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Exciting Times for Mormon Family History: Free Access to Ancestry, MyHeritage, and findmypast

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - May 21, 2014

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

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?

Ancestry has a number of services including its website, also named Ancestry.com, and this is the service that will be included in the free membership.1

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:

AncestryGreenLeaves

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

AncestrySwedishRecords

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.

AncestryGermanRecords

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.

AncestryApp

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

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.

FamilyTreePortraits

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.

FamilySearchPersonPage

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.

FamilySearchWiki

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

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.

Findmypast is currently undergoing some very public technological issues, but hopefully the company will resolve them and will continue to be a useful service as it has been in the past.4

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.

1851EnglandCensusNightingaleSm

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

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.

MyHeritageApp

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.

1900BoyesCensusPhiladelphiacrop

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.

1888AndrewBoyesPhiladelphiaPAT840_10-0484Ancestrycrop

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

1951.03.29AndrewBoyesReburialcrop

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?

FamilySearchIndexing2

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

LDSAncestryLogin

LDSAncestryLogin2

 

Notes.

  1. Other services like Fold3.com and Newspapers.com will not be included. []
  2. Remember the rule of thumb: the more sources a family tree has, the more likely it is to be accurate. []
  3. 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. []
  4. 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. []
  5. 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. []


22 Comments »

  1. A few questions for readers.

    Have you used any of these services? Have you found them useful? Any stories to share?

    Are you a family history consultant or high priest group leader or otherwise already have access to this service? If so, what has your experience been?

    And if you have any questions, we will try our best to answer or direct you to a place where you may be able to find an answer. (In many cases, that’s the help desk at FamilySearch, as mentioned above.)

    Comment by Amy T — May 21, 2014 @ 7:57 am

  2. {long, low whistle} ….

    This is going to take me some time to wrap my head around and come up with a semi-coherent comment. Several of these are resources I have never used in the paid versions and didn’t know what they offered — even the ones I have used, sometimes extensively, have more to them than I realized.

    Thanks, Amy.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 21, 2014 @ 7:59 am

  3. Oh boy, this is rather long and complicated! Here’s a quick summary:

    This is a great time for doing family history. Since many members don’t have the ability to go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, FamilySearch is working hard to bring the resources you need to do family history and temple work into your own homes.

    A good place to start is to set up your LDS login, then start exploring the information in FamilySearch Family Tree. Make sure all your family lines are connected (you may need to add or merge people, but only do that if you’re sure of the information), start adding sources, and go from there. If you need help or education, it’s available at the FamilySearch Help Center.

    Comment by Amy T — May 21, 2014 @ 8:24 am

  4. Great post, Amy. Now you’ve got me all excited to use these added tools, I don’t know if I can wait until Christmas!

    Comment by Mark B. — May 21, 2014 @ 8:35 am

  5. Holy. crap. That is fantastic–Ancestry alone is huge news. The family trees there have been very helpful, particularly for avenues of my family that don’t have the Mormon saturation that my other lines do. Also, I have found a few personal histories and reminiscences in the trees that have been gold. Very, very cool.

    Comment by Bryan Buchanan — May 21, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  6. That is really exciting. Thanks for succinctly explaining the different services. I’m excited to finally get involved instead of sitting on the sidelines.

    Comment by robin marie — May 21, 2014 @ 10:33 am

  7. Exciting, indeed! Thanks for this, Amy.

    Comment by David Y. — May 21, 2014 @ 10:48 am

  8. What terrific news! This will be all the motivation I need to dive back in to researching my family history after a few years of laziness.

    Comment by Flounder — May 21, 2014 @ 10:56 am

  9. A very useful summary, Amy. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 21, 2014 @ 11:23 am

  10. Hi,
    Ancestry.com is owned by a European investment consortium called Permira, see http://www.permira.com/investments

    I am not too surprised that many of the commentators seem to be surprised at the announcement, it has only been discussed since October of 2013.

    Comment by James Tanner — May 21, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

  11. I just want to know if I can get a refund for my Ancestry.com renewal I just paid! (grrrr)

    Comment by Coffinberry — May 21, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

  12. Good question, Coffinberry. Perhaps after you’ve gotten the invitation (there’s a chart with the current proposed timeline in the very first link in the post) and linked your accounts you might want to call Ancestry and ask them to refund the unused part of the subscription.

