In the past few weeks, the genealogical playing field just got a lot more complicated. The team standings become muddled and it is going to take some time to figure out the rankings. Although we still have some outstanding players, partnerships, alliances and sharing deals make it much harder to distinguish between the players. What is clear is the huge benefit to the genealogical community watching all this on field activity.
OK, enough of the sports analogy. If you know me at all, you realize that is really out of character. So much has happened, if you missed even one day, you need a refresher. I need to start back a few years.
FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com have had file sharing agreements since the rush to put original source records and indexes online began a few years ago. You might note that I refer to these entities as if they were websites, but really, they are huge multi-faceted organizations. FamilySearch is the genealogical organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a wholly owned corporate subsidiary formerly known as The Genealogical Society of Utah. In some form or another, it has been around since 1894. During all that time since 1894, FamilySearch has been accumulating genealogical materials including millions of microfilm copies of records from around the world and tens of thousands of books. All of those records, where available and not restricted either because of copyright restrictions or other limitations, are currently in the process of being digitized and put online.
Ancestry.com has been in the same general business, that is, putting genealogical records and indexes online as a commercial entity. One of the early agreements between Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org involved the 1880 U.S. Census. The images were on Ancestry.com and the index was on FamilySearch.org. Fast forward to today. After a whole lot of negotiations, the 1880 U.S. Census images now appear on FamilySearch.org.
So what is happening? The entities are focusing on the main objective; that is to provide worldwide access to genealogical records. Some of the entities are commercially operated and make money through subscriptions to their services, FamilySearch.org is free to everyone and always will be. Sharing records and technology benefits the genealogical community at large and also each of the participating entities. They each get something that they couldn't otherwise use to further the interests of the community at large.
Another example is the agreement between MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.org. MyHeritage.com has developed a fabulous search engine technology which they are now going to share with FamilySearch.org in exchange for access to source documents from around the world. Rather than try and duplicate what FamilySearch.org has accumulated, MyHeritage.com can focus on what it does fantastically well, that is do searches in the accumulated databases. Who benefits? Obviously both companies involved, but also every one of those searching online for their ancestors using either company.
This same advantage is conveyed by the agreement between FamilySearch.org and D.C. Thompson (findmypast.com and other websites). As a member of the researching part of the genealogical community, you can't avoid reaping the benefits of these alliances.
What about the nay-sayers who are concerned about the commercialization of the records? Well, the records were not going to be made available any other way. It is evident that the governmental entities around the world were, for the most part, not going to digitize their own records and make them available to genealogists for free, so there is likely no other way so many of the records could be made available. This is clearly a win-win situation. The records in FamilySearch.org remain free. The other records on the other entities still remain subject to subscriptions, but are, for the most part free at FamilySearch Centers. I don't see any of that as a problem.
Here are links to the current agreements, understandings or whatever: