Genealogy Sites Comparison

Genealogy Sites Comparison

We all know how quickly online resources grow and change. The tips and tricks in these eight guides help you better navigate the key genealogy websites to get solid results that will move your research forward. In particular, the four largest genealogy websites – Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage—have enormous collections of family trees and historical records.

The chart below shows that many of the key resources, such as US federal census records, New York passenger lists and WWI draft registration cards, appear on all four sites. To help you know which site will provide the most help, here is a comparison of the “Big Four.”


The only site with a complete index to all the extant WWII draft registration cards now open to the public. Created in collaboration with FamilySearch, Ancestry’s U.S. Wills and Probate Records has images of more than 170 million documents from all 50 states. It’s by far the largest indexed collection of American probate records, though the index doesn’t cover everyone mentioned in the records. Ancestry also has many more historical records than its rivals, plus the largest number of DNA test results.


For its part, has the FamilySearch Family Tree, a collaborative, worldwide project that strives to have just one profile for each person who has ever lived. It’s a terrific tool to organize, preserve and share your family tree, photos, records, and audio recordings. Another collaborative feature, the FamilySearch Wiki, has articles on thousands of topics, including how to research your family history in many different countries and locate records both online and in traditional sources. FamilySearch is also the only one of the “Big Four” to be totally free.


Has the National Burial Index for England & Wales, with references to burials in early 19th-century church records. While the other three sites have transcriptions of Scottish census records, Findmypast has images with indexes for all Scottish censuses from 1841 to 1901. (Another pay site, Scotland’s People, has those records, too, as well as the 1911 census.) Findmypast also has a huge collection of British and Irish newspapers, plus many from the United States, Canada, and other countries. 


What sets MyHeritage apart is its international focus. Its website and Family Tree Builder software are available in 42 languages. Put your family tree on the site, and you’ll automatically get matches in international record collections and in family trees submitted by users from around the world. You might even find DNA matches overseas, with more than 1 million kits in MyHeritage DNA’s database. The mini cheat sheets here cover these four mega sites, plus three large newspaper sites (Chronicling America, GenealogyBank and and one site that focuses on military records (Fold3). Read on to discover new and better ways to dig deeper and find more information about your ancestors.

The mini cheat sheets here cover these four mega sites, plus three large newspaper sites – Chronicling America, GenealogyBank and and one site that focuses on military records – Fold3. Read on to discover new and better ways to dig deeper and find more information about your ancestors.


  • US records: $19.99/month, $99/six months
  • US & international records: $34.99/month, $149/six months
  • DNA test: $99

Main features

  • DNA testing with integrated family trees, historical migration data, and information about genetic traits
  • Online family trees with hints to others’ trees and major record collections
  • Historical records from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, and Australia

Ancestry search tips​

  • Create an Ancestry Member Tree to simplify searching for records. Just click on a name in your tree’s pedigree or family view, then click the Search button. You also can click Search from a relative’s profile page.
  •  If you have an Ancestry online tree, you can fill out search forms automatically (see below). As you type in the First & Middle Name(s) box on a search form, you’ll be prompted to select a tree (if you have more than one) and a name from your tree. The search form will be filled in with information from your tree.
  • Carefully examine ancestor hints in your tree before accepting them. Hints cover only about 10 percent of Ancestry’s historical record collections, so you also should search the site’s databases. 
  • Search specific record collections or categories to better target your search and make results more manageable. Use the Card Catalog and the Search dropdown menu to find promising records. For example, Martin C. Theilmann was a notorious swindler near San Francisco. A global search for his name finds California voter registers, city directories and an 1891 newspaper article about his arrest for mail fraud. Then I viewed a list of California-specific records by selecting All Collections from the Search menu, looking under Explore by Location and choosing California. The category California Wills, Probates, Land, Tax & Criminal, has a database called Prison and Correctional Records, 1851–1950. Searching it shows that M. C. Theilmann, a 47-year-old bookkeeper born in Denmark, began serving an 18-month sentence in San Quentin on Oct. 26, 1891. It also gives a physical description.
  • To capture ancestral records that don’t exactly match what you’ve been told or are hard to read, use flexible search options including date ranges, sounds-alike name filters, and search wildcards (* stands in for zero to five characters; ? stands in for one character).

