Thursday, January 6, 2011

From the In-box: Question About Online Genealogy Databases

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

A newsletter reader asked a question today. It strikes me that perhaps others have the same question so I decided to answer it here where everyone can see the answer.

Here is the question I received:

"I am new to the genealogy game and am considering subscribing to a genealogy search service such as,,, etc. Do all these services feed off the same databases? Is subscribing to one enough? Are there services that are complementary? To be more specific, if I were to subscribe to would there be much benefit to subscribing to also?"

Thanks for any advice you can provide.

Great question! I suspect the answer is not obvious to anyone who is new to genealogy.

In fact, all of these databases are different and the companies are quite competitive. They do not share databases.

In some cases, two or more companies may appear to have the same data but, even then, the indexes are different. For instance, the 1860 U.S. census is available on, HeritageQuest Online, and on However, those three were indexed by three different organizations, using different people, and they indexed slightly different fields. For instance, all three have indexes of the names of the individuals and their ages, but one may have indexed the column about value of properly owned or perhaps the column of "can read and write." Another company's database might not have that particular column indexed but may have indexed the column on "race." Likewise, two of those databases can be searched by Soundex while the third cannot.

In short, each database is different from any databases of its competitors.

Note #1: was recently acquired by so they are now owned by the same company. See for details. Even so, the site is still run as a completely separate entity and does not (yet) share any information with its owners. If you sign up for both services, you can access completely different databases.

Note #2: has entered into cooperative arrangements with several other database providers. You can now find indexes on that point to images on another service. I guess that is duplication but the overlap is minimal.