Sunday, March 22, 2009

LibraryJournal Ratings of Subscription Genealogy Sites

Diane Haddad's recent post on The Genealogy Insider blog led me to the E-Reference Ratings for Genealogy institutional subscription web sites.

The site evaluated nine institutional subscription genealogy web sites by rating these seven criteria (with 1 to 4 stars):

* SCOPE -- range and breadth of content
* WRITING -- quality of the writing; consideration of the audience
* DESIGN -- visual appeal; strengths and weakness of the interface
* BELLS & WHISTLES -- inclusion of multimedia files, interactive maps, blogs, and other features
* EASE OF USE -- logic behind the organization; efficiency of the search mechanisms
* LINKING -- cross-searchability with other files; ability to integrate with and link to other products

* VALUE -- value is a relative term, taking into consideration not only cost but myriad related factors. If a product is expensive, does its comprehensiveness and quality warrant the high cost? Are too much time and energy required to find material, given the price? Is it a narrowly defined, inexpensive product that may receive heavy use in a small public library?

Each of the nine web sites was rated on each criteria from 1 star (poor/insufficient) to 4 stars (excellent/comprehensive). See the charts on the LibraryJournal page for the ratings for each subscription site.

The end results on Value were:

4 stars =,,, and

3 stars =,, and .

It is very difficult to assess "value" to a local or regional library system based on the given criteria. Each of the nine web sites are different in nature - some have only databases, some have only family trees, some have millions of names, some have billions of names, some have sophisticated search algorithms and some use a simple search. Only HeritageQuestOnline offers home access through a library subscription.

A number of other subscription genealogy web sites were not considered. For instance, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (, which would probably be a "must" for a northeastern USA library system (Carlsbad Library, one of my local San Diego libraries, offers it in their library). Another library subscription site is the Godfrey Memorial Library (

There are several other British Isles subscription sites with large databases and family trees - such as and

I am perplexed by the high ratings given to Many of the features noted in the LibraryJournal discussion are free to any user at home or in the library (e.g., the Genforum message boards, the Family Tree Maker reports, etc.). It has nowhere near the database assets that Ancestry, Footnote or WorldVitalRecords have, nor are there daily additions to the collection. I believe that the only database that is not available elsewhere is the World Family Tree collection of submitted GEDCOMs.

My own subjective ratings, based on overall content, search capability, site navigation, and value to me as a genealogist irrespective of cost, are (based on a 1 to 10 star rating):

1. - 9 stars
2. - 5 stars
3. - 4 stars
4. - 3 stars
5. - 2 stars
6. - 2 stars
7. - 2 stars
8. - 1 star
9. - 1 star

What about other free and subscription database web sites? I would rate them as:

* - 4 stars
* - 2 stars
* - 3 stars
* - 2 stars
* - 4 stars
* - 3 stars
* - 5 stars
* - 2 stars
* - 2 stars
* - 1 star
* - 1 star

Please note that these are my subjective ratings, based on my experience with the sites. Your opinion may be different, and that's OK.

Each web site has value and may contain that one piece of information that you need to support a fact or prove a relationship.

Obviously, I didn't rate every genealogy database or family tree site on this list. What really great one did I miss? How would your ratings differ from mine?


  1. I think any website that gives you a piece of information that moves your research forward ends up being "a great website"! That's what makes it so hard to rate beyond user interface and things like that. A website could totally "stink", but if it gives me an elusive death notice, or a juicy article about an ancestor from a newspaper, well...

  2. Although GenealogyBank is not strictly available via home access as part of a library subscription, America's GenealogyBank, which is the same product minus the America's Obituaries piece, is.

  3. I think that even the World Family Tree records from are available on Many years ago when I first started my family research and was very "green," I submitted my tree to World Family Tree. I have since seen those records on attributed to an unknown source. I can identify them since they contain my original errors.

  4. Randy; I have to agree with your comments regarding At my library we have several times looked at as a possible addition to our subscriptions and we've always rejected it as lacking unique or essential content.