Posted by Crista Cowan on October 21, 2011 in Collections

Did you notice what happened this week here at We released over 50 databases containing indexes to millions of vital records from all over the United States. Some of these records date all the way back the 1600s and the most recent of them are from last year. (You can find the complete list by viewing our recently added or updated collections list. Most of these databases were released on 17 Oct.)

I love discovering my ancestors and tracking down their descendants. I climb up a branch of my family tree to a set of 3rd or 4th great-grandparents and then back down again finding all of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, right down to those living cousins. I enjoy chasing families through census records, seeing where they pop up and what their family looks like decade after decade.

But, birth, marriage and death records provide more concrete boundaries to the lives my ancestors and their families lived. These records provide anchor events that I can use to build complete family histories as I chase my relatives up the family tree and out the branches. If census records are the cornerstone of good genealogy research, then vital records are the capstone.

With that said, you can probably imagine what a week like this, with so many new vital records resources being made available all at once, does to my attention span. It’s been all I could do to avoid the BMD search page during work hours this week. I’ve been good and gone to bed at a decent hour every night with barely a peek at two or three or seven of these databases. But, the weekend is FINALLY here!  Hours and hours of uninterrupted searching are within sight.

I want to track my maternal grandmother’s family through Arkansas and Missouri then back into Tennessee.

I want to find my paternal grandfather’s relatives in Ohio and West Virginia.

I want to see if I can find my 4th great-grandparents marriage record. Will it be in Pennsylvania? Maybe Virginia?

Oh, and, what about those “lost” cousins I’ve been looking for? Did they end up in Michigan or Minnesota?


Here’s the plan. I’ve printed a copy of the page that lists all of the new databases. I’m just going to start at the top and work my way down, checking them off as I go. For each database I’ll do a filtered search in my Family Tree Maker file to see which families were living in that state during the time period listed. Then I’ll search that database to see if I can get dates for the vital events in their lives. I’ll also be sure to search birth records by parents’ names only to make sure all the children in a family are accounted for. Oh, and I’ll search marriage records by the name of each spouse individually to make sure there aren’t other marriages recorded. And then I’ll need to…

There just aren’t enough hours in the weekend, I’m afraid. But, I guess there are worse problems than having too many records and too little time. It just means I may have to cut my date short tonight so I can get started a little sooner. (Hey – I said, cut it short, not cancel. I can control my genealogy addiction obsession habit passion. Whatever.)

So, talk to me.  What’s your plan for checking out these databases? Who are you looking for AND where do you think you will find them?

Until next time – Have fun climbing around in your family tree, no matter which direction you decide to go!

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Twitter


  1. Valerie C

    This blog post got me all excited for new records… until I looked at the list. Most of these records have been available over at for quite a while or they’re websites that many researchers will have already searched. So… What’s new?

  2. Tony Knight

    I have to agree with Valerie. In fact what is offered in some instances is not as good as at FamilySearch where you might get the original image as well. The West Virginia marriages are an example.

  3. Tony Knight


    Not explicitly, but Crista implies that suddenly there are whole new tasks to carry out because of the addition of these records. If you regard Ancestry as only part of the wealth of information available, then you can understand Valerie’s reaction.

    If we are going to be served up existing databases perhaps some that currently lurk behind pay walls would be worthwhile. I have particularly in mind California death and marriage records outside the current spans at Ancestry.

  4. Jade

    In addition to the indexes copied from (free access), some of the databases are indexes copied from the (free) PA State Archives. This was an extremely low-cost addition by

  5. Betty Dahlstedt

    I have to agree with Jade and the others about these databases. The big advantage is just that they are all in one place. Unless I have a list I forget where they are.

  6. Wilma Doyle

    Funny you should give Jim Beam as example…I’m from Ky., and in fact,Bourbon Co.. Recently made two trips “back home” for research; nothing beats court houses, cemeteries, etc. and foot soldier. That said, I have relied on your service for so much….but don’t “HIGH FIVE” until you really have something outstanding that no one else provides. I’m no techie, in fact 71 yrs old, but have learned my way around and, baby, you’re not there yet! Get busy getting your system streamlined so we have something efficient and easy & smart to use. Since I have been with you folks for awhile, I spend all my time now trying to cleanse out repetitions and mistakes that I had no control over. And there are times I would like to take that “shaking green leaf” and put it…..!

  7. [Quote]
    This was an extremely low-cost addition by
    [End Quote]

    Low cost database acquisitions are, as Martha would say, a *very* good thing!

    It means they don’t have to go up on subscription rates as quickly.


  8. Annalea

    Subscription rates go up???? Subscription rate should be drop about 70%. Then subscribers would increase DRASTICALLY. There are a lot of younger types (myself included) who do some genealogy/fam history work, but simply can’t afford the time to make it a big enough chunk of our lives to merit $120/year. As a mom with a sizable family and other obligations, I can see spending $40 or so/year to be able to spend some time on Ancestry . . . but that’s it.

    Ancestry has priced themselves out of a huge chunk of their potential market, aiming only for serious hobbyists who spend enough time to merit dropping such a big chunk of change on a service that has free competitors (have you checked out

  9. Don

    Ancestry is doing a fantastic job of gathering free resources that everyone already knows about. What’s next a Google database?

