Which is the Best Genealogy Site?

Published by Genealogy-Research on

Although we love free genealogy sites here at Genealogy-Research, and have spent a large amount of time curating collections of no-cost resources for you, we also love and use paid genealogy subscription sites every day. These sites often offer unique collections of records, powerful tools, and a lot of convenience.

Ancestry, MyHeritage and Findmypast are the leaders in providing subscription-based genealogy records, but a lot of people are confused about the differences between them. Which of these genealogy sites is the best? Which one has more records? Do they all offer family trees? Should I try all three or stick with one? What is the cost?

The following guide is designed to provide a comparison of these three companies so that you can more easily answer these questions and make the most of the records they hold.

Before we begin, it is important that you know that we work with all three of these companies to share information, updates and promotions with you. Because we work with and use all of these sites you can trust that the information in this article is balanced and fair. We may also earn a fee to support our work if you choose to take advantage of subscriptions or free trials linked to from this page. 

And which is the best genealogy site for you?

In the following comparison we have looked at 12 key elements of the “big three” genealogy subscription sites to help you understand what they have in common and what makes each one unique.

One of elements we have looked at is the number of records provided by each company. It is important to note that each genealogy company uses slightly different methods for determining the number of records they offer – but, generally, a record refers to a specific piece of information of genealogical or historical use in a source, such as the name of an individual and associated information. For this reason, one certificate, document or newspaper/book page can contain numerous “records.”

Findmypast does a good job of defining the process of record counting here.

For our indexed collections, record counts are defined as the information listed for each specific person included. For example, each line on a census is counted as one record as it contains information about one specific person.

Un-indexed collections such as newspapers, periodicals and electoral registers are trickier as there is no underlying structure to determine the number of individual entries.  In these casespages are sampled in their entirety and an average is then applied to determine an estimated number of names.

Another thing to note is that many collections, or similar collections, can be found through more than one of these services. This list of the 20 largest genealogy collections online clearly demonstrates this overlap.

In this comparison we have focused on the U.S. version of a site, where more than one exists. Availability of records and pricing varies from location to location.


Pricing: Ancestry offers monthly and 6 month memberships. Monthly memberships include U.S only record access for $19.99, access to all records (U.S. and global) for $34.99 and access to all records plus Fold3 and Newspapers.com Basic for $44.99 (per month). 6 month memberships range from $99 to $199 for the same selections. This makes the most inexpensive membership option $16.50 per month for U.S. only records when you buy a 6 month membership. If you need access to all records (Canada, UK, Europe, Mexico etc) you will need the larger subscription, which can be had for just under $25 per month if you choose the 6 month option.

What Makes This Site Unique: Ancestry has long been a leader in online genealogy research and offers more records than anyone else, as well a great diversity of record types and locations covered. Many family historians consider Ancestry a must-have subscription.

Number of Genealogy Records: Ancestry currently reports having 19 billion records. See the explanation above for how record numbers are calculated. We offer various articles on using Ancestry’s site here.
U.S. vs Global Records: Ancestry offers a nice mix of records for locations across the world. This includes Canada, many locations in Europe (including the UK and Ireland), Australia and New Zealand, Mexico and locations in Asia and Africa. You can view, search and sort all of their record collections in their online catalog here.
Searching Without a Subscription: You can search all of Ancestry without a subscription but cannot view most records unless you have a subscription. Ancestry does offer a good selection of free records as well that do not require a paid membership and you can read about that here.
Downloadable Family Tree: Ancestry does not offer a downloadable family tree program. Family Tree Maker, which used to be owned by Ancestry, is now owned by Software MacKiev and is offered at a cost of around $79. It does still sync with Ancestry’s online tree. RootsMagic, which is available at a lower cost ($29), also syncs with Ancestry’s tree. You can learn more about both of these programs in our Family Tree Guide.

