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Feeling Like A Treasure Hunter: Unearthing Ancestry Through Conventional Genealogy Websites

Gabriel RodriguezMar 14, 2018

If you’re anything like me, the thrill of a good old fashioned scavenger hunt puts a smile on your face the moment you think about it. Looking for something based on tidbits of information, piecing everything together, and the feeling of satisfaction from seeing it all right before your eyes—it can be a blast! So what if you could do all of that while learning more about your family, and yourself, in the process? That’s what many online genealogy websites do: they help build a family tree piece by piece through their large databases of newspapers, passenger lists, birth records, and other old documents they managed to unearth. Think of it as a really large puzzle which you are a single piece of.

While recent developments in DNA technology have led to a shift in the industry from the more conventional genealogical search services towards DNA testing kits, that doesn’t mean document databases have lost their niche. Instead, for those who want the joy of hunting down names, dates, and events while putting their family tree together, DNA tests serve as a jump-start, giving you information about what kind of relatives you could expect to find down your family line as you research. They are a guide to your puzzle, and can help you draw a broader mental picture of what your finished project may look like.

But what genealogy service should one choose? There’s a lot of them out there and they all seem to do the same thing: build family trees and grant access to documents. Don’t be fooled though; different genealogy websites have their own databases and features. Some might have collaborative ancestry building, others might be focused on a specific kind of ancestry, while a few may even toss in advice from genealogists. Let’s explore a few of the options that use DNA testing to supplement conventional genealogical research.

The Generalists—Ancestry and MyHeritage

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer some of the most popular tests currently on the market. However, just like other industry leaders, these two websites started out as conventional genealogical search websites and only started selling testing kits once the technology became readily available and trustworthy enough for accurate results. 


Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have search engines that can show users a staggering amount of records, including everything from census information, to military drafts, to alumni lists. There really is no stone left unturned when you look at the list of filters in each website’s research services. Their record databases aren’t limited to the US either—they have documents from all over the world! MyHeritage offers their most basic genealogical services free-of-charge, while Ancestry offers a two-week free trial. However, both companies charge a monthly rate for subscription plans that grant access to number of perks. If you are just starting out on your ancestry journey and would like to try out some of the most fleshed-out programs out there, both of them are a great choice.

The Specialists—Findmypast, WieWasWie, LitvakSIG

Maybe you already have a rough idea of where your ancestors came from. What then? Bigger genealogy websites paint with broader strokes, giving you numbers and ethnicity percentages that may not mean much to you. If that’s the case, more focused websites that look at specific regions and types of ethnicities might be the answer.

Findmypast and WieWasWie, for example, are solely focused on British-Irish and Dutch family history, respectively. If you know the specific region your family immigrated from, such as the British Isles or the Netherlands, then it might be a better idea to pay the subscription for a website that features regional archives and a more specific ethnic grouping than going to one of the more generalized genealogy websites.

Another, more exceptional example of this is LitvakSIG, a volunteer-led special interest group for Lithuanian-Jewish genealogy research. Before the Second World War, Lithuania was home to a large and influential community of Jews. That all changed when the Holocaust began, and most Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) were murdered. LitvakSIG and other websites like it work to preserve the heritage of endangered cultures by hosting activities connecting their descendants. These kinds of websites are typically non-profits that people can donate to directly or through membership fees. If you’ve taken a DNA test or have done enough independent research to identify your ancestry, then visiting a website with a narrower focus such as LitvakSIG, could be your best choice.

The Socialite—Geni.com

Perhaps it’s a vivid community of like-minded people what you want to find through your genealogical research. If that’s the case, then you can share your ancestry to your heart’s content and work together with other people who share your interest on geni.com. Geni’s forums, genealogy projects, and World Family Tree provide a wealth of activity for people who just aren’t satisfied with their small puzzle, but instead want to integrate their individual research into a grander scheme.

The Bottom Line

No matter what it is you want to accomplish by investigating your ancestry, what’s important is that you don’t feel strapped down to any one online source. Each genealogy website has pros and cons, and strives to fulfill a different mission. Have fun! The whole point of digging up your ancestors is to you feel like a historian or archeologist, digging up lost secrets and uncovering lost family heritage. However, if you barely have any family history to go on, or if you’d like a little push before embarking on your journey to the past, then how about taking a look at our top DNA Tests for genealogical research? These one time purchases might give you the boost you need to start walking down ancestry lane. They can even You may just be saying “hi” to your great-great-great Corsican grandfather soon!