Should you choose Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com for online genealogy research? Of these two services, Ancestry.com advertises the most aggressively, is the better known of the two, and has an edge in the attractiveness and usability of the online tools it offers. Ancestry also claims to offer the the greatest number of records online, and from what I can tell, this appears to be true. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer the same basic resources for vital records such as birth and marriage records, census data and so forth, but there are types of records that are not yet available through MyHeritage. All in all, they both offer impressive repositories, and to cut to the chase, I think they are both perfectly viable options. I have used, and will probably contine to make use of, both of them.
Of course, there are disadvantages to Ancestry.com, too. The desktop tool, Family Tree Maker, is not free, though it is reasonably priced. By contrast, MyHeritage.com offere a free tool called Family Tree Builder. To me (a Mac user), it feels a little clunky, particularly if you run it under OS X using Wine. But it offers validation tools not available, at least as a report, in Family Tree Maker. It also gives you the opportunity to export data in the form of spreadsheets. With Family Tree Maker, your only option is GEDCOM 5.5, and your data is otherwise pretty much locked up. On the plus side, MyHeritage.com offers superior integration with FamilySearch.org, the family history site operated by the LDS church and with GENi World Tree. With MyHeritage, you can extract data from both of these services with suitable source citations. With Ancestry.com, you do get matches against FamilySearch.org as historical records (in their terminology, which is a bit misleading in my opinion).
Another area where Ancestry.com has an advantage is in the handling of multimedia. First, it makes it easier to discover photos and images and to include them in your database. You can do this with MyHeritage.com, too, but the process is not as well integrated with the software. Another really nice feature of Ancestry.com is that it saves digital images of your source documents when available. I find this very useful, and have often opened these files, either to validated indexed data or because I was looking for additional information. Having ready access to digital images is a huge boon, though it can really add to the size of your database.
That brings us to the topic of bugs and design problems. Both Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com have iOS apps, and of the two, I like the Ancestry.com app much better. It offers many more features and makes research a lot easier. You can search using the MyHeritage.com app using their Super Search pane, and you can edit records, but that’s pretty much it. One unfortunate thing about the Ancestry app is that it doesn’t add proper source citations. It does include a hyperlink so that you can go into Family Tree Maker later and add the source citation later, but I can’t understand why the app doesn’t do this. I consider this a bug, and hope that it will be addressed in a future version.
So, what is the conclusion here? I don’t think there is a clear winner, and I actually use both, though it is certainly an inconvenience to do so. Beyond that, neither service is free. They do offer free accounts, but there are either limits on the records you have access to, the size of your database, or both. If you’re LDS and doing family history research for religious reasons, you may find MyHeritage.com a bit easier, and may wish to look at Roots Magic, but beyond that, I can’t make a clear recommendation for one rather than the other.