Family Tree Privacy, Sharing and Discovery: Ancestry trees can be kept private or made public. Both private and public trees are easy to share with family and fellow researchers, and public trees are included in Ancestry’s search. Private trees can also be included but the information is inaccessible to others unless they request your permission. Only paid members can access other people’s family trees.

Hints: Ancestry is famous for its hints, which show up on names in your tree and tell you that there are record suggestions, or possible matches in another person’s tree. These hints can be a wonderful way to build on your research if used carefully. Always be very cautious with hints from trees, however, as they can be riddled with errors and undocumented information. We cover Ancestry hints extensively, including dos and don’ts, in our courses.

Additional User Tools: Ancestry offers the ability to create charts and books from your research through a third-party paid service, but does not offer extensive additional research tools outside of their tree.

Mobile Friendliness: Ancestry offers mobile apps for iOS and Android devices that sync with a tree kept on their site, and their regular site is also mobile accessible for tree usage and searches.

DNA Testing or Tools: Ancestry offers a DNA test and tools that integrate the information from your family tree with your genetic matches (they have the largest database of individuals to match against). They do not, however, allow free uploads of your raw DNA if you have already tested elsewhere – you must test with AncestryDNA. To view the difference between the ethnicity reports provided by Ancestry and other companies, see this article. To read more about choosing a DNA test for you, see our comparison guide.

Pricing: MyHeritage offers three types of annual subscriptions, those that include access to their advanced online family tree site, one that includes access only to records and one that offers a complete family tree site, all tools and complete record access. Tree-only subscription prices range from $110- $175 per year and include advanced tools and extra storage if you exceed the 250 person limit in their free tree. Their record-only access subscription is $159 per year and their everything plan is $250 per year. This means that access to everything on their site (U.S. and global records, full tree and all research tools) averages at just under $21 per month – several dollars less than Ancestry’s World Explorer plan. And record-only access without the family tree extras is just over $13 per month with this annual plan (U.S. and global records). Every plan includes the free family tree, limited to 250 people.

What Makes This Site Unique: Next to Ancestry, MyHeritage offers more records than any other genealogy subscription provider. They have also experienced dramatic growth in the last couple of years in the number and diversity of records, the availability of user-requested tools and in their DNA platform. They have some unique offerings no one else has and are definitely worth checking out.

Number of Genealogy Records: MyHeritage currently has more than 9 billion records.

U.S. vs Global Records: Both U.S. and global records are offered and are included in all record subscriptions, no special subscription is required for access to world records opposed to U.S. records. As with Ancestry, collections are available for Canada, many locations in Europe (including the UK and Ireland), Australia and New Zealand, Latin America, including Mexico, and areas in Asia and Africa. View all collections in their catalog here. We also offer help for using the MyHeritage site here.

Searching Without a Subscription: MyHeritage’s records can be searched without a subscription, but cannot be accessed without a paid membership.

Online Family Tree: MyHeritage offers a robust family tree which can be used for free until 250 individuals are included. If you exceed this number you will need to gain a family site with a paid membership (see membership breakdown above). You can read more about the MyHeritage family tree in our tree comparison guide.
Downloadable Family Tree: MyHeritage offers a robust, free downloadable family tree program that syncs with their online family tree. You do not need a subscription to use it. Download Family Tree Builder here.

Family Tree Privacy, Sharing and Discovery: Trees on MyHeritage can be kept private or made public and several setting are available to tweak the level of privacy your tree has. Public trees are included in MyHeritage searches and are used as part of Smart Matching (see below).

Hints: MyHeritage offers something called Discoveries when you upload or add a tree to their site. The discoveries system attempts to match the information in your tree with records and includes Smart Matching that also looks for matches in other people’s trees. The Discoveries system is very helpful and we have used it to successfully break down a very stubborn brick wall. Although, as with Ancestry’s hints, we encourage extreme caution with discoveries from other people’s trees as the information contained in them can be inaccurate. Read more about MyHeritage’s Discoveries here.
Additional User Tools: MyHeritage is the only one of the sites on this list that continually releases new research tools and they offer some unique ones, such as their Pedigree Map that shows your ancestors’ locations geographically, a visual relationship calculator, a powerful error reporting tool that catches inconsistencies in your tree and easy and free ways to create charts and books from your research.

