I have been a member of ancestry.com since March 2011 and, although opinion varies widely on the value of the cost involved to build and maintain a family tree on this site, I am personally a big fan. The site is very user friendly and the green leaf ‘hints’ reveal helpful clues especially for beginners. In summer 2015 the site was updated to include a feature called ‘life story’ which, based on the information input into a profile and the connections to other people in your tree, generates an overview timeline for that individual. For example on ‘x’ date first daughter was born, on ‘x’ date husband died, etc. as well as inserting historical data for the time period to create a ‘big picture’ view.
Pros: Ease of use, super easy online cancellation at any point in time, and excellent customer service. For the months when I am unable to research, I simply cancel my subscription online which occurs immediately, no questions asked. Ancestry.com still maintains my tree and my access to the tree allowing me to continue to add and refer back to my data. Cancellation only suspends the use of their databases. Another big pro is the ongoing promotions. For my current subscription, I paid $19.99 for three months access.
Cons: The two biggest cons I have experienced with ancestry.com is the (sometimes vastly) inaccurate information posted on other member trees and members who depend solely on other people’s research to build their own trees. To solve the first problem, I use other member’s information merely as a jumping off point for my own research. As to the second issue, I’ve accumulated a massive amount of data and spent thousands of hours on my family lines and while I am more than willing (and happy!) to share, I’ve unfortunately had to set my tree to ‘private’ to prevent members from plagerizing my entire tree. Yes, I’ve had this happen to me twice. Be aware it happens and set your privacy settings according to your own comfort level.
I love (love love) genealogybank.com as it has provided me with invaluable newspaper articles that flesh out the lives of my ancestors. I have tried several newspaper archive sites and find that, for the areas where my ancestors resided, genealogybank.com has the most information. Conversely I have had the worst luck with newspapers.com, and find that the (free) Google newspaper archives are often difficult to search.
Pros: If you call genealogybank.com via their ‘800’ number you will generally get a better subscription rate than what they offer directly on their website. When my renewal came up this year, they called me and after only a few minutes on the phone, I was offered a rate of $79 for two years access which was 50% off the online rate. I’ve also had no issues whatsoever with reaching a customer service representative at any time during their normal business hours and all were very helpful. This site is also easy to search and allows you to insert wildcard ‘*’ to get more results.
Cons: The only con I personally found is that you have to enter a name or keyword exactly or it will miss an article. The wildcards somewhat eliminate this issue, but I would suggest searching on all variations you can think of. My Manley ancestors can be found under ‘Manly’ or ‘Manley’, and in one instance, ‘Munley’. Charles can be found also under ‘Chas.’, William could also be ‘Wm’ or sometimes only initials are used. Also note the women of the time were rarely addressed by their given names. The vast majority of the time they are referred to as ‘Mrs. Howard Jones’ versus ‘Jane Jones’.
My hands-down favorite ancestry research resource is the free (!!) familysearch.org site compiled and maintained by the Mormon Church. In fact, I generally use this site even more than the databases directly from ancestry.com. Searching is easy and it’s amazing to see actual documents including censuses, death records, marriage records, etc. The seemingly limitless amount of databases have kept me up many a late night gathering information on my ancestors. Familysearch.org can also now connect their documentation directly to your ancestry.com tree with a few simple clicks.
Pros: It’s free, it’s huge, it’s constantly updated with new information. Simply a goldmine for genealogists. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface on all the services offered.
Cons: Honestly, none.
One of my personal goals for my genealogy research is to record more than just names and dates. I want to know who my people were. I want to know how they lived, who they knew, how they spent their daily lives. What were their stories? To that end an invaluable tool for me has been another free site, Google books. Through the use of this website I have unearthed hundreds of historical bios and other information for ‘my people’ that I’ve not been able to locate anywhere else.
Pros: Free and simple to use. Provides access to even obscure books or books that could not be found in local libraries.
Cons: While the majority of the digitized books can be viewed in their entirety, there are others that have copyright protections and only snippets are shown.
My first thought when I heard about the concept of findagrave.com was ‘well isn’t that a little morbid?’ and then I found my ancestors in their database. And I was hooked. I’ve not only added memorials for my family, but I’ve also been able to enhance memorials with additional information.
Pros: Free and simple to use. As a member (sign up is easy!) you can add memorials, connect with other members, request photos of family graves if they are not within your physical proximity, and volunteer to take grave photos for others. You do not have to be a member to search the database.
Cons: I’ve personally had issues with a few individuals posting unnecessary and, quite frankly, irritating comments on my family’s memorials. Once you create a memorial you have no control over others posting photos, comments, ‘flowers’, death certificates, photos, etc. on your memorial. You cannot delete anything someone has posted. Also, it is a difficult and slow process to get a response from findagrave.com on issues, however, once they do respond they are generally helpful. I would suggest if you post memorials for your close generational family members (grandparents, parents, spouses, etc.) you understand that you will have no authority over how others might respond directly on that memorial and you will not have the ability to edit/delete.
Pros: To quote one of my oft used phrases here, free and simple to use. They have a variety of databases, including Civil War records, vintage photographs, and death records. I do really love this site.
Cons: I found when I first started using seekingmichigan.org I had to constantly tweak my search terms in order to locate any records. However, once I got the ‘hang of it’, I’ve found records for my Michigan ancestors that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. Especially for the death record database which I use most often, you need to search not only by name but also try separate searches by county, town, father’s name, etc. Sometimes names can be mis-transcribed, and records can then only be located via a different search parameter.