The musical Avenue Q has a song titled "The Internet is for Porn." While I make no comment on that, I can confirm that the Internet certainly is for genealogy.
Since beginning my family research, I have primarily used Ancestry.com, although vigilant verification of all member-supplied information is essential. But marvellous as Ancestry is, it is not the only source. There are any number of websites, blogs and forums out there, that, with patience and an intrinsic love of puzzle-solving, can yield all kinds of useful information. Besides Google, which is invaluable, through the Internet I have located and corresponded with distant cousins who have offered help over some "brick walls", and received aid from volunteers on numerous websites.
Two particular favorite sites are the Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center, which has an astonishing amount of information on Ohio history, combined with an easy-to-use database, and Find A Grave. Find A Grave is a free site, run collectively by volunteers around the country, who list cemetery inhabitants, and provide photos (when possible) on request. From kind Find A Grave members, I have been sent photos of the headstones of numerous relatives, including Southworth Hamlin (paternal seventh great-grandfather, and another of those people with wonderful names)
and Mary Phillips (paternal seventh great-grandmother).
Her name might not be so evocative, but I love the verse on her headstone (although even Google has not yet yielded what it is from, if anything):
Human nature drops a tear / And mourns her absent friend /
But virtue God-like interferes / And cries her soul yet lives.
With all of this data at my fingertips, it is hard to imagine how anyone could have successfully created a family tree before the internet. Travelling--either to a local genealogy library, if available, or to relevant county courthouses, if possible--and, more likely, the US Mail were the only real resources. I like to imagine that two of my ancestors were able to assist at least a few of those earlier researchers. Both Leroy Stanley Burnett (31 Aug 1910 - 11 May 1980), my paternal grandfather, and William Edwin Kinman (Mar 1858 - 13 Jun 1925), a maternal second great-grandfather, were postmasters at one time, in Hewitt and Morgan, Minnesota, respectively.
|Grandpa Burnett's Postmaster Appointment|
Before the internet, researchers checked out those county courthouses for vital records, and when they could find copies of the US Federal Census--jackpot!--they were able to get even more information. One of my relations, Thomas Francis Kinman (31 Dec 1877 - aft 1940), a maternal great-grand uncle (the son of Postmaster Kinman mentioned above), was actually a census enumerator in 1900; he was the guy who went door to door asking all the questions, and writing down the responses. It's no wonder that his family was the first one on the page!
Bennett Franklin Davenport, MD, (28 May 1845 - 2 Jun 1927), paternal fifth cousin, six times removed, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charles and Joan Fullerton (Hagar) Davenport. He received degrees from both Harvard and Columbia universities (1867, 1871). Besides being a prominent genealogist and historian, he was also professor of chemistry at Massachuetts College of Pharmacy (1879 - 86); served as Analyst for the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Lunacy, & Charity (1882 - 92) and as Coroner for Suffolk County (1875 -77), and was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1893; published in The American Druggist, Harvard Register ("Recent Progress in Pharmaceutical Preparations"), and The Analyst (Royal Society of Chemistry, Great Britain), among many others; and was a noted authority on butter. In Forty Centuries of Ink (David N Carvalho, 2007), he is credited as having modified a formula for ink in 1900 that was subsequently used as the official ink of record in the state of Massachusetts, and, in 1901 (with the addition of "unnamed blue coloring material"), adopted by the US Treasury Department. His wife, Annie Emmeline Coolidge (6 Sep 1848 - 5 Mar 1934), daughter of John Coolidge and Martha Jane Sturtevant, was a cousin to President Calvin Coolidge.