GenealogyBank has a growing archive of American newspapers and obituaries that could be a huge benefit to your family history research.
The challenge is figuring out whether GenealogyBank has relevant material for your ancestors and relatives. You don’t want to purchase an annual subscription and come up empty on your searches.
This review goes in-depth into what GenealogyBank has to offer, and how best to find what you need. And I also show you how to
- Check for potential good results before taking a trial
- Maximise your free trial period (and don’t pay in full by mistake)
- Get the best discounts on the membership costs
A Quick Summary Of What GenealogyBank Offers
Before I look in-depth at the different collections of content on GenealogyBank, here is a brief list of what you can find on the site:
- U.S. newspapers from 1690
- U.S. Census
- Social Security Death Index
- Government publications (including military and pension records)
- Historical Books (almanacs, maps, etc)
This review focuses in depth on the newspaper and obituaries.
In the brief section on the other collections, I’ll give you some free alternatives for the same content.
How Good Is GenealogyBank? My Verdict
This is how I judge newspaper and obituary subscription platforms:
- Does the newspaper collection cover places and times in my family tree?
- How good are the Search features so that I can find my ancestors?
- How much does it cost?
- Do they have good customer support for cancellation or other problems?
Are your ancestors in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives?
Mileage will vary for each customer. GenealogyBank and its rivals don’t have access to every newspaper in every state, and some places will be absent from GenealogyBank’s coverage.
For example, people with ancestors from Philadelphia rave about the site. Here are three separate quotes I picked up from a social media forum:
The majority of my research was in the Philadelphia area & they had a lot of papers for that…other services didn’t have the coverage for Philly.
For Philadelphia it is gold!!! Found so many dates and stories.
It depends on the city. I did well with very early Philadelphia Obits.
In contrast, my main U.S. interest was in Westfield, New Jersey in the early 20th century. I struck out on finding good results, although I gathered bits and pieces elsewhere.
The second half of this review goes in-depth on how to use the free trial period to evaluate whether membership will be good value for you.
My verdict: if your ancestors lived in certain places and times, GenealogyBank is a treasure trove for your research.
Can you find your ancestors i.e. how good is the Search?
Building a good search system for newspapers is more challenging than for genealogy records like birth and death certificates. I’ll explain why later.
The advantage of GenealogyBank is that their parent company has been working with newspaper scans since the 1940s (!) and newspaper searches for decades. They’ve continued to innovate and improve the technology in recent years.
I’ve used newspaper archives from companies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
My verdict: in my experience, GenealogyBank offers one of the best Search Systems for newspapers in the world.
(I just wish they had newspapers from outside the United States too!)
How much does it cost?
The good news is that you can get a discounted 12 months for under $60 or six months for under $40.
And if you want to pay nothing, you can clear your schedule for six days and do all your research for free within the trial period.
The bad news is that GenealogyBank has a confusing set of discounts that you access in different ways.
Don’t worry, I have a full section in this article that shows you how to get the best value for what you need.
My verdict: the discounts should be easier to access, but the best discount on GenealogyBank works out as a little cheaper than main rival Newspaper.com.
Is it easy to cancel the free trial?
GenealogyBank could make this easier by asking you to opt-in when your trial period is over. Instead, your credit card will be charged if you don’t take action.
But you can cancel on the website at any time during the trial.
What if you realize on the 7th day that your account has been charged? Don’t worry. I’ve got a section in this review that goes through how to get a refund.
My verdict: I’d prefer that GenealogyBank provided a free trial without requiring a credit card and active cancellation. However, the free trial is a genuine offer.
Newspapers On GenealogyBank
GenealogyBank’s best feature is online access to historical U.S. newspapers and obituaries that cannot be found on any other paid or free website.
Does GenealogyBank really have exclusive access to newspapers?
The company’s pitch on their home page could be a little misleading: 95% Newspapers Exclusive to GenealogyBank.
I first read the headline as a dubious claim that 95% of American newspapers were exclusive to the company. This puzzled me because I knew it couldn’t be true.
A much clearer statement is on a sales page:
At GenealogyBank, 95% of our newspapers can only be found through our platform.
In other words, most newspapers you find on GenealogyBank are not available elsewhere. That’s impressive, but it’s important to understand the context. Sometimes there are only a few issues available for a title.
Newspapers with limited issues
Here are two examples from the state of New Jersey:
- Aberdeen: Jersey Chronicle 05/02/1795 – 04/30/1796
- Morristown: Whig Standard 09/26/1838 – 09/26/1838
The archive has about a year’s worth of content from the first newspaper. The second publication seems to have a single issue on the site.
Bear that in mind when you see headlines like “over 13,000” newspapers.
