Online sources are not all bad. Online materials take several forms:
- digital images of actual records
- digital images of published books
- online indexes and finding aids
- online compilations
Ideally one finds as many “actual records” as possible–it doesn’t matter whether they are accessed digitally or not. Published books (whether accessed on paper or electronically) are also good to reference. Online indexes and finding aids should lead you to the records that were used to create them. Online compilations (including the “trees”) should be used with care and validated where possible
The reason to try and utilize offline materials is that not everything created is available online. Online materials are those that either someone has decided has enough market value to put online or someone has taken an interest in.
Some individuals are not able to travel to locations where undigitized records are kept. Many times it is possible to electronically communicate with those who do have physical access to those records. Offline doesn’t mean that they are impossible to obtain via the internet.
There are records that are not highly marketable and that no one has taken enough of an interest in to digitize.
Your ancestor could be waiting for you there–in a piece of paper.