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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

10,000,000,000 Records?

Back in May of 2009, the big news in the online genealogical community was's announcement of adding more than 1 billion people to its data base. The news this week demonstrates the explosion of online records with a further announcement from that they now have over 10 billion records. Quoting from the press release, (Nasdaq:ACOM), the world's largest online family history resource, is celebrating the addition of its 10 billionth record to the website. Included in the extensive record collection are ship passenger lists, military draft cards, birth, marriage and death records and the most popular — U.S. Federal Census records.
They claim to have more records than all of the other online sites combined. I am sure that the acquisition of figured heavily into reaching that milestone.  Quoting further from the press release,
The treasure trove of 10 billion-plus online records on, which has grown 150 percent in the last three years, is larger than those of all other online family history sites combined. Although much of the increase in the record collections has been in recent years, the site overall has added an average of 55 million records a month since the website went online 15 years ago. Images of documents date back to wills executed in London in 1507 A.D., while indexes of records reach back more than seven centuries, to marriage licenses and probated wills in Dublin, Ireland, from 1270 A.D.
If you think about it, the entire population of the world just exceeded 7 billion on March 12, 2012.  But although the number of records in's databases exceeds the number of people, there are vast areas of the world that still have few, if any, records online and certainly none in So how can there be so many records on

One of the first issues is "What is a record?" In other words, what is calling a record?

First I need to talk about collections. By latest count, has 30,671 collections that are listed in their World Edition. In contrast, for example,, as of 12 May 2012, has 1146 collections. However, as I have written before in this blog, the designation "collection" when referring to genealogical records has no commonly understood meaning.

On, a collection can be anything from a little over 1000 records in the Arizona, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865 to over 90 million records in the United States Social Security Death Index. The same thing holds true on If they are counting their Public Member Trees, then there are 2,107,016,069 records listed in that collection alone and way down at the end of's list is the tiny "The Stone Family Association, 1910" with one record.

So what does the word "record" now mean in the context of's announcement? Do and count their "records" in the same way? How would we ever know? It looks like, from's list in their "Card Catalog" that 7 billion of their 10 billion records are in the first 8 collections of their 30,671 collections. Over 3 billion of their counted records are in three collections; Public Member Trees, Private Member Trees, and Ancestry World Tree.

Good public relations and a nice way of selling your services but not very meaningful.

Now what else do we need to think about? Let's say that what I really want is a digitized copy of an original source record, such as a death certificate or town record from New England. Where do I go to get those records? Another example. I can go to and get a copy of my Great-grandfather's death certificate. I can get a copy of that same record from also. Can I get a copy from as part of their 10 billion records? Nope. I can get a link to a record for his burial, but not his death certificate.

So how does claim such high numbers? Easy. They include listings like phone books and city directories, with each entry claimed to be a "record." Does do the same thing" Essentially yes. Which collections are more valuable? The images of records on or the index listings on

The answer is both are valuable but in different ways. But don't be impressed by numbers alone.

1 comment:

  1. Hi James,

    Diane Haddad asked almost the same question on her GenealogyInsider Bolg that I commented on. You'll find this interesting...

    Thursday, May 10, 2012 9:50:58 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
    I guess it depends on how one defines 'records'.

    I wonder If Ancestry can tell you if that 10 billion records includes or excludes all their online tree records...

    Public Member Trees: 2,107,016,069
    Private Member Trees: 527,923,893
    Ancestry World Tree: 467,671,004
    One World Tree: 120,668,705

    TOTAL TREE RECORDS=3,223,279,671
    Total Non-Tree Records=6,776,720,329

    Andy Hatchett

    Saturday, May 12, 2012 9:25:40 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
    Hi, Andy,
    I checked with and they confirmed that the 10 billion figure does include member tree records. Thanks for your comment!