  10. Ann

    To Annalea – you have a point, but your message is more than a bit out of date, since have not been available for several months, as all have been rolled into the main

    Yes, has good info, mostly free, but the recent changes to their search process will drive us around the bend nearly as quickly as

  11. Annalea Re: #10

    A drastic increase in subscribers by decreasing subscription rates is self-defeating as it would incur additional expense to buy the servers and improve the infrastructure to service all those new subscribers. The present subscribers know that the system is already straining to keep up.

    You idea *might* work if Ancestry became a subscription only site, getting rid of the non-paying members would certainly lessen the load on the servers – as well as rid us of the namegathering treebies Ancestry is afflicted with.

  12. Jo

    I agree with most sentiments expressed here.

    Annalea, I agree. I’ve been a paying subscriber for 6 years but have not renewed my yearly subscription this year. The collection of FamilySearch websites (which still have some things more easily found on for which I prefer the organization of) is getting better all the time. I am an indexer there but I would never index for

    Andy, I hope no one at is paying attention to your stupid idea of making it a subscription only site. It’s bad enough their “public” trees aren’t “public” anymore and, being a paying member all these years, I didn’t like it but hadn’t realized what a bad move that actually was as far as PR. It reminds me of changes to the message system making it for paying customers only.

    I will be moving my trees to Rootsweb and leaving only a skeletal tree on Ancestry for people to find and contact me. If it ever becomes a subscription-only site I will remove everything.

    If I need to see some records only has, I will only subscribe for the shortest amount of time necessary to retrieve those records. My new attitude is a direct result of their changes over the last 6 years and I really, really doubt they will inspire the kind of loyalty they used to have from their many long time members.

  13. Jo Re:# 14

    I didn’t like it but hadn’t realized what a bad move that actually was as far as PR.
    [End Quote]

    Considering that Ancestry has almost doubled the subscriber base (914,000 at end of 2008 to approx 1,700,000+ projected at end of 2011) I really can’t see where it was a bad PR move at all.

  14. While it’s convenient to have these databases all linked to Ancestry, most of them do seem to be just external links to databases that are already online.

    For example, my maternal line is mostly from Wabash and Kosciusko counties of Indiana. So I was initially excited to see the database listed above as “Wabash Valley, Indiana, Obituaries 1910-2000”. Unfortunately, when you actually do a search in that database, you find that every match just links to a search page at the Vigo Co Indiana Library site, where you have to reenter your search expression, because it doesn’t even populate the library’s form with your names.

    And the results are just an index with the name and age of the deceased and the date and newspaper that the obit was printed in. The actual obituaries are not online, and to order one you need to send $5 to the library. Since I have literally thousands of maternal relatives in the Wabash Valley, I’m not going to be sending in thousands of $5 fees to request all those obits. The near relatives I already have obits for, and there’s no good basis for prioritizing which of the distant relatives is more important to order an obit for than another.

    So while it’s certainly better than not adding any new databases, it’s not nearly as impressive as the list first appears.

    BY FAR the biggest gap in online genealogy are deeds, wills and estate records, which are often the best resources for tracing families before 1850. One still needs to resort to microfilms for most of that entire category. I’d really like to see more effort put into expanding the offerings in that area, with an every name index (not just the name of the deceased or the grantor/grantee.)

  15. Ann

    The Oconee County Georgia probate databases for birth, marriage and death records – images, not transcriptions – are not available elsewhere.

    It has been a joy to find those and unearth substantial family information.

  16. Heather Tilton Benoit

    Being that NH has very little to no information on websites and that the majority of my family is from NH and I live in NJ and when I visit my NH family they aren’t always so happy that I spend time in the libraries, cemetaries, etc. …. I can’t tell you how much these BMD files have helped me. In the last 24 hours I have broken down atleast 2 small brick walls and have added so many names to my family tree, well, I can’t explain how incredible this is for me!!! I didn’t get to read the blog first I just was cleaning up the tree and working on some female family members and I knew something was up because these BMD files have never popped up before!!! The laundry, dishes and housekeeping in general is going to have to wait for awhile……

  17. Gene Davis

    It’s a disappointment that Ancestry elected to discontinue the “Search for Famous Relatives” feature of the website. Granted it was often a real stretch from a known ancestor back to Henry VIII or Shakespeare, but it was fun playing with. How about it, Ancestry? Will we see the famous relatives search again?

  18. Gene Re: #19

    With the possible exceptions of Ancestry’s OneWorldTree and FamilySearch’s IGI, the “Search for Famous Relatives, was the biggest piece of junkology ever inflicted on the net and the fact that it is gone is cause for great rejoicing among serious genealogical researchers – would that Ancestry would also do the same with OneWorldTree.

  19. rosejp2

    Thank you so much for the Summit County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1840-1980 collection. It’s already helped a great deal in clearing up missing maiden names, which is always a reason to celebrate!

  20. Steve Mondros

    Unfortunately, many of the new sites are not complete (Not Ancestry’s fault-and they mention that). The NJ Death Index has less than 1500 records for 1971. Unfortunately, PA doesn’t want to release a death index for privacy reasons. A lot of families are searching for lost loved ones and they don’t know that the loved ones have died, maybe in a different state. So, the more recent death records available, the better.

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