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Ancestry.com Review

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Find out whether Ancestry.com is legit or a scam in our helpful review that covers everything you can do with the site when building a family tree.

total score

98%

total RATING

4.9/5
1 %
Number of Resources
1 %
Ease of Use
1 %
Record Keeping
1 %
Family Tree Software
1 %
Cost

PROS

With tons of guidance, Ancestry.com can help you find everything you need to know about your relatives. It includes official databases and records from the federal government and info on people who immigrated from other countries.

CONS

The subscription packages are quite expensive, especially if you pay by the month. Ancestry.com offers very little in the way of free resources and often includes data you can find on other sites.

Bottom Line

Ancestry.com is one of the top names in the ancestry and genealogical research fields. It has a long history of helping customers and includes some records and info that you won’t find on other sites.

Ancestry.com-Review

Ancestry.com: One of the Top Names in Genealogy Research

Ancestry.com is a name that you can’t ignore in the modern world. The company spent millions of dollars on an advertising campaign during the early 2000s to show prospective customers all the genealogical research that they could do on the site. It spends a large amount of money on television commercials and web ads today to highlight both the resources that it offers and its DNA testing kit. Whether you want to order one of those kits or trace your family’s roots, this is the first place that you should turn. It might be the only site that you need to find your grandparents and other ancestors.

When you check into your family and start working on your tree, you’ll likely find some blind spots and dead ends. Even if you have one or more living grandparents, they might not remember all the info that you need. With Ancestry.com, it’s easy to search for individuals because you can enter a name and see all the matching results. It’s then a simple matter of deciding which records connect to that person and which belong to those with a similar name. Our Ancestry.com review will go over the benefits of this site and how it can help with your research.

FEATURED GENETICS EXPERT

Dr. Arthur Millius

Ph.D and Genetics Expert
Ancestry

Ancestry.com is one of the top names in the industry.

Advertising Disclosure
Many or all of the companies featured provide compensation to us. These commissions are how we maintain our free service for consumers. Compensation, along with hours of in-depth research, determines where & how companies appear on our site.

Best DNA Testing Kits 2020

Brand

Rating

Pros

Cons

Bottom Line

ancestrydna

95%

4.5 stars

Pros

  • Offers solid results at a good price
  • Most affordable DNA kits

Cons

  • Requires a subscription to continue to use the online family tree

Bottom Line

  • The best DNA test kit for ancestry
  • Millions of users and tons of info shared
23andMe

92%

4 stars

Pros

  • Easy to read information
  • Stores genetic markers and regions results online forever

Cons

  • Can cost quite a bit to undergo complete testing of your sample

Bottom Line

  • One of the only home kits with health screening that test genetic markers & other data
MyHeritage DNA

90%

4 stars

Pros

  • Easy to use which take a cheek swab than provide a saliva sample

Cons

  • Add-ons increase the price of the kit
  • Basic test provides limited info.

Bottom Line

  • Provides info on more than 40 regions
  • Easy to use
familytree dna

85%

3.5 stars

Pros

  • Simple format makes the site easy to use
  • Customers can find all data they need

Cons

  • Doesn't retain data as long as other sites do so users must back-up

Bottom Line

  • Good choice for beginners and those who do genealogical research online
LivingDNA

80%

3.5 stars

Pros

  • Users can compare their own results to a historical database to verify information

Cons

  • No options to find family members or others
  • Results works best with British ancestry

Bottom Line

  • Can deliver strong results on markers relating to locations in the United Kingdom

The History of Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com is a private company that offers access to historical and genealogical records. Though it offers more than 10 billion records, it wasn’t always so big. Dan Taggart and Paul Brent Allen attended Brigham Young University together and had access to the records from the Jesus Christ Church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church). They launched a company in 1990 called Infobases that took those records and put them on floppy disks that others could use for research purposes. The company was so small in the early days that they stored the product in their car and sold them to those they met on the road. Inc. noted the rapid growth of the company in 1994 and named it one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country. The success of the company led to them releasing the LDS Collectors Edition, which sold for nearly $300 and came on a CD. As the internet grew, the founders decided to launch an online version of the software. It went live in 1996 as Ancestry.com.

Western Standard Publishing acquired Ancestry.com in the late 1990s and began offering online help for customers through a magazine of the same name and several books. Open Market would later purchase the company and begin publishing the magazine with the website name prominently displayed on the cover. The popularity of the website led to the two founders operating it as an independent company and adding subscriptions to its business model. By the end of 2003, Ancestry.com and its related websites reported sales of $99 million in the United States alone.

