Using Compiled Family Histories to Research Family Genealogies
Many researchers have used the Web page creation feature in their genealogy program to create a compiled family history page. This refers to narrative-style pages and sites that showcase pedigree charts and family group information on a Web page. You may find that the compiler includes actual pedigree charts and family group sheets in addition to the "story" of the family. Many people who use their genealogy programs to create these pages also have an index, with hotlinks that take you to specific sections of pedigree charts, family group sheets, or narratives.
While you read through various charts and narrative reports, making notes and adding information to your own charts, keep in mind that, as with all compiled research, it's possible not all the information is correct. Just as published family histories found on the shelves in many libraries may contain errors, these online versions may also have faults. However, this possibility doesn't mean you shouldn't use the library books or the compiled family histories you find online. In fact, you should use them. They point you toward other records that may verify facts or show you errors or discrepancies. They may also provide names of other family members you never knew existed. And every new name you find is one more name for the tree.
Finding these sites requires the use of either general search engines or directories. There are many compiled family history sites containing hundreds of surnames and families. Some sites are devoted to a specific surname; others are the culmination of a genealogist's entire research and include many surnames.
Citing sources is never more important than with sites that contain compiled family histories. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes researchers make when working with family history pages on the Internet is not going beyond those pages in their research. When you use a compiled family history site, you are viewing someone else's conclusions. In order to understand how accurate these conclusions are, you need to know what records and resources were used. While the information may indeed be accurate, it's important to determine where it came from. Even longtime genealogists make mistakes and, when transferring data to a Web page, may inadvertently mix something up.
If a family Web site doesn't indicate where its information came from, don't hesitate to send an e-mail asking for a source citation. It's not a good idea to ask the Web page manager to share all their records with you, but it is perfectly acceptable to contact them and ask where they discovered their information.
Next, we'll cover the many types of original genealogy records -- some free, some subscription-only -- that are available online.
To learn more about building a genealogy, see How Genealogy Works.