    Thanks, all, for the comments.

    Comment by Amy T — May 21, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

  13. “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″

    Comment to the above paragraph: I have been doing Swedish genealogical research since 2007. First it was microfilms which were very time consuming to use. Then after a year or so, I went to Genline (free at the FH library, and for pay for individuals) which had digital images taken from the microfilms the LDS Church took of Swedish records (in the 50′s or 60′s I think. Genline was much faster.

    Then Ancestry bought Genline and when I used it on ancestry.com, I thought Genline had been ruined. Didn’t work as well as it had before the buyout, was slow etc. This may changed since I tried it last.

    Next I went to ArchivDigital which has images of the original Swedish Church records. Images are much better quality than Genline. Also I think Archiv has many more records available than Genline.

    I use ArchivDigital at the FH library in SLC so I don’t pay for it. The last I heard it was $40 a month, but you didn’t have to sign up for a year. I think at least in the past you could even pay for a week at a time. This would be great, because I think most people don’t spend full time doing research.

    So my recommendation is ArchivDigital which is far superior to Genline now on Ancestry.

    Also a unrelated question. My daughter-in-law who is a very experienced genealogist said she thought that the free version of Ancestry to LDS Church members was only the U.S. and not the international version. Is this true, or will LDS Church members have access to both US and international records on Ancestry?

    Comment by Maude Norman — May 21, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

  14. Great article, Amy — one that I’ll be sure to share with folks who are asking about their access. My hubby and I serve as area FH Advisers with recent experience as FHC directors. We have been previous subscribers with Ancestry and MyHeritage, and of course considerable experience with FamilySearch Family Tree. We love the Family Tree and its ever-developing enhancements. Access to the array of products is very helpful — search algorithms can differ among the products, with different variety of records collections, product features and emphasis. At Rootstech 2013, Doug joined MyHeritage after learning that it might be helpful in discovering the fate of extended family in Germany and Russia between WWI and WWII. He was able to discover a cousin in eastern Europe who helped fill in some of the missing narrative and they plan to collaborate to find more of the great aunts and uncles. That is another great thing about the products which give you the ability to contact others who are working on shared ancestry. I’ve had some great experiences with collaboration. Even when someone contacted me to question my work on a shared line. We worked through the proofs — we both had pieces of the puzzle that clarified things and are now working together to further progress on that line. The photos and stories are very powerful for people. Family treasures are found and new family history friendships/connections are made. This is an exciting time to do family history. As you work to flesh out your own tree, you will also be prepared to assist others who are moved to search out their heritage. I do believe we are being prepared for a greater work and have more tools than ever before to accomplish it.

    Comment by Debra Liening — May 21, 2014 @ 8:52 pm

  15. I’m interested in the DNA stuff. Amy, has anyone in our family done this? I’d love to know.

    For Maude: Our Australian family history consultants have been granted access to Ancestry.com. Our FHC was telling me this just the other week.

    It wouldn’t make sense to limit genealogical searches to a particular geographical area, so I doubt access is going to be limited, unless there’s some sort of copyright, et al. going on.

    Comment by Heidi Kneale (Her Grace) — May 22, 2014 @ 12:50 am

  16. Maude, thanks for the review of the history of the Swedish records, and the hint for people who are able to visit the FHL. Besides ArchivDigital, there are usually people at the library who can help decipher some of the more complicated records.

    My husband is not a family history consultant but for some unknown reason my ward listed him as one, so I just used his invitation to sign in to Ancestry. (I’m still using my paid membership since I have multiple family trees for various research projects and this was not the week I wanted to figure out how it was going to handle that.)

    When you sign in, you choose your country/language (I’ll add screen shots to the end of the post) and then the next screen says:

    LDS-Ancestry Memberships are provided through a collaboration between Ancestry and FamilySearch. The membership gives you free access to Ancestry services and worldwide record collections.

    This membership also lets you share information between your Ancestry and FamilySearch family trees and access LDS-specific information about your family on the FamilySearch family tree.

