Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Ancestry’s ExpertConnect: Much ado about nothing

DearREADERS,
While Ol’ Myrt here has been away conferencing and tending sick grandchildren whose parents are on a Caribbean cruise (aaack!!!), a big thread of messages has cropped up on several public genealogy mailing lists concerning a new feature our friends at Ancestry.com have under development. It’s called “ExpertConnect” and it is aimed at linking committed professional genealogists with potential clients from the millions of Ancestry.com members and visitors who need personalized service and wish to hire a researcher.

For the bulk of the discussion, see the archives of the APG (Association of Professional Genealogist) Mailing List located here: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/index/APG/2009-04 .

Most are complaining that Ancestry.com is becoming too big – too powerful. But, I think the idea has merit and that people should quit the emotional griping about Ancestry. Ol’ Myrt here thinks a service like ExpertConnect is great for quick look-ups, where the story is pretty cut and dry AND time is of the essence. (When you absolutely, positively, must have it in the morning.) ExpertConnect could provide fill-in work for experienced genealogy researchers as well as allow distant clients to readily hire an expert to do the lookup in the locality where an ancestor once lived. The plan also works because inexperienced researchers can hire those with expertise in the ancestral homeland.

YES, Ancestry.com is big, but there is a lot to be said for the big exposure research professionals would gain by working through ExpertConnect. The fees Ancestry.com would keep are really “advertising” fees to my way of thinking.

For years, a similar free service has been available, at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, where neighborhood folks, not necessarily professional genealogists, would do specific lookups. For instance, the client would ask the RAOGK volunteer to complete a designated task like taking a picture of a specific tombstone, where the client provides the volunteer the name of the cemetery, town, county and state.

ExpertConnect will provide the additional elements of a bio for each researcher, and a rating system following each transaction. These may influence potential clients wishing to hire a professional researcher to think through myriad record groups not necessarily known to the client, hopefully navigating around those pesky brick walls. Professionals are usually better equipped than your average, garden-variety genealogist to rate direct and indirect evidence and arrive at viable lineage assumptions, and are doing so because of experience combing through the extant records and years of practice writing “arguments” for pedigrees based on the GPS (the Genealogical Proof Standard).

Ol’ Myrt here agrees there is a fixable problem noted in an APG Mailing List posting by Kory Meyerink, MLS, AG, FUGA who wrote from a research professional’s point of view: “… you are not paid until ‘both you and the client agree that the work meets the contracted terms.’ Clients are not always happy with genealogical results so now they have the opportunity to obtain the results and not pay for them. If you don't get them into the DAR because you can't find a patriotic ancestor, or you don't verify their family story about a Native American ancestor, they may not agree that you met "the contracted terms." It's like telling a lawyer, ‘You lost the case, I don't want to pay you.’ Well, very few genealogists work on a contingency basis.”

While the proposed plan isn’t exactly perfect from a professional’s point of view, I have no doubt that the new corporate strategy to be more responsive to the genealogical community’s expressed needs will lead Ancestry to tweak the plan over time.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
DearMYRTLE,
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Myrt@DearMYRTLE.com

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