Over the last couple months, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Ancestry.com filling in my family tree. I was curious if anyone else has ever gone on that website and what their experiences were. (Incidentally, I should warn newcomers to the site that after three free days, you’ll have to start paying for access to its large database.)
I already had a great deal of family tree information before I went on Ancestry.com, and was able to exhaust my possibilities there during the free trial period.
I joined only because it came up in Google ad for a search on my surname - it said something like “We have 92 records for [the surname in question] in our database - sign up today to find out if they’re part of your family tree!”.
I signed up (I don’t think it cost me anything) and it said (something like) “be the first to create a record for [the surname in question]” - there wasn’t anything at all in their database. I despise such false advertising, so I de-registered.
There’s a lot of information available in their surname messages boards at no cost. Depending on the uniqueness of your surname, you may find some leads there.
A better site which has free information is the LDS Church.Family Search.org It includes a free link to the indexed 1880 US Census. Lots of good stuff to be found here.
If your ancestors came over by boat you might also check Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild , which has about 9,000 ships manifests indexed.
I used Ancestry.com over Memorial Day weekend this year when they opened their military records for free. I ended up doing the 3 free days for browsing the census records as well. It was really, really cool. It consumed my entire weekend. Although, the “unanswered question” of my genealogy search remains unanswered. I still could not figure out exactly where / when my great-grandfather came to the US from England.
The free trial version of Ancestry.com doesn’t make available all of the databases on the site; most public and university libraries, however, have a subscription to the full database (I have access through my university’s proxy server, for example.)
So if you have access to a library, you can spend/lose hours having quite a lot of fun. I’ve jumped onto the site a few minutes before bed on occasion thinking, I’ll just look at one or two things, and then it’s four hours later. :eek:
Usually I double up between Ancestry and one of the LDS sites. Once you figure out the sites, you can gain loads of information. For example, one of my elderly relatives finally found the family plot in Baltimore, 14 people in an unmarked grave. The cemetery had the names and dates of the people buried there, and after about 15 or 20 minutes on the website, we’d reconstructed all of their relationships to her.
The only caveat with the census records: children who were born and died between census counts fall through the cracks, as it were. This relative had two older siblings who died before she was born that we wouldn’t have known about except getting the cemetery records. It also turned out that four of the graves were her father’s siblings who had died in between census counts – she’d always thought he’d had 14 brothers and sisters, but it has turned out to be 18!
Based on the information in the free sites and its inaccuracy in recent generations of my family, I assume the older data will be at least as full of holes.
My mother did substantial genealogical research (back in the 70’s) on all branches of our family as far back as she could locate actual records. There are plenty of discrepancies. Her data doesn’t even match up 100% with similar information an uncle has found in his own traces, so I suspect the validity of some of their source material is in question.
Extend this to the internet and the likelihood that people in our lines who don’t have the accuracy of our particular branches as a top priority and you wind up with not much better than “decent guesses” or outright errors.
I wouldn’t pay in hopes of getting more accuracy.
I had a free trial a few years back, but could only find one census record of the family I was looking for. Who knows where they were during the other times the census was taken.
Be careful with that site. I had a bunch of bogus charges show up on my credit card and they were all traced back to “my family/ancestry.com” (where I had never been). Googling, I found a lot of complaints about bogus charges and poor customer service resolutions.
I’ve been on Ancestry.com for around 5 years now, and all of my experiences have been positive!
I’ve used it literally every day (except when our power was out after a storm), and I’ve discovered things about my extended family that I could have never found as quickly using other resources.
I think that Ancestry.com is a great source to trace one’s family tree!
I also got sucked into this website around Memorial Day. I wasn’t so much curious about my surname (since it’s semi-common) as I was about where exactly certain branches of my family tree originated. My mother’s side was easy since they all came from Norway and settled in North Dakota around the turn of the last century. The only thing left for me to do was find the pre-1930 U.S. census records (and perhaps some immigration records) to confirm what I’d long already knew. My father’s side–specifically my paternal grandmother’s branch–has turned out to be a bit more difficult once I got to the early to mid-19th century. One thing I have learned is that you have to be careful when examining the PDFs of the old census records. A lot of the census takers were rather lax when it came to recording people’s ages and how exactly their names were spelled. Also, smudged census forms and bad handwriting can lead to wrong conclusions about your family’s history if you don’t know the facts beforehand (e.g., one of my great-grandparents was seemingly recorded as being from Kansas when, upon closer inspection, it turned out the census taker had actually written “Penna” which is the abbrevation for Pennsylvania).
