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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Largest Genealogy Archive?

If you have ever been to a Costco warehouse store, you know about the cultural trait in the United States of "large" and "larger" and "giant." Sometimes, we buy at other stores just so we don't have to have two gallons or five gallons of something we only use from time-to-time. Unfortunately, large size has invaded the larger, online genealogical community. Size is apparently considered a selling point. Especially with the larger online digital websites, size has become an end in itself. Rather than quality or relevancy, size is considered the issue.

My comment on size is that the largest database in the world is not large enough if it doesn't have what you are looking for.

Unfortunately, the units of measurement used by the various programs are not standard or uniform. You will see references to any or all of the following:

  • records
  • profiles
  • documents
  • individuals
  • members
  • paying subscribers
  • collections

You might see other references also. The problem is that none of these terms have fixed definitions. For example, what if I look at a probate file of an accounting of the sale of an estate's assets. There could be dozens of people listed who purchased items from the estate. Are each of these people counted by the database hosting the accounting of that sale? What about a Census record? is one sheet of the U.S. Federal Census a record (usually with about fifty names) or is each person's line in the report a "record?"

For example, claims the following in its company overview:

  • 20 billion records
  • 80 countries of origin
  • 100 million family trees
  • 11 billion connections

There is another statement that is supposed to help that states, "Ancestry currently manages about 10 petabytes of structured and unstructured data, including billions of records detailing births, marriages, deaths, military service, and immigration. Despite this claim, I frequently do not find what I am looking for on Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It is a valuable website, but the numbers do not help me find what I am looking for.

How do you compare Ancestry's claim to FamilySearch claims 4+ billion names from all over the world but also claims 4.4 searchable records online and 1.26 billion digital images. lists 9.1 billion records in 6,532 collections. How does this compare to the other websites?

There are other websites that are also claiming to have the largest online collections of records. What does this really mean? is a digital newspaper website. It claims over 2 billion genealogy records. What is a genealogy record in a newspaper? Isn't it possible that almost any name mentioned in a newspaper could possibly have genealogical value?

Many of these online websites are extremely valuable to genealogists doing research, but what happens if your family came from Mauritania or Tibet? Where do you go to find records about your family? Do any of the large online billions of records help at all?

I think it might be more productive if the genealogy companies acknowledged that their collections have limitations and gave you an easy way to find out if you should spend any time looking at their collections. This has happened with the Catalog, the card catalog, the A to Z of record sets and the Collection Catalog. But it would be nice if there was a way to quickly tell if the geographic area of your search was even part of their collections.


  1. Some of my biggest breakthroughs recently have been in discrete archives held in a local church or even in a rural public library. The big databases are great for a lot of information, but sometimes the answer is where the person I am researching lived and died. Data is stored and collected in lots of places -- you have to get creative and think beyond births, marriages, and deaths. I just solved a puzzle I had been working for several years when a local librarian put me in touch with the granddaughter of the man who once owned a rural cemetery in downstate Illinois. That granddaughter still has the original record books and she was able to help me tremendously. Sometimes you have to put down your keyboard and pick up the phone or get in your car and go to the place. It's amazing how people will help you if you just are polite, pick up the phone, and say please and thank you.

  2. The largest genealogy archive? ... the collective archive of what we each have in our own homes. This is why it is so important to share what we each have with each other. Using FamilySearch Memories or Ancestry or other places.