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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Updating who owns the genealogy companies

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post series on the ownership of the commercial genealogy companies. Since that series, there have been a number of purchases and consolidations and it is again time to look at the commercial genealogy landscape. This particular thought had been running around in my head for while due to recent comments on the old blog posts. But the catalyst was an email letter from the owner of Netflix (Yes, I do watch movies now and again) in which he announced that Netflix was splitting off their DVD rental business into a new company called Qwikster. So now, if you want to rent DVDs you will do so from a different company than Netflix and pay a separate bill. See Netflix saying goodbye to DVDs.

Essentially, the same type of business arrangements are being made every day among the commercial genealogy companies. So here I go with the analysis.

As an introduction, I am going to look at the two big data source giants; and FamilySearch. A commentator to my earlier blog post recently came up with yet another unique conspiracy theory, that FamilySearch and were really the same company and that was nothing more than a front for Mormon missionaries. I have to admit, I hadn't realized that, probably because it is totally false. FamilySearch does not control, own or manage and vice versa, FamilySearch is not controlled, owned or managed by FamilySearch is a separate corporation, wholly owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon/LDS). The Church may own stock but if it does, it is purely an investment and a good one at that. stock has done quite well over the past few years. Quoting from the website, "Any critic who claims the Church has on-going interest in a company should prove the claim by providing data showing that the Church indeed holds significant interest." In another part of the same article, explains that any stocks donated to the Church are liquidated. The statements are:
The Church has what is called the "donations in kind" office that manages issues related to real estate, stocks and bonds, and other "non-cash" contributions. Interested parties can call Church headquarters and ask to be connected to this department, which will provides frank information about the Church's policy in this area.
It is the Church's practice to automatically liquidate all stocks/bonds provided to the donations in kind office as soon as they can be sold. Any stock donations made to the Church are never held by the Church or its corporations, but are converted into cash and then used for Church purposes.

It is correct that FamilySearch and share some databases and cooperate at certain levels in providing either indexes to records or scanned copies of the records in their respective websites, but that cooperation does not imply that there is any ownership interest either way. Rather than believe that there is a conspiracy, maybe the commentator should talk to the missionaries and find out if they were sent by If he talks to most of the missionaries I know, the young white shirt and tie kind, he will likely find out that very, very few of them will have even heard of except as advertised on TV.

Now, let's see if there has been any change in the ownership/management of FamilySearch. Of course, this is highly unlikely because it is basically a very conservative organization. However, one thing is certain, people come and go at FamilySearch. Only speculating, but I would guess that although they pay their employees adequately, their salaries are probably significantly less than they could make out in the general commercial world in a lot of cases. This would tend to explain, in part, why there is a turnover in personnel. But despite periodic changes in faces at FamilySearch, the goals and basic organization have not changed. The quality and dedication of the people working with FamilySearch is exceptional. Paid well or not, they are some of the best computer and genealogy people available.

FamilySearch, International (usually abbreviated) is a separately organized nonprofit educational institution. FamilySearch has employees and also functions with volunteers in the form of Church Service Missionaries. Some confusion comes by virtue of the fact that FamilySearch is also a dba of Genealogical Society of Utah. Obtaining information about the size of the FamilySearch organization and its other business activities is fairly difficult. But it is evident that FamilySearch runs the Granite Storage Vault, the Family History Library, the remains of various FamilySearch affiliate organizations and a lot more. Quoting from the Genealogical Society of Utah website, "
FamilySearch, historically known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, is dedicated to the discovery and preservation of a record of the family of mankind, introducing individuals to their ancestors through the widespread access of records, and collaborating with others who share this vision.
All of the services provided by FamilySearch are free to the users, however, FamilySearch does charge for some of its products, such as CDs or DVDs, at or near the cost to reproduce those items. is a lot more complicated structure than FamilySearch. Since 2007, has been owned by Spectrum Equity Investors, of Boston, Massachusetts and Menlo Park, California. Click on the link to see what Spectrum Equity Investors owns, you might recognize some of the companies in addition to The websites owned and operated by include,, and has been absorbed into Since my last post on this subject, has purchased two of the other large online databases. One of the purchases was formerly called, but now is called also purchased the Swedish online database called lists 30,206 databases. lists 783. But there is no real way to compare the two collections. has mainly indexes of records, while has a majority of images. Some of the collections have literally millions of records. Let's just say that both have a lot of resources and are adding more all the time. There is no "better"  only different.

In succeeding posts, I will look at some of the other larger genealogy companies. There is not an endless list. Most genealogy companies tend to be very small family or personally owned operations. But it is important to know who you are dealing with when it comes to online records and family trees.


  1. Thanks for enlightening us.

  2. Enlighting ! Many of us we concerned when Ancestry bought Roots Web.