Which Genealogy Website Should I Use? Comparing the Genealogy Giants.

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4

“Which big genealogy website should I use?” Genealogy Gems takes on that ambitious family history question in ongoing comparative coverage of the “Genealogy Giants,” Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. (Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links. we will be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you for supporting this free blog.)

Which Genealogy Giants website is best for me?

The four Genealogy Giants (Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com) all offer the following to their top-tier users:

  • millions of historical records from around the world;
  • powerful, flexible search interfaces;
  • family tree-building tools;
  • automated record hinting (if you have a tree on the site);
  • Help/tutorials for site users.

But each has unique strengths and weaknesses, too. You may determine that one or two of these sites meets your needs now. But your family history research needs may change. For example, you may discover an Irish or Swedish ancestor whose records may be hosted on a different site than the one you’ve been using. Or you may find that you need DNA to push back further on your family tree. It’s critical to which sites offer what records and tools, so you know your options when your needs or interests change.

Comparing the Top Genealogy Websites

There are so many features on each site–and an apples-to-apples comparison isn’t easy.

Here’s one example: how many records are on each site? Some sites include DNA results and user-submitted family tree profiles in their total record count. Others don’t. One site has a universal family tree–ideally with one record per person who has ever lived–and the others host individual trees for each user, leading to lots of duplication. Does a birth record count as one record? FamilySearch thinks so. But other sites may count a birth record as three records, because a baby, mom and dad are all named. So it’s not easy to compare historical record content across all the sites.

Watch the “Genealogy Giants” kick-off lecture

Additional Genealogy Giants Website Resources

Ancestry.com:

  • Click here for a step-by-step introduction to getting started on Ancestry.com.

FamilySearch.org:

  • Click here to learn why everyone should have a free FamilySearch login–and use it!

Findmypast.com:

  • Click here to learn more about the historical record collections Sunny Morton loves on Findmypast, including British Isles resources and content for tracing your U.S. ancestors!

MyHeritage:

Reviews of “Genealogy Giants”

“You may have asked, ‘Which is the best online genealogy service for me to use?’….I suspect this video [presentation by Sunny Morton at RootsTech 2017] will answer most of your questions. Topics covered include cost, record types, geographic coverage, genetic testing, DNA matching, search flexibility, languages supported, mobile-friendly, automated matching, and a lot more. Sunny provides the most information about these four sites that I have ever seen in any other one document or video. This is a keeper! I have been using all four of these web sites for years and yet I learned several new facts about them, thanks to Sunny’s online video presentation. I suspect you will learn some things as well.”  – Dick Eastman, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

“We want to tell you how much we enjoyed the presentation about the comparison of the four major websites. [Sunny] did an excellent job and we were so thrilled with her presentation. She was so prepared and presented it in such a manner as to be understood. Give her our best.” – Eldon and Dorothy Walker

“I am incredibly thankful for your Big 4 session. I’ve never had interest in Findmypast or MyHeritage as I felt FamilySearch and Ancestry had it all…and hadn’t heard of PERSI either. With newly found Irish roots (via DNA), I’m excited to extend some lines that have gone cold.” – a FamilySearch employee

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New DNA Ethnicity Chart: Display Your Heritage

Just in time for Father’s Day! This new DNA ethnicity chart design is a classy and cutting-edge way to share your family history. As wall displays, this is the perfect conversation-starter for your home or heritage gift for a loved one.

DNA ethnicity chart

There’s a gorgeous new way to display your genetic genealogy from Family ChartMasters! It’s a new custom DNA ethnicity chart, and it’s a fantastic way to spark conversation about your family history with friends and loved ones.

“At Family ChartMasters we believe that family history can save the world,” says owner Janet Hovorka. “The more people know about their background, the more they are inspired with civility, gratitude and compassion for other people because they find out we are all more alike than different. We want to help people make that easy to remember every day.”

Your ethnic “pie chart”

DNA ethnicity results–those “pie charts” that come with your genetic genealogy test results–are one of the most popular aspects of testing. Even those without an active interest in researching their roots often test just to learn what their DNA says about their genetic roots: How Irish are they? Do they have Jewish roots? Is there any truth to that old family story about being descended from an Indian princess?

The science behind DNA ethnicity percentages is still being refined, as is evident from the varying ethnicity results you may receive from different companies. But it’s still fascinating to learn–and super shareable with just about anyone!

