We’ve been examining genealogy search websites for over 12 years in which we have developed some significant insights into what should be expected of the best of them.
MyHeritage is a great tool for researching your family history and offers quick DNA test kit services as well.
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In this site refresh, we spent 12 hours using eight genealogy websites figuring out which services are most up to date and excel at providing accurate historical information and which ones are lacking.
Ancestry.com impressed us with its massive collection of searchable records, easy to use family tree builder and supplementary genealogy resources like DNA test kits and a smart phone app.
Both the app and website are intuitive and give you hints when more information is available about someone you might be related to. You have to pay for a subscription to use all of this website’s great genealogy research features, but it’s well worth it.
Why trust us?
Since 2005, we’ve been watching genealogy websites evolve to what they are today. Whether it’s research-focused websites with a ton of documents or easy to use family tree builders you can also use on your phone, we’ve used them all. Whether you want to find official documents or just have a platform where you can easily build a family tree that’s visually appealing, there are a lot of options out there.
Camille Penrod, a public relations specialist for Ancestry.com, said in an email they harness family history and consumer genomics to help people figure out who they are and where they come from.
"We’ve pioneered and defined this category, developing new innovations and technologies that have reinvented how people make family history discoveries," she said. "And these discoveries can give everyone a greater sense of identity, relatedness, and their place in the world."
Ancestry.com is a comprehensive genealogy website with lots of intuitive features, like the family tree building tool featuring “hints” and easily searchable records.
FamilySearch is incredibly in-depth and totally free, so it's a great place to start your family history search.
MyHeritage is a great tool for researching your family history and offers quick DNA test kit services as well.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Price||Research Tools||Results||Platform & Extras||Minimum Monthly Membership||Maximum Monthly Membership||Membership Types||Family Tree Builder||Total Resources Available||Member Directory||Hints||Scanned Historical Documents||Birth, Marriage & Death Records||App||DNA Test Kits||Messaging|
|Ancestry.com||View Deal||4/5||3||10||10||10||$19.99||$44.99||3||✓||~20 billion||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|FamilySearch||View Deal||4/5||10||4.3||10||5||Free||Free||1||✓||~5 billion||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓|
|MyHeritage Genealogy Search||View Deal||3.5/5||7||4.8||10||10||$9.95||$14.65||2||✓||~9 billion||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|FindMyPast||View Deal||2.5/5||6||3.8||8.3||0||$10.75||$19.95||2||✓||~2.7 billion||-||✓||✓||✓||-||-||-|
|Archives||View Deal||2.5/5||8||5||3.3||0||$6.67||$9.99||1||✓||~11 billion||-||-||✓||✓||-||-||-|
|OneGreatFamily||View Deal||2/5||7.8||3.3||0||0||$6.67||$14.95||1||✓||~190 million||-||-||-||✓||-||-||-|
|GenealogyBank||View Deal||1.5/5||7.5||0.3||3.3||0||$5.83||$19.95||1||-||~2 billion||-||-||✓||✓||-||-||-|
|MyTrees||View Deal||1.5/5||6||3.5||0||0||$10.00||$30.00||1||✓||~1 billion||-||-||-||✓||-||-||-|
Despite its comparatively high membership price, Ancestry is worth the investment if you’re interested in taking a deep dive into your family history.
You have about 20 billion records at your disposal from 80 countries around the world, so the odds are in your favor for finding information about your family.
In order to build your family tree, you enter the names and birthdates of your close family members and note whether each person has died or not. As you add people, Ancestry shows you little green leaf icons to note they've found a "hint" about that person or perhaps someone they're related to. This helps flesh out your tree quickly and easily. In our tests we started getting hints as soon as we entered grandparents into the family tree. Ancestry's searchable records go all the way back to the 13th Century, and you can even view scanned copies of historical documents along with photos. You can also search Ancestry's database of family trees and connect them to yours if you have a relative who has already done significant family history research and signed up for an account.
And speaking of signing up, Ancestry is on the expensive side. We signed up for the most comprehensive and expensive options for our tests, but there are several levels of membership you can pick from if you're looking to save money. You also pay less per month if you sign up for a year at a time. Ancestry offers a free smartphone app and sells DNA test kits at an additional cost. These additional features paired with its easy-to-use interface and multitude of records make it the best genealogy website out there.
This genealogy website is totally free because it’s owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
You don't have to be a member of the church to use this website successfully though. We entered the information for one person in our office and immediately started getting hints from the website about relatives going back hundreds of years. You can also use this website to send messages to other members, which is great for potentially connecting with someone you didn't know you're related to.
You get access to roughly 5 billion records, including scanned copies of old documents and old photos. This isn’t the largest database of the websites we tested, but it’s still a lot of data. Anyone can add photos and stories from their relatives and use the free mobile app as well. The app even shows your family's worldwide footprint with a feature called Map My Ancestors. If you get too deep into your research and can't remember whether Great Great Great Uncle Ted is on your mom’s side or your dad’s, there is a "view relationship" button on the app that quickly eliminates any confusion.
FamilySearch doesn’t sell DNA test kits, but it’s still a great genealogy resource because it’s totally free and really easy to use. Some websites require you to know a lot about your own family in order to use it successfully, but FamilySearch and the hints it gives you about relatives make it both easy and fun to use.
