No Fee, No Tree?
FamilySearch is a non-profit organization run by a team of volunteers, and it’s been around for over 100 years. With a database of over 2,000 entries, its aim is to make it easy for you to find your family’s records and learn more about your heritage. Perhaps most interestingly, though, it’s completely free.
Can a free service actually help you build a bridge to your past? Can you locate your family’s records accurately? Is the tree builder easy to use? Or does no cost mean you’ll be left with unanswered questions?
I’ve answered all those questions for you (and more) in this detailed review. Find out exactly what to expect from FamilySearch so you can decide if it’s the tool for you. And, importantly, whether its free platform actually delivers what you need.
Easy Tool, Complex Results
Despite FamilySearch’s family tree builder being completely free, you still get a lot of functionality. From your online dashboard, you can access plenty of video tutorials to walk you through the process if you’re unsure where to start. I found it easy, though.
You can begin by entering your own information, including all the essential info you’d expect like your name, date of birth, and location. Then simply add your parents’ info, grandparents’, and anyone else you know from your family tree.
The dashboard is very easy to navigate, and you can switch between landscape, portrait, or even fan view. It’s not the nicest to look at compared to other family tree builders I’ve used, though. But you can add images for every person you create to make it more appealing.
When you add a person, FamilySearch quickly scans the database to find a match. If there isn’t one, you can just create the person yourself and link them to your family tree. I didn’t find any matches.
As you search for records, you can link these to the people on your family tree – anyone else searching for these records can view the person you have linked.
Just open up the record and hit the ‘Review and Attach’ button to link a document to an ancestor on your family tree. You also need to provide a reason to attach the source, which helps to validate accuracy.
If the record is there to view, an image will be available. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually view any of the records I found. Apparently, if a person has been living within the last 110 years, FamilySearch’s policy is that you usually won’t be able to view the record, even if it exists. You could get it from another site, though.
The search tool has plenty of fields to help you locate the right records. You can search with names, birth and death dates, location, relationship, and more. I found the more specific the information you enter, though, the harder it is to find records.
It took me ages to locate my parents’ marriage certificate, but it was the first result using the same search fields on Ancestry. Once I generalized my searches, I got better results, though. Try to stick to names and regions, rather than specific locations and birth dates.
Unfortunately, you can’t upload any existing DNA to help you with your family tree. You could send your family tree from FamilySearch to Ancestry, but not the other way around. You’ll need to enter everything manually, even if you have spent ages building a tree on another site. So I’d recommend you start with MyHeritage or Ancestry instead of Family Tree from FamilySearch.
5 Standout Features of FamilySearch
Connect with Family Members
FamilySearch makes it easy to find others who might be researching the same ancestors as you. And that means they might also be related to you.
When you create a person on your family tree, you can use the collaboration tab or start a discussion to leave notes for other descendants. Everyone can contribute to your discussion and it’s a great way to find long-lost relatives you may know nothing about.
Anyone that contributes a piece of information to a person’s card is automatically tagged. You can use the ‘Detail View’ tab to find that person’s screen name and contact details. Drop them a message and get tracing your bloodline!
Capture and Share Memories
With FamilySearch, you have the ability to create memories, whether that’s a photo, letter, audio recording, or video. You can upload anything you have to your personal memory bank on your dashboard.
Tagging ancestors in memories links it to their profile, so you can revisit them and allow anyone else researching that ancestor to view it, too. You can also save memories to your favorites so they’re always easily accessible, and share them across your social media channels.
Keep on Top of Your Family Tree Tasks
Your FamilySearch account comes with an online task manager which makes it easy for you to build your tree.
From your dashboard, you can view all of your tasks so you can see what’s next on your list. You get reminders on who to add to your family tree, such as your grandmother or father, as well as important dates or information, such as birth dates and location, to increase the chance of finding more ancestors. And there are reminders to add or review relevant records, too.
You can even set your own to-do list and add tasks of your own to keep on top of your family tree easily.
FamilySearch has one of the largest historical databases, ever. It can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know how to search or where to start, but it also means the possibility of finding what you’re after is high.
There are over 2,000 historical records and 1.2 billion ancestors recorded on FamilySearch. You can also search for books, genealogies, family trees, and over 4 million images. Once you’ve located your item, you can easily link it to people on your family tree, so it appears on their profile.