DNA ethnicity chart options

Family ChartMaster’s new DNA ethnicity chart comes in three themes to fit a variety of different décor styles: Basic, Antique, and Modern. The Basic theme is clean and fresh, and complements most decorating styles. The Antique theme’s sepia-tone finish brings together the styling of antique maps with your high-tech DNA profile. The Modern theme is graphic and bold, with neutral tones well-suited to contemporary décor.

DNA ethnicity chart

In less than five minutes, you can upload an optional photo and then manually enter your ethnicity estimates from a DNA test. The categories are currently aligned with AncestryDNA’s ethnic regions–which is running a great sale for Father’s Day, by the way, if you’ve been waiting to purchase a test. (Other DNA test providers also have some great prices now; click here to see them.)

After viewing a preview of your DNA ethnicity chart, you can place an order that can be printed on archival Professional Paper or Artist’s Grade Canvas. Following Family ChartMasters’ proven track record of superior service, the beautiful print will arrive rolled in a tube and ready to frame. You can also order PDF downloads for immediate delivery to an email inbox. Pricing starts at $19.95.

(Will your chart come in time for Father’s Day? According to the Family ChartMasters website, orders take 24-48 hours to prepare, and regular shipping takes 2-3 days within the U.S. Faster shipping options are available for an additional charge. If in doubt, order the PDF download.)

These DNA ethnicity charts are perhaps the easiest heritage display you’ll ever make! They also take advantage of the current widespread interest in DNA, making a conversation about your heritage more meaningful and appealing even with those who have never expressed interest in your heritage. Click here to see how to order your DNA ethnicity chart.

DNA ethnicity chartMore than DNA charts: Family ChartMasters is an award-winning genealogy chart printing and design service. It is also the official printing service for most worldwide genealogy software, database, and research companies. Family ChartMasters prints any style of family history chart from any kind of file. They offer oversized draft-quality family reunion charts as well as custom decorative designs.

Click below to read more about….

Getting your DNA tested (or someone else’s)

Creating beautiful and unique heritage displays

Gathering Genealogical Evidence to Prove a Theory – Irish Genealogy

Episode 19 Video and Show Notes

Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. (scroll down to watch the video)

Genealogy Consultation Provides a Strong Hypothesis

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

After my consultation I needed to update my research plan and get to work collecting more genealogical evidence.

Let’s quickly recap what happened when I started working on my brick wall last week in episode 18:

  • Margaret Lynch’s death certificate said her parents were James Scully and Bridget Madigan.
  • Her obituary said she was born in Limerick Ireland.
  • There was one couple by those names in Limerick, having children and the right time. There is a gap in the records where Margaret should be.
  • Her husband Michael Lynch dies in Stillwater MN. St. Michael’s Catholic church. Found their marriage record in Stillwater. It was a large booming town, and a good place to focus. The Lynch family had a farm across the river in Farmington, Wisconsin.

My research question: Was this couple we found, James Scully and Bridget Madigan, who married in Kilcolman, Limerick, Ireland in 1830, the parents of Margaret Scully?

What Kate Eakman of Legacy Tree Genealogists helped me do in my 45-minute consultation:

  • Become acquainted with a variety of excellent Irish research websites
  • Located the indexed marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the original marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the indexed baptismal records for all of the children who had James and Bridget listed as their parents.

A Genealogy Research Plan for Collecting Evidence

After the consultation I developed a new research question: Are the children that we found records for in Ireland the siblings of my Margaret Lynch?

My research plan included:

  1. Verify if there were any other couples by the names James Scully and Bridget Madigan married in Ireland, particularly in the time from of circa 1830. (Location of source: RootsIreland.ie)
  2. Search in the U.S., starting in the area where Margaret lived, for each child. I’m looking for records that name these same parents, and show the child at an age that correlates with the baptismal date.

I identified several sources I believed would help me accomplish my goals.

Marriage Records – I conducted a search for James in Bridget in all counties in Ireland. I discovered that the couple Kate found during my consultation is the only couple in the RootsIreland database with those names married in Ireland. This gives me more confidence that I have the correct couple. 

U.S. Records – Armed with the names and ages of the children of James and Bridget, it was time to return to America. I needed to search U.S. records to see if any of the children came to America (perhaps living near Margaret) and if these parents were named. 

