The Internet has become one of the most valuable tools for genealogists and is the first information source used by most beginners. Get to know the functionalities of your computer and your Internet browser. Knowing how to find words in a web page, download and use PDF documents and media files, and perform other basic computer operations will be necessary. If you are new to computers, take an introductory course at a local library or educational institution. Computer use and the Internet are essential for doing genealogical research today.
In the years since the Internet began, search engines have come and gone. By far, the most popular search engine today is Google [www.google.ca/]. However, do not neglect other search engines. Google does not cover all the resources on the Internet, and other Internet search engines may index resources in a different way. This means that you can find new resources by using a variety of search engines, rather than only one.
Several websites offer lists of useful Internet search engines. Three are listed here, and others may be found online.
The BEST Search Engines (University of California, Berkeley)
Best Search Tools Chart (Infopeople Project)
Search Engine Showdown: The Users' Guide to Web Searching (Greg R. Notess)
Generally, search engines will find web pages across the Internet, but they do not search inside online databases. This means you must search within each database separately, using its local search engine. Although some websites now offer federated searching covering a number of databases, do not assume you are searching all databases available on a website with one search. Read the instructions or help files to determine exactly what you are searching and how to interpret the results obtained.
You can use the Internet to find information on a surname, a place, or a subject. Here are just a few examples:
You can use the Internet to find information on just about anything. Most libraries, archives, government departments, genealogical and historical societies maintain websites that provide information about their organizations and their holdings. Many personal websites share indexes, family trees or other material related to a particular family or area of interest. Some websites serve as portals or gateways to information on particular topics.
Learn to recognize authoritative information provided by societies, libraries, archives or government agencies. Be more cautious with information provided by individuals on personal websites; sometimes you cannot determine how thorough the research was, or what sources were used.
The Genealogy and Family History (the website you are reading right now) is the gateway to the genealogical collections and services of Library and Archives Canada. The information in What to Search: Topics and Where to Search: Places contains descriptions of Canadian resources.
Do not overlook Internet forums [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Message_boards] such as message boards, mailing lists, newsletters and genealogy blogs as adjuncts to your Internet research. Look for links to these through genealogy portals, or find them using search engines. See Genealogy Links for more sites on where to find information.
The widespread popularity of genealogy has encouraged a number of commercial genealogy information providers to offer online indexes to records and, often, scanned images of the items themselves. Many resources such as government records, church records, newspapers, and city directories have been made available for purchase online. Some commercial firms index and scan these resources independently; others have collaborative arrangements with national libraries and archives for scanning and indexing. Prices and subscription packages vary from one site to another.
As is the case in Canada, you will discover national libraries and archives elsewhere that offer genealogy resources to the researcher, both on-site and online. Consult Genealogy Links: International to discover some of these websites.
Disclaimer: Library and Archives Canada and the Genealogy and Family History do not suggest the use or purchase of any specific commercial genealogy products or services. Information about such products and services is provided only to inform clients that these resources exist.