Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 7: Best Subscription Websites for Genealogy Research, Part 1
In our first segment, my guest is Lisa Alzo, popular genealogy lecturer and writer (now the author of nine books and online genealogy instructor at Family Tree University and the National Institute for Genealogical Studies). We talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned in her genealogical journeys (which include international travel in Eastern Europe).
In the second half of the show, we tackle an essential topic: the best subscription sites for family history records. This is a two-part topic: in this episode I talk about the best genealogy websites that require payment to access their core content. In Episode 8, we’ll talk about the fantastic free websites that are out there.
Keep in mind that this episode was recorded a few years ago. As I mention in the show, the online records landscape is constantly changing. Here are a few updates:
The biggest powerhouse paid subscription website is still Ancestry: it’s just bigger and better than what I originally described. As of fall 2013, they host 11 billion historical records. Member-contributed items include over 50 million family trees and 160 million uploads of photographs, stories and scanned documents. They still have a free 14-day trial membership and multiple subscription options: check out current ones here.
WorldVitalRecords is still a great website, though it’s grown more slowly. At our republishing date, it boasts over 158 million digitized images, (including US and UK censuses); 300 million names from vital records; 75 million names from military records, over 100 million pages of newspapers dating from 1739; 1.5 million historical maps; 8000 yearbooks and over 30 million tombstone photos. WorldVitalRecords is now part of the MyHeritage.com family of websites. Click here for a free 3-day trial membership.
Findmypast now has two web storefronts: findmypast.com (recommended for folks in the U.S.) and FindMyPast.co.uk (which specializes in British and Irish roots and records). At last glance in fall 2013, findmypast hosts over 1.5 million family history records. It offers great search options and a budget-friendly pay-per-view model or a more traditional subscription.
RootsIreland is now home now to over 20 million Irish records.
Genline.com for Swedish research is still online, though it’s part of Ancestry.com now. It’s home to over 20 million church record images and more.
Scotland’s People is still your official home for online Scottish records, including an enormous collection of parish records with births and baptisms, banns and marriages and deaths and burials.
Many other sites support specific topics in genealogy research. An example on my side of the pond is Fold3 (formerly Footnote) for American military records. This site is home to over 400 million total records from the Revolutionary War era forward. Check with others who research families from the same location or ethnic background as your family to see what sites would be perfect for you.
My website mentioned in the podcast, GenealogyGems.tv, is now better known as www.genealogygems.com. The Genealogy Gems newsletter mentioned in the episode is now my blog, which you can find on my website.
Bill Johnson in Manassas, Virginia, USA, wrote to me with this question–and I know he’s not the only one asking it!
“It’s difficult to know what genealogical resources to spend your money on. I have been a subscriber to Ancestry.com (world package) for years. But, there is FindMyPast, MyHeritage, etc. Your books identify dozens of other resources that all sound good — and cost money. Then there are some of the free resources like the National Archives and the LDS resources [FamilySearch]. Where should you spend your time and money? While money is always a factor, I find that my time is a more precious resource. If I have Ancestry.com, would I gain anything by subscribing to FindMyPast? MyHeritage? FamilySearch? The National Archives or the BLM sites? I am concerned about wasting money on redundancy. Why visit a site that only offers a select subset of the data that I access through Ancestry?
Which paid sites do you regularly use? Which free sites do you use? Your books have a plethora of suggestions but the pool of resources is increasing by the day. It is really getting rather confusing.”
What a great question!!! Here’s my answer:
“I agree, it’s gotten more complicated selecting the best genealogy websites for your own needs. I will take a look at covering this more in depth in a future podcast episode. I do have a few ideas for you right now.
It’s really about accessing the right website (or tool) for the task.
For general depth of records I turn first to Ancestry.com (you only need the world edition if you need records outside of the U.S.), and then FamilySearch.org. With Ancestry.com, I make sure I use the card catalog and search by location tool (scroll down to the map) so I’m not missing all the record sets that don’t automatically jump to the top of the general search results. FamilySearch is free, so I check its online resources EVERY TIME I have a question. I check both browsable and indexed content (from the main screen, click Search, then Records, then scroll down and click Browse all Published Collections (or click to that screen here). You’ll be able to choose a location and see all content they have and whether it’s been indexed or you just have to browse through it (like reading microfilm, only online).
For me personally, I was slow to warm up to MyHeritage because I just wasn’t sure how it would best help me. Once I embraced it and posted my tree, its strength in my research became clear: for the first time ever I connected with a distant cousin in the “old country” (Germany)! The international user base of MyHeritage stands above other sites. And the fact that you can create your own family site on MyHeritage makes it a great ongoing resource for staying connected. (Disclosure: MyHeritage is a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast. However, that is because of the value I came to experience in my own research as I just mentioned.)
