I’m not a regular subscriber to The Genealogist, although I had tried a brief free trial some time ago.
About a year ago I attended a family history exhibition whereby I received a free copy of the Discover Your Ancestors magazine. This mag came with a one month free trial of The Genealogist’s Diamond subscription package – and I finally decided to activate it.
Logging into The Genealogist, you are greeted with a large search box, whereby you can select to look for “a person”, “a family” or “an address”. There is also a drop down menu that allows you to select whether you’d like to search by ‘All Records’ or by various categories – such as Birth and Baptisms, or Census.
Once you’ve entered your information and pressed search, the results are listed. They cannot be sorted like those on Find My Past – the order they appear in is the order your stuck with.
On the left is a box listing the number of results for each category and you can drill down into these to find records belonging to subcategories. For example, if I click Birth and Baptisms, I see the results in this category. From there I can select to see just Parish Baptisms. You can filter results further by adding keywords to your search terms – but I’ll elaborate on this later.
No Card Catalogue – sort of!
Those more familiar with giants Ancestry or Find My Past, might be surprised to hear there is no ‘card catalogue’ listing each individual source or data set.
In order to perform, say a search of all Worcestershire parish baptisms, you’d have to enter Worcestershire in the keywords box within the search form. You can’t just find Worcestershire parish baptism and then search from there.
This means it can be difficult to work out exactly what records are held by The Genealogist
If you select the ‘Help’ menu button at the top of the page, you’ll be presented with a search box and a list of menu options. I typed in ‘records’ (although you can also select FAQ and scroll down), and found the help topic “how can I find out what records are available on your site?”
This lead to https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/coverage/
This page shows a list of all the categories, and selecting any of the categories leads to more detailed information. For example, selecting Parish Records lead to a list of counties included in The Genealogist’s offering. Selecting one of those counties leads to a list of the parishes included, the register type (licences, marriages, burials etc) and the years covered.
Source information is limited
The Genealogist’s list of offerings does not include any source information. I can see that they hold the baptism parish records from years X to X for any given parish. But, I cannot see where they got this data from. I don’t know if it’s a parish register or a bishops transcript. I don’t know if it’s a transcript collection compiled by a family history society.
I tried performing a search of the parish registers to see if the source information was any clearer, once I’d found a record. The search worked great, and I easily found a marriage in 1798 for one of my Worcestershire ancestors. Sadly, the source information is scant. It’s a transcription of a parish record, and it’s detailed – it includes the witnesses names. However, there is nothing to tell me the exact origin of the record. This, for me, is a major failing.
Smart Search is Great!
One of the tools I was most impressed with is a function called ‘Smart Search’. Once you’ve found a birth or marriage you can jump start a related search directly from that record by using ‘smart search’.
From a marriage you can use the ‘smart search’ button to get a list of potential children born to that couple. From a birth, there are two options, click one button to get a list of potential siblings – or click another to get a list of potential parent’s marriage records.
You should still do a manual search yourself, and do not assume all the matches are correct – but it is a great feature that can save you time or help kick start your research.
There are even smart search buttons from census results. Individuals listed in the census as born after 1837 will have a button next to their name. The button looks like a person cradling a baby in their arms. Clicking it will launch a search for the persons birth in the BMD index. Similarly you might see a button that looks like a bride and groom. Clicking this will lead to a search of the marriage BMD index.
I like the way smart search leads to a whole host of possibilities. Each of these searches opens in a different window too, so you don’t loose the results you were originally viewing. I found I ended up working with far less tabs open (compared to Ancestry and Find My Past). Closing a window was no big deal, because I could click smart search again to bring it back up.
Save and Print Options
This leads me on to another great, intuitive feature, the ability to save and print records. The save and print buttons are everywhere! Spot, the record you want listed in the results? No need to click into it to save it, there is a save button ready to hand. Clicked on the record to get more detail? From here you can print and save. Clicked ‘smart search’. From here you can save or print results listed. Clicked the option to see an original image of a record? You guessed it! From here you can download – and you have the option to either download the whole image or a high resolution crop.
The easy to use interface ticked a lot of boxes, for me!
These simple features are really well thought out. All the buttons are easy to see, and very intuitive.
Save to Research Log
You can save records directly to your research log – which is searchable. It’s not really any different to Ancestry ‘shoebox’ or Find My Past’s ‘save record’ options.
Save to TreeView
TreeView is a family tree builder used by The Genealogist. You can add people, and save records directly from the website into the tree. Gedcoms can be imported or exported.
I didn’t give TreeView a full test drive, but from the basics that I could see, just by adding one family group, it seemed pretty comprehensive. I could save an entire family group from a census in a few easy clicks. I could edit their facts, and I liked that the basic source (e.g. 1911 census) was added to the detail of the fact. Clicking a person in your tree brings up a box with different tabs that can be selected to show different information. This includes facts, but also sources and exhibits. Strangely the census I’d saved from wasn’t recorded as a source. Adding a source seems to be a manual process. However, it was saved in the ‘exhibit’ tab.
