There are lots of choices when researching your family history and genealogy. Free genealogy sites, paying site, sites that specialize in regions, religions, civil records, cemeteries... we're lucky to live in a time when the internet has allowed the field to flourish. I'm truly happy not to have slogged through my family research with the painstakingly slow tools previous generations had.
But with choice comes decisions. Which site should you use? That depends a lot on what you're searching for.
I created this quick comparison chart as a visual aid. There are many more sites than these four. These just happen to be the four biggies in the genealogy space right now.
When I start a new project, I like to start with free resources. One of the best and largest free sites is FamilySearch, which is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
FamilySearch is both a website with searchable data, and a network of libraries across the country (and abroad) which you can visit to attend classes or consult hard copies of records. The site is completely free to use, but you will need to create an account.
Ancestry is by far the largest. Just like FamilySearch, Ancestry is closely related to the Church of the Latter-day Saints. As of December 2019, it had over 3 million paying subscribers and one billion dollars in revenue. It has also done over 15 million DNA tests and hosts 20 billion records!
These stats blow my mind. Take a second to let it sink in.
20 billion records.
15 million DNA tests done.
1 billion dollars in revenue.
If you had any doubts about it, genealogy is big business.
In any case, I use Ancestry quite a bit and have gotten to know its interface. Ancestry has spent a lot of time and effort making it as simple as possible to do research, but it still can get complicated. Don't get discouraged! Check their community forum for help, or try their Q&A section.
Ancestry offers a two week free trial. After that period, monthly fees start around $20/month and go up to $45/month. The most expensive category includes a package rate which gives you access to Newspapers.com and Fold3.com. I'm a huge fan of Newspapers.com, which makes searching archived newspapers a breeze. Fold3 focuses on military records.
FindMyPast has a great set of records relating to the heritage of the people of the United Kingdom and its former colonies, including Ireland. While some records can be viewed for free, a membership is necessary to conduct full searches. The price for that ranges from $15/month to $20/month. If you're in it for the long haul, a yearly subscription will save you money as opposed to a month-to-month plan. In addition to genealogy records, FindMyPast also has a searchable database of genealogical journals. This data set is harder to work with, but can be very useful.
The last of the big four, MyHeritage, has a focus on the Jewish diaspora. They have many other searchable records as well, but if you have Jewish ancestry, you should consider MyHeritage. (Of course, JewishGen.org is a must for anyone researching Jewish roots, and it's free. JewishGen focuses only on records related to Jewish genealogy. MyHeritage has vast amounts of data in addition to Jewish records.)
A yearly subscription at MyHeritage will cost you anywhere from $99 to $299. That said, a free membership with MyHeritage gives you access to some records and the ability to build an online family tree as well.
Before you subscribe to any one site, make sure you've thought through your research needs. The monthly fees add up quickly, and much of the data in these four sites is duplicative.
Simpler sites exist too. One place to build a tree but not do research is on DNAWeekly. As with all the sites, check their privacy policies before you enter personal information.
I know I've thrown a lot of information at you in this article. Too much? Too little? I'm always looking for feedback, so please leave a comment. That would make my day!
Stay tuned for more articles on how to use genealogy search engines, and other tips for being efficient with your research. If you have any questions, feel free to email me! I'm at clemence @ memoirsandmore.com I look forward to hearing from you!