Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ancestry clarifies indexing project

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: The following was just received from Tim Sullivan, CEO of The Generations Network ( This clarification is welcome news. This week's podcast, to be released later today, features my interview with Tim and will be timely since we discuss the new indexing project at Ancestry. Please note that Tim is referencing the FamilySearch announcements posted:

Ol' Myrt here agrees there is more than enough indexing work to go around, and am pleased there are several venues for volunteers to place their indexing efforts. In a spirit of cooperation, genealogists throughout the world can greatly enhance our access to scanned images that provide clues about the lives of our ancestors. I applaud all responsible efforts to use technology to bring these ancient documents to light.

From: Tim Sullivan
Dear Dick and Myrt,
It was good to see both of you at FGS [Federation of Genealogical Society 2008 Conference]. I saw that both of you posted the note from Paul Nauta from the Public Affairs group at FamilySearch, and I wanted to clarify and emphasize a couple of things.

Readers of this message might get the impression that this is some big competition between and the LDS Church. We definitely don’t see it this way! And I know from my conversations with the leaders at FamilySearch that they don’t see it this way either. We have nothing but praise for the efforts of FamilySearch to provide tools to help the community index records. They have done a magnificent job with their indexing program, and thanks to these efforts, genealogists all over the world are going to benefit from more access to free indexes. We think there is PLENTY of work to go around, and that the best way to preserve the world’s important records is for there to be many, many organizations, both large and small, involved in digitizing records, creating indexes, and investing in the creation of technologies and product experiences that make genealogy more accessible and easier for more and more people around the globe. We’ve tried hard not to duplicate the efforts of FamilySearch’s indexing program, picking new collections to index through our World Archives Program different than those which they’ve indexed. I’m pretty confident that neither of us are going to complete the job of digitizing “everything” in my lifetime!

Volunteer indexing has a great and storied history. Genealogists are more successful today because they have access to records preserved and indexed over the years by the LDS Church, organizations like FreeBMD, local historical and genealogical societies, and even members of our own Rootsweb community (where records posted to the site are STILL free and will remain so, despite false rumors of our fiendish intent to do otherwise!) But the emergence of successful commercial companies around the world has also advanced and accelerated the twin goals of preservation and access. Ancestry spends about $10 million every year digitizing new content, paying for the creations of new indexes, and putting new content online. We spend even more than that to run the technology that makes these records available to millions of people around the globe. As much as I’d like to say that we do this solely because we’re nice people, I’ll confess that we also think that serving families and family historians is a great business. And because it’s a good business and we’re successful at it, we’re able to invest even more in all of the above…and family historians benefit because of this.

So that brings us back to our World Archives Project. This effort is certainly not intended to take anything away from FamilySearch and the incredible efforts of the volunteers, both members of the LDS Church and non-members, that have contributed so many millions of hours to these efforts. We all owe these individuals our thanks. We’re launching the Ancestry World Archives Project because we think that it can be a great supplemental way for us to digitize even more content than we have in the past, make more indexes available for free, and to support local genealogical societies. Our view is that the more folks involved in programs like these, the better.

Also, I just want to clarify a couple of things that I’ve read since our announcement:
  • Indexes created through the World Archives Project will remain free on Ancestry. Period.
  • All those who are active contributors (those who key at least 900 records per quarter) will have free access to all the images associated the World Archives Project…not just the ones that they’ve worked on.
  • Partnering societies will also be able to access the images for free, and will actually receive a copy of the images and indexes back.

We’re also serious about giving partnering societies real exposure and support. We’ve been searching for years for the right way to support local genealogical and historical societies, and we think this is it. It’s clearly in our interest to help genealogical societies attract new members. These societies are a critical foundation to a vibrant genealogy community.

The bottom line is that this is not about one program vs. another; it's about getting more content online to the community. We encourage everyone to work on either or both of these two great programs or any other similar indexing efforts.