But suppose one of your ancestors died in Morristown in September of 1838. And suppose there’s a lengthy obituary in the Whig Standard that describes their life and gives the details of surviving children.
There’s your pot of gold that’s worth the price of a month’s membership.
Obituaries On GenealogyBank
You may be wondering why obituaries are separated from newspapers as a category of content on GenealogyBank. Aren’t obituaries found in newspapers?
Yes, but they are usually not part of the “news” content. Instead, the newspapers manage death notices and obituaries as part of their paid classifieds section.
I wrote an article that discussed the history of GenealogyBank which delves into this a but further.
I’ll repeat here that the parent company, NewsBank, had contracts with the newspapers to access the news content…but not the classifieds section. They had to go back and negotiate separate licensing deals for the obituaries.
In some cases, GenealogyBank only has the obituaries for a specific newspaper and not the rest of the news content. This is one of the reasons why the platform separates the obituaries archive from the newspaper archives.
Other Record Collections On GenealogyBank
I’m not going to spend too much time reviewing the record archives available through the platform.
The company has created searchable collections for content that is available for free elsewhere:
- U.S. Census
- Social Security Indexes
- U.S. Government documents including military and pension records
There’s no point in paying a subscription solely to get access to these records.
However, it’s very convenient to have the extra content under one roof. You don’t have to toggle to other websites and get accustomed to different interfaces. I consider these collections as a bonus.
Where do I find the free alternatives?
You can access the U.S. census for free from several sources including the U.S. government archives.
A free membership on FamilySearch.org will let you access their Social Security archive. They also have military and pension records in their collections.
Historical Books On GenealogyBank
There is one more collection that is fairly “niche”: Historical Books
This archive is a mish-mash of almanacs, tax bills, town meeting reports, theater playbills, and more.
Here is how GenealogyBank describes the benefits:
Imagine finding a copy of the actual sermon preached at the funeral of an ancestor, or the invitation to the 25th anniversary party for your 2nd-great-grandparents.GenealogyBank
I have to admit that neither case excites me much. If the sermon had a list of family members or if the party invitation printed all the guests – then I’d be very interested.
However, I’m sure that many researchers would be thrilled to see these search results.
How Much Does GenealogyBank Cost?
The first thing I’ll emphasize is that you shouldn’t need to pay the full advertised cost of membership on GenealogyBank.
The top-end advertised cost at the time of writing is $99 for an annual membership.
However, I don’t see any way on the site to pay that full price. That’s because GenealogyBank uses annoying sales tactics with confusing discounts.
Here are the different pricing discounts I was offered within 3 days in 2021:
- 20% discount on one-year membership or $19.95 per month
- 40% discount on one-year membership
- 44% discount on one-year membership
- 47% discount on two-year membership
- 30% discount on six-month membership
I think it’s clear that the top quoted price of 20 bucks per month is not great value.
If you don’t feel that you need a year’s subscription, you may as well pay 35 bucks and get six months’ usage. Wait, you don’t see those discounts anywhere on their website? I’ll show you how I triggered these offers in a later section.
But first, I’ll address the free trial.
GenealogyBank’s Free Trial
The first step to get a trial or to pay the subscription is to register your email address on the trial sign-up page.
Submitting your email takes you to the trial activation step which requires your credit card details. There is no option to get the free trial without providing a credit card.
You will probably want to use the free trial period to check if any of your ancestors appear in the newspapers and obituaries archives.
If you do some preparation before you start the trial, six days is more than enough to evaluate how useful GenealogyBank will be for you. I have a section on how to prepare your “hitlist” for this evaluation.
I suggest that you ensure that you cancel your trial on the 6th day to avoid any possibility of rolling over into the payment period.
You will not be asked if you want to continue with a paid subscription. GenealogyBank automatically charges your card at this point.
What To Do If You Have Problems With Cancellation
There have been widespread cancellation problems in the past across multiple genealogy subscription sites. In other words, customers found it difficult to cancel their subscriptions.
You may see complaints on social media forums like Facebook and Reddit, but it’s wise to check whether these date back a few years. Several companies (but not all) have become more customer-friendly in recent times.
I’m happy to report that GenealogyBank is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau. You can see the BBB logo on the payment page.
The BBB complaints page shows that GenealogyBank does issue refunds.
One customer simply forgot to cancel, and then noticed the charge on their card. GenealogyBank provided a full refund.
Contact GenealogyBank first
I suggest that if you are in a similar situation, you should first contact GenealogyBank’s customer support.
You will probably be offered discounts. If you say you can’t find any details about your relatives, they may try to run some searches for you (to convince you otherwise).
