Yes, this is a post in response to Kimberly Powell's About.com article with almost exactly the same name. Her article is "Top 10 U.S. Databases for Tracing Your Family Tree." Although this just popped up today, I think it may be a little out-dated. But it is a good place to start and About.com has a lot of really helpful articles. My own list differs significantly from Kimberly's but does have some of the same websites. I will let you go to Kimberly's article to see her list rather than copy it here.
My first selections include the Big Three U.S. databases:
Since I have just written about all three of these sites in the last little while, I will forego any further comments. They all have huge databases of digitized and indexed records to research. Both Ancestry.com and WorldVitalRecords.com put their records right up front on their websites. If you go to FamilySearch.org, click on the Search link, at the top of the startup page, to see the records. FamilySearch has a recent tendency to downplay (hide) the source records, but they are still there.
Now, where would I go next? Well, I would do a Google search for the names I was looking for (sometimes adding the word "genealogy" to the name helps). Then I would search in Google Books for any written or published family histories about the surnames in my research file. Then I would look in WorldCat.org for additional published material about the names and families I am searching for. But, technically, these are genealogy databases, even though they contain endless information about my family.
But back to dedicated databases. What could possibly be next after the Big Three?
Unless you have ancestors in the military, Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com) now a part of Ancestry.com, is not that helpful, but it does have some valuable records. Very few of my ancestors served in the military, so this isn't a big source for me personally, but it always helps to check. Likewise, I find the U.S. Archives website to be archaic and virtually unusable. So I would have to disagree with Kimberly on both of these sites. Also, I might note that the Family Tree Connection, listed by Kimberly, has been merged into the Genealogy Today Subscription Data Collections.
By the way, the LDS Family History Centers have many of the subscription services online for free for use in the Centers.
Hmm. I have only gotten three sites listed so far. What could be next? Well, here is my real practice. I don't find any of the other databases listed by Kimberly Powell to be "must use" sources. I do use the U.S. Gen Web and RootsWeb (also owned by Ancestry.com) but I would not consider either of them to be go-to places initially for research because most of their information is unsourced and further, shows up in Google searches.
I guess I am struggling to come up with a list. But I do have some more suggestions.
How about Mocavo.com? I don't think this genealogy search engine is a database, but it is certainly valuable. For searching newspapers, how about Elephind.com? This search engine searches the Library of Congress Chronicling America database and many others. I would also have to rank Archive.org and the Hathi Trust as hugely important for genealogists, but they aren't genealogy databases either, but they have huge resources including Archive.org's complete 1790 through 1930 U.S. Census records and the U.S. Census Soundex. Let's not forget Cyndi's List. Cyndi has a hugely valuable source of listings in every conceivable category.
I also like sites such as ProGenealogists.com (also part of Ancestry.com) for the lists of links they have to genealogy sites.
This is getting serious, I haven't made it to number four on my list yet. There are a lot of digitized newspaper sites, some free, some subscription, and I use as many as I can, but none of them are so comprehensive as to be singled out except perhaps the ones on WorldVitalRecords.com. I am starting to repeat myself, I fear.
Of course, as long as I am mentioning huge websites, I must include Trove.nla.gov.au and Europeana.eu. Oops, we were talking about the U.S. weren't we.
Well, I'll think about it some more and see if I can come up with seven more U.S. databases to search.