Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review: Genealogy Database

Cost Effective Genealogy Screening Tool?

Subscription online genealogy databases…detective work made easy?  Or not?

Genealogy detective work made less expensive?  Perhaps….

Archives - Genealogy Family TreeSearchOne such genealogy database is, launched in July 2009.  Archives “helps every day people and advanced genealogists trace their family trees”.  They have compiled a “database of over one billion fully searchable records and historical documents and are constantly adding new, premier collections.”  It is also billed as a less expensive means of researching one’s ancestors.  Regular cost is $39.95/year with other shorter term options available.

My access to the site was through a free demo membership as part of a Geneablogger Welcome Bag received at the recent SCGS Jamboree in Burbank California.  I decided to take Archives for a short test drive.

Please note I’m not the first to blog about Archives.  Fellow geneablogger Randy Seaver wrote about this service on his Genea-Musings website in April 2010.  His comments were followed up by a reply from Archives.  Family Tree Magazine wrote an article on their blog soon after Archives launched, and there have been others.

Archives Test Drive – The “Aumack” Test

The search individual I used was Jacob Aumack, my husband’s great great grandfather, born in Montgomery County, NY in 1821 and a resident of Michigan most of his adult life.   I have collected a fair bit of information about this individual over the years from both free and paid databases along with information from more conventional sources.   I know he was a civil war vet and which regiment he fought in. I have also collected newspaper reports and stories from local history books about this family, along with Jacob Aumack’s probate and other information.   We are privileged to have an extensive well documented book about the Aumack family researched by distant cousins. The name is relatively unusual as are the various surname variants.  I consider myself to be a competent researcher having spent 20 years researching genealogy and almost 35 years in medical research.  Researching Jacob Aumack will be a good test drive of the search capabilities of in comparison to two other large databases I subscribe to (Ancestry and Footnote).

My goal: to see what could tell me about Jacob Aumack (and associated family members) in a cost effective manner.

Search #1.  Entered name “Jacob Aumack” only (no dates, USA location only).

Results: 61 results were found and a suggestion to “Save Record” so it can be added to one’s family tree and access it any time through the “My Records” tab (when logged in).


  • Birth Records (4)
  • Death Records (11)
  • Other Vital Records (8)
  • Living People Search (22)
  • Census Records (7)
  • Cemetery Listings (6)
  • Original Obituary Records (3)
  • Surname History Results

Additional Sources were also suggested (note these are all FREE websites easily accessible to anyone.  For a new researcher this information may be of value.  Seasoned researchers know these websites).

Okay, 61 results are manageable.  Let’s see what we’ve got.

Births (4) - Bingo!  The first record of the four is our Jacob Aumack.  The source is the U.S. 1860 Federal Census Index and lists Jacob (age 39), his wife (Harriet) age 37 and the names and ages of the five children.

The catch – in order to view the actual image, one has to pay $2.95. has partnered with and the image is viewable at Footnote.  It turns out this image is one of the FREE images available on Footnote.    (And an image I had saved previously from my and Ancestry memberships).  I also save the typed version of this record to the Archives “My Records” section.

The other 3 Jacob Aumacks birth records are intriguing although they aren’t the correct Jacob.  I think I know where they fit into our story but I move on with my mission at hand after a quick peek.  (As we genealogists know, it is sooooo easy to get side tracked!).  I can come back to these later either on Archives or on Footnote, where the images are held.

Deaths (11) - no results match.  This is not surprising as it appears their source is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Our guy died in 1917 prior to the start of that index (1937 to current). It is important to note one can search free through a couple of other online databases (Genealogy Bank and Ancestry/Rootsweb).  My preference for SSDI searches is Genealogy Bank because of the way they present their results).

A couple of the records returned were from the California Death Index, none of them Jacob.

Other Vital Records (8) - We have a match on the first record:  Jacob’s death on the 15 November 1917 at the age of 96.  This record was from the free site  Records found on can be accessed through a LDS Family History center.

I was given the option of ordering a hard copy of the record from VitalChek if I wish.  It appears one has to go through the whole search process again to order the record – state, city etc.  The gave me Pipestone, Berrien County Michigan, but not the city.  At this point one is stymied unless one has the city.  I happen to have this information from other sources.  (City is Eau Claire) and was able to proceed to the order window.  Cost of a 1st copy is $36  + a $8.50 VitalChek fee (shipping fees not included).   Total cost $44.50 + shipping.  I abort the order and move on.

