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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who owns the genealogy companies and why do I care? Part Three

I get the impression that most people are oblivious as to the origin of the things they buy. Unless you are worried about ecology or slave labor, you probably have only a very vague idea about where your bread is actually baked or which dairy produced the milk you had for breakfast. You might even argue that it really doesn't matter.

Let me describe a hypothetical situation for you. You go into a car dealership to purchase a new car and there are two seemingly similar models. One was manufactured in Japan and the other was made in Sri Lanka. Which would you be more likely to buy? Nothing against Sri Lanka by the way, but they are not known in the U.S. for their car manufacturing business. But did you know that they do make cars in Sri Lanka? See Micro Cars. And by the way, they appear to be really nice cars and small trucks. What if the car dealer had both cars available but conveniently avoided telling you the one you were buying was made in Sri Lanka? Two weeks later, you have a problem with your new car and take it back to the dealership. Unfortunately, the dealership is no longer there. Sri Lanka just put an export duty on their cars and you can no longer get parts in the U.S.

So how do cars on Sri Lanka relate to genealogy programs? You are paying for goods and services, you might want to know whether or not the company you are dealing with will be there long enough for you to get a full year of access to a database you paid for. You may hear news that a large company in another country is going out of business and think so what? Then you find out that all your genealogical information is in a company owned by the larger company and that they have decided that the genealogical segment is unprofitable and are closing it down. What happens to your data? When you are dealing with big businesses, you are dealing with decisions made by people who have no interest in genealogy at all as genealogy but only as a market segment or investment of their overall portfolio.

Of course, I am not advocating breaking off ties with large genealogy companies, but only taking into account that you might have had a subscription to and now do not, just for an example. You just might want to know who you are dealing with.

So far, I have talked some about FamilySearch, more about and some about brightsolid, what's next? Are there really any more larger companies to be concerned about? That is a really good question especially considering's and brightsolid's acquisitions. It is difficult to really evaluate the next tier of companies because of a simple fact, there isn't one. For example, there is Kimberly Powell of's "Top 10 U.S. Databases for Tracing Your Family Tree." The list is a little out-of-date (in fact I couldn't find a date) but illustrates the problem:

2. FamilySearch
3. U.S. GenWeb
4. RootsWeb
5. Footnote
6. WorldVitalRecords
7. GenealogyBank
8. Godfrey Scholars
9. National Archives
10. Family Tree Connections

For the purposes of my questions about ownership, most of these listed databases are not a consideration. For example U.S. GenWeb is a group of volunteers across the U.S. On the other hand, RootsWeb is one of the companies owned by and from my standpoint, doesn't count as a separate entity. I already mentioned that Footnote is no longer with us and is now owned by under the name of The National Archives isn't a private business at all, so I wouldn't consider it in the same category since it is "owned" if that is word, by the U.S. Government. That leaves WorldVitalRecords, GenealogyBank, Godfrey Scholars and Family Tree Connections. Four out of ten that we even need to consider.

Godfrey Scholars is easy, it is the Godfrey Memorial Library. Quoting from their website, "The library does not receive funds from any local, state, or federal agency. Our operating funds primarily come from the sale of memberships to the online Godfrey Scholar Program and through patron donations. Although it is a privately owned library, it is free and open to the public six days a week."

That leaves three for another post.


  1. Will you discuss the volunteer-driven sites/databases in a future post? Just because they are not a "company", their hosting and support is critical for ongoing access and growth. When those change - remember when RootsWeb was purchased - a cascade of reactions follow.

  2. I do not entrust my data, in its entirety, to anyone but myself. I share parts of it, as appropriate, with family members, but my data stays with me. I have some small bits on, just enough to attract more bits of information, but I have no intention of putting all my data into the hands of some corporation, and even less of putting anything of mine in "the cloud."