Genealogy website review and round-up - Ancestry, Footnote, World Vital Records, Familysearch

I am currently in the middle of getting all my finances in order. I've spent the past few years being less than fiscally responsible and splurging on things I want but don't necessarily need - a new Coach bag, all my favorite tv shows on dvd, a full subscription...

I love Ancestry ( It has made available, right at our fingertips, so many primary documents that otherwise would have been difficult if not impossible for us to find. That website has been instrumental in the verification and expansion of my tree. It has also cost me a pretty penny. So this past week, I decided to shop around.

I don't like to shop around. Even in real life when I go shopping I don't like to shop around. I find something I like, something I'm comfortable with, and I stick with it. That's my m.o. But Ancestry was costing me $32 a month. That's almost $400 a year. And while the site was invaluable in the beginning and middle stages of my research, lately it hasn't been that helpful with finding new information. So I decided to see if I could find something cheaper.

First I tried Footnote ( It was advertised on Ancestry. A lot of these websites are either affiliated with each other or have some kind of association, so they help each other out. Most of them will offer at least a 7-day free trial (I started my Ancestry membership almost 10 years ago with a 2-week free trial). Footnote was interesting, because it has documents, many from the National Archives, that Ancestry does not have, so I can see it being a good companion website to Ancestry, but at the same time, their records seemed very specialized - military records, Native American records, FBI records - which is great if that's what you're looking for, but it was not what I was looking for. So I cancelled that.

Then I decided to do a Google search of "best genealogy websites" and I found something called World Vital Records ( It's by the same people who started Ancestry and has many of the same records available, such as some of the U.S. Census records and a huge newspaper collection, but doesn't have quite as an extensive collection of records. At $10 a month, though, a membership to World Vital Records is much more affordable than Ancestry and might be a good place to start if you're not sure what you're looking for yet. Also, just to note, I wasn't really a fan of either sites' search engine and whereas it was easy to cancel my Footnote free trial online, World Vital Records made it more difficult in that I had to call up. That could make it easy to let the free trial end date pass and get stuck paying, but the customer service rep I spoke with was very nice and very helpful.

I don't know if trying two new websites qualifies as "shopping around" but after almost two weeks I decided to stick with Ancestry and downgrade from the monthly world deluxe membership to the monthly U.S. deluxe membership - it's about $10 cheaper and I was using mostly U.S. records anyway. Despite the cost, I really like Ancestry, and if I decide to change my mind again in the future, it's really easy to upgrade to another membership. Also, they are constantly adding new records, so even though I haven't found anything lately, I can't rule out finding pertinent info in the future (1940 U.S. census coming out in 2012 anyone? :))

And on a sidenote, if you don't feel like paying for a website subscription, the LDS Familysearch website ( is free and pretty decent. They recently overhauled it, so the search engine is new, but they have a ton of records you can't even find on Ancestry - that's where I found the 1892 and 1905 New York State censuses as well as Kings County probate files for some of my family members. A lot of their databases aren't indexed but if you have the time and patience to go through each record (and believe me, that's what I had to do with Ancestry's census images, line by line, before they were indexed), there are records from all over the world - including Latin America, which Ancestry is not so great with record-wise - with family history nuggets just waiting to be found!