Triple Threat

Triple Threat

How do the “big three” genealogy sites measure up to each other—
and to your research needs? We’ll compare the sites’ records,
search features and more.

3 Genealogy Websites
 

Three main contenders have come to dominate the world of commercial genealogy websites: Ancestry.com, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Each is a heavyweight in historical records content. Each has dedicated fans who subscribe for full seasons of intense genealogical action or pay-per-view for records.

So which site should win your subscription dollars? Who emerges the victor when all three are in the ring? It depends on the genealogist who’s refereeing the match. Today, it’s you. So grab your striped shirt and get ready to make some tough calls in the ongoing battle between three very worthy opponents. Oh, and you’re also putting up the prize purse, in the form of your membership dollars. But you get to take the winner(s) home with you for six months to a year—or at least for 30 pay-per-view credits.

Meet the contenders

Big genealogy websites offer a lot of content and features, but it can be hard for users to get around the site and figure out if it meets their needs. We spoke with representatives from each company, who in turn consulted colleagues who shared expertise in specific aspects of each site. Let’s start with an overview of our contenders:

Ancestry.com is the most-recognized genealogy brand in the United States, thanks to its veteran status, huge record count that includes full runs of popular US records, and marketing efforts including a high-profile sponsorship of “Who Do You Think You Are?” International collections cover 67 countries. Ancestry.com is the only site that integrates DNA into the research process. The corporate family includes sister sites Archives.com, Fold3 and Newspapers.com.

Findmypast offers deep reach into UK records. The site started with British birth, marriage and death registers to 1837, and now includes a range of government records, along with British and Irish newspapers. Findmypast, a company owned by UK-based DC Thomson, has expanded records coverage and marketing efforts into the United States and Australia. Partner and subsidiary sites include ScotlandsPeople, the British Newspaper Archive, Genes Reunited and Mocavo (which is being merged into Findmypast at press time).

MyHeritage began as a family networking and tree-building website from Israel-based MyHeritage. The site still shows unbeatable strength in these areas, as well as in the powerful, creative search technologies. Its strong and growing international fan base gives it another edge in the ring: It currently serves customers in 42 languages, and its trees are the most internationally diverse in the industry. In its corporate corner are Geni.com (a unified family tree website) and World Vital Records.

If you’re wondering why the FamilySearch website isn’t in this match-up, it’s because the site’s owner, Utah-based FamilySearch, is a nonprofit that doesn’t compete for subscription dollars. It has partnered with all three of the commercial sites covered here to supply them with historical records in exchange for access to the sites’ record indexes, technologies, investment in FamilySearch digitization efforts or other terms. For the purpose of this contest, imagine FamilySearch.org as the front-row fan holding up foam fingers for all three contenders.

 

Breaking records

The core strength of a genealogy website is its historical records content. (Note that when most websites supply a record count, they’re referring to the number of names recorded in a collection, not to the number of documents it contains.) Total number of records, geographic strengths and rate of record addition can change quickly and be difficult to assess. All three sites offer free memberships and a range of subscription options, but for comparison purposes, we’ll cover the records and features available to top-tier subscribers. 

For historical records, MyHeritage comes in third place with 4.2 billion names. Findmypast roughly doubles that to nearly 8 billion. Another doubling of the number brings us to the staggering 16 billion-plus records on Ancestry.com.

“We’re adding records at the rate of 2 million per day on average,” says Ancestry.com spokesperson Matthew Deighton. “Over the last five years the average has been more than 1 billion records added annually.” He adds that Ancestry.com “is the largest digitizer of historical records each year” and that the company focuses most of its resources into digitizing content that’s unavailable elsewhere online.

Findmypast is growing quickly, too. Company research expert Alex Cox says the site adds millions of records each month and “will add more new records in 2016 than ever before in the company’s history.” 

MyHeritage doesn’t give specific statistics, but according to public relations manager Aaron Godfrey, millions of records and family tree profiles are added to the site each day. 

The sites’ trees and related user-submitted records also can be counted separately from historical records. For now, Findmypast doesn’t rank in this category because users can’t yet search trees (this feature is on the horizon for 2016). MyHeritage subscribers can search about 28 million trees that include 2.6 billion individual profiles and 200 million photographs. Ancestry.com slightly more than doubles most of those numbers, with about 70 million trees containing around 6 billion profiles and 300 million photos, documents and stories.

