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Internet and genealogical data

When you use a search engine or any other type of webpage to locate genealogical data you need to be aware of several issue’s.


 It is a big misconception with people to assume that data found on the internet is free of copyright. Copyright stay’s in place even if the medium to publish the data is internet, even when it is not explicity listed as copyrighted. The same is with text and images, even if these images were taken from “older” books. For many researchers this means that you cannot simply copy and paste the data without permission of its author. It is however allowed to use snippets from the data for your own research, but even then you should make a reference. It is a good habit to teach yourself, regardless of the fact if you need to or not it is always prudent to list your sources!


When copying data from others it is always vital to mention the sources. This makes your research credible because it allows others to verify your gathered data, but it also gives credits to other authors. When stating the sources keep the following in mind:

  1. The name and (email)address of the author (please do not simply posts email addresses on the internet because the emails will be harvested and used for sending SPAM )
  2. The title of the page; this can be clearly seen in the left top of your internet explorer.
  3. The URL or web address of the website,
  4. The date when you visited it for gathering information.

Doing genealogy is also about sharing, by stating your sources and references you give credit where credit is due. This makes doing genealogy fun as most people do it in their spare time.

Be objective. Every family has its high period and low periods, ancestors that make you proud but also ancestors that don’t make you proud. It is very important with sources to use them correct. Do place them in the correct stratification.

Your family could be wealthy in 17th century, but poor in the 19th century or vice versa. Do then also try to explain the source of wealth or poverty. When doing this use the spirit of that age as a background.

Personal memoirs of family members can be useful for “tasting” the sphere of those times. Using the guidelines above will guarantee you enjoy doing research and learning from your ancestors.

Researched data

Every genealogist will have to do with his own interpretations doing his research when it comes to reading sources. Not everybody is careful enough in collected and copying data and then combining this with previously gathered information. Most genealogical programms allow you to include notes, use this wisely so its possible for yourself to trace back your steps.

Example Case

You are looking for a Jovan Zivkovic who is supposed to be born around 1700 in Belgrade, his parents are not known. In the baptismal book of his city there is only 1 person mentioned with the same name between the dates of 1690 and 1710. One researcher will assume this is the Jovan Zivkovic he is looking for, and will copy the name of his parents and use them in his own research as parents of Jovan Zivkovic. Another researcher will say that there isn’t enough evidence and mentions the data as a hypothesis. It is very well possible that Jovan Zivkovic allthough born in Belgrade was baptised in a surrounding village ( a common practise because not all towns had a church).

When collecting data from the internet you do not have the luxury to verify data as above. Information that is stated as “truth” and correct data can be incorrect. It is also common that although a researcher mentions the data as a hypothesis others may copy it and use it as facts.

The list below gives an overview of reliable sources that you can use and mention in your research. The further the list goes, the less reliable the sources become:


  1. (copy/scan) original sources of the archives,
  2. published sources by the archives,
  3. private sources made public,
  4. publications with sources,
  5. publications without sources

The main reason why archival sources are more reliable then private sources is because the archives protect the quality by law. Data submitted into databases is often randomly tested to see if errors have occurred. Publications are less reliable because they involve interpretations of sources. People can make errors interpreting data.

Conclusion: The more closely you get to the original source the more accurate your research will be, and the chance will be that all data will be portrayed on a correct way.

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