Sales would only grow in the future as Ancestry.com acquired new assets and websites. It rolled most of those sites under its name. If you visit one of those sites today, you’ll find that it directs to you the homepage of Ancestry.com. The company also experienced some growth when it increased the number of resources available to international customers. More than three billion people now subscribe to Ancestry.com services every year.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints had a close connection to Ancestry.com in the site's early days.

The History of Ancestry

Related Websites

Some of the acquisitions that Ancestry.com made over the years led to customers gaining access to even more records. It took over the operations of Find A Grave in recent years, which is a site that lets you search by name and find the grave of that person. With Find A Grave, you can see the name of the person buried there and anything else on the stone. Not only can you see where your ancestors were buried, but you can find data for your family tree. Find a Grave now offers a mobile app too. When you add any information to the site, other users can view it. You also have the option of adding photos to the site.

During the early days of the site, it had an online newspaper archive that you could search through. The site now offers access to those articles through the Newspapers.com website. It includes articles from the old Archives.com website and allows you to search for specific newspapers or names, dates and locations. This puts millions of records at your fingertips.

Though Ancestry.com also owns RootsWeb, it operates that site separately from the main page. This site offers free resources that you can use without creating an account or paying a subscription fee. It has a mailing list that offers tips for your research and forums where you can get feedback from other users. When you log into your Ancestry.com account, you can access a surname list with information on more than 50,000 last names.

What are Some of the Former Products That Ancestry.com Offered?

  • Genealogy.com
  • MyFamily.com
  • Family Origins
  • Family Tree Maker
  • Ancestry Family Tree

How to Sign Up for an Ancestry.com Account

To use Ancestry.com, you need to sign up for an account first. When you visit the website, you’ll see a button at the top of the page labeled Free Trial. Clicking on this link will take you to a page where you can sign up for the trial, which lasts for 14 days. You need to click on a bright orange button to start your trial. This will take you to a new page that includes a summary of your order. It shows that you get a free trial and the membership level that you selected. Ancestry.com requires that you purchase either a one-month or six-month subscription. You also need to enter your first and last name and an email address. We included a screenshot of this page below.

When you sign up for an account, you also need to add your payment details. The site accepts all types of debit and credit cards as well as some online payment forms. You have the chance to review your information before you submit it to make sure that everything is accurate. The site will send you an email before your subscription expires to let you know that the payment will come out of your account. This also gives you the option of canceling your membership.

How to Sign Up for an Ancestry.com Account

You can view and make changes to your order when you sign up for a free trial.

What Do You Get with the Basic Subscription?

A basic subscription to Ancestry.com comes with all of the following:

  • Unlimited access to military and church records, birth and death certificates and marriage licenses
  • Information on immigrants who came to the United States from other countries, including when they immigrated and how they came here
  • Access to marriage, death and birth records from the UK that date back to the 16th century
  • Ancestral records from nations that include Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Canada and Denmark
  • Collections from branches of the American government, including the census records that list who lived at an address, their occupations and anyone else who lived there
  • Numerous forums that let you post about your family, talk about the best family tree software, connect with those on your family tree and talk about other topics
  • Family tree tools that allow you to build a brand new family tree and list photos of your relatives
  • Tools that allow you to view hints in the Ancestry.com records to find out more about your family
  • Collections of records relating to specific groups, including Jewish and African American people
  • Free access to other sites owned by Ancestry.com
  • Help and guidance when you have issues finding people for your family tree

Insider Tip

You can cancel your Ancestry.com membership up to two days before your free trial expire. To cancel, you need to call 1-800-ANCESTRY and have your username and password handy.

How to Start with Ancestry.com

In the image below, you can see that there are four ways to start using Ancestry.com:

  • Sign up for a free trial
  • Become a full member
  • Add family
  • Buy a DNA kit

Since we already addressed how to sign up for a free trial, we’ll focus on some of the other options. Before you become a full member, check out our section on how much the site costs. When you click on the add family option, you can design a family tree. The site asks you to name the tree, which helps you keep track of your mother’s and father’s sides and any distant relatives you want to find. You can decide whether to keep this section private or make it public, which allows others who have the same names on their trees to view your information. This also gives you the chance to view their trees and find more data. As the creator of that tree, you can invite others to view it too.

Another way you can use the site is with AncestryDNA, which is the DNA testing kit that it offers. It takes seconds to order a kit and provide a sample, with most receiving their results in six weeks or less. You can add any of the data found in your results summary to your tree.

How to Start with Ancestry

The Ancestry.com start menu makes it easy to select exactly what you want to do with the site.

