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Best genealogy sites 2020: Discover your ancestry and build your family tree

Best genealogy sites 2020: Discover your ancestry and build your family tree
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

Choosing the best genealogy site for your family tree research is an important decision. Ancestry sites, as they're also known, offer a variety of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to research, and they vary in price too. Many will simply opt for Ancestry.com, which is our top pick, as it has the broadest database and wide range of search options that are easy to use, and yield clear and easily digestible results. If you're just starting out in genealogy as a hobby, then Ancestry is a great place to begin.

But for some, the best genealogy site could be one that offers more specialized tools and offers data on specific sets of people or time periods. When reviewing ancestry websites we considered these factors, and looked at a variety of uses that most will look for. For some, it's just about digging into their family past to discover their roots, whereas others will want tools to build entire family trees, and to go back as far as they can with the information.

There are free genealogy sites, and we've included a handful below, but often they're limited in terms of the databases they draw from, and the tools they offer. Most sites will offer a free trial (Ancestry gives you 14 days free), if you're unsure whether or not to try them out, so don't just settle for a free option if budget is an issue. Some fill offer actual DNA kits to help inform your searches, although we also have a guide to the best DNA testing kits, which can provide more accurate information. Some include family tree builders in your subscription, although we also have a guide to the best family tree software, which are specialized programs to help you organize the data you find here.


1. Ancestry.com: Best genealogy website overall

Ancestry.com Review Best genealogy websites

(Image credit: Ancestry.com)

Ancestry.com

Best overall genealogy site thanks to its impressive databases and DNA testing

Historical records: 20+ billion | DNA testing: Yes | Pricing from: $19.99 per month or $99 annually

Billions of historical records
Free mobile app
DNA testing available
Expensive membership fees

One of the original genealogy sites, Ancestry.com started way back in 1996 and has been building since. As such it has one of the largest databases of records numbering over 20 billion and spanning court records, newspapers, voter records, birth, marriage and death certificates and more. Public member information makes finding links and building your tree super simple.

Ancestry.com also offers a DNA testing option which can show your family history over 350 ethnic regions worldwide. Over 10 million people have already taken the test meaning there is a huge amount of data to explore. Despite being the biggest option, pricing isn't too bad, starting at $19.99 per month or $99 annually. But you can start building for free right away, unlocking more options as and when you need them.

We'd recommend Ancestry.com for most users, especially if you're starting your research. What advanced users tend to do is subscribe to Ancestry, then dip into other options to supplement research with specialized information. Ancestry offers a 14-day free trial, so you can try it out for free.


2. MyHeritage: Best genealogy website for local searching

MyHeritage Review Best genealogy websites

(Image credit: MyHeritage)

MyHeritage

If you're looking local, My Heritage is a really good option

Historical records: 10+ billion | DNA testing: Yes | Pricing from: $99 per year

Over ten billion records
Show neighbors feature
Expensive
Annual subscription only

What's unique about MyHeritage is its ability to allow you to search locally. A nifty search options lets you "show neighbors" for local links you may have - ideal to see what that neighbor near you when growing up is doing now. But if your family spans the globe that's fine too as this site has access to over 10 billion records. This is all backed by a simple to use website and great smartphone app.

DNA testing is also an option for more depth of information about both your history and health with over 100 million people already on the database. You can start for free without using the more advanced features.


3. FamilySearch: Best free genealogy website

FamilySearch Review Best genealogy websites

(Image credit: FamilySearch)

FamilySearch

A free genealogy site for those just getting started

Historical records: 5+ billion | DNA testing: No | Pricing from: Free

Totally free
Physical genealogy centers
One tree per account
No DNA available

FamilySearch is the ideal genealogy site for anyone new to ancestry building who wants to give it a try without committing - this is because it is totally free. Despite the lack of charge there are over five billion records, a free mobile app and physical genealogy centers to visit if you need help. This is because the service is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which believes sharing these records is part of its duties. There is no commitment to that though so you can enjoy the records without any pressure to get involved with that side of the service.

Resources include the usual birth, marriage and death certificates as well as census data and military records but also features yearbooks, directories and other family trees, to name just a few. There isn't any DNA testing but at this price it's tough to complain.


4. Archives: Best genealogy website for deep research

Archives Review Best genealogy websites

(Image credit: Archives)

Archives

If you want to dig deep on a specific subject, Archives is great for this

Historical records: 11+ billion | DNA testing: No | Pricing from: From $9.99 per month

Affordable
Lots of government records
No relative hints
No DNA kit

Archives, as the name suggests, is a huge database filled with information - over 11 billion records with photos, maps and architectural drawings to name a few more unique types. This is aimed at the ancestry buff who has already started building a family tree and has either reached a dead end of wants to dive deeper than the usual services can help with. This supports GEDCOM files so you can upload your tree and build on it from there.

The 14-day free trial is a nice touch and the fact documents are displayed in searches allows you to work fast. The monthly fee is a flat rate of $9.99 making it very competitive. Just don't expect DNA testing or a fancy app with this option.


5. Find My Past: Best genealogy website for Irish and British records

Find My Past Review Best genealogy websites

(Image credit: Find My Past)

Find My Past

If your family is from the British Isles, this is the best place to research it

Historical records: 2+ billion | DNA testing: Yes | Pricing from: From $14.99 per month or $129 annually

Ideal for European roots
DNA support
Create multiple family trees
No app support

Find My Past is the go to place for anyone that has ancestry in Ireland or Great Britain and Ireland thanks to very specific records in these areas numbering over two billion. Yes, that's not as many as some of the bigger boys in this field but it is in such a specific area, these records run deep. There are over 18 million people registered with records linked as far back as AD 850, making these some of the oldest records available.

There is a 14-day free trial and then the charges start at $14.95 per month or $129 per year. DNA testing is also available but for another fee of $89 for the testing kit.


6. MyTrees.com: Best genealogy website for professional assistance

MyTrees Review Best genealogy websites

(Image credit: MyTrees)

MyTrees.com

If you need professional help with your search, this is the place to go

Historical records: 1+ billion | DNA testing: No | Pricing from: From $10 for 10 days

Pro genealogist support
10-day memberships
Old website
No DNA

MyTrees.com is a US and Canada focused ancestry genealogy site which has a relatively meagre one billion records. But when you consider these are in a focused area that's still plenty. The website could do with an update and you won't get any app or DNA support. But you do get access to professional genealogist help via forums, if you want to seek them out to help you dig deeper into your past. You can also use a GEDCOM file upload allowing you to work further on your current family tree.

Unlike other genealogy sites, MyTrees offers you minimal commitment options like a 10-day trial. This is perfect if you just want to dip into the records to build on your family tree before going elsewhere for more research. Equally it's a nice way for beginners to give it a go, especially with that professional help availability.


Why trust us on genealogy websites?

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, told us that Ancestry harnesses 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."

How we found the best genealogy website

We compared genealogy websites simply by using them. This meant dozens of 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.

Your Data Privacy

There are growing concerns about genealogy sites and data privacy, but genealogy companies are eager to convince buyers where their loyalties stand. Recently, Ancestry DNA denied law enforcement access to its database of 16 million DNA profiles, saying "not only will we not share customer information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant, we will also always advocate for our customers' privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, or even eliminate it entirely."

While it may become a contentious issue in the years to come, the best genealogy websites will go to great lengths to protect your genetic privacy. 

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.  

What is a 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.

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.