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
Here’s this week’s roundup of new genealogy records online: Australia, France, New Zealand and, in the U.S., records for AK, CO, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, PA and WI.
AUSTRALIA – NORTHERN TERRITORY – PROBATE. Ancestry.com has a new probate index (1911-1994) for Northern Territory, Australia. The collection includes images of an index “organized first by year range, then alphabetically by surname and given name.”
FRANCE – MILITARY. FamilySearch.org has published a new online index to military conscription records for Saône-et-Loire (1867-1940). Privacy restrictions apply to those born less than 120 years ago.
NEW ZEALAND – PROBATE. More than 350,000 browsable records (and over 10,000 indexed records) have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of New Zealand probate records (1843-1998). Original records are sourced from Archives New Zealand offices in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
US – VARIOUS – MARINE. Over 315,000 records are part of a new Ancestry.com collection of applications for seaman’s protection certificates, (1916-1940).
US – VARIOUS – MARRIAGE. Findmypast.com announced the addition of around 10 million additional U.S. marriage records to its growing online collection. According to a press release, “This second installment includes significant additions from Indiana, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maine.” Nearly a million of these are new to online publication and, at least for now, exclusive to Findmypast. (The collection is part of a FamilySearch partnership.)
US – VARIOUS – PROBATE. Ancestry.com has updated its collections of wills and probate records for Wisconsin, Maryland and Colorado. Coverage by time period and county varies.
US – ARKANSAS – CIVIL WAR. About 172,000 indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of Arkansas Ex-Confederate Pension Records (1891-1939).
US – MASSACHUSETTS – TOWN CLERK RECORDS. FamilySearch has added nearly half a million indexed names to its free online collection, Massachusetts Town Clerk Vital and Town Records 1626-2001. A new related collection of Massachusetts town records is also available on FamilySearch.
US – NEW HAMPSHIRE. Over 100,000 indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of New Hampshire Birth Certificates (1901-1909). According to the collection description, “Records consist of index cards that give the town and date of the event and often much more information.”
New genealogy records appear online by the millions every week. Keep current by subscribing to the free weekly Genealogy Gems email newsletter. The newsletter comes with a free e-book by Lisa Louise Cooke on Google search strategies you can use to find MORE genealogy records online that you need. Simply enter your email address in the box at the top of this webpage where it says “Sign up.”
A free FamilySearch account gives you access to more historical records and customized site features than you’ll see if you don’t log in at this free genealogy website. Here’s why you should get a free FamilySearch account and log in EVERY time you visit the site.
This post is part of our ongoing commitment to help you get the most out of the “Genealogy Giants:”
In this post, I comment on a recent announcement from the free giant everyone should be using: FamilySearch.org.
Why you should have (and use!) a free FamilySearch account
FamilySearch.org has always allowed free public use of its site. But beginning on December 13, 2017, the site will now actively prompt visitors to register for a free FamilySearch account or to log in with their existing accounts. Anyone can continue to search the catalog and user-submitted genealogies, explore over 350,000 digitized books, learn from the Wiki and the learning center, and even view user-contributed photos and stories. But by requesting you to log in, FamilySearch wants to remind you that this is your path to even more free records and services on the site.
Here are my top three reasons to have and use a free FamilySearch account:
1. Access more free historical records on FamilySearch.
We’ve talked a lot in recent months about best strategies for accessing digitized and off-line historical records at FamilySearch. Some of the digitized records on FamilySearch are there courtesy of a partner organization, which may restrict record access to those who log in on the site.
One woman had an “ah-ha” moment of realization after reading FamilySearch’s announcement. She posted in the comments, “Though I have had a free account for some time, I did not realize that FamilySearch was not giving me full access to information in record searches just because I had not logged in. Maybe I need to redo my past searches as a logged-in account holder.”
2. Participate in the global Family Tree.
As I more fully describe in my quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, FamilySearch’s online family tree is different than the tree systems used at the other major family history websites. Instead of creating your own personal tree, you participate in a collaborative, unified family tree of the world. As a logged-in visitor, you can enter your information, then that of your parents and their parents, etc. until you connect to deceased individuals who are already on the tree. (Information about living individuals is always privacy-protected.) Then you may, with other descendants, contribute what you to know to an ancestor’s profile.
Anyone may make changes to these public profiles, which may at times be frustrating. But it also allows for more focused collaboration. This is a great place to see a virtual compilation of others’ research on particular ancestors without having to search others’ personal trees individually, as you do on other sites (remember to look for their source citations and verify what others say). The Family Tree on FamilySearch is also a great place to digitally archive family documents and photos where other researchers may see and appreciate them for free. As you can see in the screenshot below, logging in also helps you see how others have identified the folks you see in your search results:
3. Get customized help.
Those who log in with a free FamilySearch account have access to one-on-one assistance through the website. If you have a question about using the site, accessing records, finding additional records about your ancestors, or even how to understand the records you’re looking at, you can email or call a live support person for help. Your login also sets you up to receive customized alerts and seasonal messages (like “Did you know your ancestor fought in the War of 1812?”) and a dashboard experience with at-a-glance reminders of record hints awaiting your review, where you left off in your last online session, tips about what to do next, and more. Here’s what the dashboard looks like:
How to get (or recover) a free FamilySearch account
See Registering to use FamilySearch.org for information about creating a free account. FamilySearch accounts have always been free and, the site assures us, will continue to be free. You will need to provide your first and last name, a username, a password, and an email or mobile phone number.
According to FamilySearch, your login and other personal information:
- enables collaboration in the Family Tree and Memories areas of the site (you control how much information is shared)
- “allows you to send in-system messages to other users without revealing your personal identity or email address”
- “allows FamilySearch to send you emails and newsletters (you can specify how many emails, if any, you receive)”
- enables communication when you contact their online support team for help
- will not be shared “with any third party without your consent”
If you’ve already got a FamilySearch account but have forgotten your username, click here. If you’ve forgotten your password, click here.
Genealogy Gems Brings You Genealogy Giants
Each of the “Genealogy Giants” has so much to offer family historians around the world! But it’s hard to keep them straight, compare their top features, and get the most out of them without some inside help. That’s why we published the must-have quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, your personal comparative tour of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.
This inexpensive guide can save you hours of wasted time hunting down the records you need. It can save you hundreds of dollars by helping you invest in the genealogy websites you most need to use right now–because your research needs change right along with your growing family tree! The guide is available for your immediate reference as a digital download or get a handy, high-quality printed copy you can keep with your genealogy research files.