The real answer to these questions is very complex and elusive at the same time. But what is more and more evident is that much of what is out there in the world's historical records is being gobbled up by the digital juggernaut. Even if you spent nearly every waking hour of every day, it would now be impossible to even begin to understand the amount of information online and available at the click of a virtual button.
As regularly as the frequency in a cesium atom, I get comments from genealogical researchers about how they have searched and searched and now have no more records to search. My answer is always the same, you cannot begin to imagine how many records there are and how many more there are that you can search.
In all of this, we depend heavily on a few very limiting factors, our time to search, our skill and ability to search, our resources for traveling and searching, our persistence, our imagination and our background in the area we are searching. All these factors and many more influence whether or not we can continue to find records when we seem to be at a dead end. Even for those with extraordinary online search skills, finding pertinent digital records among the billions online is a daunting task. In finding those records we are at the mercy of the quality of the individual search engines used by each website.
Granted, in today's world, we may come to the end of the availability of digital records in any very small geographic area or subject. We still may be out looking at paper records, but the parameters of our digital world are expanding at an ever increasing rate.
Let's look at some of the numbers as of the date of this post. First the large online family history websites and their lists of records.
- FamilySearch.org -- billions of records in 2101 collections and 282,516 books and periodicals
- MyHeritage.com -- 6,937,037,375 historical records including 447,870 books and publications
- Ancestry.com -- billions of records in 32,611 collections
- Findmypast.com -- over two billion records
Next, here are some of the numbers from the more general online digital collections.
- Google Books -- probable estimate over 32 million
- HathiTrust.org -- 14,559,728 total volumes
- Internet Archive -- 10,024,405 books with 50,562 genealogy books
- Online Books Page -- over 2 million free books on the web
- Digital Public Library of America -- 13,056,964 items with 151,997 genealogy items
- Trove.nla.gov.au -- 493,366,855 items online with 149,226 results for genealogy
- Europeana.eu -- 53,203,536 items online
If you really want to explore some more online collections, see the following websites.
- Harvard Library, Library Research Guide for History
- WorldCat.org -- over 2 billion catalog entries
- OAIster.worldcat.org -- a specialized search engine of more than 30 million records
- ArchiveGrid.org -- over 4 million records in archives in the United States
- OldMapsOnline.org-- searches for over 400,000 maps
Let's just say we are never through looking and there is more every day. Just one example, in watching MyHeritage.com, it appears that this one website is adding about 100,000,000 or so records every month or less.
Don't get overwhelmed and don't give up.