When I am focused on my husband’s British roots I head to FindMyPast and pay as I go as needed.
Our mission here at Genealogy Gems is to reveal innovative ways of using the myriad of tech tools so you’ll know you can turn to them only when you need them. Think of it as a toolbelt. The right tool for the right job! But I also only bring tech tools and websites to the podcast and my website that I believe are worthwhile. Believe it or not, I weed a lot of them out!
I hope that helps, and I wish you great genealogical success!” Lisa
Like many teenagers, my 14-year old sees every situation only from her own point of view. I call it myopic-itis. This is, of course, how most of us react to every new situation. The difference between those suffering from this condition and the rest of us is that fairly quickly, perhaps once the shock has subsided, we can see things from the point of view of others, and can therefore be more understanding about the whole situation.
AncestryDNA recently caused an attack of myopic-itis when they announced a change to their policy on how DNA tests are registered. Previously, you could register anyone’s test under your own account. Say you were gathering the test for an aged aunt or disinterested cousin. You handle everything from the order to the test registration to managing all correspondence. Your aunt or cousin merely needed to spit in the tube.
However, effective today, July 18, 2017, that has changed. Each person who takes an AncestryDNA test must have their very own account at AncestryDNA.
A natural reaction is to immediately reject this as a terrible idea that will certainly slow–if not halt–your efforts to gather the needed genetic information from your less-than-enthusiastic relatives. Your myopic-itis flares up and threatens to cause you to throw up your hands in frustration and just forget the whole thing.
But don’t! Really, all that is changed is that you have to take one more step when administering DNA tests for your friends or relatives: create AncestryDNA accounts for them. Then, they can assign you as the Manager of their DNA kits. Doing so allows their DNA results to show up in your Ancestry account, just as if you yourself had registered the test under your account. Viola! (Well, if your relative doesn’t have an email account, you may have to create one, so that would be one more step.)
Now, why would Ancestry decide to so inconvenience your life with another step or two? Well, to protect the rights of the cousin and the aunt that you are asking to take the test. It is that simple. Not that you would, but if the results are in your account, you can delete them, you can limit their access to them. In short, you have ultimate control. Causing each test to have its own account tries to put that control back in the hands of the test taker.
One of the criticisms of this announcement is that Ancestry is doing this just to make more people buy subscriptions to Ancestry. I don’t think this is their primary motivation. In fact, a blogger in the UK, Debbie Kennett, suggested that it may be partially in reaction to a new law in the UK that, starting next year, will require this personal access inr order for Ancestry to continue selling tests there.
But even if getting more subscribers was their primary motivation for the change, how is encouraging interest in genealogy a bad thing?! Think of it this way: let’s say you tell your cousins, “I got this. Don’t worry about anything. I will do it all.” Then they will let you, and they won’t take any ownership of the process or the results.
Instead, now you can say, “I have created a login for you at Ancestry so you can view your own results. I will also be able to see them in my account. I would love to go over them with you, if you are interested. But you can go in anytime and look around.” Then wouldn’t it be great if they really did that? Maybe they’d even get so interested that they’d decide to help you research?!
DNA is one of the biggest hooks we have to get our friends and family interested in family history. I think this change is just one more way that we can spread our love of family history with our family–not to mention protect their privacy and their rights.
Ready to test some relatives? Click here for tips on talking about DNA at your next family gathering (like, this summer’s reunion?). Then sign up for the free weekly Genealogy Gems e-newsletter and/or follow us on Facebook to learn about the fantastic DNA sales we’ve been spotting lately.
Lisa Louise Cooke will be a featured keynote presenter at the Ontario Genealogical Society conference 2016, June 3-5 in Toronto, Canada.
The biggest genealogical event in Canada is coming–and Lisa Louise Cooke will be there! Members of all 34 branches and special interest groups of the Ontario Genealogical Society and other family historians from across North America and around the world will meet in Toronto from June 3-5, 2016 for inspiring lectures, workshops, displays, and other learning opportunities.
Here’s why people are excited about the Ontario conference:
As an internationally-renowned genealogy technology innovator, Lisa will deliver a plenary lecture relating to the conference’s theme, “On the Cutting Edge.” This Saturday morning keynote will be “Future Technology and Genealogy: 5 Strategies You Need.” The audience will be treated to a vision of genealogy research as technology speeds ahead into the future. Lisa will teach five key strategies to employ right now that will make the ride easier–and the results more exciting–than ever.
