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Friday, May 18, 2012

The Clash of the Genealogy Titans

Who will survive, or better yet, what will survive the clash of the titans in genealogy? We have three huge family history related organizations that are larger than all of the others combined. We have FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage.com. All three have their own proprietary online user-contributed family tree databases. Except for a rather weak GEDCOM transfer capability, there is no real interaction or interchangeability between the three monolithic systems.

Some recent developments have highlighted the contrasting systems.

Ancestry.com continues to expand by acquiring and partnering with smaller companies. As Ancestry.com's new web page explains they are developing a whole new area of DNA testing and partnering with Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation.
In March, Ancestry.com DNA, LLC acquired access to an extensive collection of DNA assets from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization. Founded by molecular genealogy pioneer, James LeVoy Sorenson, this organization has been dedicated to building the world’s foremost collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. Over the last 12 years, the Sorenson Foundation collected a one-of-a-kind DNA database of tens of thousands of DNA samples with documented family histories in more than 100 countries on six continents. This DNA database gives AncestryDNA test-takers an expanded family history genetic resource, and should enable new levels of discovery about people’s family backgrounds
FamilySearch is in the process of expanding into a new product called Family Tree while at the same time making available millions upon millions of digitized source documents. FamilySearch has also recently released some information about a new website called Poindexter.

MyHeritage.com has recently acquired WorldVitalRecords.com and other acquisitions.

It is apparent that all three are expanding rapidly in both hosting of user generated family trees and in providing other websites and services.

Recently, there were some comments in the blog posts about a new organization called the Family History Information Standards Organization, Inc.  or FHISO. The entity was organized as a non-profit corporation in Arizona on March 5, 2012. The new organization's website has little information other than links to BetterGEDCOM. FHISO is described on its website as:
FHISO is community owned. The organization will not sell stock; rather, those in the community “join” and become members of FHISO. The membership elects officers and board members; members also approve changes to the FHISO bylaws and articles of incorporation.
The statements go on to say:
BetterGEDCOM has been, and will continue to be, an open forum for the exchange of ideas about different aspects of technology and standardization. Many of those ideas are at the stage where they will need a more structured and organised environment to come to fruition; FHISO will provide that environment.
The establishment of FHISO signals neither the replacement nor the end of BetterGEDCOM. FHISO will be the sponsor of the BetterGEDCOM wiki. The future role and function of the wiki will be determined as FHISO further documents its forum requirements.
At about this same time, FamilySearch formally announced its involvement with GEDCOM X at RootsTech 2012.

Concurrently with the announcement of the FHISO, Ancestry.com apparently agreed to become a founding member of FHISO according to Dick Eastman.

So we have Ancestry.com in the BetterGEDCOM camp and FamilySearch in the GEDCOM X corner of the ring. I have yet to see where MyHeritage.com weighs in on the issue.

What is at stake is the future of genealogists to move their information from one database to another. The open questions begin with whether or not the two different standards that are evolving will have any compatibility? Will you be able to move your genealogical data from an Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com format to FamiySearch and back?

11 comments:

  1. Ancestry Magazine, Genealogical Computing and the book publishing side of Ancestry are kaputz.

    FHISO made the press release of the Ancestry founding membership. Dick Eastman was just one of many news outlets that redustributed the notice.

    BrightSolid needs to e considered in this mix.

    Myrt :)

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  2. A MyFamily.com press release from Jan. 2002, 10 YEARS AGO!, is hardly a "recent development."

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  3. The right press release was from 3 May 2012. Sorry about the wrong link. It is corrected.

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  4. Hi James,

    FHISO was created to be the community-owned standards setting organization--not to crash, clash, or compete with members of that community.

    I'm from the USA and with genealogists from Norway, UK, Canada and Australia, have been volunteering to organize FHISO. We have been mentored by industry leaders and others who want to see, as we do, a transparent and democratic forum in which genealogy standards are set.

    FHISO announced this week that Ancestry.com has finalized its plans to be a founding member. Late last year, however, before any real work had been done about FHISO, a leader from FamilySearch attended a BetterGEDCOM meeting and expressed the need for a community-owned standards organization. BetterGEDCOM provided the forum, so early dialog about creating FHISO was documented on its wiki. As the work progressed, more folks joined the effort; even more have provided guidance/assistance.

    FHISO's success depends on the participation of all the stakeholder groups. This means the community needs every "titans" to become a founding member and make participation a priority.

    The community needs the broad participation of other groups and independents too---computer user groups, genealogical societies and organizations, technologists, family historians, librarians, archivists, etc.

    Knowing Ancestry.com will be a member and collaborate with the community, within FHISO, is good news. We hope the announcement encourages others, including other titans, to likewise make participation in FHISO a priority.

    http://fhiso.org/

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  5. It shall certainly be interesting to see how things play our over the next few months. I applaud both attempts to improve GEDCOM, but hope that real progress can be made, rather than their attempts to turn into political power-plays that will leave the data hostage.

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  6. A recent email to myself from MyHeritage states:
    We are in continue contact and conversation with Family Search and with the group of people who are working to create the new standard of the GEDCOM.

    This would indicate that Family Search considers anything they do will be the standard. Hardly what a genealogist would be looking to, I think.

    Andy

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  7. those three geneology giants,r just getting rich off of everyones right to access their own family history,i realize that,its all about money....so called non-profit,ha, try getting info on ur family,or adding to ur tree,it will cost u,big bucks..i know,ur saying,its not that much 60,to 300 dollars a year, it is when u dont have it,or ur on a fixed income,,all census records ,death records,birth anouncements,marriages,etc,if its in the news paper,it should be free of charge,but as usual,its the all mighty dollar,and we r all so greedy....

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    1. Dear RMTKO, All of those records ARE free, but if you've ever traveled to a National Archive, tried to guess which of the 50 reels contain your information, sat for 8 hours cycling through those reels one-by-one and going home empty handed, its well worth the price. SOMEBODY had to sift through them and SOMEBODY had to index them. I'm volunteering right now indexing the 1940 as a thank you for all those that did the eight national censuses for me! And of course, we won't even mention the upkeep of the site that makes it easy to sit at home to see these wonders. Cheaper that gas to visit all the places, for sure!

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    2. I can't argue that family history research can be expensive. No one site includes everything so you usually have to shop around. If you also want to include, say, newspaper archives (which can be really useful) then you may need a second mortgage.

      The UK has some free resources in the form of FreeUKGEN. This includes FreeBMD, FreeREG, and FreeCEN - all of which are generated by volunteers transcribing the BMD records, parish registers, and census returns for everyone else to use.

      The downside of this is that there's then a temptation for people to cherry-pick the names & dates that look right for them from the free sites rather than doing the "heavy lifting" and making sure of the facts. For example, going into an archives or library, or spending money.

      There doesn't seem to be a be a way to avoid the expense. Basically, you get what you pay for, and that has repercussions for all those member trees that we access for little or nothing.

      Tony

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  8. "Will you be able to move your genealogical data from an Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com format to FamiySearch and back?"

    For public acceptance, they will have to be cross-transferable. And today, public acceptance means CONTINUANCE and USE.

    Happy Dae
    http://ShoeStringGenealogy.com

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  9. From gedcomx.org:
    'GEDCOM X is where the technological standards are being developed whereby genealogical data is stored, shared, searched, and secured across all phases of the genealogical research process. '

    It does not actually say it will be a transfer between programs, it more indicates it will allow transfer from a 3rd party to FamilySearch.

    If that is the case, something still needs to be developed to be a standard transfer protocol between programs, for general use by genealogists.

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