Twenty years ago most of us were aware that original documents were found in the courthouses and archives and we could find other, important information at libraries.
In 1996, the birth of the GenWeb project opened the door to online research, which drastically changed the way we search for our ancestors. This thing called Internet told us we could do research at home and in our jammies, no less! No longer did we have to get out in the cold or heat, drive across town or across the state to access those records. We didn't even have to search during certain hours of the day or week. Internet was available around the clock. How special is that!
Everyone wins, right? Not necessarily. We humans seem to spend an inordinate amount of time simplifying a task. In our rush to make things very basic, we have lost some of the most basic tenets of good research.
* We have forgotten how to attach a source to each fact not of common knowledge
* We have decided that anything found online is free to use without asking permission or attributing the material to its creator.
* We seem to believe if someone else has it on their website it must be true.
* If we repeat what is possibly an error over and over, it will become a fact.
We have lost sight of our goal to find the facts so we can understand where, when and how our ancestors lived. We can find these facts where the events happened as well as where they did not happen. In other words, we must do a "Reasonably Exhaustive Research."
In making our research as simple as possible, we are neglecting the places that provide the best information - courthouses and libraries. Courthouses don't depend on genealogists for their funding or patronage so their futures are probably secure. That's good news as you will need to go there to find that mid-1800s marriage bond signed by your ancestor or the description of his property found in that old deed book. Be prepared for a personal visit because not all original courthouse documents are online and probably won't be in our lifetime.
Libraries are not faring as well. Some are cutting hours and staff because of decreased usage. Fewer genealogy books are being published today as everyone wants to search online, but library shelves are still full of great information ranging from county histories of the 1800s to biographies of long-dead people. You might also find microfilm rolls of local, unpublished records. My library has funeral home records as well as county tax polls, neither of which is online. Even if your library does not have a genealogy collection, there are treasures to be found. A general history of a particular era and area can provide information about the economic and social conditions during your ancestor's life. You can put him in the context of his place in history.
Is there a book you would like to read, but it isn't available at your library? Ask your librarian if you can borrow it through interlibrary loan. The cost is minimal and the rewards can be great.
Searching online is fine ... as far as it goes, but to avoid becoming a lazy researcher, don't forgot the sources of the greatest genealogical information. Visit your library and courthouse.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition, (Washington, D.C.: Ancestry.com, 2014), 1.
Published 24 September 2015, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog, http://wkygenealogy.blogspot.com/