“Using Google to Enhance Your Genealogy Research,” a workshop outlining a “Google Search Methodology for Genealogy.” The workshop features a variety of free Google tools that can help solve genealogical challenges. You’ll also discover advanced Google search strategies you may not be using but are “must-haves” for high-quality Google search results. You will walk away with a proven Google search methodology, and powerful tips and tricks you can use right away.
“How to Create and Leverage Your Own YouTube Channel for Genealogy.” Don’t let the video revolution pass you by! YouTube Mobile receives more than 100 million views a day and is the #2 search engine on the planet. It’s becoming the first place many people turn to for answers, including fellow genealogists. Video content on your own website can also drive more traffic to your site. This presentation shares Lisa’s tips and tricks for creating a robust YouTube channel that will power-boost your genealogical efforts.
Visit Lisa in the Exhibit Hall
Lisa will be in the exhibit hall at her booth (next to Shop the Hound) signing books, and answering questions. Lisa’s daughter Lacey will be there helping you at the booth. She will have special discounts and a money-saving conference bundle just for this conference.
You won’t want to miss the exhibit hall this year. OGS Conference 2016 will feature a spacious 10,000-square-foot Expo Hall, just steps away from the lecture rooms. There will be displays from genealogical and historical organizations, and commercial exhibitors. You’ll also have an opportunity to check in with all the various branches of OGS and see their specific publications.
About the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2016
The entire conference offers something for everyone, and with its convenient location in Toronto, is an easy over-the-border jaunt for many U.S. residents, too. Thursday’s preconference activities include a boot camp for librarians and a session on business skills for genealogists. Friday’s events include off-site tours (World War I history or genetics interest) and workshops including Lisa’s. Saturday’s calendar leads with Lisa’s keynote and then explodes into 24 concurrent sessions and other exciting sponsored events.
This quick link will take you right to online registration. There are full and partial registration options.
Can’t Make It to the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2016? Don’t Fret!
Wish you could catch Lisa’s Google search methodology workshop? Don’t worry–it’s fully described in her book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. This 2nd edition was completed revised and updated for 2015, with thorough, step-by-step instructions on Google search techniques and new chapters on searching for common surnames, Google Scholar and Google Patents (yes, you can use these for genealogy!). Screenshots and detailed explanations will lead you through Google Alerts, Gmail, Google Books, Google Translate, YouTube and Google Earth (multiple chapters on THIS powerful 3D map).
Our Black Friday genealogy sale is on! Start with a limited-time FREE viewing of the new Premium video, Your Guide to Cloud Backup. Then snatch up rare and exclusive savings on Backblaze cloud backup service, a new mobile genealogy bundle, and our new Irish guide and Irish genealogy guide bundle!
Backblaze Cloud Backup Sale: A Genealogy Gems Exclusive
Backblaze continually backs up all your computer files to a remote ‘cloud’ server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), all of your files can be restored. Ensure your research is protected from disaster with Backblaze!
Not Sure About the Cloud? Watch this Free Video Now
Now through next Monday, November 27, 2017, you can watch the new Genealogy Gems Premium Video for FREE. In this brand new, half-hour video tutorial, Lisa Louise Cooke will provide answers to questions like:
What is cloud backup?
Why should I use cloud backup?
How does cloud backup work?
Is cloud backup safe?
What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet & Smartphone for Family History Research
by Lisa Louise Cooke (paperback book)
Whether you have an iPad, an Android tablet, or a smartphone (or all three), Mobile Genealogy will help you put them to work for your genealogy research. Explore apps in-depth, get the latest cutting-edge strategies for mobile genealogy and family history, and use Lisa’s tips and tricks to make your mobile device a genealogy powerhouse!
Using Social Media for Family History
by Lisa Louise Cooke (45 min. video)
Discover how sharing your research on social media can benefit you, your family, and your research. Lisa will focus on two of the top site that you might not be using: Pinterest and Instagram. They are fun and easy to use, and the perfect place to reach the next generation.
The bundle is a $39.90 value but this weekend you’ll pay just $19.95.
Available through Monday, November 27. Click here to buy it now! (Bundle includes print book and video class download. Book ships to U.S. and Canada only.)
NEW Irish Genealogy Guide #3: Land, Tax and Estate Records
Donna Moughty’s Irish Guide series has proven so popular, we’re adding a third one! Jump on our Black Friday pre-order sale (shipping begins approximately Dec. 11, 2017) and you’ll get 30% offIrish Guide #3: Land, Tax, and Estate Records.
This Guide explains how and why Griffith’s Valuation was done, and how to use it to glean the most information about your family. After Griffith’s Valuation, the Revision Books allow you to follow the land and in some cases, to the 1970s, possibly identifying cousins still living on the land. Quick reference guide includes:
Explanation of the columns in Griffith’s Valuation