Tip: Search records on all three of these contending sites using the computers at a local FamilySearch Center or at many public libraries.
 

Keeping Stats

Historical records

12 billion; Ancestry.com collections listed here

nearly 8 billion; Findmypast collections listed here

4.2 billion; MyHeritage collections listed here

Trees

70 million, with 6 billion profiles

you can build a tree here, but can’t yet search others’ trees

28 million trees with 2.6 billion profiles

Unique features

leader in US record content

DNA testing provider

DNA/family tree integration

companion desktop software  

leader in unique UK records and newspapers

Periodical Source Index

globally diverse trees

unique search technologies

family websites

companion desktop software

Best access subscription price

$149 for six months of Ancestry World Explorer

$199.50 annually for Findmypast World

$179.40 annually for a Bundle plan, which combines Premium Plus and Data plans

Site info and help

Ancestry.com blog

Ancestry.com help

Findmypast blog

Findmypast FAQs

MyHeritage blog

MyHeritage help

 

Core strengths

Heavyweight numbers of records and trees are most effective when that weight is well-distributed, and you can find records of most interest to your family history, geographically and chronologically. 

Primary collections: The three contenders all host core US and UK content—basic, popular record groups with broad coverage. All have the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and population schedules for US censuses up to 1940. The same goes for English censuses up to 1911 and indexes to English and Scottish births and christenings dating to the 1500s. All have received millions of records through partnerships with nonprofit site FamilySearch.org. Ancestry.com describes these as “a very small portion of our overall increase in records.”

MyHeritage includes among its search results digitized US newspaper pages dating as far back as the 1600s from partner site NewspaperARCHIVE. Findmypast offers many of the same papers as well. Each site has additional, exclusive newspaper content, too—see below for more details. Ancestry.com has limited newspaper content, with more on a sister site, Newspapers.com (available through a separate subscription). 

US records: Genealogists with deep US roots benefit from Ancestry.com’s enormous and unique US collections. Ancestry.com hosts the only significant collection of special census schedules (slave, mortality, agriculture and more) and incorporates user-submitted census corrections into the search process. State and territorial census data are rich, as are state- and county-level vital and church records. Its collection of US city directory entries now surpasses 1.5 billion. 

In 2015, Ancestry.com released its Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, covering 49 million people and including birth dates and -places and parents’ names (which don’t show up on the SSDI). It also launched an enormous and still-growing collection of US wills and probate records, with more than 170 million indexed records from all 50 states. These records result from a partnership with FamilySearch, though the records aren’t indexed on the FamilySearch site. The United States is the company’s largest area of records content investment.

Findmypast is now home to 850 million US records (and more coming soon). In addition to core census and vital records, it focuses on immigration and naturalization documents that point back to the United Kingdom. Its impressive makeover of PERSI (short for Periodical Source Index), the index to genealogical content in US and Canadian periodicals, increasingly includes digitized content.

UK records: Findmypast is the still-unbeaten online records king for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Exclusive content includes 41 million names from the 1939 Register (full access is pay-per view, even for subscribers), about 220 million names from electoral registers in England and Wales, and UK parish registers dating to the 1500s. The site’s exclusive Irish records predate the 1840s famine. These include court records, workhouse registers, poverty relief loans and more.

In addition, Findmypast has more than 12.5 million digitized newspaper pages from the British Library and adds roughly 2 to 3 million pages per year. More than 9 million Irish newspaper articles appear online, too. “The collection spans 231 years of Irish history (1719-1950), contains 74 different titles and covers every county in Ireland,” Cox says. “Few Irish family history resources date back as far and provide such a wealth of information.”

Ancestry.com does boast a billion UK records, mostly from the past century or so. A quarter of those UK records come from phone books since 1880. Another 185 million are indexes of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales since 1916. About 213 million records are user-submitted photos and documents, 53 million of which are private. 

Other global records: If Ancestry.com wins the numbers game in the US records category and Findmypast in the UK record category, MyHeritage is a serious contender for “everywhere else.” Its most consistent and unique global content is user-submitted trees.

