Databases Worth Searching
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.
Records: 1 billion+
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
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).
1900 Census Collection
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
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.
to the online database are $79.99; monthly subscriptions are
Ellis Island Records
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'
Records: 22 million+
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.
Everton's Online Databases
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.
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.
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
Records: 700 million+
Family Tree of the Jewish People
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."
Records: 1.5 million+
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
Records: 47 million+
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
www.genexchange.com(Note: As of April 8, 2002 this site
is temporarily out of service.)
"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."
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.
Kentucky Vital Records Index
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."
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.
Records: 1 billion+
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."
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
Ontario Census of 1871
"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.
Social Security Death Index
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.
Records: 66 million+
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.
World Family Tree
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.
to the online database are $49.99; monthly subscriptions are
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.
article originally appeared in our November/December 2001