How Much Does Ancestry.com Cost?

Ancestry.com offers three membership levels:

  • US Discovery
  • World Explorer
  • All Access

The basic package is the US Discovery option. It charges you $24.99 each month after your trial expires. This package gives you access to more than 50 billion records from the United States and comes with tools for building a family tree and connecting with others. A six-month membership at this level costs $99, but you can pay $129 and get a full year of access.

World Explorer members pay $39.99 for each month after their trials expire. They can also pay $149 for a six-month plan or $299 for a full year of service. With this package, you get access to the same tools and records that you would with the last package. It also gives you access to more than three billion records from countries around the world.

Another option is the All Access subscription, which comes with the same features that the last two levels do. You also get subscriptions to two sites for viewing newspapers and military records. Premium support is available from Ancestry.com for members at this level, including access to an exclusive toll-free helpline. This membership level costs $49.99 per month, $199 for a six-month plan and $389 for the 12-month plan.

US Discovery

World Explorer

All Access

Family Tree Tools

Forum Access

US Records Access

Worldwide Records

Newspapers.com Access

Fold3.com Access

Premium Customer Support

Who Would Benefit from an Ancestry.com Subscription?

Not everyone knows as much about their families as they thought. There are hundreds of stories from people who had DNA testing done and discovered that one of their parents had a child or a sibling that no one knew about. You might find that an aunt, uncle or grandparent had an illegitimate child too. With Ancestry.com, you can get an idea about any of the hidden surprises that might await you with a DNA test. It allows users to create family trees that list the names of their parents and grandparents as well as their siblings. Some of the people who might benefit from an Ancestry.com subscription include:

  • Adults who were adopted at a young age and know little or nothing about their birth parents
  • Those who lost contact with family members and loved ones and hope to find them again
  • Anyone who hit a dead end when doing genealogical research on free sites
  • People who want to view records in the United States and other countries
  • Adults who want to research a specific surname to find out more about a family

If you want one convenient spot where you can do online research and save the data that you find, Ancestry.com can help.

Benefits of the Ancestry.com App

  • Lets you log into your existing Ancestry.com account
  • Helps you make changes on the spot to your family tree
  • Gives you access to the same tips you would find on the website
  • Has a search function for looking through photos that users shared and lets you leave comments on the images
Who Would Benefit from an Ancestry.com Subscription

Is Ancestry.com a Scam? Top Reasons to Use the Site

When you search the web for Ancestry.com, you’ll probably come across some reviews that claim it’s a scam or questions from others who wonder if the site works well. We wanted to make it clear that Ancestry.com is not a scam, which is why we included this section. You can look at all the pros of Ancestry.com and the reasons why millions of people use the site when searching for their families and working on their trees. We found some sold reasons to use Ancestry.com.

Software That Won Awards

A big reason to use Ancestry.com is for the software it offers, which won some major awards. While other sites offer access to family records, Ancestry.com offers the largest collection of records in the world. If you have questions about when your grandparents got married or when your grandfather immigrated, you can enter his name and view all the records where that name appeared. You can see where and when he was born, when he was married and if he was married before, any time he served in the military and even the jobs he held during each census.

Is Ancestry.com a Scam? Top Reasons to Use the Site

Between Ancestry.com and the associated app, you can update your family tree and search for relatives anywhere you go.

Plans to Fit All Budgets and Needs

If you don’t want to drop $100+ on a full year of service on Ancestry.com, you can sign up for a free trial and then a one-month membership. As long as you cancel at least two days before your renewal date, the site will not charge you for any future months. You can return to the site at a later date and pay for another month of service. The site will retain all the information that you uploaded and the family tree that you created. It offers more extensive membership levels for those who want to view more military records or records from other countries.

Automatic Hints

One of the features that we liked the best about Ancestry.com was the automatic hint option. This comes in handy when you add someone to your tree but aren’t sure about their birth or death dates or their parents. If Ancestry.com finds that name listed in any record, it will add a small green leaf to the name on your family tree. You can click on that name to view all the records and transfer any of the available data to that branch. This feature is also helpful for verifying information that you aren’t sure is accurate.

Automatic Hints

The automatic hints make it easy to find the names worthy of adding to the branches of your family tree.

20 Billion Records and Growing

According to Ancestry.com, as of 2020, the site includes more than 24 billion records. That is a significant amount of growth from the few million records that were available in the early days. You have the option of searching through only the specific records that relate to an individual. For example, you can view the census records to see all the addresses where a loved one lived before moving to your community. There are also millions of birth and death certificates available for deceased people that include information such as the cause and date of death.

