Friday, November 5, 2010

Have Online Records Made Roots Travel Obsolete?

Everyone knows the internet has changed genealogy dramatically. Millions of documents are now at the fingertips of professional and amateur genealogists the world over. Research has become much easier, and the possibility of finding that lost birth or death record has gone up exponentially. Considering all of these developments, one might argue that roots travel is no longer necessary, because the internet can take you anywhere. However, that would be wrong. Online records and the internet have not made roots travel obsolete, although they have definitely changed it.

On the internet, a person can visit a far-away place with the click of the mouse. YouTube can show you video of almost any place in the world. Information about a country is just a Google search away. Genealogical research is only as far as it takes your fingers to type or FamilySearch. Those developments are all incredibly positive in every sense of the word. But do these developments also take away some of the impetus to get out and travel to a person's roots? Is it easier to do roots travel from a chair than in person? Unfortunately, some people may think so. If you can find a picture of a gravesite on Find A Grave, why go there in person?

Because of the internet, there is less reason to travel for research reasons, but it has opened up the possibilities for a different kind of roots travel. Instead of focusing on finding a record in a county records office, today's roots traveler can focus instead on the experience of visiting relevant places. The research can (mostly) be done at home. Roots travel can be about discovering the destination instead of discovering the record.

In a way, that makes roots travel more powerful. And in spite of the ability to do so much research online, roots travel remains an important part of genealogy. Though one might not research, genealogy is ultimately about discovering the past. Copies of birth records and censuses will only get you so far. To really understand your ancestors, you must put yourself literally in their place. You must surround yourself with people that have the same accent as your ancestors had; you must walk the same streets; you must walk through the same doors and see the same buildings. Whether or not those buildings are still existing, visiting one's roots will connect you with your ancestors just as much as finding a record with their handwriting. And you get the added bonus of a vacation!

Online records have not made roots travel obsolete.  They have changed roots travel, to be sure. But taking a roots vacation or making a side trip on your vacation to visit your roots will continue to be as important to family history as it ever was--perhaps even more.


  1. Online records have not made roots travel obsolete, as you mentioned, for there is nothing quite like walking the grounds of your ancestors or searching through a musty book in a courthouse that has not yet been microfilmed.