Is GenealogyBank the Genuine Article?
GenealogyBank isn’t a family tree builder, so why are we reviewing it here at DNAWeekly?
People who like to build family trees, often also like to discover historical documents about their family members. And that’s where GenealogyBank could be very helpful.
This service lets you search for your relatives (or other people, for that matter) by name, date range, and geographical location. The website will then display documents for people who meet those criteria — as long as those people live(d) in the U.S. from about 1690 onward.
These documents can include newspaper articles, obituaries, U.S. census records, Social Security death indexes, government publications, and historical books.
In fact, GenealogyBank boasts over 2 billion genealogy records — including (they say) the world’s largest online obituary collection; more than 330 years of U.S. newspaper coverage (encompassing 13,000 newspaper titles from all 50 states); and billions of birth, marriage, and engagement notices.
So how useful is GenealogyBank really? I signed up for a free trial and gave it a try. Keep reading to see how that went.
Clear, Easily Navigable Search Functionality
The GenealogyBank search interface is clean and straightforward. A basic search will give you all the company’s search results for a particular person’s name, which can be very numerous. But if you narrow your query to a specific date range, state, city, and/or document type, that helps.
If any of your search results seem to be the person you’re looking for, you can view those documents, and save/print/share them if they’re what you wanted.
Also, as part of your subscription, if GenealogyBank ever acquires documents in the future that might match your current search queries, the company will email you and let you know.
How well does GenealogyBank work? Read on to see how my queries turned out.
5 Standout Features of GenealogyBank
Search through millions of historical records for your family members
If your family has resided in the U.S. for a few generations, you should theoretically be able to find some records of them among the many news articles, obituaries, census records, and other documents the company possesses.
Refine your searches for more targeted results
When searching for a particular family member, you can include criteria like date ranges, states and cities where they lived, and what type of records you’re looking for. That may make it easier to rule out people who aren’t your relative.
Clear, straightforward user interface
It’s not hard to figure out how to conduct a search on GenealogyBank. If you’ve ever done any research online before, you shouldn’t have any trouble knowing what to do.
One-week free trial
Not sure GenealogyBank will be useful in finding documents related to your family? Sign up for a one-week free trial and give it a go. If you find a lot of what you’re looking for, you may find it worthwhile to subscribe; if not, you can cancel, no problem.
Friendly user support
Whether you interact with GenealogyBank’s support representatives via chat or over the phone, they’re very nice, and they try to be as helpful as possible. That’s more than you can say for some companies!
Underwhelming Success in Finding My Family
Yes, I did a search for myself. Not because I’m that vain, but because I happen to know that I appeared in a news article in the Philadelphia Inquirer sometime between 1990 and 1995.
Next, I searched for my mother, Ingeborg Stern, who emigrated to the United States around 1950 and died in 1973.
Well, I found some Ingeborg Sterns, but all of them lived before my mother was born. When I narrowed down the date range, I got nothing. I also tried her mother, Olga Schettler, who emigrated to the U.S. around 1962 and died in 1992, and I couldn’t find her either.
Then I tried searching for my father, Harold Stern, who (among other things) founded a school of psychoanalysis in Philadelphia (and therefore was almost certainly featured in some newspaper articles). But while I found a lot of Harold Sterns on GenealogyBank, none of them was him.
So I tried my brother-in-law Hiroshi, who happens to be a very well-known luthier specializing in a unique viola design. I know for a fact that he’s been featured in some newspaper articles.
Nope. Then I tried my paternal grandfather, Moishe Stern, who emigrated to the U.S. sometime around 1900 and died in 1961.
The one person I was able to find was my late father-in-law, who was a prominent professor of educational psychology at Temple University.
Yes! Finally a hit. Just one newspaper article, though — and I know he’s been featured in a lot more than one.
Basically, my experience was so disappointing that I decided to cancel my subscription. More on that later.
But I’d also like to take a moment to compare GenealogyBank to MyHeritage and Ancestry.com, which a) do have family tree builders, and b) also let you find historical documents about your family members.
I’ve tried both of them, and I found lots and lots of documents. For example, on Ancestry.com I found a record of my maternal grandmother’s passage on the ship that brought her to the United States.
I also found a record of her 1966 U.S. social security claim.
So it’s not as if there aren’t any U.S. documents about my grandmother. GenealogyBank just doesn’t happen to have them.
GenealogyBank has more than 2 billion genealogy records, all from the United States.
MyHeritage has more than 9 billion records, 3 billion of them from the U.S.
Ancestry.com has more than 6 billion records from the U.S., and 24 billion records overall. So it stands to reason that MyHeritage and Ancestry.com would have quite a few documents you couldn’t find on GenealogyBank. It’s math, people.
Fairly Affordable Compared to Other Options…But Also Doesn’t Offer As Much
After a 7-day free trial of GenealogyBank — which you still have to provide a credit card number for, because you’ll be charged after that week is over — the service costs $19.95 a month, or $99.00 a year (currently on sale for $79.00, i.e. $6.65 per month). That’s not too bad.
Let’s compare it to MyHeritage and Ancestry.com subscriptions, because these companies can also lead you to lots of historical documents and newspaper articles about your ancestors. MyHeritage starts at $129 a year, and Ancestry.com starts at $198. So GenealogyBank is definitely quite a bit less costly.
On the other hand, MyHeritage and Ancestry.com have much larger records databases (see above). MyHeritage and Ancestry.com have located records for my family members that GenealogyBank doesn’t have.
And both of these companies have an online family tree builder, which GenealogyBank doesn’t have. So, when choosing between these three vendors, you should weigh how much it costs against how much you’re getting for your money, then decide.
GenealogyBank accepts all major credit cards.
Helpful and Friendly Customer Service
As I was poking around on GenealogyBank, looking for (and not finding) one relative after another, a chat box opened and said,
The customer service representative responded,
The rep said she was sorry, and wished me a good rest of the day.
I went ahead and canceled my subscription. GenealogyBank tried to talk me out of this, of course.
But I persevered. GenealogyBank asked me why I was canceling, and this was my (required) reply.
Once my cancellation was complete, I got this confirmation email immediately:
And then, a little while later, I got a phone call from a salesperson at GenealogyBank, who offered to help me find some more information about my family in order to persuade me to resubscribe!
I gave him some of the people I hadn’t been able to find. He couldn’t find them either. One possible factor, he explained, was that GenealogyBank’s historical records mostly only go through about 1977(!), a fact never mentioned on the company’s website.
Even so, my grandmother filed a social security claim in 1966. Why doesn’t GenealogyBank have that document?
In short, I was impressed with GenealogyBank’s customer service; I’ve seen a lot worse from other vendors. But while the customer is very good, the product just isn’t (or it wasn’t helpful for me, anyway).
I would note, though, that figuring out how to cancel my membership was easy, and the cancellation took effect immediately, which isn’t always the case with some other companies.
Not Helpful for Me, Could Be Helpful for You…Try It and See
As I’ve explained, GenealogyBank didn’t fulfill its promise of helping me find loads of historical records about my family.
It’s a shame, because I would have liked to discover something documenting my mom’s naturalization as a U.S. citizen and her obituary, or news articles about my father’s founding of the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis, or a story about my brother-in-law’s viola making.
But I wasn’t able to find almost anyone I searched for.
Will GenealogyBank have the people you’re looking for? It might. You could have much better luck than I did.
If I were you, and I was curious, I’d sign up for a free trial and see what I could find. If you don’t like your results, you can always cancel.