Sunday, May 20, 2012

GenealogyBank: What are your thoughts, DearREADERS?

Could you please take five minutes today to share your thoughts about GenealogyBank with me? Tuesday morning will find Ol' Myrt here in a meeting with nine GenealogyBank / NewsBank employees, judging by their email addresses. They want to query me about my use of Genealogy Bank.

As an avid genealogist, with some experience and formal training under my belt, I find historical newspaper research immensely useful. Once I have located a person in a specific place using federal and state census records, it's logical to turn to local newspapers (and city directories, not part of GenealogyBank) to find out more about them during the in-between years. It's not just about obituaries or the comments in the social pages. It's about headline news, small-town and regional political commentary, the houses for sale or rent, and advertisements for every day things like clothing and furniture.

Reading old newspapers from an ancestor's time period help me bust out of my 21st century mindset.

Thankfully, GenealogyBank provides many historical newspapers from 1690-2007. I rarely look at GenealogyBanks's historical books and documents from as early as our early days as a new nation, quite simply because I am only now pushing back to my Rev War ancestors in earnest.

The technical problems I have with using the GenealogyBank website are small potatoes compared to the wealth of information I've found about my family. I cried as I discovered information about my maternal great-grandmother, reported in Finding the date of last Thursday and six other challenges last summer. Who knew I had a Forrest Gump ancestor in the making until GenealogyBank's search algorithum pointed me to an article about Lowell Froman in a completely different state than I had anticipated? See: Where's the Shrimp?

Here are my suggestions for GenealogyBank:
  • Pages are in .pdf format, so unless a user is savvy enough to use a screen capture program like Snagit, what ends up in his genealogy software or online member tree are a lot of "not so easy to view at a glance" .pdf files.
  • Citations - genealogists would prefer better formatting.
  • Sorting the book list by keywords would be helpful. It's hard for me to evaluate the GenealogyBank collection with the lengthy old-fashioned titles. 
  • Limiting searches by clicking on a title in the book list, and permitting searches only in that collection would prove useful. The same is true on the documents list. I have a reference for a specific Senate session, and would like to review that page by page. I can only get there by a name mentioned at this point.
  • Update search so that "Lowel" also finds "Lowell" as this is a normal search technique genealogists employ. The existing default search algorithm requires an exact match, too specific in this case.
Now, I am SURE my DearREADERS have their favorite and not so favorite reactions to using this website. Could you please take five minutes today to share your thoughts about GenealogyBank  with me? I will be careful to distinguish my reactions to the site from yours in my conversation tomorrow.

Thanks. It's good to hear GenealogyBank is reaching out to consumers.

Even if GenealogyBank doesn't change, the site provides a valuable service to family historians from my point of view, and has provided an excellent return on my membership investment.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont 


  1. I don't use Genealogy Bank as they do not have any of the newspapers I need yet. I do use NewspaperArchives and they have the PDF viewer that makes saving a page a breeze! If I were you I would definitely have them add "PDF" as a #1 priority. Good luck!!

    1. Thanks, Denise. I don't use NewspaperArchives. I should look into that .pdf viewer. -- Myrt :)

  2. Hi,
    I have been a member for almost a year and will not renew. I have searched several times and have found nothing to help me. They have a lot of resources but not for smaller areas and not for Western PA.


  3. I find GenealogyBank's obituary archive the most useful. However, I have one issue with them:

    I'd like for them to make it clear that their collections are incomplete. When they claim to have obituaries for a certain newspaper from 1988 to present, the beginning researcher is likely to assume if they don't find the person they are looking for in the database, their obituary didn't appear in that newspaper. Unfortunately, it's obvious the NewsBank collections aren't complete when you can search for all obituaries from a particular date and newspaper, and there are sometimes less than 10 from a major metropolitan newspaper.

    It's important to make clear that I am not complaining about the incompleteness - I am grateful for whatever records are there - I am only asking for clarity in the database description.


    Ironically? I have heard others complain about the obituary records in that they are 'text only'. That is -- some researchers would prefer to see the obituaries, and perhaps other newspaper articles - formatted as they actually appeared.

    This doesn't require PDF, as it can be accomplished with JPG or TIF image files. But I think PDF is used with the newspaper article for portability - that is, it is viewed the same way on every computer.