The other 7 records do not belong to our Jacob or his immediate family.  Next!

(I did check them and have a good idea where they fit in.  Just about all the Aumacks in that time period in that part of the world are connected).  Again, back to the search at hand.

Living People Search (22) – nothing there. Our Jacob died in 1917.

Cemetery Listings (6) - nothing there.  This search was of 168 cemeteries with information collected from the SSDI and California Death Index.  This is a similar search to the Death Records above.

Note at each step we are given the option to set up an “Ancestor Alert”.  An Ancestor alert will notify you if your search term is found anytime in the future.  I assume it is similar to a ‘google alert’.    I enter Jacob Aumack into my Ancestor Alert.

Original Obituary Listings (3) - no matches

Surname History was rather interesting and gave a map of the name distribution, name variants and the possible origin of the name (Dutch or German: see Aumick).

Aumack Surname History Map

Aumack Surname History Map

My next steps would be to run additional names from the family and expand the search. I’d also search surname variations, perhaps neighbors and families that have married into our Aumack family and so on.   I’d keep a research log and document my sources as I go.

Did Archives Come Through?

Did Archives meet my goal of finding information about Jacob Aumack? Yes, and no.  I didn’t find anything new, but then again I’m probably not a typical user of this service, being an experienced researcher. Archives did bring some other Aumacks to my attention which I will explore in greater depth.

In my opinion, could be a useful screening tool for new researchers, but less useful for seasoned ones or those that already have paid access to the large online (and more expensive) genealogy databases.

It is important to be aware that some of the information can be searched and possibly obtained elsewhere for free.

Cost vs Search Trade Off

Was Archives cost effective? Membership is $39.99 plus additional costs to access individual records.   This could add up if one gets on a roll.  (It happens with genealogy).   There are options to purchase for shorter time periods and there is a 7 day free trial.

I believe Ancestry and Footnote give the genealogist better search capabilities and more records but then again they cost more.  The annual world deluxe membership for Ancestry at the time of writing is $299.40/year.  Ancestry US or Canadian memberships are less.  Footnote is currently $79.95/year. They regularly offer specials at less.  Both have free trials as does so I suggest trying before buying.

The end user would need to weigh the cost vs search trade off.

Other info about

  • Expert Genealogy Articles for free
  • Ability to create an online family tree and attach records (membership option only)
  • Ability to save records
  • More records being added.
  • County Records Search

Recommended Action -  Try the Archives free 7 day trial or short term membership to see if it meets your needs first.  Give it a pass, if you already have a Footnote or Ancestry membership.

Links to databases mentioned:

Disclaimer:  I received my demo member copy of free as part of a Geneablogger Welcome Bag at a large genealogy conference, the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree in Burbank, California June 2010.  The compensation I may receive as an referral marketer to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics does not affect the topics or posts I make in this blog.  I call it as I see it and receiving a commission is secondary to my main goal of making cousin connections.

UPDATE:  I receive many requests from visitors trying to contact Archives. com. I don’t work for them but I can refer you to their FAQ page,  then click on the link at the bottom that says: click here to open a support ticket or email:

UPDATE September 2011 have indicated that their customer service policy is to refund the full cost of a membership if a person forgot to cancel their membership before the free trial period ended.  Users can email customer support at or phone 1-888-896-4442.



49 Responses to “Review: Genealogy Database”
  1. I joined a few months ago because I really liked the way it was set up to work. After doing many searches that were unproductive I cancelled my membership. The only thing I ended up liking was the ancestor alert.

  2. Hi Terri,
    Thanks for your feedback and for taking the time to comment.
    I’m waiting for my first ancestor alert to arrive. Perhaps I’ll add other names in order to check out that feature.


  3. Joan, I agree with your analysis. I have looked at in the past; I, too, got the geneablogger offer, but I haven’t used it yet to do a review. I know I’ll come to a similar conclusion.

