Common Mistakes made when searching for your Ancestors Online

Beginning your search for your ancestors online is never a bad idea. It is easy, accessible and you can begin straight away. The internet has resources such as records containing vital data and other information on people's ancestors but also useful advice and links to other sources. For beginners who are used to the internet you can search easily using the engines and boxes. However there are also guides to using the internet for genealogical searches and particular, key genealogical sites. However, you should be aware that there are some pitfalls when searching for ancestors online and it should by no means be your only line of enquiry.

The internet does not contain all useful information as some data is yet to be transcribed or digitised and added online. Some smaller information centres such as Local Archives Offices only have a portion of their information online. You should not assume that you have exhausted all lines of enquiry with internet searches- but by all means look online for the local offices and other sources. The local offices are also a good way of verifying information you have found on the internet. The internet like any source of information is subject to human error. This is why you should make records of all your findings and then verify them. Do not just write down the information from partial records or print partial records. Write or print down whole records or as much information as you can find or you could find out later some vital information is missing when you cross check it with other records

You should double check your own findings that you have written down and ensure you use correct spelling for terminology relating to genealogy, including the word itself. You should be particularly aware of your spelling when talking online to the genealogical communities so that you get taken seriously.

However, you should also be aware that other people misspell and that language itself has evolved over time. This knowledge should be used in reference to searches on names. Spellings of names have changed over time. However the spellings of names are also subject to human error, typing error, a lack of education and loss in translation. Many of the Church transcriptions from the 1500s to the 1750s have been translated from Latin, for example. Yet, you can acknowledge the possibility of error by varying your searches. You can try different spellings of names by changing vowels, substituting 'y' for vowels and putting in letters found next to that letter on keyboards. You could also try spelling the name phonetically as people were less well educated in earlier times. The phonetic alphabet is online so you can use this to find out how to spell your surname phonetically. It is also worth considering some former conventions of spellings such as silent 'H's. For example you could try Carter with spellings such as Cartyr, Carrter, Carther or Cahter. In this way you can ensure you widen your search.

Some people think that it is a good idea to research a particular ancestor and flesh out a family tree or history in this way. This will not work as well because the best place to begin is with yourself when compiling family history or with the youngest in your family when creating a family tree. The reason why some make the mistake of beginning with an ancestor is because they share a surname with someone famous. However this does not automatically relate two people which is why you should begin with immediate family.

Another common problem that people encounter when searching, is 'brick walls.' This is sometimes because there is a 'brick wall' but other times because people are looking in the wrong places. You should not think of genealogy as just vital data and names but as something far more than this. You should be aware of the context when searching for your ancestors. You can find out where your ancestors were which can lead to all types of information. For example if your ancestors lived near the sea you could check shipping and overseas trade records. Historical data is also significant because life changing events like wars lead to clues about ancestors in other areas such as army records which need to be searched separately.

While different websites provide various sources of information such as wills or directories as well as births, deaths and marriages it is important to use these sites correctly and be aware of their pitfalls and shortcomings. For example, you should be aware that the IGI only lists the first 200 names that you search. You can look elsewhere on the net for guidelines on the main genealogy sites.

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