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The Internet (and the perils thereof)

There is no getting around it, as wonderful as the Internet is, you can’t always expect to find your completed genealogy there and what you do find may not be accurate and may not have been documented. Thousands of inexperienced and careless genealogists are posting their findings on the Internet.  "Don't believe everything you read" could not be truer of Internet sources. It is best to use the Internet as a tool and what you find there only as a clue.

To verify and prove descendancy, you will need to start with yourself and work carefully backward in time, obtaining copies of birth, death, marriage, and other records to show relationships. Even if you have a “high-speed” Internet connection and a fancy computer, you still need to seek out primary source documents in courthouse, census, church, military, land, immigration, and vital records. Visit libraries, archives, and family history centers. Study the history and geography of the area in which your ancestor lived.

One of the best uses for the Internet is to locate people who are researching the same ancestor as you – long lost cousins. You can correspond with individuals and societies working on the same family line or in the same geographic areas. Provide as much information as possible in your emails and be willing to share your information. Don’t forget to submit queries to genealogical publications as well as to the Internet.

For a list of all major Internet sites that can help you with your genealogy, go to Cyndi’s List. We are highlighting just a few websites that sometimes get overlooked.


FirstSearch is the public interface of OCLC a nonprofit membership organization serving over 41,000 libraries in eighty-two countries and territories around the world. FirstSearch is available in libraries and, in some cases, from home using library card PIN numbers. Ask your local library how you can gain access. FirstSearch is a large database used by public, special, and academic libraries across the country. The database contains cataloging records for over 40 million titles including books, periodicals, newspapers, and manuscript collections. You can search this database by title, author, subject, or several other ways. You can see which libraries have which items.

As you can imagine, knowing what books are on the shelves of most libraries across the country can be a boon to genealogists. If the library won't loan the material through Interlibrary Loan, you might want to plan your next vacation to stop by several libraries holding material that can advance your research. If it happens to be the hometown of your ancestor, visit the courthouse and a local genealogical society. Public libraries may have vertical file materials or local publications that are not found in any other place in the world.

If your library doesn’t have FirstSearch or you are not familiar with using this database go to our Help Me! button and ask Janna or Daniela to conduct a search for you. We can email the information directly to you. You can then request the needed materials on Interlibrary Loan through your local library. If the library will not loan the material or photocopy the pages you need, you may also write to the reference desk of the library or archive and ask them to photocopy materials for you. We can supply you with the addresses of most any library in the United States, some Canadian, and other foreign libraries.

PERSI is an acronym for Periodical Source Index. This index is created by the genealogy staff of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana which has the second largest genealogy collection in the United States. PERSI is a comprehensive subject index to genealogy and local history periodicals written in English or French (Canada) since 1800. This index contains over a million searchable records. It is a catalog of over 6,000 different genealogy periodicals, which include newsletters, journals, magazines, etc. You can search by surname, place (which includes U.S., Canadian, and foreign publications), or by record type (church, court, land, military, probate, tax, etc.) However, be warned that it is not an every name index, rather an index to subjects of articles.  It is important to check PERSI's index for collateral names and locations because the surnames you are seeking may be buried inside the text.

As Janna says in her PERSI lectures: You will find that many family genealogies were written decades ago when research was done largely by writing to relatives.  If, since then, some brilliant discovery was made, it would be a rare genealogist who would rush out to publish a whole new book.  But the same genealogist might write up his findings and publish them in a genealogy periodical.  This is the power of PERSI: to find scholarly articles that correct errors and extend family lines. When you locate an article you need for your research, check to see if it is in one of your local libraries, if not, it can be sent for on Interlibrary Loan or ordered directly from the Allen County Public Library for a fee.

Ask Janna and Daniela to help you if you have not used the PERSI database before and would like us to conduct a search for you. Just click on Help Me! and tell us what you need.

Help Me!  I would like to know if there is a book written about my family.

Help Me!  I need all the published tax lists for Woodbury County, Iowa (or any other place).

Help Me!  I am looking for a diary written by a teenage girl during the westward movement, so I can know what it might have been like for my great-grandmother.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.