Genealogy Sites FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions about Genealogy Sites
- What is genealogy?
- What are the benefits of online genealogy research?
- What resources are available from online genealogy research services?
- How much do I need to know about my family before starting genealogy research?
- What is the difference between the family-tree more traditional genealogy research services and DNA-based mapping services?
- How does DNA testing work?
- What is a GEDCOM?
- How did NextAdvisor test and review these genealogy services?
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Genealogy is the study of family lines, specifically in this context, your own family line. However, you can use many of these services to study the family trees of other people, provided you have enough data to go on.
Online genealogy research services bring together elements of archive searches, social networking, and even DNA testing. Doing your research online extends your reach and allows you to collaborate with others. Probably most useful are the archive searches. By scanning and indexing data from different historical documents, you can easily and quickly trace birth, death, and immigration records, all without leaving your desk.
This depends on your service. The most basic genealogy resources allow you to network your family tree to the trees of other members when you have a common ancestor. More advanced services give you access to public records such as birth and death indexes, immigration databases, military draft forms, census data, and even newspaper articles. Some services can compare your DNA with mapped genetic data from other people across the globe.
The more you know, the better off you'll be. But that doesn't mean you need to have a full family tree before you start. After all, if you did, you wouldn't need one of these services. The best, most comprehensive services incorporate records from across the United States and the world. The data on the documents (such as census forms) is put in a searchable database. This allows you to build out your family relationships.
In many ways, these are two different services. While both trace your lineage, one does so through a traditional genealogical approach: building a family tree through historical records. This gives you a more traditional view of your ancestors. The nascent DNA comparison services work on a more macro level, showing large scale migration patterns of your ancestors. It gives you a more global perspective, but won't answer questions such as what your great-great grandfather did for a living.
When you sign up for a site that does DNA testing, you will receive a DNA collection kit through the mail. It includes a swab, instructions, and a postage-paid box to return the kit. The swab is a small plastic wand which you rub along the inside of your cheek a specified number of times. After that, you send it back. After four weeks or so, you'll be notified that your results are ready for online viewing. This testing only looks at genetic linkages, and will not test you for any genetic diseases or predispositions.
GEDCOM stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, and it's a standardized format for the stuff that makes up your family tree. It's a format that computers can read, making it perfect for moving your data between different services. All services accept GEDCOMs, so if you make a family tree on one site, you can export it to another. This means that the work you do on a genealogy site will never go to waste if you decide to move to a different genealogy research service.
We signed up for them and then set about using them. Using just a little bit of family data, we used each service to trace our lineage. We paid a lot of attention to just how much data was required to get results, and how quickly we were able to develop a comprehensive picture of where we came from.
Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most of the services we review. Our editors thoroughly research and whenever possible test each service we review and offer their honest opinions about each one. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.