Not in any particular order, the main online subscription services are Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest, WorldVitalRecords.com, and Footnote.com. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The fees for subscribing vary with the duration and extent of the license. For example, Ancestry.com charges either a monthly or annual fee for its membership. Ancestry.com is $19.95 a month after a 14 day free trial up to $24.95 a month for the World Deluxe Membership billed in one annual payment. For those of you without a calculator handy, that is $299.40 a year. Membership in WorldVitalRecords varies from $5.95 per month up to a World Collection Membership for $119.40 a year. Footnote.com has two levels of membership, $11.95 a month or $69.95 a year. Heritage Quest is a little different, it is available through libraries and is free if you have a library login. I use my library card at the Maricopa County Library to get free access on my home compter. In fact, if you live near one of the larger Family History Centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) mostly in the western U.S., you can get free access to all four.
Since these services are constantly adding names and sources to their collections, it is a good idea to periodically review your research every few months or so. Even if you did not find anything useful, additions to the huge databases may change that situation at any time.
Ancestry.com is the largest online database. They advertise access to billions of names and they are constantly adding new names. This strength is also a weakness because you can get hundreds or even thousands of responses to a search each with the same name you are searching. Ancestry.com does have an indexed copy, with digital images, of the entire U.S. Census from 1790 to 1930. However many of the other Ancestry.com entries are indexes only and do not have digital copies of the original records. Ancestry.com does have a very good search engine that allows a lot of variations in the search criteria. There are hundreds of comments and articles about Ancestry.com on the Web. A Google search on Ancestry.com showed over 38,000,000 hits. Ancestry.com is part of The Generations Network, Inc. which also owns Myfamily.com, Genealogy.com, Rootsweb.com, TGN.com, FamilyTreeMaker.com and Ancestrymagazine.com
Footnote.com is a newer Web site and has a partnership with the National Archives to digitize all of the records in the National Archives. Millions of records are added each month. To quote their promotional materials, "Footnote.com is a place where original historical documents are combined with social networking in order to create a truly unique experience involving the stories of our past." By having a digitized copy of some documents I wanted to examine, Footnote.com saved me a trip to the Denver Branch of the National Archives.
WorldVitalRecords.com is an aggresive participant in the world of supplying original documents online. Like Ancestry.com, WorldVitalRecords.com claims to have the records of billions of individuals. Their records include birth, marriage and death records, census records, passenger lists, immigration lists, emigration records, foreign newspapers, cemetery records, reference materials, land records, family histories, historical records, city directories, business directories, township histories, civil service records, telephone directories, government records, war records, and maps, atlases, and gazetteers.
Heritage Quest is a different type of Web site than the other three. It is part of ProQuest, a major supplier of online services to libraries. Its subsidiaries include Chadwyck-Healey; CSA; eLibrary ; ProQuest; Micromedia ProQuest; RefWorks-COS; Serials Solutions; SIRS ;UMI Dissertation Publishing; and UMI Microfilm. To quote their promotional material, "HeritageQuest Online includes all of the images, and extensive indexing, from the 1790 - 1930 U.S. federal censuses. It offers more than 20,000 book titles, including nearly 8,000 family histories and over 12,000 local histories. Additionally, there are more than 250 primary-source documents such as tax lists, city directories, probate records, and more."
"Many other distinctive and invaluable sources of information can be found within HeritageQuest Online. These include Periodical Source Index (PERSI), a widely recognized resource guide, updated annually, that covers more than 6,300 genealogy and history periodicals written in English and French (
Before signing up for any of these services, you may wish to investigate the extent of their collections and the time you will actually use the service. But I can say, without reservation, that all of these services have provided me personally with hundreds of original records, saving me years of work.