    Although Ancestry and Footnote cost quite a bit more than Archives, the former can often be found to use for free through a public library, and in the US, many Family History Centers have free access to Footnote. So really, is not worth the money for me.
    Miriam Robbins Midkiff´s last [type] ..52 Weeks To Better Genealogy- Challenge 26 – Google Books

  4. Thanks Miriam for your comments and for reminding us that many of these databases are available free at libraries, FHCs or gen societies.


  5. Martin says:

    I just had a bad run-in with I used the specific database Indiana Divorces. It gave no specifics on years. I used “John Ridpath” and got one record. So I did my free trial to see it and the divorce record was from Texas! Bizarre labelling. I dumped them very fast.

  6. Hi Martin,
    I appreciate your feedback. Thanks for visiting.


  7. Jean says:

    Thanks for the very fair review, Joan. I found it quite informative and helpful.

  8. Thank you, Jean! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.


  9. Rees Chapman says:


    Having begun amateur genealogy when the essential research tools were courthouse photocopiers and keys to the car, I’m a late arrival in the online genealogy systems. I have found Ancestry to be quite useful, I’ll admit, but I continue to receive offers for other memberships. I’m finding that claims of “billions of records” are often meaningless and misleading. This review is very helpful.

    I’m still unclear what Footnote has to offer that Ancestry does not. Do you know of any unbiased comparisons?


  10. Hi Rees,
    Thank you for your comments. Randy Seaver over at Geneamusings writes about Ancestry and Footnote in his research but I don’t know if he has specifically done a review comparing the two sites. Note, Ancestry recently purchased Footnote although Footnote says they will continue as per usual. Based on my personal experience, Ancestry will produce more records from varied sources. That said, Footnote may find you historical documents you might not find elsewhere online. Both have access to census records.

    It will really depend on where and what you are researching. There is a website called Live Roots that will find records across various databases. I haven’t used it much but you may find it useful. The other option is to try out the free trials of the database you are interested in. You have the option of canceling within a certain time period if the particular database doesn’t meet your needs. Many Family History Libraries and genealogical society libraries will have free access to some of these databases too.

    Perhaps I should put our Jacob Aumack through the comparison side by side Ancestry vs Footnote test to show my readers.

    Thanks for dropping by.


  11. douglas lash says:

    I have been a member since apr 17,2010 and i cant get on the web sight. It keeps telling me that I have to sign up for a free 7 day trial . Can someone help me with this . Yhank you

  12. Hi Douglas,
    Have you contacted Archives’ support department?
    Go to their FAQ page, and click on the link at the bottom that says: click here to open a support ticket..

    All the best getting the issue resolved.


  13. George Capton says:

    I am not sure there is such a site as they took my money then I forgot my password for six months I have tried to get them to send a new one.I big waste of money. Don’t use them. George

  14. Hi George,
    Thanks for your feedback and comment.


  15. Kat says:

    Total scam and ripoff…charged $39.95 for reoccuring membership and then $27.83 for a birth certificate that I never received only received forms requesting and additional $22.00 and a copy of my divers license to be faxed. Credit Card Company would not dispute charge and told me to f’off. DO NOT USE ARCHIVES.COM or you will have to cancel your credit card to keep them from continuing to charge you a membership fee and never receive promised documents.

  16. Hi Kat,
    Thank you for sharing your experience.


  17. zelia Logan says:

    This company should be reported to the FBI / Federal Authority governing internet abuse and any other to eliminate them from the web.

  18. dick says:

    This service is a joke. Their data base is extremely small, their search feature is very poor and if you go even one day over the 7 day trial period, you are stuck with a year’s subscription.

  19. Shirl says:

    Information can be found other places on the web without paying. I signed on for the 7 day free subscription and cancelled within the hour. I was charged anyway for a full year. I tried to cancel the full year subscription and am not having any luck. I am going to have to call tomorrow morning.
    They sign you on for automatic yearly subscription. What a pain!

  20. Hi Shirl,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I saw on another website their support desk can be reached at

    I hope it works out for you.


  21. Hugh says: would be over charging if they paid you to join. This site is totally worthless to any one who has advanced beyond the stage of just playing around. Their data is nothing more than an accumulation of information available free on many other sites and finding and using it easily consumes $40 worth of your time in just one search.

