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How to Choose the Right Genealogy Site

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With forty sites reviewed on No1Reviews.com relating to Genealogy and family history, we understand that it can be difficult to know which site is perfect for your research needs.

The following ‘Buying Guide’ should give you a good idea what to look for (and what to avoid!) in a Genealogy site, in order to help you make a decision about which one is right for you.

What is Online Genealogy?

Genealogy is the study of families, and the tracing of their lineages and kinship. Whilst genealogical research has been prominent for a number of years, in recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of individuals turning to the Internet to help them in their research. Genealogy websites serve two main functions: to provide access to a range of genealogical resources, gathered in one place; and to allow members to generate and store (online) family trees that are created from researched information. To make choosing the right site for you even easier, we’re compiled the most important elements to take into consideration.

Information & Records

The most important element in choosing the right genealogy website for you is the ability to access relevant information. In order to research a family’s history, you need to be able to search through appropriate records in order to find the ‘leads’ you need. When choosing a genealogy website you need to pay attention to the types and quantity of research materials that membership to the site opens up. The best sites will offer unlimited access to a wide range of research materials – census and voter information, military records, immigration and emigration records, Birth, Marriage and Death Certification (SSDI) and more. The more information you have access to, the more complete the picture of your family’s history will be.

Information Quality & Regularity of Updates

Not only should a site provide access to a wide set of information, a good site will also regularly update information to take account of changes in records. The more up-to-date their information is, the more accurate search results will be. Look for a site which regularly updates its databanks, as well as uploading new records as they emerge or are improved. Another excellent feature is the progressive improvement of image quality on older records, which many sites have begun to develop.

Searches & Filters

In order to properly examine the many entries that exist on many genealogy websites, it is important that a site provides an adequate search function that will return a number of appropriate results. Not only should a search include a number of search criteria, but should also allow users to enter either a large amount of information or limit search criteria (in case you have a limited amount of information). Finally, a search should allow filtering, so that a user can search only a particular set of records, such as census information or military records.

Focus & Geographical Location

When deciding on which genealogy site is best for you, another important consideration is the geographical focus of the site. If you wish to research only UK or US relatives, then a site limited to these geographical areas (and thus allowing access to only UK or US data and records) is perfect for you. If you have exhausted such records, or you wish to research your family history slightly deeper (tracing it through different continents etc.) then a site which allows access to a complete set of international records is more appropriate to complete such a search. When deciding on the site you wish to join, ensure that site provides access to appropriate records.

Family Trees – Creating and Uploading

Once you have researched your family history, many genealogy websites offer the ability for this information to be transposed into a family tree or another diagrammatic form. The best sites also allow users to upload a previously created (or half-completed) family tree in a number of formats (e.g. Family Tree Maker .ftw, Personal Ancestral File .paf, Family Database .fdb, Legacy .leg and GEDCOM .gedz). Many sites also allow users to order high quality prints of family trees and associated records, through online stores hosted by or associated with the site. These can make great gifts.

Expert Help and Additional Services

Although it would be impossible to list them all here (check out our reviews for more detailed information), many sites offer additional services, at additional cost. Many sites, for example, offer the opportunity to engage the services of a professional genealogist, who will undertake some research on your behalf.

Community and Member Support

One of the most exciting opportunities available through using an online genealogy site is the possibility of interacting with other users. Many sites offer the opportunity to contact other users, anonymously or otherwise, and share success stories, information and records in a kind of online community. Many of our users report that the finest sites are those that have a community atmosphere, where member directories are open and accessible to those who wish to publish their information (and be contacted by other users). Many sites also offer an automatic service which lists other users who may be conducting a similar search, so that you may contact a distant family member in this way, too!

Navigability and Ease of Use

In websites such as these, where a vast amount of information is stored in a variety of formats, it is essential that this information is easy to navigate and simple to use. It sounds simple enough, but look for websites with straightforward menu systems which break down the process of researching, sorting and displaying information into separate menus.

“Powered By”

A common feature of a number of sites is that they are “powered” by another, larger site. This simply means that the site shares the features, structure and often, membership directory of the parent site. Some sites are “powered” in part by a larger site, while others act simply as a portal to the parent site. The practice is relatively common in the online genealogy market, and many users find it comforting to know that the site they have joined is supported by a larger site.

Help, FAQs and Support

Although it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any substantial problems whilst using many of the larger genealogy websites, technical support does retain some importance. Look out for sites that offer technical support by email and phone, especially those that offer support 24/7. FAQs are also important to help you solve common issues.

The Bottom Line

Whilst the subscription costs vary considerably between sites, it is generally the case that the more expensive sites provide the better service. We would certainly advise all of our users to check out our reviews to ensure that you pick the site that is best suited to your needs and budget. If in doubt, try out a free trial period to help found out which site best suits you.