Mobile Friendliness: MyHeritage has a mobile-friendly site as well as apps for Android and iOS. Syncing happens automatically across all devices when using the app.

DNA Testing or Tools: MyHeritage offers DNA testing and an easy to use system for using your results in your research. You’ll find a variety of tools to help you better understand how you connect with your matches, including surname and tree matching and a chromosome browser. Read all about this system here. MyHeritage is also the only company in this comparison guide that offers free uploads of DNA data if you’ve already tested. You can upload your own DNA here.

Pricing: Findmypast offers both monthly and yearly memberships at two different levels. Their Essential British and Irish package – which is $14.95 monthly and $129 yearly – and their Ultimate British and Irish package – which is $19.95 monthly and $179 yearly. The second package provides access to more records and educational materials.

What Makes This Site Unique: Findmypast specializes in providing records for the UK and Ireland. While you will find a very good number of records from other locations, such as the US and Canada, you will benefit most from using this site if some of your ancestors come from England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland. You can see all of their record collections here.

Number of Genealogy Records: Findmypast offers more than 2 billion records. This is the lowest amount in this comparison, but since they offer a unique collection of UK records they are definitely worth using if you have ancestors from that area – or simply want to explore their collections. New sites and collections very often lead to new discoveries.

Searching Without a Subscription: You can search the Findmypast collections without a subscription but will not be able to access the records without a paid membership. Some records are provided free of charge and those can be found here.

Online Family Tree: Findmypast offers a free family tree which can be used with or without a membership. There is no limit to the number of individuals that you can enter.

Downloadable Family Tree: Findmypast does not offer a downloadable family tree or sync with any other downloadable trees.

Family Tree Privacy, Sharing and Discovery: Trees can be kept private on Findmypast or made public to other Findmypast registered members. However, unlike with MyHeritage and Ancestry, they do not include tree data in their searches. Instead, they are developing a separate global family tree project. As part of this project those who choose can connect their tree and others can find and collaborate with the data.
Hints: Hints are built into the Findmypast tree as with Ancestry and MyHeritage. Read more about their hints system here.
Backing Up Your Tree: Findmypast makes it easy to back up your tree as a GEDCOM but there is no way to easily back up your records in a downloadable family tree, as with MyHeritage and Ancestry. Instead, we suggest you download records manually and store them in a folder with your GEDCOM, or use a system like this to store records externally and link to them from your tree.

Additional User Tools:  Findmypast integrates with Family Chartmasters, a paid service for creating charts based on your family tree, and offers many educational materials, but does not offer other tools such as error reporting.

Mobile Friendliness: Findmypast does not offer mobile apps, but their site is mobile-friendly.

DNA Testing or Tools: Although Findmypast does not offer DNA testing themselves, they have teamed up with LivingDNA to offers tests to their users. LivingDNA, while not as robust as some of the other testing services, does offer specially focused results for those with UK ancestry and includes a mtDNA haplogroup. Currently, however, you cannot integrate your LivingDNA results with your Findmypast tree and research.

So, which one of these genealogy subscription companies should you choose? Which genealogy site is the best one?

The truth is, there is no right genealogy subscription service for everyone and not one of these site qualifies as the “best.” Each one of these sites offers different records and tools so they are all worth exploring individually. You will need to review all of the differences and decide which ones are worth your money.

Utilizing many search sites and databases in your searches is vital to discovering everything you can about your ancestors. To save money, focus and organize your research around specific questions and then subscribe to and use a single site at a time if it offers records you need – or fit as much research as you can into the two free weeks you can get with each site (find links above) and then determine if an ongoing subscription is valuable.

We also encourage you to check out the many free records found online by reviewing our free genealogy lists here and here.

By Melanie Mayo, Genealogy-Research Editor


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