Not long ago the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it had formed a partnership with three large genealogy companies to provide its members access to their services. By December, most members of the Church should receive an invitation to open free accounts at MyHeritage, FindMyPast, and Ancestry.com.
This is exciting news in the LDS genealogical world, but if you’re not actively involved in genealogy, you might not realize why.
In effect, the Church will be offering you an immense, expanding toolbox stuffed with all sorts of useful tools. From your personal computer or tablet or smartphone, you will be able to use great libraries full of information on your family heritage.
Practically speaking, many members of the Church have not been able to afford genealogical memberships to sites like Ancestry, so their research has been limited to what is on FamilySearch — admittedly a large collection — or what is available locally. These memberships will allow them to expand their research capabilities and do research at home that previously required a research trip or ordering microfilms into their local Family History Center.
In my case, this new arrangement just freed up hundreds of dollars a year that I can now dedicate to books and other research costs instead of my vital Ancestry membership, and it also allows access to the resources and collections of MyHeritage and FindMyPast, since memberships to those two databases are costs I’ve never been able to justify in addition to the expensive Ancestry membership.
A Summary of the Databases
Each of the databases has certain strengths. Here is an overview of each of the four services, in alphabetical order.
Ancestry.com is based in the United States, has millions of subscribers, and is familiar to many Americans through its advertising and hosting of the popular television show “Who Do You Think You Are?”
You will be able to use Ancestry for two major functions: creating a family tree, and looking for records. As you start your free subscription, Ancestry will allow you to import your family tree from FamilySearch. Most patrons seem to be having a seamless experience, but some are reporting mixed results, so hopefully any technical glitches will be sorted out soon.
Once you have a tree on Ancestry, it will give you hints about additional records, stories, and pictures. The hints are indicated by waving leaves:
As you create your family tree, you can link it to others’ family trees so you can see when they add information, but you have full control over your own tree; Ancestry does not have a unified tree like FamilySearch.
As you add information, make sure it’s correct. Some users will add records like the census without bothering to match the children listed there to the children in the family, so you won’t want to take other people’s trees as fact, since online family trees are notoriously unreliable.2
Ancestry has a good search engine, but in addition to basic and advanced searches, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the records available for the areas where your ancestors lived. Read the Research Guides and search through the Card Catalog.
Here are a few examples from the many records available on Ancestry.
Swedish records. These are not currently available at FamilySearch.org, so if you have Swedish ancestors, you should be able to track your ancestors back generation by generation. In previous times, you would have had to hire a Swedish researcher or go to Sweden, or go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to read these records on microfilm, or else order microfilms one by one in to your local Family History Center.3
Daughters of Utah Pioneers Publications. Ancestry has copies of a number of DUP publications in its book collection, and since they are searchable, anyone with pioneer ancestry can find stories about their ancestors’ communities, and possibly even their own families.
German records. Ancestry has a much more extensive collection of German records than FamilySearch.org, including the World War I casualty lists that I’ve used in exploring the history of the German Latter-day Saints during the war.
Sitting in a waiting room feeling bored? Download the free Ancestry app, and you’ll be able to use your smart phone or tablet to tap through the green leaves on your family tree and review and add sources.
Would you like a more scientific look at your heritage? You can pay for a simple DNA test and Ancestry will send you a report showing your ancestral origins, and you will also have the option to enter a database and see cousin matches.
FamilySearch is an organization owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As the largest genealogical organization in the world, it gathers, preserves, and shares genealogical records worldwide. FamilySearch runs a website, familysearch.org, containing increasing numbers of the records and services of the organization, many of them available free to the general public.
FamilySearch Family Tree is the online unified family tree used by members of the Church to collect and share genealogical information and submit names for proxy temple ordinances. Any registered user can work on the entries for any of the deceased people in Family Tree and add information, merge duplicate entries, and reserve temple ordinances for family members or other loved ones with the permission of their family.
FamilySearch has a huge collection of records from around the world, and is constantly adding new collections to the website. You can keep up with some of the advances at the FamilySearch Blog.
As with Ancestry, you’ll want to read research guides (FamilySearch Wiki) and sort through the card catalog and collection of digitized family and local history books to see what’s available, and not just do basic searches. If you run into a problem, click the “Get Help” drop down menu in the upper right corner, and a service missionary may be able to help you.
Findmypast began as a collaborative effort to collect and share the vital records of the United Kingdom. It is still a prime source for records from the UK and Ireland, but is also increasing its collection worldwide.
Some interesting records at findmypast include the following.
England and Wales Census. FamilySearch.org has not been able to show every census, and had to refer users to findmypast, where they would have to pay for the records. Now collections such as these should not be restricted, since you should have access to all the databases.
Military and service records. Findmypast includes everything from records of the East India Company to the recipients of the Waterloo Medal.
Irish records. If you have Irish ancestry, findmypast has a number of useful databases.
MyHeritage is a social networking and genealogical database service with more than 75 million registered users. It is based in Israel, and has more of an international focus than the other services. Certain genealogists report that is has one of the most accurate search engines.
MyHeritage began primarily as a way for people to create and share family trees and allow users to match trees with distant cousins. In addition to the networking capabilities, MyHeritage is trying to catch up to other services by adding digitized record collections, and has partnered with FamilySearch to increase its number of historical records. (MyHeritage Partners With FamilySearch To Add Billions Of Historical Records To Its Genealogy Database.) MyHeritage works on a system similar to the popular game Candy Crush: the basic service is free, but you can purchase upgraded features.
Like Ancestry, MyHeritage hosts a DNA service. It also has a great mobile app, and it’s another option for those who would like to fit their genealogical explorations into a free minute here and there.