  4. I would like to know the process for adding newspapers - making the suggestion is difficult and you do not hear back.
    It took me awhile to figure out the search process (and I am pretty comfortable playing around online) and the capture process is not especially intuitive.
    That said, I broke down a major brick wall due to obits and then checking newspaper articles to flesh out extended family members.
    I will give it some more thought.

  5. Christine writes:
    Thanks Myrt - would love to be able to view more than five hits at a time...

  6. I did not renew my subscription. I find their search facility cumbersome. My ancestors have been in this country since the 1600's, but moved from New England fairly early, so their coverage is not adequate for my geography.

  7. Not being able to search within a particular book or newspaper is a big negative, as you pointed out, especially when you are working with a surname that is also a common word (e.g. lemon, brown). I simply gave up trying to look in the historical books or documents. I haven't been on in several months, but I also noticed that newspaper hits in different categories did not always equal the total number of hits. This made me wonder, what are the rest of them? I don't have the time to go through 50 pages of results to look at everything.

  8. Dear MYTLE,

    True Story: My small Genealogy Group had a meeting and the topic was on GenealogyBank and NewsBank. The group meets at a Library. The Research Director, at the time, was giving the presentation.

    Backing up a couple of hours, I had posted a blog post, looking for information about a Historical House. Someone posted a comment about a "family story" that a murder took place in that house.

    Always remembering Thomas Kemps statement, Don't forget newspapers, I went to GenealogyBank and found a very detailed description of that Murder.

    Back to the meeting, the presenter had been 'looking' for a good closure to her presentation. I told her about my Blog, the comment, and my finding, and that was what she needed to close out the presentation.

    Is the link to the article.

    Thank you,


  9. Hubby and I have tried using GenealogyBank, since we both appreciate the value of newspapers! However, we have had very little luck in finding ANYTHING of use in their collection - they just don't have the papers for the times we need.

  10. I use Genealogy Bank and truly like it. Your suggestions are great.
    I would like to see a comparison with Genealogy Archives - papers and dates for each.

  11. I've generally had good luck with the content in GenealogyBank's collection. I'd also love to be able to view more than 5 hits at a time, and would like to see more export options. I'd love to be able to click through a list, mark articles of interest, and output them (or the citations at least) as a batch rather than doing each article one by one.

  12. I like GenealogyBank because it is really the only place where I've located New England ancestors in stories, ads, and death notices.
    I totally agree that I would like to see more than 5 results per page, and I would like to be able to scroll issue-by-issue if I want to (not just within one issue). And I would truly love to limit my search to one newspaper title (the GenealogyBank folks should try having ancestors with names like "Darling" and "Miles"!!).
    And a nice citation would be so welcome. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I usually capture a Snipping Tool shot of the article plus the headings, paper name, etc. rather than bother with saving the pdf which I then must add data to.
    The book section has never been helpful. But I have found a few things in the government ("Historical") documents section.

  13. From Facebook, Jo Dye writes "Re GenealogyBank. I absolutely love that resource. I'm so glad I subscribed. After Ancestry, it's my 1st stop. I agree that I wish the search engine was a little more sophisticated. And, I also wish there was some way to save your searches, or some way to tag them so you can take a look at them later. I have found some real goldmines in these articles. Found out my great-great grandfather was a pioneer of San Diego and at the time of his death he had been the oldest living Mason in the country. This led me to my local Masonic library where I'm searching their archives to see if I can find a photo of him."

  14. I love Genealogy Bank and have had quite a bit of success with it - mainly because there are a lot of papers in the right place at the right time and in some of these places I had ancestors with somewhat uncommon names. Using keywords (such as the small towns nearby) helped, but I do wish there were more search options and more accurate OCR'ing of the text. One thing that might help is if GB had something like the option for submitting corrections that Ancestry has. However, I've resigned myself to the fact that for families I want to research in depth, I'll ultimately have to spend a lot of time actually reading through issues instead of doing searches.

  15. As several have mentioned, their search features need help--much help! Furthermore, their coverage is spotty and unfortunately missing completely in most of the geographical areas I need. New England would seem to have some better coverage but by 1640 my NE ancestors were headed for the Midwest, so newspapers are not the most logical place to find info that far back. So between 1)lousy search engine 2)newspapers not being a good area for me on account of time period, and 3)no coverage where it would help I will not be renewing.

