Cost Effective Genealogy Screening Tool?
Subscription online genealogy databases…detective work made easy? Or not?
Genealogy detective work made less expensive? Perhaps….
One such genealogy database is Archives.com, 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 They have compiled a “database of over one billion fully searchable records and historical documents and are constantly adding new, premier collections.”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 Archives.com in comparison to two other large databases I subscribe to (Ancestry and Footnote).
My goal: to see what Archives.com 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. Archives.com has partnered with Footnote.com 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 Footnote.com 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 familysearch.org. Records found on familysearch.org 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 familysearch.org 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).
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, Archives.com 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 Archives.com so I suggest trying before buying.
The end user would need to weigh the cost vs search trade off.
Other info about Archives.com:
- 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
Links to databases mentioned:
- Ancestry – www.ancestry.com
- Archives – www.Archives.com (update – Sept 1 2011 – Archives added the US census to their database)
- Footnote – www.footnote.com (update August 2011 – Footnote is now called Fold3).
Disclaimer: I received my demo member copy of Archives.com 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: email@example.com.
UPDATE September 2011 –Archives.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1-888-896-4442.