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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How are the large genealogy company partnerships evolving?

 Very large online genealogical databases are the most prominent evidence of the rapid and dramatic changes to the greater genealogical community. We cannot underestimate the effect of providing literally billions of records that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. But even more importantly than the mere size of the databases is the fact that there are interrelationships between the various companies.

From the standpoint of the genealogical researcher, the number and availability of so many records can pose an overwhelming challenge. There still remains an extreme disparity between the availability of records in some of the more developed countries and those countries with limited assets, or with political systems that prevent records from being made available. For example, in the United States, most of the basic records going back at least 200 years, are readily available online from various subscription and free websites. However, in contrast some countries have virtually no records available online, in fact access to the existing paper records is extremely limited. In a sense, this creates a genealogical lottery where some researchers are able to trace their ancestry back to the 1500s and others cannot find their own grandparents.

Overlaid on top of the mammoth growth in digitized records, is the recent development of partnerships between the various online record providers. The connections between these very large companies is focused on their family tree programs. For example, if I have a family tree on, and I want to utilize the genealogical resources of, I must have a family tree on both programs. I could use the old and imperfect method of GEDCOM transfer to move some of the data from my family tree to, but under the present system, I would lose some of the data in the transfer process. One of the most important features of the growth of these giant companies is that they are in the process of establishing strategic relationships or partnerships with other data content suppliers. The promise of these rapidly changing and evolving partnership relationships is that there will be an increased ability to move genealogically significant data and the supporting media from one program to another.

In a recent class I attempted to outline on a whiteboard the then current interrelationships and data paths between the various large online programs. The results of my outline looked like a bowl of spaghetti. Even though I taught that class only a couple of weeks ago, the number of interrelationships has increased dramatically because of the announcements made at the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah and the diagram today would be even more confusing.

I see the following challenges confronting genealogical researchers as the connections and makeup of the online community changes so rapidly:

  • Grasping the magnitude of the number of records going online almost daily.
  • Understanding the complex interrelationships between the various programs.
  • Maintaining access through remembering passwords, logins and the details of using additional programs.
  • Becoming aware of and evaluating the new connections and the new programs.
 These are just a few of the challenges involved in understanding the changes. Let me give an example. Suppose, I have a family tree on Do I need to put the same information on the Family Tree? What about putting the same information on What about putting the same information on What about having the same information on or What about Do I need another copy of my family tree and all my sources, media items and comments on a desktop based program also?  How do I keep all of these, and possibly many more, copies of all of my data synchronized and current?

I am certain that during the next year we will see many more partnerships formed between various companies, thereby making the decisions as to how to maintain our genealogical data even more complicated.


  1. James, you wrote, "For example, in the United States, most of the basic records going back at least 200 years, are readily available online from various subscription and free websites."


    Perhaps you could detail what you mean by "basic records."

    Thank you.

    1. Yes, I can. U.S. Census records, vital records, newspapers, land and property records, court records and so forth. There are exceptions, but for example, all of the Federal Court Decisions going back to 1782 are online.

  2. Most extant deeds, court, tax and estate records really are not "online." Some that are not on the web have been microfilmed, but maybe not even the majority.

    What has been digitized and uploaded is really spotty and varies a lot by date-range and place. But we can dream of more.

    1. Take court records for example, some states, like Arizona and Utah have online court record systems. All of the court cases in Arizona going back to the 1800s are online. They just happen to be in websites such as Westlaw and Lexus Nexus instead of "genealogy" websites. Every reported law case in the U.S. is online. Almost every county in the country has an online tax record website. These aren't genealogy websites, but they are online.

    2. Reported opinions can be very helpful, but most County Court cases never involved decisions in law or in chancery or went to any appeal venue.

      Tax-record sites are myriad, but nearly all are oriented to recent assessments. Related property maps can be useful, but not all that many related records (deeds, partitions) accompany them on the web to help trace original properties laid out in metes-and-bounds, or even in the grids surveyed in the Midwest and elsewhere.

      To be sure, FamilySearch has been uploading selected estate records, but with major gaps in time frame and coverage of counties. The recent concentration has been on 20th-century, with short shrift given to 17th and18th centuries and even early 19th century.

      Maybe gaps will be filled in, in coming years, but much was never microfilmed, such as case files, oil and gas quit-claim books, many more record types.

    3. Your basic assumption is that the genealogy companies are doing the digitization. In fact, much of what you mention is being digitized by the states. For example, the Washington State digital archives presently has over 147 million documents preserved and over 52 million of them searchable online.

  3. I would appreciate your thoughts, maybe in another post, on how to handle the issue of needing to maintain your tree in five different places (your desktop program and the four online trees). I am retired and spend close to full-time working on family history, but it's about all I can do to maintain my desktop record manager and Family Tree. But I know several cousins who use Ancestry, FindMyPast, or MyHeritage trees and I feel like I need to get my information out and share with everyone by maintaining trees on all the sites. I am also completely overwhelmed by all the record matches on the various sites. There are literally thousands of them. When I spend some time looking at them, I see they are mostly duplicates of what I already have or of the record hints in Family Tree. I'm afraid I'm missing some good sources by not checking them all. But, that's not physically possible.

    1. Your question is the number one issue of the multiple trees. I have my own way of coping, but there is ultimately an issue of time. I will do a blog post.