Quickest DNA Test Results
MyHeritage sells DNA test kits in addition to helping you dig into your family history.
Once you receive the kit in the mail, follow the included instructions and mail a sample of your spit back for testing. MyHeritage uses microarray-based autosomal DNA testing to show you which ethnic groups and which of the 42 geographic areas you come from. While other websites take a month or longer to send your results back, MyHeritage promises them in a mere three or four weeks. When your results are available you receive an email so you can view your results online.
Best for Supplementary Research
This website is ideal if you’re well versed in genealogy research and want to really dig deep into your heritage.
With about 11 billion resources at your disposal, you can look through birth, death, marriage, military and other records easily and quickly.
Archives has been a part of Ancestry.com since 2012 but was up and running for three years prior to that as well. You have to pay for a membership, but it's a lot more reasonable than some of the other websites we tested, and you get access to more than 10 billion pages of records such as maps, photos and even architectural drawings. You can search for a person by name and then narrow that search by adding in more detail like their birthdate, residence and when they died, but we'll admit having all this information in front of you can be a little overwhelming. If you have a very common last name like Johnson or Smith, you'll need as many details about family members as you can get to help narrow the search.
While Archives is great for supplementary research, you can also use it to build a family tree. We didn't get any hints from the family tree function in our tests, so that means you'll need to search for data and then upload the information yourself. If you have a family tree saved on another website, you can also save it as a GEDCOM file and upload it to Archives. This website lacks an app or DNA kits, but it has a lot of searchable data and documents that are great for genealogy research.
Best for Beginners
FindMyPast is easy to use, pulling from a plethora of historical records to give even the most novice researcher results right away.
While some websites require users manually enter all their own data, FindMyPast shows you hints with information about potential relatives as soon as you input information. Expand these little icons to show you all the information available about a potential relative and click “yes” to add it to your family tree. If you're unsure, there is a "maybe" option. One of our testers got new hints about their family the moment they entered their parents’ names. Even though this website requires a paid subscription, it's worth it to easily build your family tree when you're starting from scratch.
How We Tested
We compared genealogy websites simply by using them. This meant 12 hours of research, several phone calls to our family members and a couple calls to customer service. If a subscription is required, we got the top-tier membership and used every feature of the website we could find. This meant entering in the names and birthdays of real people and seeing if these genealogy websites could give us any real information. All the websites with a family tree building feature are GEDCOM compatible, which is the file format for saving and exporting your family. Almost every single genealogy website we tested requires a subscription to use every function but obviously we preferred the least expensive options that were still easy to use and give users a ton of resources.
How Much Do Genealogy Website Subscriptions Cost?
Most ancestry websites require you pay to use them, though we did find one free service. Our research shows subscriptions for genealogy search sites cost an average of $14 per month, though some websites make you pay for an entire year when you sign up. Some websites offer DNA test kits as well, but those are extra and can run anywhere between $50 and $100. We found they’re the least expensive around holidays when DNA kits are on sale.
Your Data Privacy
Finding out about your family history can be a lot of fun, but some websites use the data you provide. Ancestry.com, for example, collects and stores the personal information of users as they navigate the website. If you use the website's DNA testing services, they store your saliva sample so it can be available for future testing. You can request the sample be destroyed within 30 days of sending the sample in, but if you've already agreed to be a part of the company's research studies, they won't remove it from any active or completed research projects. In general, your data is used more by DNA testing companies than by family tree services. For example, the Golden State Killer was caught in 2018 thanks to online DNA testing services. Business Insider reported companies can even sell your genetic information to drug companies.
More to Know About Genealogy Websites
While genealogy websites have a lot of available information, remember that not all of it is accurate. Some websites rely solely on information entered by other users. That means if someone gets a birthdate or wedding date wrong, it could really change the way your family tree looks. The most reliable sources are public records and copies of physical documents like birth and marriage certificates, so we preferred websites that have those resources available. Keep in mind if someone in your family has purchased a burial plot anywhere under their name, it could show up in your search suggesting that someone who is still living is in fact deceased.
You also shouldn’t expect any genealogy website to build a family tree for you from nothing. You need dates of births and deaths for your closest family members, so you might have to call Aunt Linda as you set up your account. Some of the websites we tested also only let you build one family tree per account while others give you the option to do research for your friends as well.
GEDCOM is a file format you can use to save your family tree. This means you can build one and save it to use on another website that might have more in-depth information. All the websites we tested that have a family tree function were GEDCOM compatible.
Pedigree Resource File
If you're really interested in family tree research and have a lot of your own information already compiled, you have the option of donating to the pedigree research file. This is a massive collection of user-submitted genealogies and family histories available online. According to FamilySearch, it has about 220 million records. This giant data dump makes it possible to connect the dotted lines between people you might never think could be related. It also makes for hours and hours of research if you’re so inclined, but keep in mind all of the data submitted might not be totally accurate, as it relies on the submitter’s information only. It isn’t checked by a third party for accuracy. If you'd like to include your information to the database, the easiest way to do so is via a GEDCOM file.