Ancestry.com (Nasdaq:ACOM), the world's largest online family history resource, is celebrating the addition of its 10 billionth record to the website. Included in the extensive record collection are ship passenger lists, military draft cards, birth, marriage and death records and the most popular — U.S. Federal Census records.They claim to have more records than all of the other online sites combined. I am sure that the acquisition of Archives.com figured heavily into reaching that milestone. Quoting further from the press release,
The treasure trove of 10 billion-plus online records on Ancestry.com, which has grown 150 percent in the last three years, is larger than those of all other online family history sites combined. Although much of the increase in the record collections has been in recent years, the site overall has added an average of 55 million records a month since the website went online 15 years ago. Images of documents date back to wills executed in London in 1507 A.D., while indexes of records reach back more than seven centuries, to marriage licenses and probated wills in Dublin, Ireland, from 1270 A.D.If you think about it, the entire population of the world just exceeded 7 billion on March 12, 2012. But although the number of records in Ancestry.com's databases exceeds the number of people, there are vast areas of the world that still have few, if any, records online and certainly none in Ancestry.com. So how can there be so many records on Ancestry.com?
One of the first issues is "What is a record?" In other words, what is Ancestry.com calling a record?
First I need to talk about collections. By latest count, Ancestry.com has 30,671 collections that are listed in their World Edition. In contrast, for example, FamilySearch.org, as of 12 May 2012, has 1146 collections. However, as I have written before in this blog, the designation "collection" when referring to genealogical records has no commonly understood meaning.
On FamilySearch.org, a collection can be anything from a little over 1000 records in the Arizona, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865 to over 90 million records in the United States Social Security Death Index. The same thing holds true on Ancestry.com. If they are counting their Public Member Trees, then there are 2,107,016,069 records listed in that collection alone and way down at the end of Ancestry.com's list is the tiny "The Stone Family Association, 1910" with one record.
So what does the word "record" now mean in the context of Ancestry.com's announcement? Do Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com count their "records" in the same way? How would we ever know? It looks like, from Ancestry.com's list in their "Card Catalog" that 7 billion of their 10 billion records are in the first 8 collections of their 30,671 collections. Over 3 billion of their counted records are in three collections; Public Member Trees, Private Member Trees, and Ancestry World Tree.
Good public relations and a nice way of selling your services but not very meaningful.
Now what else do we need to think about? Let's say that what I really want is a digitized copy of an original source record, such as a death certificate or town record from New England. Where do I go to get those records? Another example. I can go to Genealogy.az.gov and get a copy of my Great-grandfather's death certificate. I can get a copy of that same record from FamilySearch.org also. Can I get a copy from Ancestry.com as part of their 10 billion records? Nope. I can get a link to a Find-a-grave.com record for his burial, but not his death certificate.
So how does Ancestry.com claim such high numbers? Easy. They include listings like phone books and city directories, with each entry claimed to be a "record." Does FamilySearch.org do the same thing" Essentially yes. Which collections are more valuable? The images of records on FamilySearch.org or the index listings on Ancestry.com?
The answer is both are valuable but in different ways. But don't be impressed by numbers alone.