Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Brief Review of the Big Four Genealogical Companies

It has been some time since I posted about the big four genealogy companies. During the interim, they have all gotten bigger and extended their ownership and influence. All of them have increased their online resources, but I thought it might be interesting to compare them entirely from my perspective. I have not done any specific polling or questionnaires. The following opinions are entirely my own and derived from own observations.

Here are my observations, not in any particular order, but I choose to address them in their overall online ranking from their websites as of 18 March 2013. It is difficult to get an absolute ranking, since all of these companies have multiple websites. In each case, I choose the most prominent or largest website, that being the one ranked the highest by Bear in mind that the ranks change constantly. But they are a fair indication of relative popularity and thereby influence. The competition to rank globally high is intense due to the huge number of websites on the Internet. So an apparent large difference in ranking doesn't necessarily reflect a big difference in the relative size or reach of the companies. global rank: 634

Strengths: is only one of a number of websites, all doing business as directed at different world markets. It also owns several other websites with other names. It is the acknowledged "largest genealogy company" without much controversy over the title. In genealogy, size equates to the number of resources available and claimed. My impression is that it has more online resources than any other company. I usually find some type of useful resource in its vast collection and a few very nice unsuspected surprises. It has a very good search engine and is usually the go-to place for initial research. It also has a huge number of user submitted family trees. With a membership, you automatically get an automatic record lookup function represented by "green leaves" on your ancestors' pedigree chart. It has a fairly good local computer genealogy database program called "Family Tree Maker." Used in conjunction with an online copy of your family tree, the program automates the function of looking for sources, to some extent.

I think they are extremely valuable to the genealogical community due to their media advertising efforts in increasing public interest in family history and genealogy. They have such a strong name identification with genealogy, most people, if they have heard of any at about genealogy, have heard of's other websites, such as and have remained somewhat autonomous and have not been integrated into to any great extent. However, in the case of, the website changed dramatically to, with an entirely different emphasis.

Some of the apparent strengths of being a very large database provider are also weaknesses. From my perspective, is just another large online company. I have never had any direct contact with the company other than through "customer relations." They currently only attend the very largest conferences and in all my years of blogging, I have never elicited even one small comment or response from the company. Not that I expected to, but I am comparing them to the other companies who have been more communicative. I do have to say, however, that their customer support is better than average for web-based businesses.

From a research standpoint, they make it somewhat difficult to determine exactly where they obtained their sources. This is especially true from the standpoint of indexes. Their source citations are sometimes specific, but often general and unspecific.

You might notice that I have yet to mention cost. Whether or not something is viewed as expensive is highly subjective. I use very frequently and do not view the subscription cost of the service as either a positive or negative issue. I also use the Library Edition from the Mesa FamilySearch Library. But I found the need for my own version of the program. global rank: 4429

The most prominent strength of is its huge online genealogical resource collections. In converting its vast store of microfilmed images to digital images in their Historical Record Collections, has easily become one of most valuable genealogical online resources. Of course, FamilySearch has a lot more to offer than just online databases, but focusing on the their online products, they have some extremely valuable resources, such as the FamilySearch Research Wiki and the Family History Library Catalog that put them into the forefront of genealogical service providers. They also have one of the most outstanding help and support organizations in the entire online world. Their website is constantly evolving and coming up with new and surprisingly helpful resources.

The obvious strength of is that all of its resources are free to everyone. It is hard to compete with free.

Weaknesses:'s most prominent weakness is a lack of focus. It has fabulous resources, but they are inadequately presented by its website to the extent that few users penetrate the site enough to find those resources. They also suffer from inconsistent and spotty programming errors. It is common to find things on the website that do not work as expected or are outdated and no longer functional such as the FamilySearch Forums. Although their search engines have improved, they are still limited compared to others that are available online. Having all the resources is one thing, getting to those resources is quite another. For example, if you had a resource as valuable as the Research Wiki, why would you bury it two levels down in the website?

Although its traffic statistics would argue otherwise, lacks name recognition. In my experience very few people identify FamilySearch as a separate organization and few could tell you what the company does or are even aware that the name "FamilySearch" refers to an organization. global rank: 4939

Strengths: would certainly rank higher if the traffic from their online document resource, was included in its rankings (Alixa global rank: 46,214.'s Family Tree program and its database collections are all on the same website, whereas and are two separate websites. However, and are integrated by a valuable Record Search capability that outshines the one offered by

From my standpoint, is the company to watch. It has an aggressive acquisition mode and is constantly adding resources. Some of my very first contacts with, years ago, showed me that they take customer relations seriously and value personal communication. Since acquiring, their record search capabilities have improved dramatically. They also have a local computer database program called "Family Tree Builder." This program is offered as a free download.

With the WorldVitalRecords,com database, MyHeritage offers a huge valuable database of genealogical resources, including a huge newspaper collection. Although valuable now, as this database expands, it will likely soon seriously rival in its usefulness.

Weaknesses: share a lack of market identity with is apparently more widely known outside the U.S. market, but I see their visibility improving. Although the Record Search capability links the sources to the Family Tree program, that connection is not yet complete and the connection is not clear from either program's startup page. I am guessing that this will be an area that will see further development. global rank: 20,095 (for

Strengths:, through its owner, has a huge presence in the United Kingdom. It is definitely the dominant provider of online genealogical data to England, Scotland, Wales. It also has websites for Ireland and Australia. It seems to be a very personable company also with an aggressive acquisition effort going on around the world. My experience with the search engines has been limited but I am aware of the value of the databases, which include documents not easily available to those of us living in the U.S. If you have ancestors in any of the countries covered by the websites, you will find them to be invaluable tools.

From a U.S. perspective, they are dead last in market recognition. Other than dedicated genealogists with years of experience, I find that they are totally unknown. I realize this is not the case in the U.K., especially with their huge conferences. I also see their pay-as-you-go system to be a little counter to the U.S. users' expectations and somewhat awkward.

I can safely predict that all four of these huge organizations will continue to expand and innovate. They will all likely dramatically increase their offerings over the next year or so. I don't think any of them are in an either-or position. If you need and can afford an online database, then all of them are the prime candidates depending on the areas you are researching. is rapidly expanding its collections geographically throughout the world. This will ultimately give them the edge because of the growth of non-English speaking markets. Although this could become one of the areas where is also poised to expand.


  1. I have used FindMyPast for research into UK ancestors. I wish they would change their pricing method. What you do is buy "points" and then have them deducted for each index page and each document you bring up. The points disappear very quickly when you "spend" 10 to see an index and then 35 each time you want to see if the document it points to is the one you need, especially when a name is common.
    I was also unhappy with their search capability. It was almost impossible to find a name which was transcribed incorrectly or spelled differently from the way I thought it was spelled.

  2. Joyce,

    FMP is available for free at our local FamilySearch centre.

  3. I suspect many longtime users of Ancestrycom now dissatisfied/disgusted/irate about the March 2014 adjustments to the site's search engine (murky global results requiring much input by time-consuming search gadgets) will be moving to MyHeritage and other sites. New users will find they have to work hard to find accurate results on Ancestrycom, for a higher price than any other site.

    1. Hmm. I'm not so sure there will be any significant movement away from Most of the users I know are not even aware of the change in the search engine and could care less.

  4. Do you know what happened to I can't log on, and they disconnect you after a long wait on the phone. I have 2 accounts with them, mine and my deceased uncle (mother'said brother). I paid to have his done for the y profile. Now I can'access that information. If they were sold to another company, I want to have access to those DNA profiles!