Two-Step Verification

Before writing our Ancestry.com review, we tried the site to see how it works and accessed it on both a computer and a cell phone. We liked that it included two-step verification to keep our information secure. When you sign up with an account on your computer, you need to click a link in your email, which verifies your identity and email address. If you then move to a different computer or attempt to use your phone, the site will send a six-digit verification code to your cell phone and ask you to enter it on the site. This ensures that no one can use your account without your permission.

Two-Step Verification

With the two-step verification process, Ancestry.com offers extra protection for users.

Family Tree Building

Ancestry.com sold its old family tree building software but now offers updated software and tools for this purpose. As soon as you click on the family tree builder, you can add your full name and birth date along with a maiden name if you’re married. This puts your information in a small box with limbs on the top and sides. Clicking any of those limbs will allow you to add the names and birth dates of your parents, spouse, siblings and children. You can keep adding more data to each branch to fill in the names of your grandparents and their parents and ancestors as well as your extended family members.

DNA Testing Option

In our AncestryDNA review, you can learn more about the DNA testing that the site offers. Though we don’t want to go into too much detail here, we did want to mention that this is one of the reasons to sign up for a subscription. With an Ancestry DNA test, you can view the percentage of different ethnicities found in your sample. One of our reviewers found that she was 79% British, Scottish and Irish and 12% German along with 2% French. If you keep hearing stories from different family members about where your ancestors came from, you can take this test and get definitive answers in a few weeks.

Pros of the Ancestry.com DNA Test

  • Millions of users already listed in the database
  • Option to link your results to your family tree and with other users
  • Gives you a list of all users who matched your results with the chance to contact them
  • Includes an ethnicity breakdown that shows the percentage of each group found in your sample
  • Lets you join groups devoted to specific regions in the world
  • Tools for taking your results to the next level
DNA Testing Option

Historical Records

If the only thing Ancestry.com offered was historical records, we would still rank it one of the best websites out there. Some of the records that you can view include:

  • Military records
  • Birth certificates
  • Census reports
  • Probate records
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage licenses

Finding those records is easy too because you can use the site in different ways. Let’s say that you know your grandfather’s full name but do not know where he was born or his parents’ names. Ancestry.com lets you search for his name and find a match, which gives you extra information you can use on the site. You can also let the site do the work for you and find any names that you enter in each database.

Message Board

Searching through historical records and finding individual names is sometimes difficult and can feel tiresome, especially if you hit a dead end. That is why we recommend checking out the Ancestry.com message boards when you become a member. You can view all the posts in specific categories, including the United States and Canada. The message board also includes categories such as research resources for those who need help and genealogical software for those who want to keep track of their records. The message boards also give the option of entering a name or term and viewing all matching posts.

Message Board

The categories available for the message boards make it easy to find where you want to post.

Is Ancestry.com a Scam? Reasons to Look Elsewhere

To create a good Ancestry.com review, we wanted to look at some of the cons of the site. We examined dozens of reviews and used our own experiences with the site to give you a well-rounded look at Ancestry.com. Once you read through the cons, you may find that the site is still worth your time.

Paywalls

When you sign up for an Ancestry.com membership, you expect to have access to all of the available records. According to some of the reviews that we saw, this isn’t always true. A common complaint same from users who signed up for a subscription plan and then started searching for loved ones. When they clicked on a name that matched the information they knew, the site directed them to a new page behind a paywall that required paying a separate fee to view that data. Though this doesn’t happen that often, it can still occur.

Hard to Cancel

Another complaint that we found is that users had a difficult time canceling their free Ancestry.com trials. When you sign up online, you probably expect to use the web to cancel your membership too. The site, unfortunately, does not offer this option. You need to call and speak with a representative who might try to sway you and get you to stay with this site. This can be helpful though as you might get a free month of service through that rep. You should also keep in mind that you must cancel at least two days before your trial expires or the site charges you for a new month.

Expensive

When it comes right down to it, the main reason to skip this site is that it’s very expensive. While the 14-day free trial is helpful, you probably won’t get all the research done that you want before your trial expires. If you like doing genealogy as a hobby, you might have issues affording a one-month plan let alone one of the six or 12-month plans. The LDS Church offers free access to the same records but only has research centers in a few areas. Ancestry.com is worth it if you can afford the high cost.

