that’s another topic altogether.

The companies that are digitizing, are choosing to do so based on whether they can sell a subscription, with the exception of FamilySearch. They digitize to preserve according to their religious beliefs. It takes a lot of time and resources to do the digitizing, store the digital images, create databases linked to those digital images, etc. so you can sit at home and do this from your computer with minimal effort. I’m all for it. But if you truly want to obtain those harder-to-find documents, solve those mysteries, and break down the proverbial brick wall, you have to go further sometimes.

In this blog series, we will look at some common sources and explore some of the other ways you might consider to obtain that source. Fair warning, it may take a little more thinking, exploration, and effort to obtain. But I want us all to get a little less comfortable so we can get a little further ahead with our research projects.


1. Elliot T. Berkman, “The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change” (Consult Psychol J. 2018 Mar; 70(1): 28–44; digital copy, US National Library of Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5854216/).

4 thoughts on “Many Paths to Sources: It’s Not All Online

  1. This is a great topic. We all need to learn to do genealogy the way people did it before the internet. I have made some wonderful connections with local genealogy societies and state archives, but it takes more time and effort. This series will help me look for other sources. I really appreciate Genealogy Pants.

    1. Thankfully, I really started my research in the late 1980s so I’ve been well versed on pre-internet research. Thankfully I had a great genealogy mentor who taught me well, especially in documenting on all my zillions of paper copies to put where/when I got them. What a godsend!

  2. Thanks so much for addressing this…I have found smaller repositories offer fantastic service – it just takes a little extra time to find what you need. Granted, sometimes the costs are beyond my budget (Canterbury Cathedral Archives quoted me $130 Cdn for a settlement document from 1746 – I just can’t justify that, but if I ever win the lottery, at least I know where to find it!), but even then, I can include the location of this document in my notes for future reference.

    Supporting smaller repositories also helps ensure they have the $$$ to keep doing what they do.

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