I meet family history researchers all the time who proudly save all their documents and images to their online tree – but only to their online tree, which is housed on any of several large company websites. You know the companies I’m talking about.
I always ask them if they have a software program on their home computer or, if not, if they at least save all their genealogical discoveries on their own computers. The answer is invariably, “No.”
I can give you two excellent examples of record sets that I’ve used in the past and where they are now. If you have Maine roots, you might want to listen closely because one of the examples concerns Maine.
First, my husband’s Williams family branches spread all over the United States, but there are many many descendants who migrated to and remained in Tennessee.
I used to love the Tennessee State Archives because of its online vital records collection, specifically death records. I thankfully had browsed and saved whatever I could find before one day when I tried to search again and a notice appeared.
It stated that Tennessee residents can still view these records, but they have contracted with Ancestry, so for non-Tennessee residents, the record set is now behind a pay wall. At least they are still accessible for researchers everywhere.
Next example is Maine. The Maine State Archives housed an online collection of vital records. With my Maine roots, I loved finding this database.
Fast forward to 2015. The Maine.gov website guidelines on accessing vital records show restrictions that have been imposed during the last few years, and the vital records were no longer easily accessible.
However, I found a great database of Maine vital records covering the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. Where? On FamilySearch – in the collection Maine Vital Records 1670-1921.
For how long will this collection remain on FamilySearch? I have no idea, but I do know when their contract ends, with the new restrictions imposed by Maine law, these records – which often include images of the actual documents – will probably only be available behind a new pay wall – the Maine State Archives pay wall.
If you have Maine roots, I suggest that you start mining this database right now. Thomas MacEntee says it well – handle each find as if it were the only time you will have access to it. Save each new document and image to your computer as soon as you find it.
Databases come. . . and databases go.