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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Introduction to Who Owns the Genealogy Companies Revisited

From time to time I address the issue of who owns the genealogy companies. What I mean is who owns the really big genealogy online databases. Why is this important and why do I care? Well, sometimes I like to know just who it is that has control of these vast online resources. If I am going to spend a couple of hundred bucks every years (or more) renting these websites, I feel a little more comfortable knowing who I'm dealing with. When you have a business online, you can't always tell if you are dealing with a single individual in his or her basement or garage, or dealing with a large multinational corporation. Where the product is information, you might want to know the relative reliability of the information. Additionally, if you are uploading your own information, you would like to know who controls it and where it might end up.

One example; there was a large online database website called Footnote.com. Here is a description of that website from Kimberly Powell on About.com Genealogy:
Important historic documents from the U.S. National Archives are now making their way online due to an agreement with Footnote.com. Digitized copies of documents such as Revolutionary War pension records and Civil War service records can be viewed and even annotated through what is possibly the best image viewer I've seen on the Web. You can also create free personal story pages to track your research or share your documents and photos. Search results are also free, although you'll have to subscribe to view, print and save most of the actual document images. In my opinion, Footnote.com is a bargain for the money.
This subscription based site had three major components; digitized documents from the U.S. National Archives, free personal story pages, and a really good image viewer. What happened? Footnote.com was purchased by Ancestry.com in September of 2010. So, what if you had a subscription to Footnote.com? First of all, the name changed to Fold3.com. The site is now characterized as "Fold3 provides convenient access to US military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served." So what happened to the personal story pages? What happened to the agreement with the National Archives? The image viewer survived.

Now, you are going to say, how would knowing that Footnote.com was owned by a company called iArchives.com help me in any way? Well, the last online press release from iArchives was dated April, 2011 but it had been over a year, June of 2010, since the previous press release. So who cares? Some of us like to know who we are dealing with and whether or not the company is going to remain viable. But you say, you are not investing in the company. Actually, I am. If I have spent time entering a "personal story page" into the website and paid for a subscription, that is, by definition, an investment. Granted, it is not the same as buying stock, but basically, I just like knowing who I am dealing with.

So who are the big players today in the genealogical online database service industry?

I would have to list them as follows based on no particular criteria other than pervasive presence in the marketplace. Comparing the size of these giants is nearly impossible. None of them provided detailed disclosures of all of their interests. Some of this information can be gleaned from online sources, but if some company wants to remain incognito, there is little we can do about it. Each of the sites/companies listed below includes but not listed, all of their subsidiaries and partnerships.



There are other huge online databases that cater to the genealogical community, but they are not quite as encompassing as the four listed above or they are operated by a government. Here are some additional really large websites that, to my knowledge, are not directly related to any of the big four:


It is extremely hard to compare these and other sites to each other because there is no common way to count "records" or "collections." Many of these sites represent as having millions or even billions of names, but many of those are in user contributed family trees and in a lot of cases duplicative. 

Next time I'll look closer at each of the companies. If you would like to add another company to the list bear in mind who owns the company. Many of the other companies are subsidiaries of the larger ones. 

Next, who are the giants?






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