The growth of the Internet and IT over the last twenty years has been well documented. Like all subjects, it has made a plethora of information concerning British nobility available to a global audience 24 hours a day.
Indeed family history and tracing your roots is now the third most popular use of the Internet (1). Many of these amateur researchers in North America and Australasia turn to UK resources to find information relating to emigration and family origins. And here lies the problem. While contributing to the dissemination of information, the Internet is also a breeding ground for mis-information.
An individual working on a P.C. in their bedroom has the same reach as any body of authority. So how can you ensure the information you read is accurate? The University of Michigan (2) suggests the following pointers to consider:
·Who is the author or producer?
·What is the authority or expertise of the individual or group that created this site?
·With what organization is the author of the web site affiliated?
·What is the bias of the author/producer/organization?
·What are the reasons to assume that the author is an authority on the subject?
·Is there a way to contact the author or supply feedback?
·What is the primary purpose of the site (e.g. advertising, information)?
·Is a date of publication provided? When was the web site last revised?
·How complete and accurate are the information and the links provided?
·Does the information contradict something you already know or have learned from another source?
·Is a bibliography of print or web resources included?
The technology which has created these problems has, on a more positive note, been used by Burke’s Peerage to update these illustrious books and distribute family records in a totally new way, after 180 years of traditional editions in printed form.
The 107th edition (the latest is the 109th) of Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage was published in October 2003 after an 18 month production period, compared with four years for the previous edition. By using formatted templates and rapid e-mail communication between administrative staff, editorial staff and professional genealogists, the process of updating the family records was reduced dramatically, whilst quality and accuracy remained undiminished. Family members are now able to complete online forms to inform Burke’s of births, marriages, deaths and updates to their family. Consequently the records online can be continually updated to reflect the changes.
The move to publish Burke’s records online, alongside the traditional books, opens the records to a worldwide audience no longer reliant on the opening hours of a local library. The online database is searchable, allowing users to search for a name across 5,000 titled and landed family records. Because the records have been tagged with descriptions, users can search across advanced criteria such as date ranges, where individuals were educated and their coat of arms. With the current Peerage & Baronetage running to some 3,350 pages, this could save a considerable amount of time! Since the web site was launched at the beginning of 2002, almost 1.5 million pages have been accessed from users in the UK and around the world.
The Internet is a powerful and useful tool which British nobility and family history should embrace. There is no doubt that through the Internet, Burke’s Peerage has reached a whole new audience. However, do not take everything online as fact and check your sources.
(1) Financial Times (Sept. 2000)
Supplied by Burke’s Peerage & Gentry for faketitles.com