Ancestry online trees​

  • You can create a public or private online tree with free basic registration, and invite other people to collaborate on it with you. You need a paid membership to view most of Ancestry’s historical records and attach them to your tree, but a few records on Ancestry are free.
  • Download any records you attach to your tree during a free-access offer, as the records will become subscription-only when the offer ends. Or if you sync your tree with RootsMagic or Family Tree Maker software, records and information in your tree will automatically be backed up on your hard drive.
  • You’ll get hints to matching ancestor profiles in others’ trees, but only those that are attached to sources on Ancestry. Most profiles without Ancestry sources don’t show up in search results. If you start a tree by uploading a GEDCOM file, those profiles won’t be searchable on Ancestry unless you attach sources from the site.
  • Ancestry online trees are indexed infrequently, so it could take many months for your new tree or changes to an existing tree to show up in others’ searches on Ancestry.

Ancestry DNA testing​

  • If you link your DNA results to your public tree on Ancestry, it’ll be easier to determine how you’re related to matches. The site also can use your tree data to place you in DNA Circles (groups of matches whose trees have the same ancestor) or send you New Ancestor discoveries (hints to existing DNA Circles you match).
  • To link a tree, go to your DNA home page and click Link to Tree, then select a tree (or click Start Tree if you don’t yet have one). Find yourself in the tree and click Link DNA results. To change the link, click Settings on your DNA home page, then click Edit under Family Tree Linking. 
  • You need a paid Ancestry membership to view DNA matches’ trees and surnames, be placed in DNA Circles and get New Ancestor Discoveries. You don’t need a paid membership to view and contact matches or to get ethnicity estimates.

Ancestry support​


  • Public: free, registration required
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members (access to digitized items that are otherwise restricted for viewing in a FamilySearch Center): free, registration required

Main features

  • FamilySearch Family Tree with user-contributed photos and documents
  • Historical records from the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere
  • User-contributed genealogies
  • Digitized family history books
  • Research Wiki of how-to articles

FamilySearch search tips​

  • You can’t search everything at once on FamilySearch, so take time to explore the site. Hover your mouse cursor over Search at the top of any page to see resources and search options, including the following resources.
  • Choose Records to search historical records from around the world. To view a list of individual record collections, including browse-only record images that haven’t yet been indexed by name, look near the search form for a link to Browse All Published Collections.
  • Choose Family Tree, then click the Find button to search profiles in the collaborative Family Tree. It’s designed to avoid duplication and has just one profile for each ancestral person.
  • Choose Genealogies to search millions of family trees that users have uploaded. Keep in mind these trees aren’t independently verified.
  • Click Catalog to search for descriptions of records, books and other genealogical materials held at the Family History Library and sometimes at branch FamilySearch Centers. Start with a place search for towns, counties, and states where your family lived. A camera icon indicates catalog entries that link to digitized versions of the item on the FamilySearch website—including records that aren’t yet searchable via the Records search.
  • Choose Books to search the text of more than 350,000 digitized family histories, county histories, gazetteers, and other genealogy publications. Some books are viewable from home; for others, a message will direct you to access it from a computer at a FamilySearch Center.

More FamilySearch tools

  • Click Memories on the FamilySearch home page to organize, preserve and share digitized family photos, documents, stories and audio in FamilySearch memories. Upload images and annotate them with dates, places, and descriptions. Tag faces in your pictures, and they’ll be linked to the corresponding persons’ profiles in the Family Tree.
  • Memories works with PDF, JPG, TXT, MP3, PNG or TIF files, of up to 15MB each. I scanned my grandmother’s diary, added an introduction and an index of names, and used Adobe Acrobat to combine all those pages into three PDF files. I split the PDF into three files under 15MB, then linked them to my grandmother’s Family Tree profile and to the profiles of all the people mentioned in the diary. I’ve also scanned autograph albums, an autobiography, family Bible pages, letters and Civil War pension files. I saved them all as PDF files, uploaded them to Memories and linked them to profiles in the Family Tree. Now they’ll be accessible to anyone researching those people.
  • You can organize your uploaded files into albums in your Memories Gallery and share links to individual Memories and albums. See sample of Olmsted family album at
  • To add ancestors to the Family Tree, choose Tree from the Family Tree dropdown menu. You’ll be prompted to add yourself, your parents and so on. The site will search to see if each person is already in the tree (note that anyone can change any relative’s profile in the tree). On a person’s page, click on the Time Line tab to see life events, add new ones, and view their locations on the map. Click on the Show button to select the types of events and relationships to display here. This helps you understand your ancestor’s life and spot missing events and possible errors.
  • Have fun with family information and photos at FamilySearch Discovery. Compare-a-Face, for example, analyzes pictures of you and your ancestors to determine whom you most resemble. You also can record a story and (coming soon as of this publication) add yourself to historical photos.