MyHeritage originally specialized in hosting online family networks and trees. During its early years, it acquired German, Polish, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, UK and French genealogy websites—and the trees that went with them. MyHeritage also has partnered with major Jewish organizations such as JewishGen to preserve Jewish family trees from around the world. 

The multilingual interface on MyHeritage has major appeal to non-English-language tree builders. It serves customers in 42 languages and has built-in translation for names in your ancestor searches. Savvy researchers look here for overseas relatives, who, especially if they stayed in the ancestral homeland, may know more about your common roots. 

MyHeritage has built up its records collections in targeted regions, most recently Scandinavia. It has published 54 million records from Swedish Household Examination Rolls (1880-1920) and is digitizing 120 million census and parish records from the National Archives of Denmark. The 1930 Danish census is already online.

Ancestry.com, another international genealogy powerhouse, has records from 67 countries, with the most for the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Germany, France and Italy (it offers separate subscription packages for each of these countries). It’s been aggressively building collections for Mexico and Germany.

Findmypast remains focused on countries with a strong historical link to the British Empire. In addition to US and UK portals, Findmypast offers country-level access for Ireland and Australia, and hosts ScotlandsPeople. Look this year for new records for Australia and New Zealand, as well as US and UK records.

 

In search of victory

A superior athlete knows that delivery affects the impact of a fastball or shot-on-goal. Similarly, a strong genealogy website should deliver records with fast, powerful and accurate search interfaces. 

All three sites have sophisticated search features. The main search boxes all perform simple or complex searches (your choice). You can select exact or similar matching for your search terms and filter your results by record type and/or location. You even can leave names out of searches and, for example, look for all people born on a certain date in a certain place.

MyHeritage and Ancestry.com allow you to add gender, relatives’ names, keywords and several life events to your searches, which can be helpful when trying to narrow results or search for all relatives of a particular person. MyHeritage also includes a handy age calculator and a full-blown name translation feature. The latter searches its historical records and trees for name translations in multiple languages, and includes the translation with the result. 

“Wildcard” searches, in which you use special characters to substitute for unknown characters, are possible on Findmypast and Ancestry.com. For example, on Ancestry.com you can substitute a question mark for a single character and an asterisk (*) for up to five characters. Cox describes Findmypast’s wildcard searches as “extremely flexible: you can conduct a wildcard search on a single letter if you wish to do so.” 

Automated record matching for indexed records is available on all three sites, provided you have a family tree on the site. These can be a time-saver—just remember that potential record matches are suggestions. Make sure a record is indeed a match before you add it to your tree. Here’s a brief explanation of each site’s system:

Ancestry.com: A “shaky leaf” hint appears on a profile in your tree when the site identifies new records as a potential match for that person. About 90 percent of Ancestry.com’s content is included in the hinting process. 

Findmypast: This site has the youngest hinting system, expected to be in beta format until mid-2016. It pulls hints from birth, marriage, death and most census collections, looking for matches on full names and birth year. “In the future, we’ll be adding immigration and naturalization, military and other records to Findmypast hinting,” Cox says. 

MyHeritage: Several proprietary matching technologies are part of MyHeritage’s suggested records system. Record Matches and Smart Matches match your ancestors with historical records and other tree profiles, respectively. According to the site, these technologies are about 97 to 98 percent accurate, based on user acceptance rates. A third technology, Record Detective, suggests additional records based on the search results that interest you (i.e. “If you like this record, you may also like this other one”).

All three sites use optical character recognition (OCR) technology to keyword-search content that hasn’t been indexed by humans. At Findmypast, this applies most to newspaper content and some books. Thousands more books will be added, thanks in part to Findmypast’s acquisition of Mocavo. Ancestry.com applies OCR technology to printed data such as newspapers, family histories, school yearbooks and city directories.

MyHeritage, the only site that automates hints for newspaper records, has taken its OCR searches of newspapers to the next level with its Newspaper Matches technology. It matches entire trees (not just individual profiles) to newspaper obituaries, wedding announcements and other family notices. These matches are highly accurate. It makes sense: Imagine how many family names, dates and places appear in both our trees and in obituaries. 

