So much of our genealogical searches are now online – providing us with unprecedented access to records. Before the advent of digitisation, we would spend time deciding if a visit to a repository would be worthwhile, or if it would deliver the required result for the effort we put in (not to mention the financial outlay)?
Access to records online has been a great step forward in amplifying the lives of our ancestors but as we know, there is always a price to be paid. Now, when accessing online records, we can be faced with so many records that we have to wonder which pertain to our specific ancestors. Determining which are correct requires us to bring the basic premises of genealogical work to bear. That has been discussed in many previous research tips.
The other main pitfall, when working online, is the very real issue of mistranscription of records. In bringing records to us, websites (commercial or government) usually provide an index/partial transcript of the original records so we can search across them.
Sometimes the transcribing process may not be able to cope with complexities, and simply input some form of abbreviation. Of course, every time a record is transcribed, it’s inevitable that a certain ratio of errors is introduced into the copy.
Digital publishing has been with us now for a generation, and basic standards are beginning to emerge as ‘best-practice’. One of the most welcome standards, is that an image of the original document is published and linked to the index. Where this has been done, you should always view the original. As family historians, the best practice we can bring to our subject, is to always read the original documents.
By Carmel Gilbride