You will be forgiven for believing that professional genealogists have access to more websites than the private researcher, but sadly this is not the case.

Genealogy is big business today with a range of free and subscription websites to help us research our family histories.  Whilst some of the most well-known websites allow researchers to use them for commercial research, including research for clients, you may be surprised at those that allow only personal and academic use only.

Reading the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) of websites is something relatively few people even think about, and yet for the professional researcher it is an important task.

The Websites:

The most surprising website professional researchers cannot use is the long established and free FamilySearch run by the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Although the website claims it gives “a service to all at no cost”, the T&Cs clearly state that site is for personal and non-commercial use only. To confirm this, a recent statement via email states “nearly all of the records within the collection of FamilySearch International are governed by contracts between the original record custodian and FamilySearch. For most contracts, FamilySearch merely acquires rights for a patron to use the records for incidental, personal, non-commercial genealogical research purposes.”  The statement also informed me that “Therefore, you must acquire written permission from the custodian of the original records. Once this is accomplished, you may proceed as the record custodian directs.  FamilySearch will have no further objections.”

One of the subscription websites, which is “strictly limited to personal use”, is the which is part of S & N Genealogy Supplies (Jersey) Ltd.  (Not to be confused with The site only allow for commercial use after the purchase of Business Plus, Professional Premium and Library Premium subscriptions. The Professional Premium subscriptions are for “professional genealogists offering a service to research a full family history not simply looking up one or more names on request”.

As a subscription website the charge for private researchers is moderately priced, but for Professional Premium access the charge is about 3 times more. This site does at least make this clear, whereas for some other sites, the cost of professional access is upon application only.

Even non-professionals have to be careful how they use the site as “looking up information in our databases on behalf of others, whether or not for payment … will cause immediate suspension without refund.”

In contrast another website also owned by S&N Genealogy is, which holds many non-conformist and non-parochial records, restricts its use “to family research for your own personal use”, with the exception that “Professional researchers may use the information for a specific client.

Well known websites such as Ancestry, FreeUKGenealogy (FreeBMD etc.), Find My Past, IWM (lives of the first world war), and Scotland’s People allow professional research without applying an added charge, although the latter three do stipulate that this only applies to self-employed genealogists, and therefore not businesses with more than one researcher.

Find My Past also owns the British Newspaper Archive which can only be used for “personal, academic or non-commercial purposes.” Similar to FamilySearch they state that a commercial licence can be obtained with the agreement of the copyright owners.

Another website to have separate arrangement for professional researchers is the Forces War site which allows membership for “individual non-commercial leisure use only”, but does have a group membership for establishments and organisations which is “the only option that is available to anyone wishing to use it for any commercial use whatsoever.”

Although several websites do allow the self-employed genealogist to use their records, there are some who demand extra payment, which may be out of the price range of small businesses such as the self-employed researcher, especially as we subscribe to many websites for business purposes. This is why it is important that, as researchers, we know which sites we can and cannot use, and as clients you understand that you may have better access to some sites than we do.

Regardless of which website any of us use, all information should be clearly referenced to show where the information came from – including the name of the website the data came from.



The purpose of this blog is not to criticise but to inform.

These details are correct for UK based websites at the time of publication. Researchers are advised to check the terms and conditions to check their own eligibility.