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Are Those Internet Genealogy Subscription Services Really Worth It?

There are many good genealogy subscription services available on the Internet. I have subscribed to most of them at one time or another. Are they really worth it? My answer is YES.

Let me give one example in the way of an unsolicited testimonial. For nearly 30 years I searched unsuccessfully for the parents of my great-grandmother Margaret Ann O'Brien. I had only meager information from one old letter, the 1881 census of York Co., Ontario, and her rather incomplete 1883 death certificate.

Over the years I had searched all O'Brien and variant surnames in every available York Co., Ontario, census; read and re-read every O'Brien will; perused county land records over and over; as well as searched church and cemetery records. I also searched records for the adjoining counties. None of these efforts paid off. It was obvious that the O'Brien family came from somewhere outside my search area and that I had to broaden my efforts considerably -- unfortunately Ontario is a big province.

Then I subscribed to and searched for the name Margaret O'Brien from Ontario. Wow! There she was! At the top of the Search Results list under Census Records there were two Margaret O'Brien entries for the 1861 Durham Co., Ontario census!

There were entries for other counties, but I had a gut feeling about Durham County: Margaret Ann O'Brien married my great-grandfather Frank Lyall about 1875. Frank's grandfather, as well as some aunts and uncles, had lived in Durham County -- maybe he met Margaret there while visiting. Subsequent research into Durham County records proved my hunch. I couldn't have done it without my subscription!

I don't advocate signing up for every subscription service available. That can be very expensive and redundant. Before you subscribe, check out the service thoroughly. Keep in mind these points:

· Consider the cost. I can't afford to fly to Salt Lake City as often as I would like, so an online subscription service makes sense. Furthermore, when I can get to the Family History Library, my research is more productive because I have done my "homework" online.

· Take advantage of free trial subscription offers. This is an excellent way of finding out how you like the service. If you are on a tight budget, don't forget about libraries and archives! Some institutions (not all) subscribe to AncestryPlus, Heritage Quest or related services. Libraries and archives are supported by your tax dollars and overdue book fines, so you might as well use them!

· Make sure that the service offers the kinds of records for the time periods countries, states, counties, etc. that will help you. Some Internet sites are strong in one area; others in another. For example, the The New England Historic Genealogical Society ( is a regional Web site brimming with resources and databases for the northeastern United States.

· Look at how the data is organized at the Web site. For example, I like and because it's easy for me to focus my search on a specific location or type of record. I simply select a country and click on a state or province. I am then shown a list of available databases that pertain to that location. On the other hand, some web sites don't make it easy for you because their information may be poorly organized. (Web designers are not librarians experienced in cataloging.)

· Look at the search engine. Does it allow Soundex searches and wild card searches? Can you add key words to your searches? Soundex and wildcard searches will help you find all of the pertinent records, regardless of spelling variations. Key words will allow you to filter your search, thereby eliminating superfluous Search Results. On the other hand, the search engines at some web sites can only find exactly what you type with no other options. This can result in missed records or hundreds of irrelevant returns (not enough or too much).

· Do the search results provide links to images of the original documents? Most online subscription services do offer links to images of censuses and occasionally family histories or other records. I mention this here because I print these images, where available. In most cases these are just as good as photocopies made from books or printouts made from microfilms at libraries and archives! These images can also be saved as files that you can attach to your source information in Legacy. (Be sure to document the complete source information on each printout.)

· Documentation is highly important. The online service you choose should provide full bibliographic citation for the source of the information. At,, Heritage Quest and other Web sites each database is fully described and includes the source of the information. It fairly easy to copy and paste these citations into the Master Source list in Legacy. For example:

Platt, Lyman. Irish Records Extraction Database [database on-line] Provo, UT:, 1999-.

The author's name should be pasted into the author field, the title into the title field, and so forth. Be sure to select the appropriate options for formatting when in the Master Source screen.

Jim Terry


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My experience with has been very similar. A subscription to their UK database allowed me to trace through three additional generations, add several branches, and discover information such as the family were from generations of bakers, explaining why my great grandmother's cookies were so amazing, and discovered that my third great grandparents met and fell in love as next door neighbors. And that's just one family name. Another family name that was elusive for over a decade opened up due to another person's research posted on They can definitely help break down those brick walls and the subscriptions prove more valuable than their cost!

I signed up for the subscription part of Ancestry the other day and, with the help of another researcher, found my Grandfather's WW1 Draft Registration.

This provided the startling clue that maybe his Mother DID marry 5 times, and not just 4, after all. ;-D

Folks, this is 5 times between 1893 and 1920, hee, hee. ;-D

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