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Genealogy, or the study of family history and lines of descent, is second only to gardening in terms of its popularity in the United States. From TV shows like Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are?, to DNA testing kits that show an individual's unique genetic roots and relatives throughout the world, it's easy to see that learning about one's ancestry has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people.
In the past, researching a family tree was an arduous, often lengthy process. Vital documents had to be requested from local, state, and federal governments, and sometimes required proof of kinship in order to be granted. Many of these requests came with significant fees, sometimes as much as $20 per document.
Monday, June 21st
With a name like Ancestry, it's not surprising that this service is one of the most well-respected in the genealogy world. Ancestry offers a three-pronged approach to studying one's family history: historic records and other documents, such as census lists and church registers; user-created family trees; and, Ancestry DNA which, as the name suggests, allows users to trace their ethnicity and connect with others who share the same genetic roots.
The majority of Ancestry's two million paying subscribers join the site to access its unparalleled amount of historic records reaching back to the late 1300's: more than 16 billion added to the site over the last 19 years, and with an average of 2 million added daily. These records fall under three main categories: Birth, Baptism and Christening; Marriage and Divorce; and Death, Burial, Cemetery and Obituaries. Not only can users find an indexed entry for their ancestor, but often they can also view and print a scanned image of the actual document.
In order to access these documents, family history buffs first need to choose whether they need access strictly to US-based records, or if their research will require them to look at documents from other places throughout the world. Ancestry offers two types of subscriptions: U.S. Discovery, which costs $99 for a 6-month plan or $189 for a full year, and World Explorer, at $149 for 6 months or $299 for 12 months. Many of the documents we found on Ancestry were not available on any of the other online genealogy services in our review, making it well worth the extra cost of the subscription compared with other sites. We love that Ancestry offers a complimentary 14-day trial, so that prospective customers can get an idea of which plan will best meet their research needs.
Another useful feature that Ancestry provides is the ability to create a family tree. As users find records pertaining to their ancestors, they can link the actual documents directly to those individuals' entries in the family tree. Furthermore, they can benefit from research already done by other members of their family tree and easily connect that information as well. Members of Ancestry have already created more than 70 million family trees, with 8 billion connections between subscribers' trees since early 2008.
And, for those who want to know more about their family history at a cellular level, Ancestry also offers DNA testing to enable people to discover their ethnic mix, find distant relatives, and learn more about their own unique background. Ancestry DNA was launched in 2012 and since that time, more than one million people have used the service, leading to the discovery of more than four million third-cousin and closer matches. The service costs $99 and results are delivered via email within 6-8 weeks.
Although the subscription price is significantly more expensive than other genealogy services in our review, we can't help but be impressed by the unparalleled amount of resources that Ancestry makes available to its subscribers. Whether you're looking to create your family tree for the first time or trying to track down that elusive great-great-grandmother that has stumped you for years, Ancestry is your best bet for making the connections you seek in your family history journey and earns our top ranking.
For those who are new to family history research, the sheer volume of available services, records, and family tree sites can be overwhelming. Archives seeks to make it simple and easy to find out more about one's genealogy.
Archives has been involved in the family history market since July 2009, thriving through partnerships with The National Archives Administration of the United States and free service Family Search. In 2012, Archives became part of the Ancestry family of companies, which made it possible for their users to access many of the same services offered by the larger genealogy site - but at a price that is much more accessible for many customers. Access to Archives' services costs a reasonable $9.99 per month; family history seekers can search more than 300 records databases, create their online family tree and connect with the same multi-million member trees available at Ancestry, and benefit from a simplified search function.
Even better, Archives has a free 14-day trial; we suggest that customers trying to decide between Archives and Ancestry take advantage of both service's two-week trial periods, to see whether they need the more robust features and records offered by Ancestry, or if the more streamlined information at Archives would meet their needs just as well.
Overall, Archives is a solid choice for people interested in beginning their family history research, or even for more experienced genealogists who find Ancestry's price to be too much for their budget. Archives earns high marks for its free trial, easy-to-use search features, and affordable access to millions of historical records.