  22. Hi Hugh,
    You aren’t the first to mention problems with Thank you for your comments.


  23. dick says:

    You gotta hand it to them. They’re making money and have an almost useless product.

  24. Sharon says:

    We ordered Archives (trial version) because the website said that it had specific information about a person we were researching. After a few minutes on the Trial offer on Archives, we decided that the information was not needed and clicked the cancel button. However, we later found that our credit card was billed and Archives claims that we never cancelled. Now, I’m afraid that they will continue to bill us unless we cancel our credit card. I would not recommend using the Archive’s website.

  25. dick says:

    I missed my 7 day cancellation by 3 days and they held me to the year’s subscription. I cancelled my credit card because I feared that they would renew next year without my permission. It is a worthless service … very little data (except for some data that you have to pay for in addition to the subscription cost) and a search engine that is almost worthless.

  26. Hi Sharon,
    Thank you for your feedback on Archives. Can you call the credit card company and dispute the charge?

    Good luck,

  27. Hi Dick,
    Thanks for your comment. It appears many people wishing to cancel Archives experience difficulty.

    All the best with your family tree research.


  28. Daethian says:

    Thanks so much for this very help and detailed review! You saved me $40 :)

  29. Lynette L. says:

    Beware!!! I tried the free 7 day trial. I forgot to cancel before the 7 days were up and was surprised by a charge to my account for $59.88 for One Great Family which I don’t recall signing up for! I did get a refund from for the One Great Family Membership. I read the terms and they state that there are no refunds for subscriptions, so even if you are not satisfied, you are out the $39.95 for the subscription. In hind sight I will never try a free membership that requires me to give my credit card number up front!

  30. Paul Malone says:

    Thank you for the review. I am glad to know that I can find out what I need from free sources.

  31. Hi Lynette,
    Thanks for your feedback on Archives.


  32. Hi Paul,
    You are very welcome. It is a good plan to exhaust all the free resources first (including checking at the local libraries for access to some of these paid databases.)

    Good luck with your research.


  33. Kate says:

    I thought that would provide me with a viewable copy of a birth certificate of death certificate without having to go and order an original. On occasion I would like to view just a copy to see if it is indeed the family member I am looking for, and yet I found they just provided me with the information to order from the relevant states vital records, which I could have done on my own without their services. Is anyone aware of a service that would provide a viewable copy without actually ordering the certified copy until I find the one I need?

  34. Crystal says:

    I am having the same issue with them – This is a SCAM! I am blocking them from my credit card after they charged me for signing up for the 7-day trial and I canceled MINUTES after seeing the website was useless and even removed my credit card information and they still charged. They refuse to refund me and I’ve contacted my credit company to dispute.

    Thank you for the blog site so that others can see what is really happening with this company. I am an avid geneaology lover, but this is not a good site for your research. Thanks!

  35. Hi all,
    I’ve contacted to see if they can address some of the issues that people are experiencing. One of the hallmarks of a good company is how they respond to concerns and issues. I trust they will want to do the best they can to rectify things if customers aren’t happy.


  36. Hi everyone,
    I heard from Their customer service policy is to refund the full cost of a membership if a person forgot to cancel their membership before the free trial period ended.

    Users can contact customer support at or 1-888-896-4442.


  37. dick says:

    Author: © Joan Miller – Luxegen Genealogy.
    Comment: Hi everyone,
    I heard from Their customer service policy is to refund the full cost of a membership if a person forgot to cancel their membership before the free trial period ended.

    Users can contact customer support at or 1-888-896-4442.



  38. Hello to Archives Customers –

    My name is Michelle and I run Customer Support for I want to apologize for the negative experience you’ve had on the site. We do offer the free trial so that each customer can review the full functionality of the site and determine if it best meets their needs. We provide online access to cancel the trial or this can be done by phone or email.

    We understand that sometimes people make mistakes and forget to cancel in time. If this happens, please contact our friendly Member Services staff at or 1-888-896-4442 and we will be able to help you. Our guarantee policy is stated in our terms of service

    Our customer’s satisfaction is very important to us and we encourage you to contact us anytime with questions or feedback. We’ve recently added millions of new records (including the U.S. Census) and new features to the site. Learn more:

    You are welcome to ask for me when you call but I am not available all hours. My team is empowered to do the right thing for the customer so anyone who answers you will be able to assist.

