I see many free sources of information available, either online, through libraries or in person eg freeBDM, micro fiche etc. My research interests are in Queensland, Australia for the past 130 years and England before that.

I have seen the many advertisements for ancestry.com and similar sites. Everything seems to work seamlessly and quickly.

Why is using an online service like Ancestry better than me simply travelling to libraries, state departments, individual sites and doing Google searches? What is the value in using a paid service instead?

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    I voted to close this question because it is both a subjective question and a list question. Stackexchange has found these type questions are not a good fit for the Q&A format. This question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If allowed, would similar be done for the other pay for sites like myheritage, fold3, americanancestors, etc? Most of answers are generic to most pay-for sites, not ancestry specifically so it appears like an endorsement. We probably should discuss on meta.
    – Duncan
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 14:37
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    Hi Troy, welcome to Genealogy and Family History SE, the Q&A site for questions about Genealogy. I tried to help edit your question to remove the polling aspect yet still stay true to your goals in terms of the answers you seek. You, or a higher rep user, may need to approve my edit. Hope this helps! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 2:26
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    Thank you jmort253 for this guidance. This site and participation is rather confusing to me and maybe a little out of my league.
    – Troy
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 4:07
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    @jmort253 I like the edits! Question looks totally reasonable to me now. I've voted to reopen. Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 5:15
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    Hi Troy, don't give up just yet. This is a great community, and we're happy to help you edit your post so that it helps not only you, but thousands of future visitors as well. Our goal is to make the Internet a better place, as it pertains to Genealogy. :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 5:19

6 Answers 6


Using a commercial site will give access to more records (since they can usually afford to have more records transcribed) and you'll have access to them from one place (thus voiding having to visit many different sites).

However, no one site (commercial or otherwise) has all records available. Hence, subscribing to a big commercial site is not going to guarantee that you'll find everything you need. Also, many records have still not been transcribed anywhere, meaning that an actual visit to an archive or library will still be useful.

We all use the free sites, and we should all be eternally grateful to the volunteers who make their data available to us, but even one commercial subscription may not be enough to supplement them. I have several subscriptions with commercial sites and find that the differences in the transcription quality, and the different advanced features on their search tools, can mean that I need to switch to-and-fro, even when they're hosting similar record collections.


Subscribing to any online data source (such as Ancestry or FindmyPast) will give you access from the comfort of your own home to records that might not be easily available to you (or available to you at all) by any other method. All the online providers are working hard to increase their attractiveness by offering an increased range of records for you to search and additional facilities such as online family trees, 'hints' to help your research along, and facilities to link up with other researchers interested in the same ancestors. Whether the additional facilities are worthwhile for you really depends on the way in which you work and the stage you're at in your research.

If you are considering subscribing to any paid site, check first that the site has sufficient records of interest to you, and whether there's a more cost-effective way of accessing the same data. FamilySearch are working hard to increase the data they make available and what isn't online can often be made available at a (relatively) local FamilySearch center. And many libraries (at least here in the UK and possibly elsewhere) can provide you with access to subscription sites from PCS on their premises.

If you do decide you want to try out a site such an Ancestry, sign up for a free trial first -- and plan to do it when you have plenty of time available to reap the benefits and assess whether you want to continue paying. And don't forget to terminate the trial if you decide not to go ahead!

Don't forget as well that there will always be records you cannot access online, perhaps because their custodians are unwilling to allow it or because they are of such limited interest that nobody will fund making them available.

And finally, take the advertised record coverage with a pinch of salt. For example, Findmypast boasts a unique complete collection of online Welsh parish registers. Which is complete apart from the parishes where the incumbent declined to share the data. And a number of sources will offer you records of passengers travelling to or form England -- without being completely clear about the limitations of the record set they've been given access to. If a particular record set is vitally important to you, try to understand when Ancestry (or whoever) got their data, so you can assess how complete it is going to be.