Find My Past began more than forty years ago in London, England, as a group of professional genealogists and heir hunters worked together under the name of Title Research. Their work evolved into a modern-day genealogy service that focuses heavily on records from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. For family history researchers whose ancestors came from the UK, Find My Past may have records that aren't available on other genealogy sites, with more than 1,000 exclusive collections that include British newspaper archives, parish records dating back to 1538, Irish court records, and more.
On the other hand, for beginning researchers based in the US or Canada, or for those whose family tree has no known roots in the UK, the records available from other parts of the world on Find My Past may not be broad enough. Fortunately, as with most of the genealogy services in our review, Find My Past offers a free 14-day trial, so that users can determine if the records and services they provide are worth the cost: $9.95/month or $114.50/year for a US and Canada subscription, or $19.95/month or $239.50/year for a World subscription.
We think that Find My Past's benefits to 12-month subscribers, known as Find My Past First, offers some unique perks. As a yearly subscriber, users can access monthly webinars on various genealogy topics, help decide which new records will be added next, and enter monthly contests to win prizes. Find My Past First also gives subscribers access to discounts with partner companies, such as Family Tree Magazine, Hooked on Genealogy, and Lifebook.
Additionally, Find My Past is one of the only genealogy services to offer access to records on an a la carte basis. For those who prefer to pay only for the records they need rather than for a monthly or yearly subscription, Find My Past allows them to buy credits - 60 for $10.95, 300 for $37.95, or 900 for $82.95 - and use them to purchase access to specific documents. On average, records cost between 5 and 60 credits, and purchased records can be viewed an unlimited number of times. Depending on the type of record requested, this may or may not be more affordable than requesting a copy of the document from a local government. Customers should also be aware that credits are only valid for 90 days from the date of purchase and expire if they are not used within that time. On the other hand, customers can have expired credits reissued to their account if they purchase more credits or a subscription within three months of their expiration.
Find My Past also offers the ability to create a family tree and connect with others; however, with its user base predominantly located in the UK, it might be more challenging for subscribers in the US to find and connect with others' family trees.
In general, Find My Past is an excellent resource for those whose genealogy takes them anywhere within the United Kingdom. We applaud their efforts to continually expand their offerings both within the UK and outside of it, but are disappointed that the US and Canada records currently available are somewhat skimpy compared with other sites while still having a relatively high monthly subscription cost.
One of the most common goals for people looking to explore their ancestry is to create a family tree, and One Great Family does that quite well. With a tagline of "the world's largest online family tree", it's no surprise that One Great Family specializes in helping people around the world connect with each other through the creation of family trees.
One Great Family's online family tree service is different from those offered by other genealogy websites in several ways. First and foremost, much of what One Great Family does is automated, from identifying and eliminating duplicated data to searching for matches among different user-entered trees. When discrepancies are found, One Great Family highlights them and prompts the user to analyze the differences and makes suggestions for how to resolve them.
Access to One Great Family's "world tree" costs $14.95 for a monthly plan, and customers have the option to choose the discounted quarterly ($29.95) or yearly ($79.95) plans. For an additional $70, yearly subscribers can access a one-hour consultation with a One Great Family genealogy specialist, to get personalized help with their specific tree. Prospective users can get a free 7-day trial, in order to determine if One Great Family's service will be a good fit for their genealogy needs.
While we like the automated nature of One Great Family's family tree service, especially because it has the potential to save users a considerable amount of time when compiling their trees, we wonder if similar connections can be made using one of the other genealogy services in our reviews - ones that not only have the ability to create and share family trees, but also to access the kinds of documentation to substantiate the information entered in those trees (for example, birth certificates to prove birthdates and places, census records that show all of the members of a household).
In that vein, we question whether or not One Great Family's trees might have the downside of perpetuating misinformation across multiple users trees; for example, if one user enters a mistaken death date and five other users agree with it, despite its being incorrect, that information could be accepted by multiple people without any connections to a source document to refute it.
In summary, One Great Family offers a unique automated process to building one's family tree, and appears to do that quite well, but genealogy lovers may find a more robust package of services and information with one of the other providers in our review.
As part of the Newsbank, Inc. group of services, Genealogy Bank helps individuals discover more about their family history through obituaries and other information typically published in a newspaper, military records, pamphlets, and more. Their database includes more than 7,000 historical newspapers from large cities and small towns throughout the United States dating back to as early as 1690.