    Sincerely – Michelle Steinbeck
    Sr. Director, Member Services

  39. Hi Michelle at Archives,

    Thank you for responding to my visitors’ concerns.


  40. Adria says:

    Archives was not a personal use to me. Customer support was very cooperative with my dispute of forgetting to cancel and addressed my issues respectfully. I would consider using this website again if needed. Thank you.

  41. Connie says:

    Very disappointed with Archives, my initial search displayed what appeared to be a tiny copy of the death record I was looking for. The information shown, after I signed up for 7 day free trial offer, turned out to be nothing more than the SSN death information I found on Family Search for free. I’m waiting to see if my subscription, which I cancelled after about 15 seconds of joining was REALLY cancelled. Not worth the money at all!

  42. I wish I had read this blog before subscribing! Totally worthless site. The one year 39.95 fee allows the user to access only information available for free on other sites and asks the user to pay additional exorbitant fees to obtain the information I had expected from the initial inquiry for the base fee. If they don’t cancel my membership, I plan on reporting this site to the Better Business Bureau in my state (PA) and reporting this as a fraudulent transaction to my credit card company. Although they probably can get my full one year fee since I didn’t cancel until the eighth day, I will continue to do everything I can to help correct the false expectations their overblown webpage promises. I will post a followup after I hear from their customer service department.

  43. In researching US basic records, I found to lack any depth while being very costly. I would look for alternatives to find information and secondly to save money.

  44. Dave says:

    I also received an invite to and am checking it out now. As soon as it asks for credit card info, I’m dropping it! Too much negative info in these reviews to give that info out. Kind of suprised as it states that no credit card is required. Sure glad I read this info before going too far. Thanks to all for their comments and especially to Joan.

  45. Terri says:

    Really appreciate the reviews here. I’ve been out of the loop for the last 5 years due to surgeries and illnesses and was just about ready to try Archive since it seems to keep popping up on several different databases that I used to research that I thought were free at the time. I have a full membership to so I think I will pass on Archive based on the reviews. As my health improves I will be able to make the trek to a Family History library or other places to try out their services. Thanks again!

  46. John says:

    For those who are not familiar with this website, be aware if you are trying to acquire a copy of your Birth Certificate that the charge is $39.95, and that many of the Vital Records offices in your state send you to this website if you need a copy of your Birth certificate to renew your license. If you choose to receive it through the Vital Records office, the fee is reasonable (12.00) but if you make this decision, it could take up to 2 months to receive it, and meanwhile you’re unable to renew your license or to drive. When speaking with a representative of this organization, I was told the fee was “excessive” not because of the effort or cost involved, but because of the “value” of the document to the individual making the request.

  47. I am an LDS long time and seasoned genealogist. I upload pictures of grave markers for Find-A-Grave and also volunteer at RAOGK or Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness. I totally appreciate not only Joan’s wonderful and thorough review but the people that also wrote in after. I am ALWAYS looking for the FREE not a trial information and yes sometimes it takes longer but I, like most people, am not independently wealthy or even close :) . Thanks to all and even to Archives for writing in about the refunds.

  48. Jimr says:

    If you don’t think these people are unscrupulus, just try typing in fictional names, cartoon names etc. They will always show matches.

  49. Brigid says:

    I did not find a single record that was useful after several months. I did try and order a death certificate from New Haven, CT. After several weeks without receiving it, (They did charge me the $59.95 right away) I called and was told that genealogy requests were not a priority, but I should be getting something in a week or two, I confirmed the details and for some reason they were sending to Waterbury for the death cert. I corrected him. (There was no mention of Waterbury in my original request) Today, I received a notice from Waterbury saying that there was no record. They enclosed a money order for $20.00 made out to Vital Statistics from an address in Denver, CO. I called and was told that I had to send them back the money order and only then would they credit me. I asked to also cancel my subscription and was given another number to call. It was the number to some man’s voice mail, so I had to call back again. It all seems a bit shady. If I had sent directly to the vital stats office in New Haven, it would have been MUCH cheaper and probably would have taken about the same amount of time. Will never go there again.

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