Q: Why is using an online service like Ancestry.com better than me simply travelling to libraries, state departments, individual sites and doing Google searches? What is the value in using a paid service instead?

A: Because I can't travel to repositories in my pajamas.

I think it's important to remember that a using a paid subscription site is not unlike going to a repository. It's essentially the same as going to a library or archive and using the records that are in that one repository; the main difference is how you access the contents. Ancestry's subscription fees are much cheaper than the travel costs would be, if I were to travel to a big library in a different town. On the other hand, if I were at the big library, I might find more records there than I can find through Ancestry; there are many many things which are not available online. The value of any repository, online or real-world, is in understanding the collections which are available and knowing how to make use of them.

Ancestry.com especially advertises itself as a place for "one stop shopping" but I find it most effective to take information from one site and use what I learned to search at others. So I recommend that everyone who has been locked in to using one site exclusively to take a look around and see what you can find by searching at multiple sites.

What you won't get at a real-world repository are all the social-networking bits of Ancestry. The message boards, the online trees, being able to connect with other researchers. Those things are fun and can be useful, but they are not always good, because if someone goes astray and makes a bad connection in their tree, and a dozen people come along and copy it, a new Ancestry user is likely to say "a dozen people have this in their tree so they must be right!" -- not realizing that the other users have all copied the mistake from each other.

There are also things that can be gained from a website such as Ancestry.com that a user can access without a subscription. Reading the Learning Center articles can be done for free, and even if you decide not to subscribe, you can learn a great deal about what records exist and how to search for them. My advice for anyone considering any paid service is to see what can be accessed for free -- not just the record collections, but the help center articles. Read their advice and search tips, watch the videos on YouTube, practice with the free collections, and learn how to use the system, before you sign up for the free trial and before you spend your money.

The decision on whether to subscribe ultimately depends on coverage for me; if a site doesn't have records for the area I am studying, there's no point in my paying for it. But learning new search strategies, and understanding what records were collected and why, is always useful, because I can take that experience to another site which does have the coverage I need.

See also: Catch 22: how do you know if a data provider's sub will be valuable to you — before you subscribe? for an example of how I evaluate the search engine of a website before I subscribe.

  • When it comes to looking at other people's trees on Ancestry, I find it best to treat them like a conversation with a drunk uncle. Sure, he says that so-and-so had a brother named such-and-such, but you can't just take it as gospel; you have to take the name and go looking for actual verification. Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 2:18
  • I have tree hints on Ancestry turned off. I'm happy to talk to others who contact me, but I'd rather do searches and analysis unbiased by someone else's opinion.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 7:35

Ancestry.com allows you to create, edit, and share your family trees for free. If you are interested in documenting your ancestors or in discovering ones you did not know about, you will need to search various databases of historical records. Ancestry.com's paid offerings include access to various collections of records. You can buy a recurring subscription, or pay by the month as needed.


I know this is an old question, but I'd like to add that your local library may provide free access to sites like Ancestry.com and FindMyPast. I know my local library in Far North Queensland does, I've just come from there.

My sessions on their computers were limited in time and number, but I used that time to save every document I found to a USB stick, then sorted through it later.

The state libraries also provide information available for free.

State Library Queensland eResources

Another good source is the NLA Trove site. They have available digitised copies of newspapers and more, freely available.

NLA Trove

You might even be able to get access to these state and federal resources just with your local library membership.


The cool thing with Ancestry:

  • FTM Family Tree Maker - a good Windows/Mac version of a software
  • Good web interface to the web version of the tree
  • A useful iPhone App where you always have your tree with you
  • Have nice YouTube channels where they discuss genealogy

The value of all the trees can be discussed as most people don't have good sources is my experience but I can be wrong.

As a Swedish person the Church Books in Ancestry are not good the are black/white and not sharped. Another company, Arkiv Digital has now color pictures of the Swedish Church books with better viewing tools....

It is not a easy question to answer why ancestry more of my experience with Ancestry you can find here.

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