11 December 2010

From Deep Web to Deep Dust

Genealogical research has been revolutionized by the Web. We may look for the same records as before we had the internet, but many records are so much easier to access today. Search engines help locate information we might have never located in pre-internet days. Search engines read a Web page and follow the hyperlinks to other pages, indexing along the way. But there is also a side of the Web that is hidden to search engines—the invisible or Deep Web.

A lot of the best genealogical information is behind the wall of the Deep Web. Searches don't turn up most records on Ancestry.com, Footnote.com, GenealogyBank.com, or your county clerk's office because those records are hidden behind a wall. The information on those sites is usually stored in a database with pages created dynamically, on the fly. Those dynamic pages don't exist so can't be indexed by search engines without some intervention.

Newbie genealogists often start with Web research, finding the RootsWeb and personal pages that are indexed by search engines. Some of these pages may have source citations, but most don't. The publicity associated with "Who Do You Think You Are?" may bring the newbie quickly to Ancestry.com and other subscription sites. A lot of bad information may be copied into a database and files before the newbie learns to be more discerning about "genealogical research" as opposed to "name collection."

The experienced researcher spends more time on the original record images than in the unsourced trees and quickly learns to use the database indexes as clues to find the original records. Texas researchers soon learn about TexShare databases—available through most Texas libraries by obtaining a library card. With a login from the library the TexShare databases can also be accessed from home. Some of these same databases are also available in other states—check with local librarians.

But that still leaves the vast majority of the Web hidden from a researcher. There are some tools to help in finding useful items in the Deep Web and more of them are available every day. You might not realize you already use some of these tools. Google Scholar searches some sites that are usually hidden. Learn more about Deep Web Searching at:

The Deep Web

100 Useful Tips and Tools to Research the Deep Web

10 Search Engines to Explore the Invisible web

Don't get too complacent about the Deep Web, though. The vast majority of the records needed by genealogists aren't anywhere at all on the Web, deep or not. Most of them haven't even been microfilmed yet. Those records are sitting on the dusty shelves of court clerks, archivists, and librarians. Most of the problems we see as brick walls are solvable with that information that may be harder to access but does exist.

© 2010, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved


  1. Very interesting, Debbie - thanks for the post. I will be investigating the Deep Web search engines although I prefer researching in the original dusty records!

  2. I hear a lot of genealogists talk about how much they enjoy digging through the dusty old records. It would be a fascinating line of study to compare personalities and traits of those researchers who prefer to search for the dusty records in attics and basements to those of us who prefer the analysis of the records after they've been located. I'm in the latter camp except when the record actually is an original that my ancestor may have signed. My preference was reinforced when I met a lady who spent months getting rid of a fungus infection she got while handling moldy old records in a Mexican church archive.

  3. Fungus? Yuk! I once saw a very strange looking (dead) insect inside the microfilm reader. It was horrifying at 20x :-) I'm sure a personality study would be interesting.

  4. Very interesting post. My favorite search was years ago at the National Archives and seeing my great great grandfather's civil war papers. Not a lot of information there but still a beginning.