As online research options have proliferated in recent years, the number of genealogists posting their family trees on databases such as Ancestry, Family Search, My Heritage, Find My Past, etc. has skyrocketed.
When you upload your information, the search engines on the site will start searching for matching records for you to look at. Then you can look at the records and correct your family tree. This seems like a wonderful tool and the fun news is that you don't have to be a paid subscriber to upload your tree; however, you do have to subscribe if you want to look at the records it finds for you. Even if the information you imputed isn’t correct, these sites offer the capacity for other users to comment on the tree and give you correct information if they have it. This capability enhances the ability to share information in a timely manner.
The one caveat that most professionals advise users to remember is that these trees are meant to be used by others only as stepping stones to assist them in their search for their ancestors. Many people, especially beginners, fail to view the information contained in online family trees any differently than they do the data found in a record source. When they are presented with individuals from a tree that appears to match their needs, they classify the information as accurate existing research and incorporate it into their research. This would be fine if every researcher took the time to carefully review the facts, make sure those facts had solid supporting evidence, and then added those facts to their tree along with attached record sources. But that is not how it usually happens.
Users should take the time to examine every source record and then determine for ourselves if it is valid and makes sense based on existing knowledge. Online trees come and go and change all of the time, and the records attached to them may disappear. You always want to be able to go back to your research and know exactly where you found every single piece of information. Family Trees without documentation should never be classified as proven research.
Another much safer and more reliable option that has come into widespread use is purchasing genealogical software programs. These programs have been around for years and include many features and friendly user interfaces. The common features they offer make it easy to navigate in your family tree, add citations for various sources and create reports and charts you can print or share as PDF files. Most of these programs are inexpensive and don’t require any ongoing fees, except for optional upgrades. And your files reside on your hard drive, where you have complete control over them.
Most genealogy software programs offer online features. They might automatically search genealogy websites such as Ancestry or Family Search and give you hints to records or family trees that may match your ancestors. With a single click, they can automatically fill in search forms on genealogy websites. Hints usually cover only certain databases and you’ll still want to experiment with different search criteria, but these features can save you a lot of time. Many programs offer the capacity to create reports for your viewing and analysis.
For more information on both of these topics, I recommend visiting the following links: