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.