FamilySearch support​


  • Premium (2,500 people in tree, Smart Matching and advanced DNA features): $109/year 
  • PremiumPlus (the above, plus unlimited people in family tree and access to historical records): $179/year
  • Data (250 people in tree, plus access to historical records): $159/ year
  • Complete (all of the above): $249/ year
  • DNA test: $79

Main features

  • DNA testing
  • Online trees with hints to family trees and major record collections
  • Historical records from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia

MyHeritage search tips

  • To manually search the historical record collections and family trees on MyHeritage, select Search All Records from the Research tab to open SuperSearch. To narrow your search, select a category on the right, such as census records or family trees. 
  • Select Collection Catalog from the research tab to search specific groups of records. Use the filters along the left-hand side to drill down to the records collection you want to search.

MyHeritage family trees​

  • Sync your family trees. Maintain your family tree on MyHeritage, use the free Family Tree Builder software on your computer or keep your tree on a mobile device – or all three. Whichever combination you choose, you can synchronize your online and offline family trees so they’re always up-to-date. For instance, use Family Tree Builder to add photos, sources or new names to the file on your computer, and all the changes will be reflected in your online tree on MyHeritage. Likewise, changes in your online tree will sync to your Family Tree Builder file.
  • Search directly from your family tree. With just a click or two, you can search the historical record collections and family trees on MyHeritage for someone in your online tree. Just click on a name to open the person’s profile then click on Research this Person.
  • Receive record hints. MyHeritage works in the background to find matches in historical records and family trees for people in your Family Tree Builder software and on your MyHeritage family tree. A green icon beside a name indicates Smart Matching has found matches in other family trees, and an orange icon indicates Record Matching has found matches in historical records. For example, Record Matching found John H. Pennington in the 1880 census with his first wife in Minnesota. After confirming the match, I extracted his information to my online family tree.

MyHeritage DNA testing​

  • Upload your DNA results from other companies. If you or a relative have already taken a DNA test with AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you can upload the raw DNA data to MyHeritage and get DNA matches for free. However, you’ll need to pay a one-time fee (or have the right subscription) to unlock ethnicity estimates and other features.
  • Search, filter and sort your DNA matches. Click on the magnifying glass icon to search for a name. You can search on a first, middle or last name— or a combination of them. The search covers both your DNA matches and their family trees. Click on Filters to limit your matches by various criteria, such as ethnicity or location (where your match lives now) and matches who’ve uploaded a family tree. 


  • Essential British & Irish (including US, UK, and Irish vital records): $14.95/month or $129/year
  • Ultimate British & Irish (the above, plus UK and Irish military records, British military records, and wills and probate records): $19.95/ month or $179/year
  • Pay-per-view credits: 100 credits for $14.95; 300 credits for $37.95; 900 credits for $82.95
  • DNA test: $99, through Findmypast’s partner Living DNA

Main features

Historical records and newspapers from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and elsewhere

Findmypast search tips

  • Get hints for historical records. Simply create a family tree on Findmypast or import a GEDCOM file. Findmypast automatically provides hints to potential matches for your ancestors in its records database.
  • Eventually, Findmypast will make it possible to search other users’ family trees. Until that long-awaited feature is finally implemented, you might turn to Findmypast’s sister site, Genes Reunited, which has more than 236 million names in family trees, many with connections to Great Britain and Ireland.

