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Genealogy Databases Worth Searching

AMONG THE MOST popular genealogy sites on the web are those which boast hundreds of thousands of names in their databases. While the high numbers are certainly impressive, the quality of the data is more difficult to measure. In most cases, the only true measure of a particular database's usefulness to you is whether or not your searches yield useful information. Here is a selection of some of the web's mega-databases, both fee-based and free of charge, together with an evaluation of their relative merits.

Name: Ancestry.com Databases
URL:
www.ancestry.com
Records: 1 billion+
"Ancestry.com has added at least one database every day since launching its service in 1997. Today, subscribers can search more than three thousand databases and over 705 million names."
        Ancestry.com is constantly placing new subscription databases online and adding to its very large collection, which already includes the popular Civil War Research Database (data on more than two million soldiers), the Periodical Source Index (index of articles written in 5,000 genealogical publications) and the US census indexes for 1790-1870. In addition, Ancestry.com allows free access to several of its databases, including the 87-million-plus-name Ancestry World Tree, which consists of pedigree files donated by Ancestry.com's users.
        Prices on subscriptions to Ancestry.com's databases range from $24.95 for three months to $69.95 for a full year ("super" subscriptions, which include full access to images from US census indexes, range from $49.90 for three months to $99.90 for a full year).

Name: 1900 Census Collection
URL:
familytreemaker.genealogy.com/1900census.html
Records: 75 million+
"Search easily by head-of-household across nearly 75 million individuals - the only source for indexed images of the complete 1900 US Census. With information provided in the 1900 US Census (names, ages, birthplaces and more), you can immediately move past word-of-mouth family history and fill holes in your family tree."
        Drawn from microfilm images of the 1900 US Federal Census, this database is searchable by head-of-household only, though the images list all family members by name.
        Annual subscriptions to the online database are $79.99; monthly subscriptions are $14.99.

Name: Ellis Island Records
URL:
www.ellisislandrecords.org
Records: 22 million+
"Between 1892 and 1924 over 22 million passengers and members of ships' crews came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York. Now you can research passenger records from ships that brought the immigrants - even see the original manifests with passengers' names."
        The genealogical world was thrilled when the volunteer-created Ellis Island record database of more than 22 million names finally went online earlier this year. The database, which allows users to greatly customize their searches, presents a list of successful hits. The detailed individual records, which contain the passenger's name, ethnicity, place of residence, date of arrival, age on arrival, gender, marital status, ship of travel and port of departure, can only be viewed by registered members. Registration is free, but it seems an unnecessary speedbump.

Name: Everton's Online Databases
URL:
www.everton.com/reference/member-info.php
Records: 85 million+
"Forty databases with over 85 MILLION NAMES! Growing weekly by 50,000 records or more!"
        While the vast majority of the 85 million names Everton's offers paid subscribers are available elsewhere for free (including more than 66 million names contained in the widely available Social Security Death Index, more than 500,000 names contained in the Ontario 1871 Census and more than three million names contained in the Kentucky Vital Records Index), Everton's subscription-only database service does offer several unique databases, including the Pedigree File, the Vietnam Memorial Database, the Leicester England Database and the Irish Prisoners Database.
        Everton's three-volume Internet Family File is a GEDCOM-donation-fuelled database of modest size. Users who donate a GEDCOM file containing at least 50 names are offered a free month of online searching at the Everton's site (a $15 value).
        Prices on subscriptions to Everton's Online Databases range from $9.95 for a week to $49.50 for a full year.

Name: FamilySearch databases
URL:
www.familysearch.org
Records: 700 million+
The volunteer-powered website of the Family History Department of the Latter-day Saints Church offers free access to three of the world's largest and most useful collections of genealogical information: Ancestral File (containing more than 35 million names organized into families and pedigrees), the International Genealogical Index (containing more than 600 million names extracted from vital records around the world) and the Family History Library Catalog (showing all the records available from the LDS Church).

Name: Family Tree of the Jewish People
URL:
www.jewishgen.org/gedcom/
Records: 1.5 million+
"The central purpose of the Family Tree of the Jewish People is to enhance Jews' ability to connect and re-connect their families and to increase interest in Jewish genealogy."
        To search the online version of the Family Tree of the Jewish People, visitors must have a researcher code and password, which can only be earned by making valid entries into the JewishGen Family Finder. Those who have not done so are not permitted to search this modest collection of user-submitted GEDCOMs, but those who have may search free of charge.

Name: FreeBMD
URL:
freebmd.rootsweb.com
Records: 18 million+
"FreeBMD stands for Free Births, Marriages, and Deaths. The FreeBMD Project's objective is to provide free Internet access to the Civil Registration index information for England and Wales. The Civil Registration system for recording births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales has been in place since 1837 and is one of the most significant single resources for genealogical research back to Victorian times."
        This free, volunteer-driven effort to place British Civil Registration records online is searchable by name, event type, year and registration district. While more than 18 million records are online now, there is still a long way to go, and the FreeBMD project is eager to recruit more volunteer transcribers.

Name: GENDEX
URL:
www.gendex.com
Records: 20 million+
"This server indexes thousands of World Wide Web databases containing genealogical data for over 20 million individuals, and gives you the ability to locate and view data of interest to you on any of these databases, without having to go and visit each of the databases separately."
        GENDEX provides a useful service by combining many of the web's smaller genealogical databases into a whole that is large enough to be worth searching. While GENDEX's search services may be used by all visitors free of charge, users may also opt to use a paid-use plan that improves GENDEX's functionality with search filters, configurable displays and priority access. Users pay a lump sum in advance in exchange for a certain number of "hit credits", which are used up when searches are made. It's a complex system, but one that seems designed to ensure that users only pay for what they use.

