PROS / It has 14 billion records dating back to the turn of the millennium.
CONS / The full extent of Ancestry's services cost about the same as a European vacation, much more than its competitors.
VERDICT / The extensive database, range of services and helpful customer support make Ancestry.com an industry standard. However, Ancestry's full list of features is expensive to use.
Creating a full map of your family history from the beginning to the present would require a staggering amount of paperwork. Genealogy searches like Ancestry.com work like popular search engines by digging into databases and collections to find anything from census reports, images and articles relevant to your family's history. With 14 billion records, 4 billion names and 29,000 searchable collections, sheer volume is enough to make Ancestry.com impressive. This genealogy search wins the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award for its sheer volume paired with multiple research tools, helpful website support and a large, active community of other genealogists. The combination of easily accessible and usable records with tools to make sense of them makes Ancestry.com the industry standard for genealogy search engines.
You can dig into Ancestry.com's records regardless the amount of information you start your search with. You can begin searching your family history with as little as a last name. Obviously, the more information you start with, the better results you get. Standard search fields include names, dates, location, keywords, gender and nationality. The basic search has "exact" options to filter any unwanted results and focus on a specific type of record. In addition, Ancestry searches for civic documents like census and voter lists. It's also easy to conduct searches for essential records such as birth, marriage, death, military and immigration.
Depending on the information you start a search with, you can find interesting sources beyond birth and death. For example, Ancestry has a wealth of yearbooks dating back to the 19th century. Ancestry.com also has a card catalogue section where you can look through collections of family trees, military, schools, church and newspapers. Date and language filters are available for the card catalogue searches. Within these categories, you can choose from collections such as WWI draft cards or badge records. Once you choose a collection, you can conduct further searches for places or people related to your family history.
You can view records in detail with an enhanced image viewer when you find a source that interests you. This feature is available to members of all subscription levels and makes viewing scanned documents easy. It can be hard to read handwritten documents clearly, so this eliminates confusion and frustration when looking for only one or two names in a large passenger list or census page full of names.
The unique features on Ancestry cost more than comparable services, but this genealogy website has plenty of free features available to all members. Among these features is the online family tree builder. This tool is similar to the corresponding genealogy software connected to Ancestry.com. On it, you can build one or multiple family trees online or upload a GEDCOM file of your own to start with a pre-built tree. As you conduct research, you can save the records you find on Ancestry to the family tree you build online and save sources to individuals on your tree. Hints appear when an ancestor's name or data about them match a person in Ancestry's database. Among Ancestry's other free features is the blog and the mobile apps for collecting and scanning your own photographs.
The paid features on Ancestry are expensive, but effective and valuable resources. Among them is DNA testing to find information about your family you can't find in old records. The autosomal DNA test from Ancestry only needs a small saliva sample from you to match your genetic markers with the 700,000 mapped locations. The matches in your DNA correspond with locations and people in Ancestry's database so you can find regions around the world where your mother and father's sides originate. Once you view your results, you can even connect with living relatives around the world who have also taken this DNA test.
A wide and active user base is crucial for an effective genealogy search. A large community adds diversity, assistance and records to the website, making it easier for everyone to research. Ancestry.com has several ways to interact and reach out to others. On the website, you can reach other members for support, advice and genealogy talk. The message boards and the online support community work similar to any other forum and serve as a place to meet other users with common research goals, interests and even ancestors. The more active you are in a genealogy community, the more likely your chances of meeting and working with living relatives on a common project.
Even if you can't find living extended family, there are enthusiastic users ready to help you dig in and talk through your research or other genealogical-related questions. Within the message boards, you can search for discussions based on location or topics like cemeteries, software, military or any other subject you wish to research. If you want to reach out to people in different countries, the message boards are a great way to contact people in Australia, Canada, Western Europe and the U.K.
Another interesting part of Ancestry.com's online community is the World Archives project. This is how Ancestry.com gathers its extensive library of records. If you have non-digitized records, images or other sources, you can add them to Ancestry's searchable index. This is how a large portion of its massive database forms. By contributing and using this feature, you continue the legacy of genealogists and help others find their family.
Help & Support
With genealogy searches, people usually need help with the website or research. There are plenty of resources for both types of questions on Ancestry. For help with research, you can look toward other users in the message boards or online support community or you can ask a professional genealogist to assist in your research. This feature called Hire an Expert allows you to pay for one of the 16 pros at Ancestry.com to research your family tree for a minimum of 20 hours to overcome brick walls you may encounter in your own research. These pros also research specific topics like immigration, international genealogy or multiple ancestors for a maximum 50 hours. While hiring an expert will certainly help you leave any research barriers in the dust, the services are pricy. For a minimum of 20 hours of standard research, an Ancestry.com pro costs $1,900.
But there is help beyond hiring an Ancestry.com genealogist. The family history website has an extensive help section and learning center where you can find assistance and guides for research and translation. The FAQs section is more of a database with hundreds of questions users have asked. If you have a question not found in this section, you can ask the Ancestry staff. This feature is not only useful for gathering answers, but learning how to use the website. You can also email customer service and chat live online with a customer service representative.
Ancestry.com sets the standard for online genealogy search websites with its enormous and diverse databases paired with useful paid and free features. Whether you're a pro or beginner, you can benefit from features such as easy document viewing, an active user base, DNA testing and professional research assistance. The extra features are pricy if you want to access all Ancestry has to offer.