    When I go in, it imports four generations from FamilySearch into Ancestry, but not the entire family tree. That just took a few seconds, and then it gives you a brief tutorial.

    Once you’re in the family tree, it provides some great collaborative features between Ancestry and FamilySearch, including ordinance information. I’m impressed. And my husband’s family tree begins with 265 hints waiting to be reviewed. That should keep him busy for awhile!

    And now I’m comparing his LDS membership and my International membership side by side. It looks like all the same records. A spot check of the German and Swedish collections show the identical number of records.

    So, yes, this is the international version, and as Heidi mentioned in comment 15, it is also being made available internationally.

    Comment by Amy T — May 22, 2014 @ 6:56 am

  17. Debra, thank you for your interesting comment and for reinforcing the potential for collaboration.

    I’ll mention one of several interactions I’ve had due to the collaborative nature of online family history research.

    Several years ago, I was contacted by a distant cousin in London. Our common ancestors were Mormon pioneers, but he was descended from a child who stayed in England. It’s been a joy to associate with him over the past few years and exchange Christmas letters and research notes and read his blog about his family history including experiences during the world wars. On his Facebook page, this good Anglican (if I’m not mistaken) has put the following quote, with its universal truths:

    It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look on the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect on the work of those who laboured so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. —Gordon B. Hinckley

    Comment by Amy T — May 22, 2014 @ 7:08 am

  18. Heidi, I’m not sure. I would be interested to see DNA results from the cousins since the W– family came from a border region and the family heritage could show some interesting mixtures dating to the Viking Era.

    Comment by Amy T — May 22, 2014 @ 7:20 am

  19. I’m glad they linked it to the international scope, rather than the US only scope. Do we know if we have to create a new Ancestry account to get the Membership link, or will they be able to membership link older Ancestry accounts? I’ve already two accounts there (which can’t be consolidated), and I’d rather not have a third.

    Also, this brings up one of the big issues in collaboration – how to keep the family trees on multiple systems up to date. My tree on FamilySearch does not have the same stuff as my tree on Ancestry, and neither has the same stuff as my Dad’s home computer.

    I’ve kept my hopes low on this since it was announced at RootsTech. I’ve seen too many announcements or rumours fail to come to fruition.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — May 22, 2014 @ 9:59 am

  20. Frank, there is an option to link to an existing Ancestry account. I did not choose that, so I don’t know how it works, if it creates a new family tree or merges with an existing one.

    And multiple family trees? I didn’t want to get into that in this post, but that is a major issue with the current technology. I’m not sure I want to go to the trouble of creating additional trees besides what I already have on Reunion (a program for the Mac), RootsMagic (Windows), Family Tree, Ancestry, and primarily in my research documents and collections. That’s already more than complicated enough.

    Randy Siever wrote about the issue of multiple trees a few days ago on his genealogy-technology blog, and created a fascinating graphic illustrating the issue. (Dear Randy: How Can I Avoid Updating My Tree in 5 Different Places?)

    One of the commenters there quoted a statistic that “80% of all research is a duplication of effort.” I can believe that, at least on certain family lines. Hopefully the unified tree provided by FamilySearch and the promising-looking link between Family Tree and Ancestry will help reduce duplication of effort and lead to some real advances in the field.

    Comment by Amy T — May 22, 2014 @ 6:31 pm

  21. For information, FamilySearch has a blog post on how this is going to roll out:

    https://familysearch.org/blog/en/update-member-access-partner-sitesmay-2014/

    Comment by Frank Pellett — May 28, 2014 @ 9:55 am

  22. Thanks, Frank; that link is in the first paragraph and as you can see I spent some time kvetching about FindMyPast newspaper access in the comments there. :)

    Other exciting new developments: Family History Centers now have Lexmark printer/scanners that can scan pictures and documents directly into FamilySearch accounts. I’ve tried it out myself, and it’s very cool.

    And now Family Tree is going to be able to give hints for records to add to entries like Ancestry and MyHeritage already do. (It’s still in beta, so users might not see it for awhile.)

    Comment by Amy T — May 28, 2014 @ 10:32 am

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