Over the years, more options have become available for people to learn about their family histories. In the past, people often had to search through physical records if they wanted to find out about their family tree. If someone was interested in learning more about their family’s past, they would likely find themselves spending a lot of time in the local archives building or at the library.
Since then, many well-known websites have made it easier to trace a family’s history. Anyone can take just a little bit of time and hop onto a website (or websites) to get whatever information they wanted.
In recent years, genealogy websites have been joined by websites offering DNA kits for even more opportunities to learn. Instead of just looking at a family tree, DNA kits let people get a little more involved and find out specifics about their ancestors.
Do they work?
As these services have grown over the years, there have naturally been some questions about how accurate the information is. Many people have wondered what the likelihood is for mistakes or misinformation.
Though it’s still a topic of discussion, there is some evidence suggesting DNA kits are the real deal. For example, Today tested three popular DNA kits by having triplets take the test. The three DNA kits (AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe) all came back with the same (or at least incredibly similar) results.
As for genealogy sites, it seems that they can typically be trusted, as long as you’re using a credible one. The most respected and well-known genealogy sites provide information from legitimate sources. This means information gathered on a family tree site isn’t just hearsay added by anyone. It’s not made up of family stories that were mixed up or exaggerated over the years. The information is taken from official documents, like marriage licenses, land deeds, and the like.
Of course, it’s possible that mistakes could be made somewhere along the line, and it’s possible for information to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. If something found on an ancestry site seems wildly dramatic, it could be a good idea to verify it through different means. But generally speaking, an ancestry site can be a reliable way to gather information about a family’s history.
What can you learn about?
DNA kits and genealogy sites offer various different types of information. Which site or service you use might just depend on what kind of information you’re interested in. Here are just some of the things you can learn about:
- Migration patterns
- Health histories
- Living relatives
- Lifestyles of your ancestors
- Countries of origin
- Interesting events in the family tree
The different DNA kits offer at least some (if not all) of these features. Genealogy sites typically only offer some of them. When choosing whether to pay for a DNA kit, subscribe to a genealogy site, or just gather some information from a free service, think about which features you’ll enjoy having the most.
Genealogy sites and apps
There are a number of genealogy sites and apps since it’s such a popular service. Among the many sites, there are some that are especially popular, useful, and respected. Here are just some of the sites and apps you can check out to learn about your family tree!
Ancestry.com (plus its app)—Ancestry.com is likely the most well-known genealogy site around. Using Ancestry.com, you can start building your family tree. After putting in as much information as you can, the site will offer suggestions about other people who may also fit in your family tree. You can then choose to add that information to your tree if it’s accurate. Ancestry.com does charge for its service (between $19.99 and $44.99 a month, depending on which service you choose). However, you can use its 14-day trial to see if it’s the service you want.
Archives.gov—The National Archives offer plenty of information and tips for genealogists. Their records can be helpful when building a family tree. Their page on genealogy is particularly helpful, because it shows how to use their website to search for family history. Depending on which resources you click on, much of the information is free.
FamilySearch.org (with the Memories and Family Tree apps)—FamilySearch.org lets you build your family tree, which you can then view in different ways. They also let you include “Memories,” including photos, documents, audio, and more. After you’ve built your tree, you can make a booklet about your family so you have something physical to look at. The accompanying app, Memories, lets you look at all your memories easily on the go, and the Family Tree app is an easier way to work on your tree on a mobile device. FamilySearch.org offers a free service.
Find a Grave (plus its app)—This site lets you search through their database to find graves. You can search using a person’s name or date of birth or death, and you can also just search specific cemeteries. Many of the results include photos of the gravestones, and they can include added information like obituary newspaper clippings and information on family members. The accompanying app makes it easier to search while away from the computer.
Findmypast—Findmypast focuses specifically on finding family history information traced back to Britain and Ireland. They claim to have a larger collection of British and Irish documents than any other site. You can build a family tree and learn more about your ancestors. The service is $19.95 a month, but you can try it free for 14 days.
GenealogyBank—This site lets you search through their database of records to find information on your family’s past. It focuses on its collection of newspapers. It has thousands of newspapers archived, including newspapers from every state in the US. The service is $19.95 a month, but you can try it free for 30 days.
MyHeritage Genealogy (plus its app)—MyHeritage is another very popular genealogy site. You can build a family tree by putting in all of the information you know. MyHeritage will alert you when they’ve found something that might fit in your tree. You can also add extra things to your tree, like stories and pictures. The accompanying app offers their service in a format that’s smoother on a mobile device. MyHeritage offers a limited service for free, and if you want to use all the features, you can pay a monthly fee.
Many different DNA kits are available for purchase these days. These kits vary in how the information is gathered, how much they cost, and what features they offer. Before spending your money on one, make sure you learn what you’ll be getting, since they’re not exactly the same. Here are some of the most talked-about DNA kits available now!
23andMe—This DNA kit costs $79 to $159 depending on which service you buy. With the $159 Health + Ancestry package, you get a number of features. You can find out about potential health risks, conditions you may be able to pass on, your physical traits, the composition of your ancestors, and who your relatives are. These are just some of the features from 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry service.
AncestryDNA—AncestryDNA costs $99 regularly (though it’s sometimes on sale). With this kit, you can learn your ethnicity, find living relatives, and learn about the migration history of your family.
Family Tree DNA—This DNA testing service has a number of different kits that focus on different things. Their most inexpensive kit (normally $79) gives percentages of your ethnicity and finds family members. Their other more expensive kits can trace back family lines and let you access more genealogical services.
Living DNA—Living DNA offers a kit that’s currently discounted at $99. It can show where your ancestors came from, your family line, and where your family was located over the years. They plan to offer a DNA matching service soon that will also help you find family members.
MyHeritage DNA—MyHeritage DNA is typically $99, but it’s currently on sale for $69. With MyHeritage, you learn your ethnicity and find your relatives. MyHeritage also offers a family tree service.
National Geographic Geno 2.0—NatGeo’s DNA kit is $99.95. With their kit, you can learn your ancestry, where your ancestors came from, your family’s migration, and historical information that relates to your results.
Gathering and saving information
Aside from these sites and apps, it can be helpful to use other services for keeping track of your family history. Here are some tips to make sure your family’s history is available for a long time!
- Take notes—Use a document on your computer or an app on your phone to keep notes about anything interesting you find as you research
- Create a calendar—Use a calendar app to add important events from your family’s past
- Save photos and documents—Scan documents and photos, then back them up on an external drive and in cloud storage so you’ll be sure not to lose them if there’s a fire or flood
- Interview your family—Your living family members can be a useful source of information, so consider using an audio recorder app to interview your family about its history.