  16. Dear Myrtle:

    I agree with your suggestions except I don't mind the pdfs at all.

    I like Genealogy Bank. I found a lot of information about my great great grandfather in the Dallas papers from the 1880s. It doesn't have papers from the mid-size and small Texas towns that I was looking for.

    I have also used Newspaper Archive. It seems to have more of the papers from smaller towns. The OCR quality was much worse that GB; some articles were completely unreadable.


  17. The biggest shortcoming for me is they simply don't have any coverage when and where I need it. As an example my main branches come from MI and TN and most of them at some point lived in either Detroit, Nashville or Memphis. But their selection of papers from three fairly major cities is extremely sparse. I can find most of what I need on microfilm at the library, but to have these old papers searchable would be amazing.

  18. I certainly agree with your analysis regarding GenealogyBank, and am glad that you have this opportunity to open dialog with key players in that organization.

    I come at this from a different angle, though, and would appreciate having these other points included in the conversation. I consider my work more as family history (I call it micro history) that genealogy, and focus on the 1800s and early 1900s, rather than delving into the distant early years of this country. Newspapers allow me the ability to construct a more contextual representation of the people I'm writing/blogging about.

    For instance, I started writing a series on an extended family that moved from their original American settlement in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Colorado. My other online resources didn't provide the Colorado newspapers I was seeking. Via a Google search, I stumbled upon some mentions of this family's various surnames in the right spots in Colorado in the GenealogyBank collection, convincing me to subscribe to GenealogyBank. (Yes, I'm a fairly new subscriber, so take that into account.)

    What I would love to see:

    On the landing page of the website, the search box allows only a simple search. I'd like to see a hyperlink added, labeled "advanced search" to allow a more targeted search. Yes, I know there are other ways to go about this, but it took some hunting and pecking to stumble upon them. It would be nice to be direct and to the point. The generic search yields overwhelming results at times. Also, once the results are listed, it would be nice to have the option to choose how many will be displayed at a time on my screen. The unchangeable default right now appears to be 5. I'd like to be able to scan the entire playing field (or at least do it at 25 or 50 at a time) instead of flipping back and forth between sets of 5 at a time.

    Once a document (newspaper article) is secured, it would be nice to have a clickable link to capture that reference, to return to it later--or to be able to send others to that same spot. Since I use this research for my blog, and since some similar organizations are quite proprietary concerning their collections (even though the original pub date would place these items in the public domain), I try not to copy and post the actual news article, but provide a link for my readers. Doing so also funnels potential new customers GenealogyBank's way. Except...I discovered that just capturing the link to the page that displays the article I've found does not allow one to replicate the process. It first has to be converted to a pdf file, and *that* link captured. It would be nice to streamline this process. After all, there is always a possibility that those who read what I've written (and linked to their services) might like what they see enough to consider subscribing to GenealogyBank, themselves. Making it easier for readers to "get there" would be a mutually beneficial proposal.

    Looking forward to hearing an update after your meeting!

  19. I subscribed to Genealogy Bank for a year, and packed it in for two reasons: 1) the search feature (hello? have enough people complained yet so that y'all at GB can make it right?) and 2) no newspapers in my area. My husband has America's Historical Newspapers at his college, and we can use that for free. So the obits would be the only reason to subscribe, and since the papers aren't there, the obits won't be, either.

  20. I've had great luck with some early Baltimore Newspapers, but it has been limited to a single family. The finds were spectacular and therefore worth the price. I think its greatest value is in researching particular areas and times of interest. I find the downloaded pdfs to be a lower resolution than the screen images, so I increase the size of the image on the screen as large as will fit, and then use Hypersnap to capture the image as a .png file. This results in better images.

  21. Coming into this conversation a little late, but I'd like to add that I would like to be able to see more than 5 results at a time; when you get lots of hits, it's cumbersome to go through them. Another think I'd like is an easier way to find the list of newspapers that have been digitized.

  22. I have had wonderful luck with Genealogy Bank. I've been a subscriber for years. The search feature leaves a lot to be desired, but researchers should consider digging deeper than just the search engine. For example, if you know the date of death of an ancestor, and there is a newspaper for that locale, find the death notices for the dates immediately following. That's what you would have done in the "old days" when viewing microfilm.

