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  • Writer's pictureFiona Appleton-Thorn

Why Search Subscriptions Are Not The Same As Genealogist Services

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

So you have a subscription or membership on or a similar Family History search site and you have access to online records, that's great. Here you can begin filling in your family tree with the information you find. But it's not always that simple.

Learning to use a search site

Each online records site differs slightly in the way you input your search criteria. Usually searches begin with a name. There can be hundreds or thousands of results for a name. (Sadly some entries on the results are duplicates and therefore waste your time reviewing each one, but there is no way to avoid this.) Let's face it unless it is an extremely unique name, the chances are that there are many people with that name that existed over time. So how do you know which one is the person you are looking for? Learning to use the filters in your search query can help.


You can narrow down the results by location and time period that you are searching. You can also choose to look at only one set of official records at a time. For example: Look at a Death Index only if you already have a full name and date of birth.

Narrow Results by Evidence -What Evidence Is There?

  1. Does the result match the location or surrounding area?

  2. Is the occupation the same as your ancestor (if you already have evidence of it)?

  3. Is this person listed on someone else's tree that links to a common ancestor?

  4. Is there a Location residence listed that matches records that you have?

If There Is Only One Result Listed It Must Be Correct- UNTRUE

Not all records are online. Depending on the time period you are researching as well as location, the records you need might not be available on that site. No genealogy site has ALL records at this time.

But why? In the past, records were not all kept in one central location. Some records have been lost or destroyed. However, the main reason is that to put records online a researcher or volunteer must look at books or documents and list the entries to be uploaded into a database. This is how duplicates of the same entry can be shown, because more than one researcher/volunteer put that entry on a list independently. Once the individual submissions are uploaded into the database they are all put together.

Why doesn't the image of the Certificate Show on the Site?

Volunteers are provided with the sources to work from and for the most part it is NOT original documents. This is also why you may not have access to the kind of image you were expecting.

An example: You find a marriage entry and click to access the image (Or pay the additional fee) only to see a list of the entries in an index, not the marriage certificate or original Parish Register. Is this wrong? No. If the source is an index that is what you get access to- the place the researcher saw it.


  • Only enter the last name in search criteria.

  • Opt for spelling variations of the last name.

  • Never assume the ages listed are accurate.

  • Make a note of the spelling variations so that you can refer to them later.

Finding Time To Search The Records

So here is the biggest drawback to building your family tree, finding the time. So many memberships or subscriptions are paid for every month and no one had time to make use of it.

We speak to many people who explain that they started a tree, but that they cancelled membership after a year because they just never found the time to systematically search, record, cross reference or to order certificates to prove the connections were correct. In fact, a common complaint is that the individual finds themselves going over the same ground repeatedly before disappearing down a rabbit hole that doesn't lead them to a rabbit.

In summation: Having access to the records and images does not automatically mean that the Family Tree is progressing. It's like the lights are on, but nobody's home.

How Can A Genealogist Help?

A professional Genealogist has experience in searching records both on and offline. They are organized in their approach and focus which means they are often much quicker at finding the answer to your search question. A genealogist approaches the search with a specific target so that they do not get tempted into jumping down those rabbit holes that have no evidence to support a link. Many genealogists, like us, have access to other records or a network of others in the professional field. You can benefit from their search services because they have subscriptions to many records, documents and images. They may have that "Outside of the box" attitude too which leads them to little gems and evidence to support one or more of the general registration office entries. Some even have access to more recent records that are not yet in the public domain, or know how to access information in other countries. The end result is: You get easy to read reports and charts that you do not have to configure yourself, which can be a lovely way to share your family tree or common ancestors information with others.

We offer genealogy services and more. You can browse the options at AnotherLeafGenealogy .com

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