Name: GeneaNet
URL:
www.geneanet.org
Records: 47 million+
"Our Mission: to make the power of the Internet available to our users by setting up a universal register of all the world's genealogical resources, whether net-based or not, and whether free or fee-paying."
        This large, free database, powered by the database donations of users of the GeneWeb software program, is searchable by surname, town, country and rough time frame. Visitors are encouraged to donate their own databases in either the propietary GeneaNet format or generic GEDCOM format.

Name: GenExchange
URL:
www.genexchange.com(Note: As of April 8, 2002 this site is temporarily out of service.)
Records: ?
"The GenExchange is the oldest of the now popular data-based genealogy web sites, forging new territory and showcasing emerging technologies in 1996 to become the third largest non-commercial genealogy project on the Internet today."
        Unfortunately, this site was temporarily closed for renovations at the time this article was being written. Normally, it is one of the larger and more important sources of records.

Name: Kentucky Vital Records Index
URL:
ukcc.uky.edu/~vitalrec/
Records: 3 million+
"Because of the volume of requests and the resources needed to process them, the number of matches returned for each search is limited, so make your search as specific as possible. We cannot provide access to this data in any way other than this search service - no FTP, nothing. There is no way to circumvent the limit on search results. Please don't ask."
        The University of Kentucky offers an impressive free collection of birth, marriage, divorce and especially death records dating from 1911 to the present. Unfortunately, the records can only be searched by name (not by date, location or keyword) and the site seems to have a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

Name: MyTrees.com
URL:
www.mytrees.com
Records: 1 billion+
"MyTrees.com houses the World's Largest Pedigree-Linked Database allowing you to find family names fast. You can search over one billion names with every query."
        The subscription-only MyTrees.com database claims more names than any other site on the web, arranged in pedigree-linked format and searchable by name and date. Searchable records include more than 86 million Ancestral Archive pedigree-linked names, more than 69 million names from the Kindred Konnections submitter database and more than 16 million names from other pedigree-linked Internet sites. Users are encouraged to submit their own data, and those who have submitted information about at least 15 families and 60 individuals are offered a free month of subscription services.
        Prices for subscriptions range from $5 for 10 days to $100 for a full year, though Kindred Konnections makes the odd claims that "this fee is used for covering the costs of maintaining the database and expanding our services" and because Kindred Konnections pays these costs of doing business "the lineage-linked data is free." Since Kindred Konnections is clearly a profit-oriented enterprise, these claims are confusing.

Name: Ontario Census of 1871
URL:
www.archives.ca/02/020108_e.html
Records: 500,000+
"This database contains the names of the heads of households in the Province of Ontario as they were recorded in April 1871 in the official enumeration of the population of Canada."
        Offered free of charge by Canada's National Archives, this volunteer-created database contains records for more than 500,000 individuals who were living in the province of Ontario in 1871 and returns a detailed report containing the sex, age, birthplace, religion, ethnic origin, census district and sub-district of the individual, as well as the page and microfilm reel of the original record. The database is searchable by name, occupation, ethnic origin, district and keywords.

Name: Social Security Death Index
URL:
ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com
Records: 66 million+
While the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is now searchable from several locations around the web, RootsWeb's presentation - "the most full-featured and up-to-date SSDI search engine on the Internet" - is recommended as the most straightforward and easy to use. Visitors wishing to search the index are asked to fill out exactly four fields: last name, first name, search type (Exact, Soundex, Metaphone) and Social Security Number. The results are presented in a simple and clear fashion, and the whole process is free.

Name: WorldConnect Project
URL:
worldconnect.rootsweb.com
Records: 77 million+
"The WorldConnect Project is a set of tools which allow users to upload, modify, link and display their family trees as a means to share their work with other researchers."
        Like so many of the web's largest databases, RootsWeb's WorldConnect is fuelled by user-donated GEDCOM files. Unlike most of the rest, WorldConnect allows users to edit their data after they have submitted it, which allows users to correct their old mistakes when they notice errors in their files (or, more likely, when other people notice errors in their files). There's little doubt that this makes for a higher overall quality of information. Like everything on RootsWeb, WorldConnect is free.

Name: World Family Tree
URL:
familytreemaker.genealogy.com/wftonline/
Records: millions
While Genealogy.com's 80-volume World Family Tree database proudly claims to be "the world's largest collection of family trees" and promises subscribers will "add an average of 600 names to your family tree with just one successful search result", the website does not offer a specific number of records in the database. More disturbing, in the opinion of many online genealogists, is the lack of any sort of quality control in the process by which records are submitted to the database. While this is a common problem with donation-powered databases, some say it is obvious that most of the records in World Family Tree have been submitted by beginners who value quantity over quality. Genealogy.com seems to do little to discourage this attitude, instead stressing that importing data from World Family Tree is "the fastest way to add information to your own family research", but saying nothing about the quality of that information.
        Annual subscriptions to the online database are $49.99; monthly subscriptions are $9.99.

"Continuous Service Membership"
Beware of Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com's "helpful" policy of automatically renewing your subscription at the end of the stated subscription period - "so, you'll never have to worry about unexpectedly losing access because you forgot to re-subscribe", and so they can continue to charge you until you go out of your way to cancel. Both sites mention this "feature" in fairly small print.

This article originally appeared in our November/December 2001 issue.


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