GenealogyBank.com Review

Executive summary

GenealogyBank is a U.S.-focused genealogy website offering more than 325 years of searchable newspapers, 94 million death records and a collection of rare historical records and books.

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GenealogyBank.com Highlights

  • More than 2 billion searchable records
  • News articles covering three centuries
  • Easy-to-use search and save tools

Pros

  • Broad collection of more than 7,000 newspapers
  • More than 250 African American newspapers
  • Maps, military records, almanacs and more
  • Clean design with easy navigation
  • Ability to save searches and documents

Cons

  • Not broad enough to be a primary genealogy tool
  • Monthly cost is high vs. annual pricing
  • Some rare-book records contain just single pages
  • Recent obituaries are transcribed (not available on original newspaper pages)

Resources/Database Quality and Quantity

GenealogyBank offers one of the better historical newspaper collections on the internet. More than 7,000 U.S. newspaper titles cover the time period from 1690 to 2010. Most of these newspaper titles are exclusive to this site. Six million records are added each month. While this is an impressive collection, it comes with some drawbacks. Unlike other news archive sites, GenealogyBank does not allow users to simply browse newspapers by location or date. You must start with a name and search. So if you want to, for instance, look at how newspapers covered Christmas in 1930, there is no direct way to click through the collection without searching for a specific individual. This limits the usefulness of the database. That being said, it is still a very good resource for finding news and feature articles on ancestors. GenealogyBank added more than 270 African American newspaper titles from 1827 to 1999, bringing a nice multicultural aspect to their offerings. The recent obituaries collection, with more than 235 million obituaries (54 million from 1977 to current day), is impressive. However, it offers only transcripts of the obituaries (they can’t be viewed on the original newspaper pages). This is not ideal for researchers who want a broader perspective on the news the day their relative’s obituary appeared.

A very useful tool on the site is a search engine for the U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI), containing more than 94 million death records from 1937 to 2014. At one time, the database included deaths in the current year, but a change in the law now delays release of death listings. The SSDI, maintained by the Social Security Administration, includes basic vital statistics along with a last known address. Unfortunately, the names are not listed using any standard, such as full legal name, so it is often necessary to search without middle initials or using informal first names (“Bill” vs. “William”). GenealogyBank also offers more than 375,000 rare historical records such as vintage congressional papers, and 14,250 rare historic books. Some of the books, however, include just a single page.

Search Results

The GenealogyBank search pages allow for basic and advanced searches, as well as the use of wildcards to broaden searches to similar spellings. Each collection on the site can has its own dedicated search page, although you can quickly search all collections for an individual name or a family name. We ran a search for Harry S Truman, the 33rd president of the United States. GenealogyBank returned nearly 195,000 newspaper matches and more than 3,600 historical documents, but no historical book matches. A search on President Richard Nixon brought 447,000 news results, while a President John F. Kennedy search yielded 641,000 potential matches. Since presidents are so well known, we also ran a search using the name of a personal relative. That search, surprisingly, turned up just one potential match, and it was incorrect. This most likely means the GenealogyBank collection does not cover the part of the country during the time period the relative lived. We were, however, quickly able to locate obituaries and news clippings for other relatives.

Interface & Navigation (Ease of Use)

One of GenealogyBank’s biggest strengths is its pleasing design and ease of navigation. There are no problems finding resources and help within a click or two. The home page has a large search box front and center, inviting prospects to try it out. The various features of the site are spelled out in clean subsections of the home page. Once you run a search, the system brings up a summary page of potential matches in various categories. Newspaper archive matches are accessed via an interactive document viewer that allows you to change magnification, select articles from the newspaper pages, save the page to a folder or download it as a PDF. You can also view other pages from that same day’s newspaper by accessing them from a panel in the document viewer. The “My Folder” feature, accessed from a link at the top of the site, gives quick access to saved documents and saved searches.

Features and Extras

GenealogyBank has the features you would expect of a site with such a depth of newspaper resources. Basic and advanced search options allow you to conduct high-level searches, or drill down by adding keywords and dates. Further refinements of search results can be achieved by clicking on a map of the United States on the results pages to limit the geographic scope. When you come across a news page you want to save, click the “save to My Folder” button at the top of the image viewer. You can save the entire search, too. If your search returns a large amount of possible matches, you can use the “Save My Place” link at the bottom of each results page, saving valuable time later. A key feature of the site is the ability to save full newspaper pages as PDFs to your computer. You can also print sections of a news page simply by dragging a boundary box on the print page to include the areas you need or save them as PDFs. These same features apply to other types of documents on the site, such as rare books or historical documents.

GenealogyBank has a free learning center with webinars and video tutorials on subjects such as obituary search tips, newspapers for genealogists. Its GenealogyBank Blog has interesting posts on a variety of topics. A monthly newsletter has feature articles and news on the latest additions to the site. The Learning Center has a free e-book, Getting Started: Easy Steps for Climbing Your Family Tree, written by GenealogyBank’s resident expert, Tom Kemp. The site has a few quirks, including some dead or misdirected links in the GenealogyBank “In the News” section. The most recent article “In the News” was from 2011, a fact that risks visitors mistakenly thinking the site is not active. Thankfully, the GenealogyBank blog and newsletter have more current information.

Pricing

1 month subscription – $19.95 USD

Annual subscription - $69.95

Cost and Subscription Options

There are several cost options for accessing the GenealogyBank collection: monthly, annual and trial. The monthly cost is a bit surprising at $19.95, similar to subscription costs at much more expansive genealogy sites. This is no doubt to encourage users to take the plunge for the reasonable $69.95 annual subscription. You can also pay $9.95 for a 30-day trial, although you must select an annual or monthly membership at the time you pay for the trial. GenealogyBank offers at 30-day satisfaction guarantee. Cancellations must be done by phone.

Conclusion

There are many pay-to-play web sites competing for genealogists’ time and money. GenealogyBank is definitely one arrow worth having in the family historian’s quiver. It is a research site, largely focused on newspapers and obituaries. Given its large title collection, most of which is exclusive, GenealogyBank.com should earn serious consideration from anyone doing family history research focused on the United States.

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