The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Being an Ancestry user of four years or so, I've had plenty of time to get used to the site layout (although this has lately been modified - more on that later) and build up an impression of the service they offer.
To begin with, the £84 a year subscription is pretty good value for money - it would easily cost me £7 a day to get to my nearest records office using public transport and get dinner, and that's assuming I only visited once a month. There is a pay-per-view type of option on Ancestry - great if you want to look up just one family on the census records but too expensive to do all your research that way.
For this you get access to BMDs and census records, military records, some parish records (although obviously not all - to compile every parish record from every place in Britain would be next to impossible), university records for some establishments, World War One pensions and some incoming/outgoing passenger lists from various liners all in one place. In most cases (the Scottish census records being one exception - Ancestry advises users that they are trying to come to a deal with Scotland's People) the accompanying image of the village or town schedule for that area is available to view as an image. Occasionally these are mismatched - a family might be attached to the following page of the schedule rather than the one they are on - but given the number of records available, a few mistakes are understandable and you can suggest corrections to this effect.
It is also quite easy to narrow down your search so that if you only need to search the 1871 census, for instance, you can go straight to it. If you find a relative with a name that has been transcribed
incorrectly on the census, you do have the option to submit a correction detailing what you think the name should be and how you know it. One of my ancestors with the surname "Hearsnop" had been misinterpreted as "Hearsnoss" because the letter "p" looked like the old style of the letter "s" where it was elongated. This will then be added as a note onto the original record so that other users can see that there are alternative interpretations. Especially with an unusual name - like the Siggs branch in my ancestry who have a name that is so rare now that the transcribers just aren't familiar with it and have to guess at the word (consequently, I now have a list of possible alternatives just for this family) - this can help future users to find seemingly "missing" records.
Users can also build a family tree and have the option to make it private, so that other users can view a name in your tree if they do a search that generates one of your ancestors as a result and they want to view it, they have to request access from you to find out more.
Regrettably in such an essentially useful site, there are some definite drawbacks. I have tried to get used to the recent reorganisation of the site, but I simply can't get to grips with it. What should be an improvement has actually made the site less user-friendly. Although it appears to be simpler to search for, say, Mary Taylor b. 1823 in Ormskirk, Lancashire, if the name "Mary" has been misspelt on the original record as "Marey" or "Ormskirk" has been similarly misspelt as "Ormskierk" or "Armskirk", the new search engine won't pick up on "soundex" type matches (ie. similar sounding names with slight spelling variations). This means that - if you are looking for a family called Branston who have been spelt "Branstone", "Braunston" and "Brownston" on some records, you have to do a different search for each variation, which I personally find frustrating and time-consuming when I have run out of alternative spelling variations. This situation applies to both census records and births, marriages and deaths.
Although it is easier to search specific census records, the new organisation reminds me of putting your search into boxes. If, for instance, you look up Thomas Jones in Wales in 1871, and you see on the record that he and his wife Mary have children under ten so were probably married after the 1861 census, that her mother Hannah Smith is staying, and that Hannah and Mary were born in Devon, to get to the 1861 England census it is probably quickest to go back to the home page and start another search, because you have to go backwards again and again to remove each refinement of the original search. To find a marriage for that same couple, you once again have to go back to the start and search again.
The auto-fill list that comes up when you start typing in names or places - it's a bit like predictive texting, helpful if it's spelling the name you want, irritating if you want to type in the words yourself. I would like the option to switch that off quite a lot of the time. If, like me, you are the sort of person who doesn't like roll-over internet adverts where you suddenly find that a whole new page has opened just because your mouse arrow happened to cross over an advert on your way to check your e-mails, the pop-up mini-household lists that appear when you do the same thing with a census description on Ancestry might start to get on your nerves. (Although they do have the advantage of showing you who's listed in the house before you view the image.)
One other issue is that some of the transcriptions leave a lot to be desired. Obviously you can't expect people in non-British speaking countries (which I understand is where the company outsources their transcribing work to) to know where British places are in relation to each other, but I finally managed to find an ancestor born in Beaumaris, Anglesey whose birthplace had been written out as "Beaumaurice" on the image of the document, which the Ancestry transcriber had then interpreted to read "Beanmaince". I know that the principle of transcribing is to interpret what you see and not what you think you can see but I think there seems to be a problem with the transcribers' familiarity with British place names.
A small disadvantage that I fortunately don't have to deal with is that different records are available with different packages. For instance, on the UK Membership (which I think I've got) you can have all the British records available but if you have one or two ancestors who happened to migrate to Canada or the United States, you will probably need a different (and more expensive) package - World Membership, I think it's called - just to get hold of those few records.
Overall, I cannot fault Ancestry's content and it is great value for money, but I feel the way the site is currently organised does let the owners down by making those important records that bit more difficult to get to.