There are many user testimonials that express delight with finding information through Genealogy Bank that they were unable to find elsewhere, especially those whose roots lie in parts of America that are off the beaten path. On the other hand, because Genealogy Bank does not have many of the documents traditionally used as a starting point (for example, US Census records, governmental registers of births and deaths), and it also lacks the ability to create, share, and connect with one's family tree, it may be of most use to those genealogists who already have established a considerable amount of information about their family tree and are hoping to dig deeper or find that one person that has eluded them for years.
Unlike most of the genealogy services in our review, Genealogy Bank does not offer a free trial. Customers can opt for a 30-day trial for $9.95, after which point their options are a $19.95 monthly subscription or an annual subscription for $69.95. On a positive note, there is a 100% satisfaction guarantee within the first 30 days, effectively making it a free 30-day trial if the customer chooses to ask for the full refund.
In short, what Genealogy Bank does, it does well: namely, providing access to more than 320 years of newspapers and other types of printed materials published throughout the United States. For family history buffs hoping to discover details about the day-to-day lives of their ancestors as revealed in society pages, featured news stories and more, Genealogy Bank may provide information that they have been seeking for years. However, for someone who is new to genealogy research or who is looking to create an online family tree, Genealogy Bank comes up short compared with other services in our review.
Based in Israel with additional offices in Utah and California, My Heritage has been making connections between genealogy researchers and their ancestors since 2005. With more than 83 million users and 33 million family trees, My Heritage is clearly committed to helping people connect with one another. In fact, their Smart Match and Record Match system automatically alerts users when any records pop up that might be related to someone entered in their family tree. Those matches come from My Heritage's more than six billion historical records, from census records in the US, UK, and even Nordic nations, to family trees created by users at Family Search, Geni, and My Heritage itself.
Where My Heritage loses us is when it comes to their pricing and membership options. It takes a considerable amount of digging through the website to determine that there are three membership plans: Data, Premium, and Premium Plus. For $119.40 per year, a Data Subscription allows users full access to My Heritage's SuperSearch and Record Match features. The Premium plan includes up to 2500 people in the family tree, Family Tree Builder Premium, priority customer support, and several special features like Timeline and Enhanced Smart Matching. Premium Plus includes all of the benefits of the Premium plan, along with an unlimited number of people within the family tree and the ability to use My Heritage's Instant Discoveries feature, which allows users to add a group of ancestors in one click rather than having to enter each one individually.
What do those upgrades cost? Even after a considerable search of the site itself, the only information My Heritage makes available is "contact our sales representative for more information". Given that the starter plan is already a considerable amount, we would expect much more transparency with their pricing plans, especially with some user reviews stating that the pricing may vary based on how many users one has in his or her family tree.
We also were discouraged to see so many negative user reviews, almost exclusively regarding My Heritage's pricing and difficulty in getting refunds. Many customers complain that they attempted to cancel during a 14-day free trial period but were billed anyway, and getting a refund proved difficult-to-impossible for a significant number of users.
While My Heritage may give users access to an excellent variety of records and have features that make family tree building a simple process, their customer service and pricing information (or lack thereof) give us pause. In order to improve their rating, we'd expect to see more obvious pricing information and improvement in customer reviews, particularly with respect to refunds.
Also, it was not uncommon for a request to go unfilled because the details provided by the requestor were incorrect - perhaps the individual was actually born in an adjacent county, or in a different year, or had a different name on his or her birth certificate.
Further complicating matters, most people's family trees contain ancestors whose native language was not English, making it even more difficult to locate and request information. Fortunately, today's genealogy buff has access to an unprecedented amount of birth and death certificates, obituaries, census records, and other researchers' results, just to name a few.
Genealogy services can help people find out more about their family history in a matter of minutes, rather than months or even years, through indexed records, broad databases, and even translations of vital documents from many different countries. Modern technology also allows genealogy buffs to take their research to the next level through DNA testing.
Often with just a simple swab of the cheek or a vial of saliva, curious individuals can get scientific evidence of their roots, connect with people who have shared ancestors, even discover family traits that have been passed down for generations.
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best Genealogy Services available today. We hope these reviews help you find your ancestors and discover more about your own family tree today!
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