Findmypast record collections​

  • Zero in on the records most likely to pertain to your ancestors. To find a relevant collection, select A–Z of Record Sets from the Search tab. Under Showing Record Sets From, select a country or select World to display an alphabetical list of all record sets. For instance, to find collections from Norfolk County, England, first show record sets from England. Below that, a box appears where you can filter the record sets by county. Click Show All to display all the counties, then select Norfolk. The matches include collections that are national in scope, as well as collections that focus on Norfolk County.
  • Use keywords to more quickly find collections. For example, to find collections specific to Norfolk County, select record sets from England, enter Norfolk in the search box at the top of the page, and press enter. This displays collections from England with Norfolk in the title.
  • A global search doesn’t produce matches in the Newspapers & Periodicals category, so you need to search in that category separately. Try searching the Newspapers records category for a name, plus a place of residence or another term closely associated with your relative. My ancestor Samuel Jones, for instance, lived in the parish of Llanigon, Breconshire, Wales, so I clicked on Newspaper records, selected the British newspapers collection and searched on his first and last names plus Llanigon as a keyword. The 18 matches include an article announcing an auction of the belongings of the recently deceased Samuel Jones.

Findmypast living DNA tie-in

Findmypast has a partnership with Living DNA, a genetics firm whose DNA test identifies specific regions in Great Britain and Ireland where your ancestors lived. Click the DNA tab on, then on the link for the free DNA upload. Upload your raw DNA results from any of the major companies to get free matches when Living DNA’s Family Networks service launches. You can later upgrade your account to get an ethnicity estimate.


  • Basic: $7.95/month, $44.95/six months; discounts for subscribers
  • Publisher Extra (includes select newspapers from 1923 and later): $19.90/month or $74.90/six months; discounts for subscribers

Main features

US newspapers back to 1690, plus some from Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and Panama search tips

  • Instead of searching on each alternate spelling of a name, use wildcards to cover all of them at once. A question mark replaces a single letter, so a search on Eli?abeth finds both Elizabeth and Elisabeth. An asterisk replaces zero or more letters, so Rob*son finds Robson, Robison, Robeson, Robinson, and Robertson.
  • Save time by using the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT to combine several searches into one. Instead of doing separate searches on the different forms of John H. Pennington’s name combined with the various countries where he lived, I can cover them all in one query: (“J. H. Pennington” OR “John H. Pennington”) AND (Cuba OR Honduras OR Colombia OR “South America”). You can further limit your results by filtering by date.
  • Research multiple kinds of newspaper records. Newspapers are the best source for local news, and if your ancestors were involved in a scandal, they probably made the headlines.
  • Filter by location. The advanced search form (click “Add more info” from the home page) has a “Paper Location” box where you can enter the newspaper’s place of publication. You can enter a city, state, county or country name in that box. When you enter a place-name in the Paper Location box, a list of matching places appears. Select a place to search all the papers on published there. If the place you want doesn’t appear in the pop-up list, then doesn’t have papers from that location.
  • Searching for newspapers by county could be especially useful if doesn’t have a paper from the town where your ancestors lived. Newspapers in other towns in the county might have carried news items that mention your ancestors. obituaries​

  • Jam-packed with names, dates, places, and biographical details, obituaries are worth targeting. You might easily find an obituary for someone with an uncommon name. A search on Ella Waffle Mosher (her given, maiden and married names) produces 937 matches. Filtering the matches to Illinois, where she was born, whittles them down to 70, and a quick perusal of them turns up her obituary in a 1954 issue of the Galesburg Register-Mail. 
  • When searching for the obituary of someone who had a common name, you might have to add another term, such as the spouse’s name or a place of residence. You could also limit matches to the year of death if known. Also, try adding terms common in obituaries, such as obituary, death, died and funeral. If you know where the person lived, focus on newspapers published in that city or county. Search on the name as a phrase (surrounded by quotation marks) and try different forms of the name. A man might be referred to by his initials (“E. R. Mosher”) and a woman might appear under her husband’s name (“Mrs. Enoch R. Mosher”) or even his initials (“Mrs. E. R. Mosher”).
  • If a search doesn’t turn up an obituary and you have a date and place of death, try browsing page by page. Sometimes the OCR (optical character recognition) used to convert newspapers to searchable text misreads letters.


