Recently, the EasyGenie Facebook group featured a spirited discussion about Ancestry vs. FamilySearch. These two giants of the English-language genealogy world have some similarities, including the ability to create online family trees and search through millions of digitized records.
But they also have some differences. The biggest one: Cost. Ancestry, owned and operated by a private equity firm, is focused on profit. It makes users pay dearly to access records such as census returns and marriage certificates. FamilySearch is free.
However, one of Ancestry's advantages is Ancestry DNA, a genetic genealogy sampling and matching service that integrates with its paid genealogy subscriptions. FamilySearch has no equivalent genetic genealogy offering. Having access to DNA results can lead to new discoveries, as one person pointed out:
"I have done the DNA Testing for Ancestry and [My Heritage] and have found some distant cousins who we have messaged together for more family information."
"I use both. Started on Ancestry and then found Family Search. So when I find info on one I switch to the other to help verify. I try to keep both trees the same."
"Not only do I use both Ancestry and Family Search but also My Heritage. As for the information I have learned having the 3 helps me to decide what is fact and what is not. It is also helpful that I have family that is also researching and we can talk about whether a document or piece of information is correct."
More than one person criticized the FamilySearch interface:
"I find FamilySearch much harder to use. Perhaps I haven't put in sufficient effort, but it's a steep learning curve to enter a correction and make it stick when others can muck in and re-enter the error."
We concur about the FamilySearch interface. The FamilySearch app is so frustrating that we switched to using the website on mobile devices. One person reported a problem with printing original images:
"I use Family Search and if I need to change any information I can. The only thing I don’t like with Family Search is if I want to print off a picture of a marriage license or draft card it doesn’t come out (it’s too hard to read it). Ancestry cost money & when information is wrong I can’t change it."
Regardless of the service being used, one of the biggest beefs concerned bad data uploaded by other people. Sometimes it's ancestors with no sources cited. At other times, it's relationships that defy logic, such as a parent born ten years before a child, or sometimes even after a child. The failure of some tree owners to prune bad branches leads to bad data being attached to other trees, and replicated far and wide.
"Neither Ancestry or Familysearch should be used for trees as there are far too many errors in family trees. FamilySearch's trees can be changed by anyone and everyone with no verification required."
"It is a shame how bad some of the info is on Ancestry. I like being able to fix it on Family Search and I always try to put why I feel I have the right info."
"I do not use the trees as both sites contain undocumented trees full of errors. Please use those with caution!"
"They are all a mess! I’ve used My Heritage as well as Family Search, and my kids use Ancestry. They all seem to have the same misinformation. It’s frustrating, especially for those of us who have hit brick walls!"
Some Facebook comments pointed to a major limitation of FamilySearch, relating to its mission to create a "single, public tree" that covers all of humanity. This is different than Ancestry's approach, which lets genealogists maintain private trees. For FamilySearch, having one master tree can lead to problems:
"When there is an error on Family Search and it's automatically attached to my tree, I can't do anything to correct it. When I find that some data on my Ancestry tree is a mistake, I can delete it. Also, Ancestry lets me choose what to attach to my tree."
Despite these issues, sometimes you can find fantastic, well-sourced information in trees uploaded by other people. I connected with a distant cousin from New Zealand, a schoolteacher, who not only posts wonderful source documents on Ancestry including letters and paintings of ancestors (see above), but also helps me out with my own research. Once she even corrected an assumption that I had made about a certain ancestor that was a huge time-saver.
However, my New Zealand cousin also shared with me that she won't be using Ancestry in the future owing to the excessively expensive subscription fees.
Feel free to read the many other responses to our question about FamilySearch vs. Ancestry on the EasyGenie Facebook page.