    I found a story about my husband's gg-grandfather and how he was burned to death in a terrible factory fire in the 1850's. No one in his family even remembered the tragedy anymore. There was quite a bit of detail in the news coverage. My gg-grandfather was involved in a number of lawsuits over his dairy business. These are several of a number of stories that have added a human dimension to my research.

    My four biggest requests have been covered:

    1. Better search functionality;
    2. More versatile images;
    3. Easier citations; and,
    4. More papers (although, in fairness, they are ever-expanding.

  23. I would love their search engine to be a bit more robust.

    There are some states that are difficult to do research in because both Ancestry and FamilySearch don't have much of anything in the vital records. It would be most helpful if GenealogyBank would take note of those states and supplement their database with newspapers from those states.

    I do have a GenealogyBank subscription and use it frequently, but they can do better. It would also be nice when they receive suggestions for newspapers they actually respond! In this age of social media they can respond easier than ever, we as paying customers need the feedback.

    Thanks for asking the questions, Myrt.

  24. This is not specifically about GenealogyBank but it is about newspaper archives as an incredible resource, and I don't mean BMD notices.

    I recently found a close match between a Melicent Kirk who married a James Procter in Nottingham, UK, in 1831, and a Melicent Kirk who was baptised around the right date in Leicestershire, about 35 miles from Nottingham. Their lives seemed to fit together, thus suggesting they were the same person, but I couldn't find any evidence to actually prove or disprove that.

    I researched the Leicestershire family for nearly a whole year and found a massive amount about them through trade directories and newspaper reports for various family members. I have over 50 newspaper clippings, for instance, and only a mere handful of those are BMD notices.

    Then along came the one piece of evidence I needed - they aren't the same person! Although I'm gutted, I am satisfied that I now know something for sure. I also know a huge amount about someone else's family, but can't easily pass it on. Online trees really restrict the type of data you can upload, but that's a whole other subject.


  25. I have been fortunate on my husband's lines that GB has excellent geographic coverage. I've had amazing hits in both historic books and documents. For my lines, not at all. That said, I have used Genealogy Bank extensively for both personal and professional work. It is the second place I look after setting up a client's Ancestry tree.

    I'm on board with others as to limited search functionality, default display of only 5 entries and inablility to bookmark or gallery a hit for later review. The citation is plainly aweful.

    My specific complaint is speed. Slow to load, slow to zoom, slow to move to the next page, slow to move through the print function. This is a time business, I need faster image load and manipulation.

  26. Sorry, I'm late into this discussion, but I'd like to add that my subscription has been only been somewhat helpful (I'd give them 5/10). My greatest wish is for more access to Canadian newspapers. We, the neighbours to the north, are always sorely overlooked, yet we are great enthusiasts & consumers of genealogy and its products.

  27. I had very bad experience with this company. Their information was useless and the cancellation process irritating.

  28. Very late to this party, I was lloking for info on GB and Google led me to your Blog. I am curious if your meeting actually led to any changes in their website? Do they still limit you to 5 results that seems to be everyone's biggest complaint? Has anyone compared their offerings to Chronicaling America?
    Thanks for any insight.

  29. I had a very bad experience with this company. Once you join, they will charge you every year even if you don't use the service and you never log in. I signed up for what I thought was a 1 year subscription. Just found out they've been dinging me every year, though I never signed in. They were very unpleasant on the phone and refused to give me the name of any higher ups to whom I could voice my complaints. I put in a complaint to BBB. Apparently when I signed up, I agreed they could take my money until I noticed they were doing so. I don't know of any other online service that does not send out notices of renewals and require a confirmation before renewing. Soooo...if you join, be very cautious and circumspect regarding their cancellation procedures or they will be reaching into your pocket and taking your money until you notice.

  30. I've been a member of Genealogy Bank for several years. I have found it very helpful . . . found lost ancestors first try. Then I found a cousin that seem to drop from sight. With that one I found a marriage and child we didn't know about. The only thing that could improve would be more papers and documents. At present is offering a newspaper section and I'm debating if it would be a good as Genealogy Bank.

    1. "As good as" depends entirely on the locality and time period for each of your research questions.

      Check the catalog on each website, listing titles and time periods covered. It's also necessary to get a sense of the scope of the collection, i.e. is the website listing "Newspaper XYZ" for the years 1882-1909, when they really only have the title page for most of the years.