TreeView reminded me of a more traditional database approach to recording family trees, but with the added bonus of a navigable pedigree or family tree view.
Treeview reminded me of a database package, more like Rootsmagic software, than Ancestry’s tree builder.
To truly appreciate the benefits and disadvantages you’d have to explore the tool more thoroughly. For example, from within treeview you can search for people in other users trees – but you can’t view that tree without requesting permission. There is also a forum function, but I didn’t test drive this.
More on Searching
The ways in which you can search The Genealogist’s offerings are worth exploring further.
Census: Search by Address
This feature allows you to search any of the census from 1841 to 1911 (and the US 1940 census) by a street name. Simply type the street name, select the census you wish to search and then select the county.
If the street is found a list of the heads of household are provided in rows. On each row, on the right hand side is a button that looks like a house. You can hover your mouse over the house to see who else is in the household. From the buttons on the right you can also go on to view the transcription or the original document. There’s also a ‘save’ button, so you can save results without having to open the image or transcription first.
I found my ancestors in the census with relative ease
This is a powerful feature – with a few limitations. It’s a shame you can’t search for a street across multiple counties. I had a street name in mind, which is normally recorded as being in London but sometimes considered as being in Middlesex. I had to search by both counties to make sure I’d found the street. It’s a minor quibble about a useful feature.
Census: A Family Search
Searching by family allows you to enter the first names and the relationships of several individuals. Note, you are restricted to one surname – so you can’t search for a mother-in-law living with her son-in-law by entering their different surnames.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that although on the ‘search by address’ page it looks as if you are limited to searching by street name – in reality you have more options. Click back to ‘by person’ search. Select census from the drop-down box. Now instead of entering a persons name, enter a search term in the keyword box. I chose a village name (Tutshill, Gloucestershire). Press enter and away you go! The keyword search is very effective, and isn’t restricted to census results either. I decided to do a search for the surname “Clarke” and the keyword “gelantine”. I didn’t restrict by record type. The first result showed my ancestor in the census – occupation gelatine maker. This feature far outstrips Ancestry’s keyword option and leaves it for dust!
Accessed via it’s own tab on the home page, Image Archive does what it says on the tin – its a large archive of images! Some even have 3D effects. The archive is easily searchable by keyword or title. Every image is tagged with keywords and you can click any of these tags to look for other related images.
Accessing Image Archives was like flicking through a vast photo album
You can easily download the images for personal use and there is also a button you can press to buy the image – either for online personal use (such as family blog) or for commercial purposes.
Sadly some of the images are lacking in information. For example, I found a wonderful picture of Covent Garden, from what I assume to be the late Victorian period, but the image has no title and no date (not even approx). There is no source information at all. In fact the source information seems to vary widely from image to image.
There is a real plethora of solider, WW1 and army photos. A real treasure trove and I could have spent days looking at images!
Tithe and Landowner Records
Like Ancestry and FMP, some of the records held by The Genealogist are not offered by the other websites. For me, the jewel in The Genealogist’s crown is its extensive collection of tithe maps. This is an amazing resource, and being able to view the maps on your screen is incredible.
Image and Transcription Quality
Overall I’ve been really impressed by the quality of the transcriptions and the clarity of the images on The Genealogist. For example, the census scans, in my opinion, are far better than those used by Ancestry or Find My Past. The transcriptions, generally, have been very good too. I’ve come across far less mistakes – but it’s fair to say I haven’t used The Genealogist for a long period, whereas I have used Ancestry and Find My Past for years.
Family Tree DNA
The Genealogist offer DNA testing. I have not tested with them and therefore cannot provide any comment on it – other than to say it’s there as an option.
The price of The Genealogist is comparable to that of Ancestry or Find My Past. I am quite often sent offers to entice me to subscribe to their Diamond service, and these frequently include throwing in subscription to the Discover Your Ancestors magazine. This has tempted me – I think it’s a interesting publication, aimed probably at the slightly more experienced genealogist. I’ve enjoyed it’s in depth articles in the paper copies I’ve either been given or purchased once a year.
I think The Genealogist is reasonably priced and in line with its competitors
Will I be ditching Find My Past or Ancestry and subscribing to The Genealogist instead? Not yet…maybe…
I think The Genealogist is an excellent site but it needs to improve in some key areas in order to really tackle the ‘big boys’. It’s data collection is extensive, it’s quality impressive. But it’s not easy to see exactly what it has on offer – it really needs a comprehensive card catalogue. Even more crucially, it desperately needs to sort out it’s sources. If they are there then they are not obvious. To be fair, neither Ancestry nor Find My Past has perfected this either, but the lack of source information on The Genealogist really surprised me.
That said, if these two problems were tweaked, I think that The Genealogist has the potential to sway me away from one of my subscriptions with the other sites.
I liked The Genealogist’s search functions, they are powerful and intuitive. It’s easy to print and save – and a quick view of TreeView left me intrigued. I look forward to seeing the site grow, and am excited about it’s future.