And who can resist the fun of the app’s “MyCeleb” feature? (It claims I look like Aung San Suu Kyi or Astrid Lindgren. How did I manage to go so long without knowing this!?) But as silly as “MyCeleb” may be, these human connections help drive the service. As MyHeritage’s founder, Gilad Japhet, told the Wall Street Journal,
It’s a very emotional, universal basic need for people to understand where they came from and understand more about themselves. Sometimes people have other motivations, like finding wealthy relatives or famous celebrities. Families often have unique stories on how they survived the last few thousand years. People are strongly interested in discovering those stories, and the truth is often wilder than every fiction. It’s a hobby, but one that is life-long, like a never-ending detective story.
A Case Study in the Use of the Four Databases
Here is an example of why it is useful to have access to all four databases: FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage.
Andrew Boyes was from Scotland. He emigrated in 1888 and subsequently married Mary Stewart, another Scottish immigrant, in Philadelphia. Their great-granddaughter, Cathy, joined the Church a number of years ago and is working diligently to finish four generations of her genealogy, which includes Andrew and Mary Boyes and their children.
When Cathy goes into FamilySearch, she can only find two records: Andrew and Mary in the 1900 United States Census with their four children, and the 1888 immigration record for Andrew. The immigration record mentions a “Mrs. Boyes,” but she is the wrong age to be Mary Stewart, so that means he immigrated with a previous wife.
These records confirm Cathy’s remembered stories about the family.
And that’s all she can find in FamilySearch; it’s not enough to trace the family back across the Atlantic Ocean.
Now we turn to Ancestry. Here Andrew shows up in the 1900 census but also in a number of Philadelphia city directories, so we can track his addresses throughout the city and perhaps use the information to find pertinent church records.
Then we spend 20 minutes or so sorting through the different Andrew Boyes: the immigrant to Philadelphia, another man with the same name from the same region of Scotland, and an immigrant to Ontario. We will have to find more records to confirm Andrew’s identity, since same name doesn’t mean same person, but it looks like our Andrew Boyes was from Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, married to Margaret Gammie Boyes. They may have had two sons who stayed behind in Scotland. We can track Andrew and other family members all the way back to the first Scotland Census in 1841.
The index to the 1861 Scotland Census notes that he was a gardener at The Manse in Peterhead, and since it is currently for sale, a quick visit to Google shows many pictures of the property. (The Manse, Peterhead.)
Finally, since we have exhausted the basic searches, we go to Ancestry’s card catalog to find record collections for Philadelphia. This turns up a collection called “Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records.” A search here shows Andrew’s 1902 death and burial, and provides information about his current burial site, since the original cemetery was converted into housing in the 1950s, and all the burials were moved to other cemeteries.5
Once again, the information in this record confirms Cathy’s family memories.
So, Ancestry has been useful in finding Andrew’s parents, children, siblings, and grandchildren, and Cathy can add and source their entries in Family Tree and reserve their temple work.
Next we turn to MyHeritage. Once again, the record search requires sorting out the different men with the same name, but this search gives additional information for Andrew’s family in Scotland, including his son’s family.
A look at FindMyPast shows many of the same records as in the other databases, but sometimes if you cannot find a record in one database, it’s worth looking in another, in case a transcription error was made in one database and not another, or in case the other database has additional collections for the same area.
So, What Next?
These new memberships are like a huge toolbox full of tools. It’s a wonderful resource, or like Gilad Japhet said, the start of a “life-long … never-ending detective story.”
However, if you set the toolbox on the shelf and don’t learn to use it, it won’t do you any good, so while you’re waiting for your invitation, here are some suggestions of how to get ready to use this new resource.
If you have not been involved in genealogy, make sure you have an active LDS login and can get into FamilySearch Family Tree. Once you are in, look at the features. Figure out how to use the Research Wiki and Help features. Make sure your parents and grandparents are correct, and while you’re doing that, take a few minutes to think about them and write down a few stories. Then seek inspiration and choose a family line and learn how to add sources and correct entries.
If you regularly set aside even 15 or 20 minutes a week, you can learn to make valuable contributions by sourcing, correcting and merging entries, and expanding your family tree.
If you are already involved in genealogy, think about your goals. You may want to run through Family Tree or Puzzilla and figure out which lines need work. Are all the entries adequately sourced? (By one rule of thumb, this means each person should have at least three sources.) Do you have accurate family histories and biographies for every family line? Does each of your ancestors have a Life Sketch in Family Tree? Who, if anyone, needs temple work done?
Finally, while you’re working on your own genealogy, you may want to help others by indexing records. Doing this can help start or expand your own research, since it will teach you about the wide range of available sources and how to read and interpret records.
[Added May 22 in response to a question] Screen Shots of the Ancestry Log-in Process
- Other services like Fold3.com and Newspapers.com will not be included. [↩]
- Remember the rule of thumb: the more sources a family tree has, the more likely it is to be accurate. [↩]
- As always, if you are starting into a new area of research, such as Swedish records, or Massachusetts sources, or whatever, read the research guides and find handwriting and language guides and maps to help. [↩]
- Family History Consultants and certain other members of the Church already have access to the free memberships so they can become acquainted with the programs, and when I got an invitation, the very first resource I checked was the findmypast newspaper collection. Unfortunately I was not able to use it; it requests an upgraded membership or the use of purchased credits. Hopefully this collection will be eventually included in the membership, since it may be its single most valuable resource for many people. [↩]
- Wandering burials are a common theme in Philadelphia research. One of my ancestors was disinterred twice before he reached his final resting place. He was first buried in the cemetery of the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, a few blocks from the site of the new Philadelphia Temple. When the cemetery was converted to other uses, his burial was moved to the Fernwood Cemetery, and still later to the Westminster Cemetery just outside Philadelphia. [↩]