Two sites also use their powerful search interfaces to reach into records elsewhere online. Ancestry.com now points searchers to more than 100 million records from 250 free collections on other websites, including Find A Grave and Rootsweb. Your search results on Ancestry.com give you basic details and link you to the other site for full information. At MyHeritage, offsite searches focus on partner sites and licensed content from websites such as BillionGraves, Geni (now part of MyHeritage), Tributes and FamilySearch. Findmypast has plans to connect users with data from FamilySearch, BillionGraves and other genealogy sites.

 

Extra points

In this final “speed round,” contenders go for technical points and style with their online tools. These include family tree platforms, collaborative ability, social networking tools, mobile accessibility and genetic tools.

Family trees: Subscribers to all three sites can build unlimited online trees, which they can download as GEDCOM files to archive or share. Privacy protections exist for living relatives in trees on all three sites, as does the ability to maintain a private tree. 

If you keep a tree on My-Heritage, you can sync it with your tree in the free Family Tree Builder desktop software. Ancestry.com has sold its Family Tree Maker software to Software MacKiev, which will continue to make it available. In addition, Ancestry.com will connect with RootsMagic software by the end of the year. 

The relative merits (and demerits) of each site’s tree platforms are somewhat subjective and may be a lower priority for you than record content. Ancestry.com’s family trees overhaul of 2015 received mixed reviews, with negative comments focusing on visual elements, changes in navigation and inclusion of “big-picture” historical events in ancestor timelines.

Research collaboration: Subscribers at all three sites can invite relatives to view (and in many cases, edit) their trees. Tools vary for connecting with other site users researching common roots.

At MyHeritage, collaboration is powered by two technologies: the previously mentioned Smart Matches and Search Connect. As of June, the site boasted 22 million confirmed Smart Matches between users. Search Connect, launched late in 2015, converts other users’ past searches for rare surnames into a searchable database itself, so you can find those who’ve looked for people in your tree. Though users can opt out of being included for past or future searches, this clever mining of MyHeritage’s own data will likely prove rewarding for many stymied researchers.

On Ancestry.com, you can search others’ public trees for common relatives and get in touch with the tree host by sending a message through the site’s Member Connect service. Individual ancestor profiles also have a section showing other members who’ve researched that person recently. Ancestry.com keeps you up-to-date with changes made by those with whom you connect, both in individual profiles and on your home page. Ancestry.com members have logged more than 8 billion connections between trees since 2008. 

At press time, Findmypast lacks publicly searchable trees, so it’s not possible to identify or contact other tree owners. 

Social networking tools: MyHeritage and Ancestry.com have the most substantial social media tools for subscribers. MyHeritage leads in helping relatives socialize beyond research collaboration. Each member gets a family website with a unique URL, customized greeting, family calendar that automatically populates with living relatives’ birthdays and anniversaries (and to which you can add upcoming family events), the ability to upload and tag unlimited photos and the ability to invite nonsubscribing relatives to view and contribute content. Your MyHeritage family tree shares this environment, making it easy for relatives to explore it.

Ancestry.com’s social media tools are more narrowly focused on research and sharing your finds via social media. Once you add a record to your tree, you can share it on Facebook, Google+ or via email. Ancestry.com also hosts RootsWeb, where genealogists have long posted questions, data and research finds. 

Mobile accessibility: All three sites are now mobile-friendly. This means when you pull them up in a web browser on a small screen, you will find the layout re-sized and simplified for easy navigation.

Ancestry.com and MyHeritage also have free, robust mobile apps that let you create, access, edit and sync online trees; upload photos; respond to automated hints; search records and more. The MyHeritage app is available through the Apple App Store and Google Play, where users have rated it at 3.5 stars and 4 stars (out of 5), respectively. The Ancestry app can be downloaded from the App Store (4.5 stars), where it scored a Best App of 2012 award, as well as Google Play (4 stars) and Amazon.com (4 stars). Findmypast doesn’t yet have a mobile app.

