Saturday, April 14, 2007

Which Genealogy Site is the Best?

I received this post as a reply to my search engine blog from a few days ago. This doesn't really apply to that topic, so I've moved it to a new topic. I'm asked this type of question all the time.

"Is there a site where genealogy websites are rated? There are so many out there and the descriptions of each are confusing to me. It seems they overlap each other an awful lot, and subscribing to more than one site will provide little more than a subscription to one or the other. Has anybody ever created a chart where they lay out what each site has access to and compared the sites in that way? I am interested in subscribing to a site where I can upload my gedcom file, but there are so many, that I don't know which would be the best.It surely would be more convenient for one huge website to contain all databases at once, but then they could charge whatever they wanted--and get away with it."

This is how I look at this topic: "Is there a book somewhere that rates genealogy books, publications, and records? There are so many out there and the descriptions can be confusing and they overlap each other. I really just want to read one book and want to know which one is the best for me to use."

That doesn't make sense, does it? You should say, "No." The reality in genealogy is that there are multiple sources for finding information on your family. Web sites aren't any different than other old-fashioned sources such as books, microfilm, microfiche, magazines, journals, or records of any sort. A web site--actually, the Internet in general--is just a new delivery system for that same old material. First and foremost, genealogy is about tracking down your ancestors through records for various life events. Start with yourself and work backwards through time.

Doing that means that I start in Washington state, move back to North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Germany. So, I might review a genealogy web subscription service and give it 5 stars and say it is the best thing since God invented espresso. However, you might be working from Iowa to Illinois to Sweden. Or you might have Quakers in your family. Or you might have Jewish or Eastern European ancestors. Will my review for my favorite subscription service help you decide if it is right for you? No, it won't. Everybody's family is different, therefore everyone's research is different. What works for me might not work for you. So, even if there is a web site out there that reviews genealogy sites, you need to know that it is important for you to review them yourself. Review them in the context of what you need to fit your research.

The other part of this question that makes this hard to answer is the transient nature of the Internet. Web sites come and go. I add links to new sites and two months later they are gone. Datasets on web sites change. Web sites can be updated and edited any time, so one day a site is great and the next day it is awful (or vice versa). Review sites might exist out there. But if they do I think they are living an unrealistic expectation. People assume I review the sites that I link to on Cyndi's List. I don't and I can't for the reasons I outline above. I have more than 260,000 links. With the hundreds of thousands of possible sources out there how can any one person or source rate them all?

Having multiple sources, many overlapping, is not a bad thing for your research. It gives you a way to check and double-check facts or clues. Yes, it takes time to do all that. But if you thought genealogy was a quick thing to do you are definitely in the wrong hobby. It also takes a bit of organization on your part to keep track of what you do, where you've looked, and where you plan to look next. Any genealogist worth his/her salt is going to have a research workbook on their computer to keep track of the sites they've visited, on which date, and what they found (or didn't find) there.

As for uploading a GEDCOM file. . .that is a topic for another day.


Enumerator said...

I understand where your correspondent is coming from. That's why I have set up GenBIRes - to set out what genealogical records are available on a commercial basis to people researching their family history in the British Isles.

The site is still in its early days, and needs developing futher, but the basics - a summary of what's available and signposting to the detail - is in place.

I'd just like to say thank you for the miraculously wonderful Cyndi's List, and best of luck for the web host move.

Anonymous said...

Now, will you give info on research workbooks for our computers? Do you mean one like Clooz? Others?
Colleen in OR

Anonymous said...

I see someone else asked about the research workbook on our computers.
I would like to know about that as well.
Carolyn going in circles

Mildred R Holmes said...

Research notebooks, whether on the computer or not, are usually not set up according to how I take notes. The point of note taking is for my use; I make, store or toss according to how I finish my documentation of my family.

I keep track of websites/sources in an organized manner, i.e. copy webaddress & access date on anything I copy; lesson I learned in my early days of exploring the Internet. Some sources no longer exist. With the webaddress I copied, I then go to the Internet Archive and recheck.

As for "Which Genealogy Site is the Best," I have Cyndi's List right at the top. Thank you for all the work you put into this. Your site has saved me a lot of time using search engines because I know everything on your site is connected to genealogy. It's pointed me in directions I would not have considered.