In addition, ancestry.com has these OneTreeWorld links that sometimes can be useful but can also lead you off on some wild tangents that will show you’re supposedly a direct lineal descendant of Charlemagne or Joseph of Arimathea. :rolleyes:
Is that ever right! I swear the census-takers must have been people who were disqualified from being doctors because you could not read their writing well enough for that! I found that some of the name spellings were highly <ahem> creative as well!
I subscribed to Ancestry’s paid service but canceled before my card was charged. I was able to find Mom on the 1930 census. Months later, armed with family info from Dad, I signed up a new three day account and found bits of his family on the 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses, as well as (most likely) some of my uncle’s service records that were previously unavailable.
I also found a whole bunch of Mom’s cousins on a user-created family tree; her maiden name is really uncommon outside of Minnesota & Wisconsin.
Did you try Ellis Island?
It’s definitely the way to go. Every public library in the Hawaii has full access. I just take along my thumb drive and save all the stuff I want to it.
I used to be a member almost 10 years ago. Back then it was worth it since it was like $79 a year for full access to everything on their site. Back then looking at census returns was a long saga (order the soundex rolls, wait for them, then order the actual census schedules, wait for them) all while paying $5 for each roll it made it so much easier and faster. Ancestry gave me instant access to the entire census. Well, they were still scanning things in back then. But once I got to the real challenges in my tree I dropped them.
Now if only they’d start a program to scan county records, tax lists, will books, etc. I’d … Well I’d still go to the library and get it for free but that’s really the next big step for them to take.
Incidentally have you genealogists discovered Google’s news archive search engine? Everything is a paid link and the OCR used by the newspaper site leaves much to be desired but the snippets give you an idea if you have anything useful. They got scans going back to the 18th century.
OK, I just had to jump on here to say… Dang it! I didn’t think it would be so addicting!
I just found my Grandfather brother… he came over on the SS Carpathia to Boston in 1913.
I’m going to bed (an hour later than I intended)
Just 92 records? That must be a real uncommon surname!
If the name was somewhat uncommon, you may have been a victim of poor indexing. Also, record keepers weren’t necessarily correct in their spelling - Schumann could also be Shuman or Schuman or maybe even Shoeman (or, as I have once seen, Shoman). I also once saw a couple of Babb families listed in a census as Blabb (editorial comment, maybe??).
ASAKMOTSD: If your great-grandfather was in America in 1900, find him in that census - it should have the year he emigrated. (That question may also have been asked in one or two other censuses - I don’t recall offhand.)
Was the stuff you were looking at mostly family trees done by lay people? That is generally the worst possible source, and I usually use them only as a source for “clues” (indications of where to look for data). A few are fairly good; they typically will have source citations (besides other people’s trees), occasionally even discussion of “problem” evidence.
Transcriptions of public records usually range from tolerable to excellent. Hint: the more a transcriber complains about how much work was involved, the more likely there will be errors. The nice thing about Ancestry’s census collection is that you can look at scanned-in images of the actual records. Alas, their indexing of those censuses are, at best, average, though for some years they provide alternate readings.
Truth is, most of what Ancestry has is just stuff they’ve taken from other sources. But if you don’t live in Salt Lake City or Fort Wayne, Ind., most of those sources aren’t available at your friendly neighborhood library. (Our public library now has an Ancestry subscription, and I’ve been able to get some use out of it.)
One free online source that hasn’t been mentioned is Rootsweb. It has a number of databases, and links to many others.
Almost as addictive as salted peanuts!
I remember well the evening I “made the mistake” of finding the LDS portal to Ancestry’s 1880 census transcription just before bedtime. . . .
Actually, I might be remembering it incorrectly - maybe it was that the ad said there was already an extensive family tree for my surname - I do remember feeling very misled - but such is the nature of Google ads - sites can manipulate them so that text appears in the search result that isn’t actually true of the site (domain hosting companies do this a lot). Maybe I should give it another try.
Thanks for the link. Yes, I did try there a while back. I am left with a big “hmmmm” after I look here. Either there is a misspelling in that database, he came to the US through Canada, or he walked here from England. I just can not find that connection.