Friday, May 15, 2015

New Frontiers: Online Access is not Enough

Just like nearly all Americans, I have immigrant ancestors. Some arrived as early as the 1630s and some as late as 1893. I can find ancestors arriving from Europe in every century from the 1600s to the 1800s.

James Quayle Dealey

Because most of my ancestors have been in the United States for quite awhile I've had the luxury of focusing on my American ancestry. I could go so far as to say that it has allowed me to ignore my German, English, Scottish, Dutch and Irish ancestors.

Well, no more. I am headed for a new frontier!

I have just gotten a subscription to, the site which predominantly focuses on British research (or at least that's my impression). This is definitely new territory for me.

I have decided to focus on my Dealey ancestors who left England for Galveston, Texas in 1870. I'm focusing on them because they are more recent immigrants and because our family knows really as much as we need to know about them in the United States considering they only go back four generations.

About ten years ago I did dabble in British research. I learned just enough to be dangerous without really understanding what I was doing and without going too in-depth.

When logging in to for the first time I wasn't really sure where to start. But then I noticed that, similar to, they provide an option of having an online tree. While I have mixed feelings about online trees, they are a perfect place to start when you don't know where you are going. And of course, that's the danger of it.

I started my online tree with my Dealey Family. I admit I am still figuring out how to work the online tree since it's a bit different that the tree. But it is very helpful in providing me with links to document hints.

The problem I'm finding, however, is that (just like can point me to the records, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily sure what to do with them.

Let me clarify right here that this is not the problem of It's not their job to make me an expert in British records. I need to take the time to figure that out myself.

But what I can see as a fundamental problem in online research is that having access to online records is not enough. You must know what to do with the records once you have found them. I think the disconnect for many new researchers is not knowing where to go to find the background information to understand the records, time period and location they are researching.

For instance, My great grandfather, James Quayle Dealey, is found in the England & Wales Births 1837-2006 record set on This is a register (index), not the original birth records. To their credit, FindMyPast provides a section called About England &; Wales births 1837-2006. This is helpful in that it talks about the index but it doesn't really provide information about where to go next, or where to find the records I'm looking for.

James Quayle Dealey's 1861 birth as found in
the England & Wales Births 1837-2006 record set on

Ironically, this whole process is quite fun for me because it's allowing me to experience what a brand new genealogist in 2015 experiences when they start their journey.

While I know from past experience that there are resources for learning about British research, I wonder what the new researcher will think when the ask themselves "Now where do I find that birth record?"

I'm going to assume the records I need are not on FindMyPast because they don't appear when I search for the surname Dealey. (Admittedly, I haven't gotten as far as figuring out whether they have un-indexed collections similar to but I'm assuming they don't.)

Part of this new journey and experiment is going to be re-creating the experience of new genealogists so I can understand what challenges and obstacles they face. So instead of going straight to resources that I know exist or to experts that I know can help me, I going to put myself in the position of someone who has no connection with the genealogical community or background in research.

The next logical step for me as I try to determine where to find the original birth records is visiting the "Help" section of the website.

That will be the discussion of our next post...


  1. My first entry into British records was by volunteering with the FreeBMD group... When I search on FindMyPast now, I have FreeBMD open (if it's for post-1837 records), plus FindMyPast, plus FamilySearch. Oh the joys of 2 screens to spread the sites over! FreeBMD explains and directs you to the record offices where you can request your copy of a certificate. FreeReg (their site for parish registers) is another good place to do preliminary searching for pre-1837 vitals. And of course, the Help buttons got lots of use as I started! Have fun.

  2. Marian, what an exciting adventure you're starting! It will be interesting to see your observations as I have British roots yet to be explored.

    None of my ancestors were here prior to 1845 (that I know of). My last one came in 1907. My research path has been different that most of the researchers I know. Up until about 3 years ago, online research was a source of frustration for me. I could only go so far with US research since my roots are not deep in this country. The two states I need aren't heavily covered by online companies.

    Most of my research beyond the US was through the mail and later email. Sometimes it took half a year between letter and response.

    I waited patiently though. I was rewarded about 3 years ago when the records for my villages in France went online. And, then the villages I needed in the Azores became available. Not everything I need is online, but enough to keep me busy for quite some time.

    Good luck with your new genealogy adventure!

    I always worry that beginning researchers think that everything they need will be online. While if you have old US, you can get back pretty far online, for many countries online archives are in their infancy.

  3. A timely post; I too just started a subscription with Find My Past. It is a bit of a learning curve, but I am looking forward to diving in and learning what the site has to offer and of course, finding my ancestors. I do, though, find myself wishing that Josh Taylor or another Find My Past genealogist would develop tutorials (weekly) for their site much along the lines of what Crista Cowan does for ancestry.

  4. Like you I have a line that came from England in the 1870's so have already trod this path! You'll need the General Register Office site after finding the correct reference in Find My Past or Free BMD:
    You have to register an account with them. The BMD certificates are expensive at £9.25 each but I have found necessary in order to move the family back, and not rely on the transcription alone. I think everyone has made at least one or two mistakes in ordering, especially if the surname is more common. One key is in knowing the right Registration District within the county - where would people in that small rural village register their events? Although there have been occasions when a certificate I ordered took awhile to arrive, I have received all I ordered so I would say the service is good. The main drawback is having to exercise patience due to spreading out the ordering (and the expense).

  5. Marian,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!