Weighing up pros and cons of a FindMyPast subscription

I’ve been trying out a free 14-day trial with FindMyPast, prompted by them adding Staffordshire parish registers. My Moore ancestors came from there, before one family moved to West Yorkshire, and I’ve been keen to trace them more in parish registers.

However I’ve decided for now not to continue with a monthly subscription after my free trial. I’ve drawn up a list of pros and cons of the site for me, to help me decide whether to subscribe, and thought it would be worth blogging them here in case they might be of interest to others. I should say that I have found FindMyPast’s Irish collection enormously helpful in the past – my Dublin ancestors were constantly in jail (!), and I’ve found them in the Irish prison registers. So I now know what my gg-grandfather and gg-grandmother looked like, for example. However the site has big problems, and I’ve been very concerned about recent changes which have alarmed many long-term subscribers. At least I wasn’t locked into a yearly contract with no chance of a refund. It makes me very unlikely to take out a yearly subscription with them ever again. I would only consider monthly options now, because of what happened recently.

On the plus for me the site has Staffordshire parish registers, with indexes and images. It also has some Cornish parish register indexes, though not images, useful for tracing my husband’s Cornish ancestors (Dunstan is a very Cornish-based surname, and my father-in-law was born in Cornwall). It also has some nice pre WW1 army records, which I was able to use in the past to find my Yorkshire g-grandfather enlisting in the 1890s, which ties up with our family story of him being a soldier, then invalided, treated in an Irish hospital, and meeting and marrying my Dublin-born g-granny. Those early army records – with indexes and images – are not available, for example, at Ancestry.

However the site has many more disadvantages than advantages for me. Firstly with the Staffordshire parish registers the collection is currently very incomplete. In particular it misses West Bromwich All Saints parish, which is probably where my pre-1820 baptisms and marriages took place. And because that parish’s registers are deposited somewhere a bit odd for Staffordshire records it may be that they will never be digitised by FindMyPast.

Another big downside for me with FindMyPast is the very slow loading I am finding with digitised images. This isn’t a problem with my broadband – Ancestry loads fast, as do other sites. But when I click on a FindMyPast image to view it I have to wait for many seconds, while the progress counter ticks round, with me losing the will to carry on, and getting annoyed EVERY SINGLE TIME! The site should work more zippily than this.

Another major downside is that a number of intriguing data sets do not have extra search options to make them more useful. For example I found a dataset including 18th century Somerset apprentices, but it was impossible to search this by place, even though this has been indexed and shows up in the search results. I wanted to pull out references to my husband’s home village/parish Maperton. I could leave the name field blank and step through thousands of results, looking at just the Maperton ones, but I could not narrow down the search by place any other way. This is ridiculous.

Likewise marriages in digitised parish registers cannot be searched by name of father. Marriage certificates in England after 1837 include this information, and marriages in parish registers reflect this. In Ancestry I could pull out lots of references to my ancestors by putting in the name of the father into the search over West Yorkshire parish registers. There is no facility to do an equivalent search in the Staffordshire parish registers at FindMyPast. If I want to look for my Moore ancestors I have to view every single Moore marriage in a plausible place, to see what the father’s details are. And every single Moore marriage image loads very very slowly. I’m not going to do that any time soon.

My biggest gripe with FindMyPast concerns its revamp, and its new default search interface which searches over all records, possibly in a way that may be easier for newcomers to the site, but makes it harder for more experienced users to control exactly what you search over. It is possible to narrow this down to specific data sets, in particular using the A-Z record list to drill down to what you want and a better search form, sometimes. But this isn’t as quick or as intuitive a process as it should be.

And one more moan about very poor name variant handling. For example my Moore ancestors sometimes were recorded as Moor or More. So it’s nice to be able to tick the name variants box in the search form. But the name variants it matches are a bit bonkers. Even Mitchell will be matched if I do that! This gives me far too many irrelevant results.

So for now I will not be subscribing. I may take out a short one or two month subscription in future, keeping an eye on the Staffordshire parish registers collection in particular. But I will never ever take out a yearly subscription again, after the recent disappointing revamp. I continue to be an Ancestry subscriber (again on a month by month renewing basis), and continue to be a very happy annual British Newspaper Archive subscriber.

EDIT: Update to say I ran into problems after cancelling my free trial. I cancelled it online, 3 days before the trial was due to expire, and got an email confirmation from FindMyPast confirming the cancellation and saying that I would not be charged. 6 days later then it was a big shock to get another email from them saying my monthly subscription had been renewed, and that I had been charged £12.95. This has now been sorted out, and apparently occurred – wrongly – because I bought Pay As You Go credits days after my trial was cancelled, and somehow – goodness only knows how! – this triggered their system to activate my subscription and charge me. How absurd, not least because I spent a lot of PAYG credits, with the amount dropping accordingly. The technical people at FindMyPast are looking into fixing this bug, but it’s another thing deterring me from resubscribing in future. A customer should never ever be wrongly charged after cancelling a free trial properly, per the terms and conditions, and getting a cancellation confirmation email. Fair play to FindMyPast that they have fixed it for me since, but the whole experience does not fill me with confidence about their computer and billing systems.

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About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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3 Responses to Weighing up pros and cons of a FindMyPast subscription

  1. Caroline says:

    Thomas Bennet,1730, Thomas Everet 1667 and James Provis 1660. Found by entering Parish Apprentices For Somerset in the Record set input and Maperton in the Optional records box on the search page for Education and Work Category.Took about a minute to find them, Are they yours? If you trial has run out, feel free to contact me if I can help further.

  2. Staffordian says:

    I find your comments interesting as I get really frustrated with FMP. Recently I took out a months sub just so that I could check and complete a piece of research I’ve been working on. I found I couldn’t find with correct details a person born in late 19th century in the 1939 Register that I had found previously….FMP solution is to pay a further sum to ‘open this file’ once I had found it with less data (I.e. no birth year). The person died more than 60 years ago — it is hardly going to be someone alive. I’m just furious!

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