$7.95/month or $79.95/year; discounts for and subscribers

Main features

US military records from the Revolutionary War to the present

Fold3 search tips

  • You can search all of Fold3 for free, and you can view some records for free. To see a complete list of Fold3’s record collections, click the Browse tab, then View Title List in the upper right-hand corner. Free collections are marked with the word Free in green. Click on “the” or in a circle for more information on a collection. For example, Fold3 has digitized about three-fourths of War of 1812 pension files, and they are free to view at Other free collections include all international titles, such as British Army WWI service and pension records and Australian service records for World Wars I and II. 
  • You can get free access to Fold3 at subscribing libraries and FamilySearch Centers. Find a FamilySearch Center at
  • Use indexes to look for records that haven’t been digitized. For example, Fold3 is currently digitizing original military records at the US National Archives, and that project might take years to complete. In the meantime, check Fold3’s digitized index cards for the War of 1812 and Civil War pensions. If the records you need haven’t been digitized yet, order copies of the original pension files directly from the National Archives.
  • Annotate records. When you find a record of interest, use the plus button in the image viewer toolbar at the top. Select the part of the image you’d like to annotate. Then choose name, date, location, transcription or comment from the options at the top and fill in the corresponding information. For example, if a record refers to a woman by her married surname, you could add her maiden name. These annotations become searchable, and others interested in that record can contact you through the site. (Note that the plus button on the right enlarges the image.)

Fold3 and Ancestry

  • Ancestry owns Fold3, and you can get a discount on a combined membership to Ancestry, Newspapers. com Basic and Fold3.
  • Many resources that require a paid subscription on Fold3 are also on Ancestry. Both services have the same key military records, including Revolutionary War pension and service files; indexes to service and pension files from the War of 1812 and the Civil War; and draft registration cards for World War I and World War II (fourth registration, 1942).
  • Key records on Fold3 but not Ancestry include Union and Confederate Civil War service records, Civil War “Widows’ Pension” files, and FBI cases files from 1785 to 1972. Fold3 has an index and images for the WWII draft registration cards from the first registration in 1940 (“Young Men,” ages 21 to 36), while Ancestry has just the index. The Civil War service and pension files and the WWII draft registration cards are longterm digitization projects and not yet complete. Fold3’s indexes are also much more complete than Ancestry’s. Fold3’s Civil War “Widows’ Pensions” collection indexes not only the names of the soldier and widow or other pensioners but also children and other dependents. Fold3 also indexes all the names in Revolutionary War pension files, such as wives and children.


$19.95/month or $69.95/year

Main features

9,000 newspaper titles from all 50 states, dating from 1690 to the present

GenealogyBank search tips

  • Wildcard searching on GenealogyBank is unreliable, but you can use the Boolean operator OR. Think of keywords closely associated with your target person and use them with OR to find the most relevant matches. In the case of John H. Pennington, two such words are divorce and bigamy. A search on the first name John H, the last name Pennington and the keyword bigamy OR divorce for the range 1880 to 1909 produces five matches. (Without OR, the search would include only results that have both keywords.) 
  • GenealogyBank has partnered with FamilySearch to index obituaries. You can search obituaries on either site, but the indexes are different. The GenealogyBank index covers only the obituaries themselves, but the still-incomplete FamilySearch index (called “United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries, 1980–2014” ) includes other names mentioned in them, such as those of surviving relatives. Search each using different information: GenealogyBank on the deceased’s name and to view the full obituary, and the free FamilySearch collection to find other names in the obituary.
  • GenealogyBank has many newspapers that have an ethnic focus, including some foreign-language titles. You can limit your search to newspapers published for a particular ethnic group. Scroll down almost any page on the site and, under Genealogy Resources, click one of the ethnicity-specific options (African-American Newspapers, German-American Ancestry, etc.). You’ll see a search form with boxes for first and last names. Click on Advanced Search to add keywords or a date range.
  • If you have a date and place but can’t find the records you’re looking for, consider browsing individual newspapers. Go to the home page, select Newspapers by State from the Browse menu then choose a state and newspaper. Enter a common word, such as the, in the keyword box. Enter a date range like 06/03/1809 to 06/10/1809, then click the Search button. Sort results by Oldest First so they’re in chronological order. Display an article with the date you want to browse in a new window. On the left, click Pages to List all pages in this issue. To browse the whole issue, you might start by clicking on Page 1. To go to another page, you have to click on Pages again and select the page number. When you’re done with that issue, close the window. To search for another date, go back to your search results.