Records to look for:

  1. U.S. Federal Census (Ancestry, FamilySearch), and State Census (Minnesota Historical Society, Ancestry, FamilySearch)
  2. Death records (Minnesota Historical Society, FamilySearch.)
  3. Newspapers, particularly obituaries possibly naming parents or Limerick. (Minnesota Historical Society, Newspapers.com)

Before I began my search I created an excel spreadsheet to capture the information. I included columns for what their ages should be in each census. 

Excel spreadsheet for genealogy research

Using a spreadsheet to track my findings.

Now I was ready to start the genealogical hunt!

U.S. Census

Search each sibling one at a time in the census.

  • Focus on Washington Co., Minnesota (marriage and death location for Margaret & Michael Lynch)
  • Move on to Polk County Wisconsin, and greater Wisconsin.
  • Search both U.S. Federal Census & State Census
  • Top locations identified for this search: Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, Minnesota Historical Society

Results:

  • Found individuals matching the sons in Stillwater and Baytown (Washington County)
  • Found Bridget Scully (Mother) living with various sons in various census records.
  • Immigration years listed for some of Margaret’s siblings.
1870 us federal census genealogy

Found in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census: James, Thomas, Daniel and Bridget. 

I created folders for each sibling marked MAYBE and collected the records on my hard drive.
Learn more about hard drive organization in Elevenses with Lisa episode 8.

Searched FamilySearch and the Minnesota Historical Society for a death record for each son.

  • Found Thomas and James.
  • James Scully and Bridget Madigan listed as parents
  • Ages matched
  • Next step: order the death certificates

Newspapers

Next I searched the Minnesota Historical Society website for newspapers.

Results:

  • 170+ articles
  • Two obituaries for Bridget Scully! (8 children, immigration year, husband died in Ireland implied)
  • Found James Scully working with his brother and his obituary

Research Tip: Look at a map and identify nearby towns and larger cities. Expand your search to these areas.

I found a James Scully in the 1860 census with Bridget and his brothers, and working with Thomas in many newspaper articles.

Bridget’s obituary said she came to America with 8 children. 7 had baptismal records in Ireland. James and Margaret were not found in the baptismal records but were confirmed in U.S. records to have the same parents. That would be a total of 9 children. It’s possible one of the daughters that have not yet been found in U.S. records may have died in Ireland prior to their leaving for America.

I then combed back through my Lynch binder – I might spot something that I marked as unsure, or that might jump out at me now that didn’t 20 years ago.

  • Found History of the St. Croix Valley I had photocopied a section. Names Daniel Scully (who I have since found in the census, newspapers and death records) and says his parents are James Scully and Bridget Madigan!
  • Looked the book up in Google Books. It’s fully digitized. Now I can extensively read and search it.

Tech Tip: Clip and combine newspaper clippings with SnagIt software

Clipping and saving newspapers poses a unique challenge for genealogists:

  • Clipping a small portion of a very large digital newspaper page can result in a low resolution file. 
  • If you clip an article you don’t always capture which newspaper and issue it came from
  • Articles often continue in different locations on the page or pages, making it impossible to capture the entire article  in one image. 

I use SnagIt software to clip my newspaper finds. I can then save them to Evernote or archive them on my hard drive. SnagIt can save your clippings in wide range of file types and can even clip video. You can get your copy of SnagIt here. It’s a one time fee and download – no subscription! (Thank you for using my link – it financially supports this free without any added expense to you.)

How to combine multiple clippings with Snagit:

  1. Clip the paper title and date
  2. Clip the article
  3. Clip any additional applicable sections of the article
  4. In the SnagIt menu under Image click Combine Images
  5. Drag and drop the clippings into the desired order
  6. Click the Combine button
  7. Save the combined image: In the menu File > Save As (you can select from a wide variety of file types)
SnagIt https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Use SnagIt to combine newspaper clippings – https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Research Tip: Using Street Addresses in Google Earth

When you find a street address, whether in a newspaper, city directory, census or other genealogical record, use it to find the location in the free Google Earth software program. You can then save an HD quality image of the location.