Other Cons of Ancestry.com

  • Does not include very many deeds, probate and land records
  • If you cancel after the next month starts, it will charge you for the full month, even if you don't use any of the resources
  • Has an interface that some users found confusing
  • Gift memberships sometimes lack the full features of a standard plan
  • Some user did not receive notifications before the site charged their cards
  • Many users have matches but set their family trees to private
  • Certain names will bring up people unrelated to you

Tips for Getting More Out of Ancestry.com

Whether you’re a newbie with no experience or you feel comfortable researching online, you can still use some of the tips we collected to make sure that you get the most out of Ancestry.com.

Use New Products

Ancestry.com is devoted to genealogical research and constantly releasing new products to help members. One of those new products is a database filled with Social Security claims and applications. If you’re looking for someone who passed away, this is a good place to start your search. It lets you search for a person’s name and see when that individual filed a claim for Social Security benefits, which usually occurs in the early 60s. You can also view the claims made by the individual’s dependents, including children and a spouse. When someone passes away before taking all of his or her Social Security, their dependents can claim those benefits.

Hit the Message Boards

Even with billions of records, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find exactly what you want on Ancestry.com. Before you give up on the site, head over to the message boards for help. You can search for your surname or the surname of a parent and find a section of the forum dedicated to that name. Not only can you post with the specific names and dates or locations on your mind, but you can view the posts that others made to see if they already answered your questions. The message boards are a good place to get help choosing new genealogical software and finding records off the site.

Tips on Using the Ancestry.com Forums and Message Boards

  • Look for the forums dedicated to the names of your family members and the locations where they lived
  • Check each post to see which responses are the newest
  • Read through the message boards to find the email addresses of distant relatives who can help
  • List as much information as you can about your family
  • Leave your email address on the posts to help others contact you away from the site

Create Profiles for Each Name

A common mistake that you might make when using Ancestry.com is that you keep all the information you find in one large file. It’s better to create individual profiles for each relative that includes:

  • First and last names
  • Associated family members
  • Immigration status, including where they came from and when
  • Names of family members and surnames from the same location
  • Known addresses

Once you have one profile completed, you can use the names in that file to search for more family members. With related surnames from the area, you might find living locals who have information about your family too.

Search for Similar Names

Ancestry.com includes a feature that you won’t find on many other sites, which allows you to search for a specific name along with similar names. This is helpful if your family changed their surname at one point. When immigrants came through Ellis Island, the officials often shortened their names or changed the way they spelled their names. This often occurred among those with long or complicated surnames. Some immigrants adopted new names when they arrived to feel more American too. When you search the surname database at Ancestry.com, you’ll want to search for alternative names to find all mentions of your family.

Characters You Can Use on Ancestry.com

  • Asterisk shows all surnames
  • Question mark shows surnames that match one character in your surname

You can add either symbol to the end of a name when doing a name search. For example, you can use Ann? John* to look for anyone with a similar first name and a last name that contains John in it.

Don't Settle on Just One Family Tree

With any level of membership in Ancestry.com, you can create as many family trees as you want. If you use one tree for your whole family, finding specific names and adding new information can be confusing. This is especially true if you go back several generations and add the names of great-grandparents and their parents and children. You can easily create one tree for your mother’s side and a second for your father’s side. When the branches become too crowded, create new trees. You might create one for living relatives and another for those who passed away. Ancestry.com also offers an import option for adding copies of the trees you created on other sites.

Go Public

Though Ancestry.com gives you the option of keeping your family tree private, it’s helpful to change the status and leave the tree public. This does not mean that anyone searching the web for you or an ancestor can randomly stumble across your family tree. It does mean that members of the site can view your tree and the information that you shared on it. They can then send you a private message and invite you to view their tree, which may help you fill in the missing gaps and branches. If there is data that you don’t want to share, you can always create both a public tree and a private one.

Other Tips for Using Ancestry.com

  • Upload photos of your family members and their headstones
  • Update your contact information to let others contact you online and offline
  • Search the database regularly for new tools
  • Link your Family Search account if you signed up for the Family Search website through the LDS Church

Become a Member of Ancestry.com Today

Finding your historic roots is important for dozens of reasons. You may want to find out where your grandparents and their parents came from because your family lost important information over the years. If you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may not remember the names and faces of their relatives and have a difficult time answering simple questions such as when or where they were born. The site is also helpful for those raised by a single parent who do not know much or anything about the other side of their families. Even adopted kids will find the site useful.

The main reason that some claim Ancestry.com is a scam is because of its high membership fee. Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars a year to do genealogical research. That is why it’s helpful to use the free trial and find out as much as you can. You might learn that you only need to buy a few more months of service to find everything you want. As long as you have the money and want to dive deep into your family’s history, Ancestry.com is the site that you’ll want to use.

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