RootsTech 2014

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Updating Who Owns the Genealogy Companies Part Two

When Ancestry.com bought Footnote.com I hoped that the best parts of Footnote.com might show up in Ancestry.com. No such luck. In retrospect, the acquisition looks now like more of an effort to eliminate a potential competitor rather than any kind of enhancement to Ancestry.com's interface or content. If you examine the Fold3.com website carefully what you will not see is very interesting. First, you will not find any reference to the previously important agreement between its predecessor, Footnote.com, and the National Archives. The goal of digitizing the National Archives seems to have vanished. In addition, you will find some significant losses, for example, here is an announcement from September 1, 2011:

On September 15th we will be removing from Fold3 some of the newspapers that came from two of our partners, SmallTownPapers® and Gannett.  This is due to contractual issues and we have no plans to remove any other content from the site.
 Despite the disclaimer, it seems inevitable that other content on the site will change with a stated emphasis only on military records. If you look at their list of source records, you will still see huge numbers of records that are decidedly not military, like Massachusetts Vital Records, Lincoln Assassination Papers, and a huge collection of Naturalization Records. What will happen to these collections when they are buried in Fold3.com. How will anyone know to look for them?

Also, what will happen to the non-military Memorial pages? Many people had used Footnote.com to construct memorial pages to their ancestors, most of whom were not associated with the military at all. If you go to the Fold3.com Memorial Pages, you will instantly see that the idea here is a military memorial page.

If that is not enough, if you examine the Fold3.com website even more carefully, you will see something else that is missing; any reference to Ancestry.com as the owner of the site. Nothing. Absolutely nothing telling you that there is a connection to Ancestry.com. Now why is ownership of the genealogy sites so important? Here are a couple of reasons.

First, subscriptions to a online genealogy database site are made with the expectation that your research will benefit from the content, both existing content and future additions. Second, continued subscriptions are mostly contingent on finding more records during the course of the subscription. If your family members were not in the military, then why would you subscribe to Fold3.com? But think of this, you are presently a subscriber to Ancestry.com and you discover that some of your ancestors served in the military. For some unexplained reason, the military content on Ancestry.com is deficient. But you find this wonderful site dedicated to military records called Fold3.com, so you subscribe to Fold3.com. Now, Ancestry.com has two subscriptions from you for its information rather than one. Do you think I am being overly cynical? I think not. Would the fact that you knew that both Fold3.com and Ancestry.com were the same company make any difference in you decisions? Maybe? This is why I am examining the ownership of the genealogy companies. So that when the larger companies  simply fragment their collections into separately subscriber segments you will at least have an opportunity to know about the problem even if there is no solution.

What is apparently being done by Ancestry.com is good business but as a practice the effects are not necessarily beneficial to the genealogical community. Don't you think the owner/managers of Ancestry.com who are decidedly not genealogists will make business decisions based on markets and profits rather than access to records and the convenience and finances of the genealogists? I do.

Have you ever seen a product (like clothes or whatever) that was priced at a low price in Walmart and exactly the same product, perhaps with different branding on sale in an expensive boutique for a lot more money? It pays to have several different outlets for your standard product. 

So what about Genline.se? This is a Swedish site that, by the way, obtained the bulk of its content indirectly from FamilySearch. Originally, most of the records were microfilmed by FamilySearch and then a copy given to the Swedish Government, the Swedish Government then gave/licensed the records to the Genline.se company and they eventually ended up purchased by Ancestry.com. See Wikipedia:Genline For the purchase information see Genline.com's news release. Any questions about what is going on? I have a lot.

Check back for more updates on who owns the genealogy companies.




5 comments:

  1. I don't think you are cynical at all, James. I suspected as much when the name change was announced. I too noticed Ancestry's name did not appear anywhere, but I thought perhaps it was because the last time I looked at the Fold3 homepage it hadn't been added yet. Hmm... Also, I recently let my subscription to Footnote.com drop and thought it was kind of strange that I haven't received a plethora of the "Please come back..." kinds of e-mails one expects after dropping a subscription. It's been two months since my membership ended and nothing. Hmm, again...

    Thanks for the interesting post.

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  2. Well done, James. Thank you for this article.

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  3. FWIW - You have to dig for it but there is a press release on the site telling that they are a subsidiary of Ancestry.

    http://www.fold3.com/page/120_fold3_press_room/

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  4. I am annoyed, I belong to Ancestry.com and have been researching for quite sometime, On ancestry I find certificate numbers. But on this site I found (FOLD3) they have the actual certificates. Your saying ancestry owns this site? Why aren't these certificates available on ancestry?

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  5. It gets better than that, Ancestry.com and Fold3 are no longer American companies, that right, they have been sold yet again to a British company. So Our American Archival records are being given to a British company and than are being sold back to Americans who pay to be members of these sites. After records are digitized by Fold3 or Ancestry.com they are no longer available to viewed at the archives. Just on their websites, I think we are being lied to and our past is being stolen. The National Archives Director should be fired for allowing this to happen.

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