How to find a location in Google Earth (on a computer):

  1. Type the address into the search field in the upper left corner
  2. Click the Search button
  3. The map will automatically “fly to” the location and a pin will mark the general spot.
  4. Hover your mouse pointer in the upper right corner of the to reveal the navigation tools. Click the plus sign to zoom in closer.

How to view the location with Street View:

  1. Zoom in relatively close so that the street and buildings are distinctly visible.
  2. Just above the zoom tool you will find the Street View icon (the yellow “peg man”). Click on the icon and drag it over the street in front of the building / location. Don’t release your mouse. It may take a second or two for the blue line to appear indicating that Street View is available in that location. If no blue line appears street view is not available.
  3. When the blue line is visible, drop the Street View icon directly onto the blue line in front of the location you want to view. by releasing your mouse. If you miss the line and the picture looks distorted, click the Exit button in the upper right corner and try again.
  4. Once on Street View, you can use your keyboard arrow keys to navigate. You can also click on further down the street to move forward that direction.

How to save an image of a street view location:

  1. Position yourself in the best view of the desired location using your mouse and keyboard arrow keys as described above.
  2. In the toolbar at the top of the screen, click the Image icon (it looks like a portrait-oriented page, near the printer icon)
  3. A Title and Description box will appear at the top of the screen beneath the toolbar. Click it and type in a title and description for your image if desired.
  4. You can adjust the size (resolution) of the image you will be saving by clicking the Resolution button above the title box.
  5. When you’re ready to save the image to your hard drive, click the Save Image

Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy in Elevenses with Lisa episode 12.

how to use google earth for genealogy

Order the video training series at the Genealogy Gems Store featuring 14 exclusive step-by-step video tutorials. The perfect companion to the book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

After a week of post-consultation research:

Question: Who were the parents of Margaret Scully born in Limerick Ireland on approximately July 9, 1840?
Answer: James Scully and Bridget Madigan, married in Limerick, Ireland June 13, 1830. (Though I feel confident about this, I still have additional records I want to find in order to further solidify this conclusion.)

Question: In what Parish was Margaret Lynch born?
Answer: Most likely Kilcolman based on the baptismal locations of her siblings.

My Next Research Steps:

  • Browse search through the baptismal parish records at NLI 1839-1842 for Margaret, and 1834-1836 for James Scully.
  • Look for marriages of Margaret’s female siblings, and family burials.
    (Contact St. Michael’s church, Stillwater, MN.)
  • Go through newspapers.com – there are several Minneapolis and St. Paul papers running articles from Stillwater.
  • Resume my search of passenger list records with the newly revised date of c. 1851.
  • Search for the death record of Bridget’s husband James at RootsIreland and NLI.

How to Book a Genealogy Consultation

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

Learn More:

For more step-by-step instructions for using Google Earth read my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox available at the Genealogy Gems Store.

Recommended Genealogy Gems Premium Member Videos with downloadable handouts:

Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership here.

 

Genealogy News: Free Webinar

Watch the free video recording of my session on the MyHeritage Collection Catalog here.

 

Resources:

Live Chat PDF– Click here to download the live Chat from episode 19 which includes my answers to your questions. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members:

Become a Premium Member here

 

 

No More Late Fees! Check Out Free Genealogy Magazines and eBooks at Your Local Library

Your local library may offer free genealogy magazines and ebooks. Why choose them over print? So many reasons! No more late fees. Read on the go. Choose your font size. So go ahead: check out digital versions of that Genealogy Gems Book Club title you’ve been meaning to read, or the current issue of Family Tree Magazine. Here’s how.

genealogy library freebies

Here in the U.S., it’s my favorite time of year: back-to-school! The weather slowly cools. My children shake off summer’s mental lethargy. My own schedule resumes a more predictable, productive rhythm. And after months spent outdoors, I rediscover my local library. Top on my library list this fall: free genealogy ebooks and magazines I can check out on my mobile device. It’s on-the-go reading for my favorite hobby–with no searching under my bed when items come due to avoid those pesky late fees.

Free Genealogy eBooks and Magazines

Genealogy Gems Premium Member Autumn feels the same way about free genealogy gems at her local library. Here’s a letter she wrote to Lisa Louise Cooke:

“I’m really enjoying both the Premium and free podcasts. I also like the addition of the Genealogy Gems Book Club. I haven’t read all the books yet but am adding them all to my wishlist on Overdrive, a free app that allows you to check out digital books for free from your local library. They don’t have every book but they have many, many books including some from the book club. Most libraries have a lot of biographies and histories available through Overdrive for free that are of interest to genealogists as well. Some libraries are adding video to their Overdrive offerings too.