GenealogyBank Collections​

  • Hover over Collections at the top of a page, and you’ll see several options. Among them, you can search subsets of GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper database: birth records, marriage records, passenger lists, and historical (1704–1977) obituaries. Choose one of these options, and your search results will be limited to articles tagged as that type(s). Note that these Collections don’t include all birth records, marriage records, passenger lists and obituaries in the database’s newspapers, and some articles are tagged incorrectly. You’ll still want to search the entire newspaper archive to cover all your bases.
  • You can also search for more recent obituaries. Click the Collections tab and select recent newspaper obituaries (1977–present) to search more than 250 million obituaries. Since the database updates daily, some obituaries are listed a day before they actually appear in newspapers.


None (free)

Main features

Digitized US newspapers from 1789 to 1963  US newspaper directory, 1690 to the present

Chronicling America Basic Search tips

  • The Search Pages tab gives you basic search options. You can search on one or more terms and limit the search by state and range of years. A search on an uncommon last name, Shaubut, produces more than 600 matches—all references to my relatives. Use the options at the top of the results page to limit matches to Minnesota newspapers from 1883 to 1883 (just one year), then hit the Go button to narrows results to seven. One of them, a Swedish-language newspaper published in St. Paul in January 1883, has a death notice for my ancestor Elisabeth Shaubut who died in Mankato at age 86. I used Google Translate to translate it.
  • Use quotation marks to search on a phrase. A search on Elisabeth Shaubut produces only the match in the Swedish-language newspaper, but a search on a different spelling, Elizabeth Shaubut, turns up a death notice in an English-language newspaper. According to it, she died at age 85 and had been a resident of Mankato since 1856.
  • If you’re stuck, be sure to try alternate spellings of a name. Note: Chronicling America doesn’t support wildcards.

Chronicling America Advanced Search tips

  • The Advanced Search tab gives you more search options and makes it easy to search on multiple terms. John H. Pennington, often known as J. H. Pennington, left Minnesota in 1881 and moved around a lot, but I’ve been able to track him down using newspapers. Entering J. H. Pennington in the Phrase search box and a range of years from 1881 to 1909 produces more than 200 matches, most of which are the wrong guy. 
  • To revise the search, click on the Advanced Search tab. By adding terms closely associated with your search target, you can focus your search on the most relevant articles. J. H. Pennington lived in Colombia for a while and had a series of wives and aff airs. Adding the terms Colombia bigamy divorce in the box for Any of the Words and clicking the Search button narrows the matches to just a handful. One of the results, an article on Dec. 23, 1895, San Francisco Call, says that J. H. Pennington was “a fine, military-looking gentleman, who had money to spend freely” and was “a visitor at all the exclusive clubs.” In Colombia, he married the daughter of a rich planter, but her parents soon discovered that he still had a wife in California. Charged with bigamy, he escaped to New York. The Colombian government sought his immediate extradition. As this example shows, newspaper archives can add a lot of color and context to your family history. 

Chronicling America: The Newspaper Directory

  • To locate copies of newspapers published in your ancestors’ hometowns, click on US Newspaper Directory, 1690–Present. You can browse by title or search on the place of publication, years, language and other options. If a library has a “microfilm service copy” of a newspaper, it might be available on interlibrary loan. Check with your public library.
  • The directory doesn’t indicate if a newspaper is online. Before you order a microfilmed newspaper on interlibrary loan, try to determine if it’s online anywhere. Check the major newspaper sites, such as GenealogyBank and, as well as online newspaper directories, such as Online Historical Newspapers and Wikipedia’s list of online newspaper archives.

Elise Monson