Internet Research



The internet has changed the "climate" of genealogical research -- and not always for the better. It can be a pitfall, if we are not careful. There are several things I've been seeing that concern me.

  1. The same people who are very careful to document information they take from books don't seem to be doing the same thing for things they find on the internet. Just as you would take down the author, title, publication facts, and page number of a book, when you take data from the internet, you need to take down the URL (internet address), the date you found the information, and, if it was taken from a particular page on the website, the name of the page. In addition, it would be a good idea to take down the name of the website owner. That way, if the URL changes because the owner moved his webpage, you can find the new site by running the owner's name on a search engine. Always cite your sources no matter where you find the information.

  2. Many people who understand perfectly that it is stealing to republish data taken from someone else's book, don't think anything of stealing data published on the internet. If you find information, written by someone else, on a website, it is covered by the same copyright laws as something written in a book. It is not okay to copy that information and then post it on your own website or publish it anywhere else €“ unless you have the author's permission. Nor is it okay to take data from books and publish it on your website €“ unless you have the author and/or publisher's permission. Yet I see people doing this all the time. It's against the law folks!

    If you have a website and are publishing your own material, it would be a good idea to make a copyright or "use by permission only" statement. That may serve to keep at least the honest people from stealing and republishing your information.

    I have been doing genealogical research for over 20 years and, in that time, I have helped many people by sharing information I have on their ancestors. This I am glad to do. However, with the advent of the internet, it has become a problem. People seem to think it is perfectly fine to post my work on the internet as if it were their own, giving me no credit at all. But what is worse, some of that data has been, over the years, added to and corrected by me, but is being posted without benefit of those corrections and is, therefore, erroneous. Please, folks, don't do this. It makes people like me feel that they don't want to help you anymore.

  3. Please be careful about adopting information that you find on the internet and believing that it is true just because you found it on some wonderful genealogy site. Any information you find, no matter where it is published, is almost useless if the author has not cited sources. It can be used for clues -- but that is all. What I am seeing on the internet is alarming! Hardly anyone is citing sources -- but almost everyone is believing what they find there. Don't abandon good research skills -- or fail to develop them if you are new to genealogy -- just because information is now so readily available. This is a giant pitfall! And, if you are publishing information on the internet, please cite your sources. If you don't, your information will won't really be of much value to others.

The internet is great! Much help can be found there. We just need to use the same research skills, obey the same laws, and use the same courtesy that we did before.

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