Many of these same libraries offer magazines free as well.  My library…use[s] Zinio, a magazine app. I only subscribe to a couple of magazines now because I can get so many for free through my library (not to mention keeping my home neater by not having them laying everywhere).”

genealogy book club family history readingIt makes me happy that Autumn is enjoying the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We hear from many avid readers who love browsing our list of mainstream fiction and nonfiction picks for family history lovers. As part of our book club, we interview every book club author, too–from beloved novelists like Fannie Flagg to acclaimed journalists, memoir writers, and historians who take their own unique approaches to family history themes. Hear excerpts of these interviews on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast; full interviews run on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available by subscription.

Overdrive and Zinio

At Autumn’s recommendation, I started using Overdrive through my local library. I love it! I’ve listened to several digital audiobooks on the road and at the gym through Overdrive and have read several ebooks, too. (I’m always on the hunt for the next Genealogy Gems Book Club title.) The books just disappear at the end of the lending period (hence the “no late fees” bonus).

Genealogy Gems Service Manager Lacey Cooke loves Overdrive, too. She sent me these four reasons why:

1. Download for Offline Listening: “You can download the ebooks, audiobooks, magazines etc. to your device so that you can enjoy them offline (great for traveling). They’ll still disappear once your lending period expires, but having them available offline is awesome. You don’t have to worry about data charges or slow internet connections.

2. The Wishlist: Autumn briefly mentioned the Wishlist feature. I love this feature because it gives me somewhere to save book titles that I’m interested in reading at some point, but I’m not ready to check out just yet.

3. Bookmark/Syncing: You can bookmark a page, then pick up where you left off. If you have the Overdrive app on multiple devices, the app syncs. I can start reading on one device, and pick up on another right where I left off.

4. Format Adjustments: You can adjust the font style, size, and color to make it easier for you to read. I like to pick a nice, clean font in a big size so there’s no strain on my eyes.”

It’s worth noting that if you don’t already have a library card with your local library, you may be required to sign up in person to get a card, even if you only plan on using the Overdrive app to request items online. New releases or popular titles may have a wait list to check out the ebook or audiobook (especially if the library only possesses one copy). If you do have to place an ebook on hold, you will be notified via email when it becomes available to you, so if you don’t check your email regularly, keep that in mind when you place a hold. Each library system is different, so of course, your experience may vary.

Another helpful tip: not every library offers Overdrive ebook checkouts. But sometimes you can use another library’s Overdrive privileges. Autumn sent a link to these instructions on how to do so. (Thanks, Autumn!)

Autumn also mentioned the Zinio app. My library doesn’t offer Zinio yet, so I spent a little time on its public search portal. That doesn’t have a browsable genealogy category, and searches for the terms family history, genealogy and ancestry came up empty. But I did finally find these titles:

Lisa Louise Cooke, Genealogy Gems DNA expert Diahan Southard, and I are all frequent contributors to Family Tree Magazine, which we {heart} and recommend for its easy-reading research tips, hands-on tech and DNA tutorials, and the eye-candy layout.

More Free Genealogy Resources at Your Local Library

Of course, your local library may offer many additional free genealogy research and reading materials. Of tremendous value is access to Library editions of popular genealogy databases such as Ancestry, Findmypast, Fold3, and MyHeritage, along with institutional versions of historical newspaper databases. (Click here to learn more about the differences between the major genealogy websites.) Call your library or browse its website to see what resources may be available with your library card on site or even remotely from your own home or mobile device. And remember to watch for your library’s e-media options like those recommended by Autumn.

As a special shout-out to all the free genealogy resources at your library, Lisa Louise Cooke has granted free access for everyone to Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #125. In this episode, Lisa has a full discussion about more free genealogy gems at public libraries with Cheryl McClellan. Cheryl is not only my awesome mom, she rocks professionally as the Geauga County, Ohio public library system staff genealogist!

This Premium episode is usually exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium members. If you love it, and you’re not already a member, consider gifting yourself a “back to school” subscription. It’s the most fun, energizing, apply-it-now genealogy learning experience you may ever have.

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