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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ignoring the Online Miracle with Misconceptions: Part One - The Large Genealogy Websites

For a genealogist who started over thirty years ago in a world dominated by paper, the obvious advantages of online genealogy seem positively miraculous. I can now do research in minutes that used to take a special trip to Salt Lake City, Utah to visit the Family History Library. Libraries still dominate my life, but even in the library I use a computer more than anything else to teach, research and learn.

Some of the greatest online resources are the huge online genealogy programs. Six of these large, online database programs have joined in a mutually beneficial partnership. has opened part of its vast collection of records to these partners in exchange for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints receiving free memberships in each of these vast resources. But I was aware of or using them before the partnership was implemented.

Interestingly, I constantly receive feedback from genealogists who are either unaware of even the large database websites or simply not interested enough to become informed about the records available online at all. There are several very common and persistent false assumptions out there that I seem to hear regularly. The danger in pointing out any general misconception is that those who have the misconception don't recognize that they have it and those who don't have it can't believe that anyone would have that misconception.

For the purpose of this post, I am confining my comments to the following websites:
I am not including subsidiary websites such as which is owned by Ancestry or large included websites such as which is included in and

From my perspective, the most common misconception concerns thinking that the large online database websites all have the same resources. Granted, there is some overlap such as the United States Federal Census Records, but each of these large database programs have unique resources that are not duplicated by any other genealogy website. One way to begin to understand this misconception is to routinely do Google searches on the names of the database programs on each website. It is also entirely possible that one website has an index of a collection that is completely imaged on another website. A superficial search of any of the listed websites will show some overlap, but the real question is whether or not they have the documents you need to find your own ancestors and if you fail to search the larger websites for whatever reason, you are simply operating under a misconception.

Here is where we get into the issue of defining the contents of these websites in different ways. All of the larger websites use different terms to describe their holdings. These terms, such as records, collections, documents, individuals, etc. are arbitrary and have different definitions on each website.

Let me start with an example from As is the case with each of these websites, the key to identifying the contents of their holdings is their catalog of all of their collections. The Catalog is as complete a listing of the records and other publications held by FamilySearch as is available. My example is a book about my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner. Here is the book from the catalog:

Since this book is now digitized and online on, the book is no longer available in paper format in the Family History Library.

This book is not available from Google books and is not found any other place online and especially not found in any of the other large genealogy websites.

Here is another example of a unique database this time on The database is called the
"Great Britain, Atlas and Index of Parish Registers" and it is based, in part, on "The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers." This extremely useful database contains maps of the English parishes and the date of the earliest registers in each parish. 

I could go on and on with examples of unique databases or collections as they are usually called. However two more examples will probably be enough to illustrate that those who have the misconception that these large online websites all have the same information is a gross misconception. My last examples on this topic are's vast Books and Publications database with 447,870 completely searchable items and's even more extensive collection of 725,872 old books from around the world also completely searchable. 

Stay tuned

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