RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Does any one company have all of the records, or is that even possible?

In this post I will attempt to graphically show that no one company, be it Ancestry.com or whatever, has in its collections, even a tiny portion of all of the genealogical valuable records in the world and that the possibility of any one entity, commercial or otherwise, of gaining such a monopoly is very, very remote. Fears that Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org or any other entity can somehow control even a significant portion of the world's records is entirely unfounded. At this point, all I would really need to do to support all of these statements would be to list collection after collection of records, record types and record sources that have yet to be digitized, much less incorporated into any entities' online database. A genealogist would either have to be extremely naive or unexperienced to begin to believe that online records yet constitute even a significant percentage of the number of records in the world that are either locked up in paper or will unlikely ever be available to genealogists through genealogy companies.

Let me give only one example to start and to finish this argument. The latest estimates seem to indicate that Google.com has digitized 30 million books. Yet Google itself estimates that there may be as many as 129,864,880 books in the world. So after years of digitizing, Google has manages to digitize just over 23% of the worlds books. This example, of course, depends on the accuracy of the estimated total number of books and the accuracy of the information on the number Google has digitized.

Now, if I search for the term "genealogy" in Google books, I get about 9.3 million results. However, the word "genealogy" can be used in many contexts which have little or nothing to do with the activities or interests of the genealogical community. Can we assume that the 9.3 million results from a search in Google books tells us anything about the number of genealogically valuable books in the world? No. But whatever the actual number of genealogically valuable books, Google has only digitized no more than 23% of the total.

Let me use a hypothetical to continue this example. Let's suppose the actual number of genealogically significant books scanned, so far, by Google is around 5 million. A number I picked out of the air. That would mean that out of the total of 30 million books scanned by Google, 16+ percent of those books dealt with genealogical topics. Remember, I am estimating only about half of the books that are returned in a Google search are really genealogy books. Let's further suppose that Google is mostly correct, there are 129+ million books in the world. (Note that my experience in libraries would strongly argue that it would be ludicrous to assume that even 1% of the worlds books dealt with genealogy, I would think that despite the return of a Google search, that the number of such books is less than a million). But let me carry on this hypothetical a little further, for argument purposes, let's assume that the actual number is 16% of the total of 129 million or about 21.5 million books. So what is the largest online collection dedicated to genealogy books? That is easy, FamilySearch.org has just over 100,000. If anything in the hypothetical makes any sense at all, then FamilySearch.org and all the rest of the libraries contributing to their scanning project have about 21.4 million to go.

This is what is known as an argument ad absurdum, that is an argument intending to show that the conclusion made by someone is absurd if taken to its logical (or illogical) conclusion. Just for the record, Ancestry.com lists 23,424 digitized books in its collections and by the way, each book is counted as a separate "collection." So by any stretch of the imagination, there is no danger that either Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org will corner the digitized genealogy book market any time in the future.

Of course, my hypothetical example is flawed because neither I nor anyone else has any real idea of the total number of genealogically valuable books in the world. But so what if Ancestry.com and the others got even a majority of the genealogically valuable books? They would merely be duplicating what is already being done by Google and others such as Archive.org.

I haven't used an example of records for a reason. There are no estimates of the total number of records in the world. But some of the largest repositories have barely begun to digitize their records and it would be foolhardy to expect that all of their future efforts will end up in any of the currently large genealogical online databases.

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