Overview of Online Genealogy Services

06.12.2017 |

Episode #4 of the course Researching your genealogy by Alisa Miller


Welcome to Day 4 of exploring your family history. Today, we will dive into the vast world of online genealogy services. There are many online services available—more than I could cover in this lesson—so I will focus on some of the heavy hitters.


Useful Online Genealogy Services

Ancestry.com: Ancestry.com is widely known service, and thus, having a family tree on this site might lead to connections with more family members. They offer both free and paid options, but to access most of their services, you will need to pay for a subscription. However, the advantage is that you can create an online family tree with them. Once you begin adding family to your tree, you will receive notifications of hints about your family members.

MyHeritage: Like Ancestry.com, MyHeritage is a well-known online genealogy service that also offers both free and paid options. You can create a family tree for free on MyHeritage, as well as have limited access to other family trees. In addition, like Ancestry.com, as you begin adding family to your tree, you will get notifications of discoveries about your family members. Some of these discoveries require membership, but others do not. Another nice aspect about MyHeritage is the ability to view other related family trees. In order to download all the information from a related family tree, you need a membership. However, you can view the trees and copy information, person by person, for free.

FamilySearch: FamilySearch is an online genealogy service that is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; however, this service is available to anyone. Like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage, you can create a free online family tree with FamilySearch. One feature they do allow that’s not available on the other two services is for you to attach any public historical record associated with your family members to your tree. But the biggest benefits of this service are being able to make matches and view documents for free. Some of the records allow you to see the actual document, while others only allow you to review the information contained in the document.

However, creating a family tree on FamilySearch is not quite as simple as with the other two services (although easy enough, once you get the hang of it). Also, FamilySearch is very strict on what information can be associated with people who are still living, so their privacy control is strong.

Cyndi’s List: Cyndi’s List is an important starting place for anyone doing genealogy research, so I wanted to include it here, even though it is a little different from the other online services I’ve described for you. Cyndi’s List is completely free and contains links to every conceivable resource for genealogy research. You can browse by category to find links to anything from African-American resources to obituaries to help write your family history.


Pros and Cons of Using Online Services

The absolute biggest pro of using online services is the ease with which you can create your family tree. Another advantage is the ability to share information with other people researching parts of your family tree. When you add family members to your tree who are already on someone else’s tree, you receive a notification. So, the potential for expanding research on your family while using online genealogy services is enormous.

At the same time, the biggest con for using online services is that they often want you to pay a membership fee in order to have access to all the features. Another downside has to do with privacy, since someone with less than noble intentions may access and use private information about your relatives or even steal their identity.

We’ve talked a lot about viewing documents and accessing information. Since you can’t view much of what is available with the online services, our following lessons will explore how to find that information on your own. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at using the library to access information about your family.


Recommended book

Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com: How to Find Your Family History on the No. 1 Genealogy Website by Nancy Hendrickson


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