You can even navigate to Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and other search tools to add to your family tree. It takes what you’ve already searched for and scans one of the other databases for you to locate records.
Build Your Tree On-the-go
FamilySearch lets you build your tree from your smartphone, since it has a mobile app, too. It’s incredibly easy to use, and I actually think it’s much more appealing than the desktop version.
You can even use the app to make a recording or take photos wherever you are and upload them to your memories bank or someone’s profile right away. Interview your family members from your cell phone and capture moments when you get the chance.
Joining the Ancestry Dots
One thing FamilySearch is good at is helping you grow your tree. From your online dashboard, you’re given tasks to encourage you to add missing information and ancestors. It notified me to add my grandmother on my father’s side, plus add my grandfather’s birth date.
Your family tree shows record and research hints to help you build your ancestors’ profiles. For example, it told me that I was missing a vital event for my grandfather (birth date) and hadn’t added any sources yet.
It also scans for any records that might be linked to the people in your family tree and notifies you to review the record.
The more records you find and link to your ancestors, the more likely you are to find more descendants and connect with long-lost family members. If another person accesses the same source as you, they can see who you’ve linked it to.
You can also collaborate with other people’s family trees. When you search for a person, you can add matches if they are available – this means they are already named on someone else’s tree. You can then both add comments and information to their profile to help with your research or get in touch with your relatives.
If you follow a person on FamilySearch, it notifies you when any new sources or information are added to their profile. This is a great feature for allowing you to keep up-to-date.
FamilySearch notifies you if it finds possible ancestors, but after speaking with the support team, it appears this is only “from time to time”. I prefer MyHeritage’s tool for that, which regularly searches for potential relatives and sends you a notification right away.
You can click on people’s cards after a manual search and view their family members, then add them to your own family tree that way. It’d be nice if FamilySearch did some of the hard work though, wouldn’t it?
All information is public (for any deceased ancestors), so anyone can edit a profile. If you’ve spent time uploading information, images, and records, anyone can delete these or change them. That could be annoying if you’ve spent hours typing up information.
FamilySearch is completely free. And that comes with no catch – believe me, I’ve checked. There are no hidden surprises, no monthly subscription costs, and no payments for viewing records. But there’s one thing that makes it stand out as a free service.
Some free tools allow you to buy a DNA kit so you can upload raw data to build your tree, but this isn’t an option with FamilySearch.
There’s no DNA kit and it won’t let you upload any DNA from other platforms, either. This means you have to do everything manually, including adding all important information like records, birth dates, death dates, resident location, and more.
DNA kits usually remove a lot of the guesswork for you and make it much easier to build a substantial family tree. But if you’re like me and don’t know much about your bloodline beyond your grandparents, it can be difficult to know where to start. So your FamilySearch tree will take you much longer to create.
Plenty of Choice, No Real Answers
FamilySearch has various different support channels. You can reach them via online form, live chat, or by calling the customer service helpline.
I tested the live chat with a few different questions and I was less than impressed with the support I received. First of all, I had to wait nearly 10 minutes to be connected to an agent, which isn’t quite the live chat service promised.
The answers I received to my questions left me none the wiser. They weren’t able to advise how many historical records there are, or how often they’re updated. In fact, they questioned why I was even asking.
I decided to test out the online form service to see what level of support I received there instead. But the online form didn’t work. I couldn’t even press send on my message, so there was no chance of a reply.
There are plenty of FAQs available in the help center, separated into different categories, including family tree, memories, indexing, and more. If you need support, this might be your only option. Or you could try calling. As for the live chat and online form, I’d give them a miss.
Good For Getting Started
One of the best things about FamilySearch is the fact that it works as one giant, collaborative family tree. Add and edit people you find, and work with others to build your ancestors’ history. And for a free service, it has a lot to offer.
You get access to thousands of records, an easy-to-use family tree builder, and an online task manager full of tips and tricks to help you trace your past. But there are a few areas where you’re limited.
You can’t upload any DNA to help you find ancestors, which means you have to have patience to do everything manually. The search function can be hit and miss, and it’s frustrating that you can’t import a tree from another platform.
Overall, though, it’s a good family tree to get you started and you can learn a lot about your history at no cost.