Using Genealogy Sites

Time Travel Guides Resources for local and family history

Using Genealogy Sites for Local and Family History Research

Time Travel Guides: Resources for Local and Family History » Using Genealogy Sites

Genealogy sites are often the starting point for family history research. Sites like Ancestry and FindMyPast gather together lots of historical sources in one place and make them easy to search. Although these websites are aimed more towards family history, they can also be useful for researching your local history or other topics.

How to Access

Genealogy sites covering the UK include:

The online versions can be easier to use as you could be doing a lot of typing, but some sites also have app versions for mobiles or tablets. You may need to sign up for an account to access some services. It will also be necessary to pay for a subscription or to buy pay per view credits in order to see the full results of your searches on some websites.

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online


What Material is Available?

The main UK genealogy sites will provide access to searchable transcripts and images of the census and birth/marriage/death registrations. You will also be able to access parish registers, but there can be differences between sites in which areas are covered and whether images of the original registers are available. Each site also has its own collections of other documents, which can include wills, military records, criminal records, digitised books or newspapers, and local directories. You should compare what is available to choose the right genealogy site to use.

Ancestry and FindMyPast cover a lot of the same material, but there are some records you can only access through a specific site. For example, both sites have copies of wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, but only FindMyPast has images of wills from the Dioceses of Lichfield and Coventry. FindMyPast also has exclusive rights to the 1921 Census, but this won’t be included in your subscription, so there will be extra costs to view these records. FamilySearch doesn’t provide as many images as the paid sites, but it does have some pictures and their service is free.

Genes Reunited provides basic genealogy records, including the UK census and Birth, Marriage, and Death Registrations, but there are options for adding on more records at an additional cost. The focus of this site is on sharing family trees and connecting with other researchers through the forums.

MyHeritage also places a lot of importance on shared trees and makes it easier for multiple people to work on the same family tree. Your tree will be on a family site that can be accessed by anyone who has your permission. MyHeritage has many of the same records as Ancestry and FindMyPast, but there are some differences. For example, it only has an index for the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills, rather than images of the original documents. MyHeritage also provides editing tools for old photographs. You can enhance, colourise, or even animate your old family photos.

The Genealogist covers the main UK genealogy resources such as the census, but it also includes some international records like the US census. The site also has some unique records such as tithe maps and a historical image archive.

The Free UK Genealogy group includes three sites, which have transcripts of three different types of records: the UK census, birth/marriage/death registrations, and parish records. You can search these transcripts for free, but you will need to go elsewhere to see the original documents. The coverage of different parts of the UK can vary because the site depends on volunteers. For example, the FreeCen site has transcripts for 100% of the 1891 census for Nottinghamshire, but only 3.4% for Shropshire.


When to Use Genealogy Sites

Genealogy websites are the best place to start your family history research. You will be able to access a wide range of different records in one place. You can also build a family tree and save any relevant results such as census entries or baptism records to this tree. You may find all the information you need on one of these sites, but if you want to take your research further, you might need to consider other resources such as your local archive. The biggest genealogy sites like Ancestry and FindMyPast provide access to many useful records, but there are still lots of documents that haven’t been transcribed or digitised by them yet.

Even if your research has moved on, you may find yourself coming back to these websites to see the new records that have been added or to research a new relative you have just linked to your family tree. The tree builders can also be useful for organising your research as you can add notes or links to outside sources too. It is possible to download your tree as a GEDCOM file and then upload it to other genealogy sites or applications, but you may find that you end up sticking with the first site you get used to using.


Tips on Using Genealogy Sites

1. Searching Genealogy Websites

Learning how to use the search forms on genealogy sites is the best way to ensure you’re getting the most out of them. The right search terms and boundaries can help you to narrow down thousands of results to a handful of relevant ones or to find documents you might otherwise have missed.

Since these sites are designed for family history, the search forms are based around individuals. You can search using names, birthdates, marriage dates, death dates, and locations for these events. The more information you have about the individual you’re searching for, the easier it will be to narrow down the results. The results can include similar names, which can help to find records with different spellings or where words have been mis-transcribed. Some searches also allow you to use wildcards, so you can search for names starting with a certain letter or containing a specific string.

If you’re researching your local history or looking for information on a specific topic or place, then it is possible to search in other ways. You could look for all records from a specific location, but it may be easier to look for a specific source and then search within this or browse through it page by page. You can check the Card Catalogue on Ancestry, look at All Record Sets on FindMyPastAffiliate, explore the Record Sets on Genes ReunitedAffiliate, use the Card Catalog on MyHeritage to identify useful sources, or visit The Genealogist – UK census, BMDs and more online to see the current databases available for subscribers.

2. Family Tree Builders

Genealogy sites also offer another useful feature for anyone doing family history research. You can build a family tree on the site and save records to the individuals they mention. It’s easy to start your tree by adding a name and any information you have about that person. You can then use these details to search for relevant records or create a new entry for a parent, spouse, sibling, or someone else who is connected to the first person in your tree. You may be able to create printable versions of your online family tree.

Once you’ve started building your family tree on a genealogy site, you will receive suggestions of records that might relate to the people in your tree. Some of these could prove useful, but it’s important to check the original evidence carefully as they can sometimes be for similar-sounding individuals. You may also see your relatives named on publicly available family trees constructed by other people. Again, you should check the evidence these trees are based upon to ensure you’re really looking for the same person.

Family tree builders are less useful for local history research, but you can still use them to collect information about the families living the the area and how they are connected together.

3. Saving Your Research

One point to be aware of when using paid genealogy sites is that you will lose access to any documents you have saved to your tree when the subscription runs out. You will still be able to access and edit your tree and see which documents you have added to it, but you won’t be able to see the details or images of those sources. You should record any important information in your notes on the online tree, on paper, or elsewhere so you can access them without a subscription.