Be patient and keep stating you want a cancellation and refund. The BBB is a last resort, and it shouldn’t have to come to that.
How To Get Better Discounts And Membership Terms
The standard discount at trial sign-up is 20% off the annual membership or you pay a specific monthly price.
This section describes how I triggered a series of different discount offers.
You may need to go through the sign-up process several times (with different email addresses) to get the best option.
If that sounds like a palaver, you could contact customer support and say that “a friend” got one of these deals and you want the same one!
Leaving the trial page without payment
I provided my email details and arrived at the trial page where you submit your credit card.
When I clicked away from this page, a pop-up appeared with a new discount offer of 40% off the annual membership.
Be aware that this is an immediate payment for the annual membership. You do not get the trial period if you take this option.
I ignored the pop-up but GenealogyBank doesn’t like rejection. And they now have my email address.
What happened next was a series of emails over three days with different discount offers.
I tested this in June 2021 by registering my email details on a Thursday and not providing payment details.
On Friday, I got an email offer of a 44% discount on the annual membership. There was no monthly option.
On Saturday, I received an email that offered “up to” 47% discount. When I clicked on the email link, the higher discount applied to a two-year subscription! That’s the first time that I saw a two-year option.
But wait! When I clicked away from this payment page, I got a new offer! This was a six-months offer at $34.97.
I should note that these offers were time-sensitive i.e. I had about two days to take them up. They do expire…I checked that too! But they’re tied to an email account, so you can just throw in another one and start again.
If you don’t take any further action after paying for a discounted price, your membership will auto-renew at the full price when the time period is up.
Check out the cancellation section in their FAQ to avoid issues.
Auto-renewal doesn’t apply to gift memberships.
Watch out for an unexpected annual purchase
Let’s say you’re on the free trial page. The credit card section is mandatory and your card is in another room. You think to yourself: “I’ll do this another time” and move your cursor to go browse something else.
At the time of writing, GenealogyBank pops up a new advert with an offer to save 44% on annual membership.
And you might think – cool! I’ll sign up for the trial and decide in six days whether I want to purchase. And if I want to go ahead, I get this even better discount on the price.
But that’s not how this works! You have now left the free trial path, and this pop-up leads to the immediate purchase of an annual membership.
That has led to disgruntled customers who thought they were in a free trial period and had six days to change their minds.
However, the company has issued refunds in these scenarios. You should contact customer support and explain your predicament. This won’t be the first time they’ve heard it!
What Newspapers Does GenealogyBank Have?
Before you purchase a subscription or even sign up for a trial, you can check whether GenealogyBank has newspapers in your area of interest.
This link will open the index of newspapers on the platform arranged by state. I find the best way to get an overview of what’s available is to click into a state.
The state list is ordered by city so you can quickly see whether your locations are well represented.
And be sure to take note of the years of coverage. If you’re looking for people in the 18th century, you’ll be disappointed if the coverage is very recent.
How To Get The Best Results From Your Trial Period
You want to maximize your trial time, so it’s best to do some preparation before you sign up for the trial.
I like to prepare a target list to work through methodically over those six days of your trial.
Below is an excerpt from my hit list. I can work down the list by running searches on GenealogyBank for combinations of names and dates. I make a quick note of whether I find results for each row and move on to the next.
|Westfield, Union, NY||1948||Cray, Dodson, Willoughby||Obituary|
|Westfield, Union, NJ||1974||Burke, Moore||Nothing|
|Brooklyn, Kings County, NY||1922||Gamble, McKee||Newspaper|
If you’re interested in putting together your own hit list, the best way for you will depend on where you keep your family tree. Do you use a website like Ancestry or MyHeritage? Or do you use desktop software?
I’ve got an article with four different ways of preparing a target hit list for your newspaper subscription trial.
Searching on GenealogyBank.com
I put together my best tips and tricks on running effective searches, but this review was getting quite long.
So, I’ve dropped them into a separate article on my top tips for searching newspapers on GenealogyBank.
Free and Paid Alternatives To GenealogyBank
You have several free and paid alternatives for accessing newspaper and obituary archives.
Kenneth Marks has long maintained a lengthy list of free online collections of newspapers. You can check out his links here.
FamilySearch.org has a wiki page that also has a list of free newspaper sources.
I have a full review of Newspapers.com, which is a subscription site.
I also have an in-depth review of NewspaperArchive.com with tips on how to make the most of their trial period.
Our round-up of the best commercial American newspaper archives has detailed feature comparisons.
If you have family branches residing in the United Kingdom (or Ireland) in the 18th, 19th, or early 20th century, then the online archive of the British Library may prove to be very useful.
Check out my guide and review of the BritishNewspaperArchive website.