DNA integration: Ancestry.com is the only website that sells its own DNA tests and integrates test results with online trees. The site’s evolving, groundbreaking interface includes tools such as DNA Circles, Shared Matches and New Ancestry Discoveries (still in beta format) to help Ancestry.com subscribers who purchase AncestryDNA tests discover the ancestors they share with their closest genetic matches. As the DNA database grows (over a million and counting!) chances of finding matches improves. Common test-taker complaints include slow or no responses to messages to genetic matches (to be fair, this also is a frequent gripe about other DNA testing websites) and lack of a chromosome browser, which necessitates the use of third-party tools for in-depth analysis. (For help using your genetic genealogy test results, see our Using DNA to Solve Family Mysteries on-demand webinar.)

Findmypast and MyHeritage have DNA landing pages that direct users to third-party DNA testing companies with which each site has partnered. In 2014, MyHeritage and 23andme struck an agreement to integrate the former’s test results with the latter’s trees; at press time this hadn’t yet come to fruition.  

Buying tickets

It’s almost time for you, as referee, to declare a winner of this match-up. Or, like an increasing number of genealogists, to recognize more than one champion and carry off multiple subscriptions (or find a library that offers an institutional version of the site you want). So we come to the final important consideration: the cost of each prize purse.

Because the sites structure their membership packages differently, the only easy comparison is between the lowest annual rates for top-tier packages. Generally, sites will show you a monthly rate, but bill you once for the full cost of your annual or six-month membership. You may be able to pay by the month, but the rate is usually higher and your subscription will probably auto-renew unless you cancel within the time frame the site specifies. Finally, it’s a good idea to subscribe to the websites’ newsletters, “Like” them on Facebook and visit their blogs to find out about subscription sales.

Ancestry.com: This site offers monthly and six-month packages for US and international coverage, as well as a package deal for access to sister sites. Full access to all records from the United States and around the world costs $34.99 per month or $149 for six months. Access to just US records costs $19.99 per month or $99 for six months. Full access to Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com, Fold3 and Ancestry Academy (a service offering video classes) costs $44.99 a month or $199 for six months. You can subscribe here.

MyHeritage: Here, you’ll find separate subscription packages for family tree-building and historical records access. It’s free to build a basic tree with up to 250 people and 500 MB of attached photos and videos, which also lets you view Smart Matches in other trees. A Premium family website with a 2,500-person tree and 1000 MB of media storage, plus the ability to save Smart Matches and enhanced customer support, costs $6.88 per month, billed annually at $82.50. A Premium Plus family website, which adds unlimited tree size and storage, plus access to all family trees and family photos, costs $10.95 monthly, billed annually at $131.40. 

A separate $9.95 monthly Data plan (billed annually at $119.40) gives access to all historical records and record-matching technologies. 

A “Bundle” of both types of membership (which you may see called a “Complete” plan) gives you top-tier access to historical records and family trees, plus a family website with unlimited tree size and storage, for $14.95 per month, billed annually at $179.40. Learn more here.

Findmypast: Here, you can purchase monthly or annual subscriptions for US and Canada or for World (all) records. Access to US and Canada collections costs $9.95 per month or $99.48 per year. World access costs $19.95 per month, or $199.56 for an annual subscription. See all the options here.

To view most records, you can purchase pay-per-view credits in lieu of a regular subscription—making this the only contender with that option. Credits cost $10.95 for 60; $37.95 for 300, or $82.95 for 900, and they expire after 90 days. Each record view costs 5 to 60 credits.

 

Pick a Winner

Check the categories you consider MVP material, then see which sites rate the best in that area.

Award Category                                                     

Check if important to you  

Clear Contender(s)           

 

Historical record content 

 

 

total number of records

                                             

Ancestry.com

global record coverage

Ancestry.com, MyHeritage

US record coverage

Ancestry.com

UK record coverage

Findmypast

newspaper content

Findmypast, MyHeritage

User-submitted trees

number of trees/profiles

Ancestry.com

globally diverse trees

MyHeritage

research collaboration tools

MyHeritage, Ancestry

Search technologies

 most innovative

MyHeritage

 wildcard searches

Findmypast, Ancestry.com

 automated record searches (with a tree on the site)

MyHeritage, Ancestry.com

 automated newspaper searches

MyHeritage

 external site searches

Ancestry.com, MyHeritage

Social networking with relatives

MyHeritage

Mobile apps

Ancestry.com, MyHeritage

DNA research tools

Ancestry.com

More Online:  

Free Web Content

Plus Members

Related Products

No Comments

Leave a Reply