Genealogy Sites?
May 29, 2016 10:44 AM   Subscribe

It's been a few years since this question has been asked, and I know things have changed since then. There's so much info out there on the various genealogy sites, and I'm not sure what to do. Right now I have free trials with MyHeritage and Geni, but apparently a relative has done a lot of research into a certain branch of my family on I'm looking for insight on which to pick in terms of price and usefulness, etc.
posted by trillian to Technology (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I mainly use Ancestry, and I do find it very useful. The one caveat to all these sites is, don't just trust what other people find: do your own research, and verify verify verify.

(There are two people I get a lot of "hits" on Ancestry; that's the site's name for probable-links to other people's trees. One of those people I've learned to trust, because she's never yet been wrong that I can find; the other one..... well, when I see his name as the link I just delete it, because I rarely see anything he's gotten right. He's even tried to argue and tell me I'm wrong about my own mother's name and birthdate!)
posted by easily confused at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One of the main things I look for is the option to be able to export your data to a GEDCOM-file. GEDCOM is the open format used by most genealogy software. That way you're able to take all your hard work with you, if and when you might want to start using a different site or program.
posted by mirthe at 11:54 AM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Most genealogy sites have a similar approach, which is to tease you with a little information then hold out their hand for money.

I live in Montreal and can bring a laptop to the big library (the Grande bibliothèque, not a city library) where I can log into my library account and use the library's account for free. (It's that restricted: library members can't even use it from home.) Maybe you could find out whether your local library has such an arrangement.

If you have anyone to look up in the UK there's Free UK Genealogy which includes the useful Free BMD site.
posted by zadcat at 1:02 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Post to include the locations. Some places have posted some really great online resources.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:16 PM on May 29, 2016

Best answer: And although you didn't ask about it , but in case you are a beginner- go interview living relatives and label and copy photos!

The research materials will always be there, 1st hand info wont.

For basic research I use, family search, and And to echo easilyconfused. I don't use other people's info, except for clues when I am stuck.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:20 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah, forgot mention -- would be looking for relatives and in-laws in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.
posted by trillian at 1:21 PM on May 29, 2016

If I were to give the high level overview, I would say: charges a monthly fee, but maintains an easy access to a large number of different databases from Europe, Asia, and North America. is the 500 pound gorilla in the room. For the price, it's very useful, but I would suggest you pay for a couple of months and then cancel.

FamilySearch is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon). It has a large collection of other people's genealogy research which you might find valuable.

Beyond those two behemoths, everything else is regional or specialized or limited in some way. i've found a surprising amount of information via state government websites in the USA. For instance, all Minnesota marriage licenses are online going back to pre-statehood.

Some parts of Europe are pretty well documented. (e.g. Switzerland) Other parts, due to war and unrest, lose documentation and make genealogy research challenging. (e.g. Ukraine.)

Where in Asia? Where in Europe? Where in North America?
posted by blob at 1:43 PM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I use Reunion 9 on my laptop to track all my genealogy information and then when I have time (and sometimes money) I go on-line to find more information. I diligently copy everything I find (like pages from the census records) onto my own computer so that I know that I will have on-going access to it, regardless of my subscription to any of the services.

I started working on our family genealogy more than a decade ago. I find I go through stages - sometime I have the time and energy to do more research, sometimes years may go by and I don't really add anything at all. I appreciate not being tied to any one system (and especially not having to pay any on-going fees) except for when I am using data bases.
posted by metahawk at 2:53 PM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is that you only need an paid membership while you are searching their databases. You can use the site to host your tree without a paid membership. If you are looking for distant cousins, you could build the tree first before you buy a membership. Then get a month or two of paid membership when you know you will have a lot of time for research. Then take off a few months. The tree will still be visible to any of your distant relatives, and perhaps they will find you.
posted by hworth at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that full subs on the big sites like Ancestry, Family Search, Find My Past etc are expensive if you are not using them on a regular basis. I sign up for email alerts for them, and its fairly guaranteed that every few weeks they'll be pushing discounted subs, and maybe twice a year or so there will be periods of free access, usually over a weekend where all or most of the restrictions are lifted so you can view the original parish registers etc and not just the transcribed data which makes all the difference to me. Forces War Records ( is offering free access to 300,000 records this weekend, for example, to commemorate the Battle of Jutland.

I'd second FreeBMD as a very useful UK site; although the information transcribed is limited in some areas, as it is ongoing volunteer based transcribing; but it is free and gives as much information as what may show on the original documents, where some transcription sites limit what might be available. And its also handy to cross reference several of the search sites, as mentioned before - the Church of the LDS holds images millions of images of parish records, etc, has transcribers, and allows other transcribing sites to use their library, however transcribers come at varying levels of competency!* Interpretations of old handwriting can vary dramatically from eye to eye; another reason access to see not just the transcription but the original documentation if available is a good idea.

The downside I find on some of these big sites is the storing of family trees is variable; the ability to support GEDCOM files is paramount when your trees start groaning with data, and yet some sites don't support the files, or are unnecessarily complex or weighed down with tools you don't need. I'm still trying to find one to suit my needs, at the moment I use My Heritage (up to the free limit) which is a nice reliable tree with some very useful tools, and as simple as you want to make it, as you will know, but I'm on my limit with adding new data now without upgrading to a (too expensive for me) subscription so we are at stalemate. I set up the tree on My Family Tree which initially seemed ideal, also easy to use, but got very unreliable - slower and slower to load, back up copies contained empty files, and the customer help is atrocious; if my emails were replied to the answers would be nonchalant or useless.

If I had spare money for subs, I'd buy a My Heritage Premium.

* I am a transcriber at one of these sites.
posted by Brecha at 6:27 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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