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

Saturday, February 2, 2019

How do the large online genealogy websites compare?

From time to time, I return to the question of comparing the four largest online "genealogy" database websites. One main reason for this comparison is the fact that I find that genealogical researchers tend to become "fans" of one or two of the websites and ignore the other websites entirely. This is true in the United States with some people who use one website and are seemingly unaware of the existence of the others. When I am in a discussion with these people about a particular genealogical question and I mention that they would benefit from using another website, I am frequently faced with a response that they "see no need to consider using the other website."

The almost constant background reaction to the online websites extends well beyond just comparing the top four. I am constantly surprised that would-be genealogists have so little knowledge of what I would consider to be basic genealogical concepts and online website tools for research. Genealogy is not a sport where we choose our team and become partisans. Making these arbitrary choices based on "product loyalty" or other emotional baggage is simply inappropriate. (I would use the word stupid, but some people don't care for the word being used). Am I a partisan? I use every website I can find that might help me in any way to find the information I am looking for.

Why then would I take the time to "compare" the large online genealogy websites? My motivation exists at several levels. First of all, there is the question of advertising. Three of the four largest genealogical database websites are commercial operations. One of them,, is a non-profit, free, website. However, all four of them advertise and make claims about the desirability of their "products." But as I have written and said many times, the size of the largest database in the world is not large enough if it doesn't have the information you are looking for. This one concept explains why I attempt to make researchers aware of the need to use every tool (i.e. website) available.

What about cost? Hmm. I have written about this issue for years. I am writing this post on a weekend when a large popular sporting event is taking place in the United States involving a very popular sport. I live minutes away from a major university that has a very popular sports team. What if I wanted to attend a football game in the stadium that is just down the street from me? How much would that cost? Well, first of all, they have twenty different levels of ticket prices based on how much you have donated to the football team in the past. I would be in the lowest level of ticket priority and would have to wait until all of the other categories of potential ticket purchasers had made their choices. Historical ticket prices for a season ticket run from $120 to $500 a year, if you can find a place to sit that hasn't already been purchased. Football tickets in Provo are cheap compared to season ski lift ticket in Utah. A weekday adult ski pass one person runs from $45 a DAY to $169.00. OK, what's the point. The point is that people are willing to pay huge amounts of money for those things they value. Genealogy is cheap. I could pay for an entire year's subscription to all three of the subscription websites for the cost of 3 or 4 days skiing.

What is the answer? Hmm again. By the way, all four of these websites are freely accessible in the over 5000 FamilySearch Family History Centers around the world.

Enough of that issue.

Is there any other useful way to compare the four websites? The key here is my statement above. If the website doesn't have what you are looking for then it has little value. But how do you know if the website has what you are looking for without looking? That is the question and that is the question you should be asking about every genealogical resource. Can you afford to ignore a website such as with a current claim to 9.5 billion fully indexed historical records? Granted, comparing numbers and statistics is really comparing apples and oranges. But let's suppose you are looking for relatives and not just searching for names in a database. How do you go about finding living people you are related to? Here numbers help. Returning to again. Let's think about how we find people and how we might find people we are related to. I am guessing that this is one of the main motivations for taking a DNA test. But how do we find relatives otherwise?

One traditional way to find our relatives was to search through phone directories for people with the same surname. I have heard countless stories of people who have gone to a particular location and spent time telephoning people with the same surname found in a telephone book. But what if you had a website that was connected to 100 million living users around the world who were interested in finding their relatives? What if that same website actively attempted to connect to with all of your relatives? Further, what if you came from a place where there were very few available genealogical records? What would be the value of contacting your relatives? Especially those who lived in the countries where there were no records? This is the exact basis for the website called In addition to having billions of records, the website has over 100 million users in every country of the world and actively tries to connect you with those to whom you are related. See, it is not possible to compare the large online genealogy websites. Each of them is a unique tool and each of them should be carefully considered as a source of genealogical information.

As genealogists, whatever our excuses may be, we cannot afford to ignore the vast amount of information that is accumulating online. It baffles me when I talk to people who are ignoring one of the four large websites and are still expressing frustration at not being able to find records that pertain to their family. How do you know if they have the records or not?

A final note, there are a number of specific reasons for using each of the four large websites. You may have made an evaluation in the past of the utility of one or more of the websites. However, time is passed and each of the websites has increased dramatically in size and capability. Genealogical research is an ongoing project and we need to take advantage of all of the resources that are becoming available. It's time to go back and check again.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to be able to afford to use all four of the big websites. Since you mentioned all four of them are free at Family History Libraries I will check into that possibility.