Friday, April 16, 2010

First Look at - a Database Site?

I read the press release Adds Millions of Historical Records to Meet Surging Interest in Family History on Dick Eastman's site this morning and decided to take a look at what the site offers and how it is set up. The press release claims:

"In response to Americans' growing interest in family history and genealogy,, which makes researching family history simple and affordable, has expanded its collection to include more than 1.2 billion historical records and has added a number of new features, including Free Internet Search. Now a single search on can locate records from several popular online genealogy resources - for FREE."

Further down is:

"Thousands of people join Archives every day, creating a lively community of family historians, casual hobbyists, and experienced genealogists. Membership is $39.95 for an entire year, and users can try it for free for seven days with no obligation."

Let's take a look at the home page at

It has links for "Explore Your Family History" (which opens the home page - note that there is a search box here. We'll return to that a bit later), a "Browse Collections" page, a "Build Your Family Tree" page, and a "Learn from Experts" page.

There is also a link for "Start 7-Day Free Trial" on every page which opens this page and asks for your credit card number. There is a link to the Terms and Conditions and to a list of Member Benefits also (Flash links, not separate URLs) on this page.

The "Browse Collections" page provides a list and description of the databases searched by the search engine. As of today, there are 115 different collections listed with 1.3 billion names included:

Some of the collections are from FamilySearch Record Search (all free access), from (you may need a subscription), (free access), (all free access), USGenWeb Archives (all free access), (all free access), and (all free access). There are other databases available for Vital Records - not on those sites - that are behind the membership fire wall.

The "Build Your Family Tree" application is behind the membership fire wall:

The family tree application permits a GEDCOM upload. The features listed include a scrapbook (photos and documents), multiple trees, print and share, timeline, tree search and email notifications. That sounds pretty good - comparable to other online family trees (many of which are free to use).

The "Learn from Experts" page has articles from several genealogy writers - including genea-bloggers Amy Coffin, Thomas MacEntee, Katrina McQuarrie and Kathleen Brandt, plus other writers (complete list of articles and authors).

Back to the home page - I was curious about the search engine. I put in the name "John Smith" (you have to enter both a first and last name) and left the area as "United States" (you can pick a state from a list):

I pressed the "Search" button and received this page:

There were 106,247 matches found in seven sources for "John Smith." 100,328 of them were in Vital Records and not in the seven sources listed above. I'm not sure where the Vital Records are, but they are all listed in the list of database Collections. The matches for FamilySearch were limited to 5,600, and for the other six listed databases to 64 (what are the odds that six databases will have the same number of matches for "John Smith"?). There are likely more matches in all seven of the listed external databases.

What about the Search Engine? A link on the home page takes you to this page:

The page claims that searches are comprehensive, accurate and fast. Without a membership, it's impossible to judge those claims. There is an advanced search engine where the user can add a birth date, a death date and select from different record types. I had several questions about the search engine:

* Can the search engine perform exact matches only? I don't think so.
* What about using wild cards? Again, I don't think so.
* I used one of my ancestors to answer these questions!

So the question many of you are asking - is a $39.95 annual membership in worth it? I cannot answer that question without more investigation of the databases to determine if all of them, or just some of them, are available in free online databases or in other fee-based databases (like Ancestry, Footnote, WorldVitalRecords, etc.). For my own research, I will "wait and see" if the site provides unique databases that I need to access to work on my ancestral research.

Disclosure: I am not an employee, affiliate, contractor or writer for, nor have I accepted any remuneration for this article.


James Tanner said...

I've looked at this site a few times. If you look far enough it turns out I was one of their original expert authors. They actually paid me for the article, but they had a different name at the time. Thanks for the update.

Untangled Family Roots said...

I used the site for a while, but I found the use of Ancestry and Footnote benifieted me better. The records they have are really no different than Ancestry, and I still find Ancestry easier to search (well most of the time).

Unknown said...

I agree with Amy. I signed up and canceled my account within a couple of days.

Anonymous said...

I signed up at and within 24 hours cancelled my subscription. I think the site has some great features, I especially liked where you can set up alerts for your different ancestors and can see that being beneficial in the future. But, as for the records they already hold, I found nothing. In my preliminary searches before I signed up, it always brought positive searches with 100's of records, then you sign up and there is nothing.

Joan Miller (Luxegen) said...

Just wrote up my review of Archives to add to the chorus.