Large online genealogy databases are the present day technological reality. Because they have become ubiquitous, they have also assumed a level of comprehensiveness that is entirely unwarranted. After searching in one or more of these online behemoths, an inexperienced genealogist could wrongfully conclude that there was no place left to look. In making this observation, I am in no way denigrating the importance of these huge record collections. They are fabulous and have changed the very nature of genealogical research. But at the same time, it is always important to put these huge collections of records into the context of all of the records that may be available worldwide either readily on the internet or tucked away in individual repositories.
Since these online genealogy programs have billions of records, it would be at least impractical or perhaps impossible to do a record by record comparison of their resources. But a general comparison with some examples may be helpful when evaluating the extent to which the researcher should be looking beyond confining his or her research to the large online programs. However, there is yet another important consideration. Except for FamilySearch.org, all of the other major online genealogical databases have some sort of fee for access.
In making the comparisons, I should point out my conclusion in advance: as a genealogical researcher, you should be searching in all of the programs. You cannot pick and choose without risking overlooking some crucial genealogical sources depending on your personal research objectives. It is tautological to point out that there is a nearly endless number of other online resources in addition to the large database programs, but it is also rather obvious that four websites garner the majority of the online genealogical attention. These four are FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and Findmypast.com.
At one level, any comparison is unfair and prejudicial. The fact that one program has a certain record and one of the other programs does not merely reflects the reality of doing genealogical research. There is yet no all-encompassing and complete repository, online or otherwise, that contains all of the world's records. It is rather easy to select a country around the world that is grossly underrepresented by documents in all four of the websites. This lack of genealogical resources reflects the political, social, religious and cultural backgrounds of all the countries of the world.
Now some examples. First the easy ones. Do any of the websites have records from any of the following countries? In each case, I will be checking the catalog of the website for an indication that some records about the country might be on the website. In making this comparison, I realize that FamilySearch has billions of microfilmed records available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. But I am confining my examination to "online" records only and also to records about people from a particular country and not a list of soldiers who fought a war in the country, for example.
- Vietnam: FamilySearch.org yes, Ancestry.com no, MyHeritage.com no, Findmypast.com no
- Yemen: FamilySearch.org yes, Ancestry.com no, MyHeritage.com no, Findmypast.com no
- Panama: FamilySearch.org yes, Ancestry.com yes, MyHeritage.com yes, Findmypast.com yes
- Japan: FamilySearch.org yes, Ancestry.com yes, MyHeritage.com no, Findmypast.com no
- Iceland: FamilySearch.org yes, Ancestry.com yes, MyHeritage.com yes, Findmypast.com no
- Papua New Guinea: FamilySearch.org yes, Ancestry.com no, MyHeritage.com yes, Findmypast.com yes
Hmm. In some of these cases, there are only one or two records and searching all the records would be relatively quick and easy. In other cases, there were a surprisingly large number of records and no, I did not stack the deck in favor of FamilySearch.
If you really want to do in depth research anyplace in the world, including the United States and Europe, you need to dig down into the card catalogs of all of these websites as well as look beyond the big four. If anything, this short comparison should indicate that we really do have a lot of records online and that the genealogical methodology is steady and rapidly changing.