Is Ancestry.com Worth the Price?

by Dave Voelker on February 4, 2011 · 8 comments

in Uncategorized

Anyone who has used the internet to help with genealogy research, and it is by far the best way to approach this endeavor in my opinion, has bumped into advertisements for and has probably viewed the free content available on ancestry.com.  Invariably, they are intrigued as nearly any surname imaginable returns many, often hundreds or thousands, of results.  Ah, but here’s the catch; you can view a small sample of data for free but if you really want to see what is behind curtain number 2 you have to fork over your credit card number.  You can buy a one-month U.S. Deluxe Membership for $19.95 and for those on the fence this may be your best bet.  Your investment is capped at a cost of $20 and you have a whole month to scour ancestry.com for all it is worth.  You could also sign up for a full-year of U.S. Deluxe for just over $155 which brings your monthly rate down to $12.95 per month.

Is it really worth that much?  I asked myself this question a lot before making my decision to go ahead and truthfully, it was the best money I have spent in aiding my research by far.  That doesn’t make it right for everyone and I’ll explain why.  I was starting my research with a handful of names whose dates of birth spanned the 19th and 20th centuries with most of them being born in the U.S.  For someone in a situation like this the access to U.S. Census and vital records will likely accelerate the growth of your database faster than most any other reference material.  Census records are now available for each Federal census from 1790-1930 and in 2010 the 1940 census data will be made publicly available.  Having access to the actual images of the census data is worth more than just the transcribed data which is prone to error.  This is not usually the fault of the transcribers as the names on some of these documents can be very hard to decipher.

It is true that many libraries offer free access to ancestry.com and other genealogy resources but I have found that having access to the software program that I use, The Master Genealogist from Wholly Genes software, makes it much easier to enter data and work back and forth between ancestry and my genealogy software program.  I have taken a laptop into the library, there are many local resources that have not been digitized that you will want to look through, but prefer working from home when possible.

Those that have a rather complete compilation already and are looking to round out a few details, or those that are looking for primarily non-U.S. data may want to sign up for a single month first to determine the value of the service to them.  There are international collections and they, along with the domestic data sets, are being constantly expanded but there are typically not international equivalents of the U.S. Federal census available on ancestry.com, at least in terms of completeness.

The bottom line for me, and I suspect that this is true for many others as well, is that ancestry.com offers the most extensive data collection and tools for referencing it that are available online at any price.  From a time=money perspective ancestry.com has proven to be nearly priceless, I simply would not have had any where near as large a database as I presently do, about 2,700 individuals, had it not been for my ability to pull a lot of data from their site quickly.  I am in my third year as a member of Ancestry.com and recently upgraded to the international collection as I push further back into time and across the Atlantic.

I recommend that anyone serious about genealogy that has not already tried ancestry.com visit their local library and play with it for an hour or so and see if you are not compelled to pull your credit card out of your wallet and sign yourself up.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 huebie June 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Thanks, that was a big help in my making my decision. You even included the price, which I was having trouble finding on the net. Thanks

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2 jenny August 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I agree with the last statement.. very good information! Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences as well as the cost, etc. for using ancestry.com.

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3 Jack Renoud February 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm

A few years ago, the town of Greenwich, CT had Ancestry.com on their web site and for some reason, you could log on and access it for free from your at home computer!!! It was that way for about a year or two, maybe more. Needless to say, it was easy to ‘fish out’ the pond , so to speak, which many, I am sure, did. I was the recipient of much information for free. Eventually, someone realized what was going on and closed the site down to in library use only , which is what is at your local library. Needless to say, my family tree grew by about 10,000 names as a result and helped me out immensely. Down the line, I will ( I already have shared it with many new found cousins ) no doubt, pass this information on to family members and kin. Ancestry collects your information also that is put out on the web ( I know, because I have found some of my information within their information. No one could have possibly have known what I put out there as I had to
purchase films and do mind boggling research and translations in another language or two to get it. I really don’t feel bad about accessing this information. I saved a huge amount of money and have been sharing the data ( even now) with my family . It will probably be on Ancestry’s site some day anyway. Just love to get it for free!!!!! Thank you Greenwich, CT library!!!!!

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4 Dave Voelker February 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Yes. As I understand it Ancestry.com usage was always supposed to be “on-premise” only for this purpose Ancestry.com was providing libraries with access and they were allowed to make it availble to their patrons but only if the patron was in the library and not over the internet as many libraries have made many of their resources available. Too bad, I agree that this was certainly a nice loophole for those that had found it. I also highly encourage anyone that like the ancestry service to take advantage of it from your local library before buying it, or ever buying it. The most significant issue I had was all of the transcription that I had to do with the Ancestry.com information if I was only using it at the site. Ancestry.com does make it ridiculously easy to add information to your tree, perhaps too easy but that is a topic for a different post…

Dave

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5 Jack Renoud February 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Another data base worth trying to crack into is the old newspaper sites. I was able to get into one a few years ago , again for free, and fished this out too. Mind boggling how much information that really should be out there for free, and was contained in these sites. Hundreds and hundred of pages of newspaper articles that showed family involvement in most every important era of this country and other countries also. Man that was a find. People, remember the bulk of this information is government owned and can only be accessed through these pay sites. Think about it. You and others pay( paid) taxes for this information to be gathered by the government and someone comes along and charges you for what you and others have already paid for. This all should be made available under F.O.I.A. especially any and all information that Ancestry charges you for. In fact, Ancestry should be paying the government back , yearly, for the use of that information. They can use it. but they have have to pay , like a rent , to the government . That money could be used to put more ‘public’ records out on the government web sites. Why shouldn’t Ancestry and the other pay sites that publish census records ( paid for by your taxes) and charge for them , be required to pay a rent charge for the use of them . Think of all the digitizing of records that hasn’t been done that would be able to be done with that extra’ Ancestry.com rent money !!!!. I am all for allowing Ancestry.com access to public records. Just make them pay like we all have to pay for their services, on an ongoing basis. Rent should go both ways.

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6 Dave Voelker February 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Jack –

I think I am most of the way with you here. I agree that as taxpayers we should have the same access rights to the data that a company like Ancestry.com does. Do you know what specific arrangements Ancestry.com has made to secure access to these records, specifically the census records? I am OK with Ancestry.com charging a fee to access otherwise public data that they have enhanced through their own efforts. I view that the optical character recognition of digitized census records falls into that category so long as they were not given access to that data that I as a taxpayer did not have.

Thoughts?

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7 BarbTomblinRandolph January 29, 2013 at 5:58 pm

What bothers me about Ancestry.com is that they charge us so much to access what is given to them. We give them our family information that we have worked long and hard for and they make money from our work. Just bugs me to think that somebody is getting very rich off of my hard work that I don’t charge others for.

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8 Dave Voelker January 29, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Hi Barb –

I agree with your concern over paying for information that others provided to them freely, though this is a common economic model. I also appreciate that Ancestry.com has digitized, indexed and made access available to millions of records that we would otherwise not have access to.

That said I am not a complete fan of Ancestry.com. I do think that they should make public viewing of member provided trees. I think they could use this level of access as a clear selling point for their deeper records.

I would like to see Ancestry.com do more to encourage the merging of trees and establishing a definitive record of genealogical data. I really like wikitree.com and their approach to this though I find their interface, based on the wiki standard, lacking in many respects.

Thanks for reading and engaging on this topic.

Dave

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