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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who Owns the Genealogy Companies -- An Update -- Part One

It has been a couple of years since I went through the process of analyzing who owns the various online genealogy companies. Since my last posts on this issue, there have been several notable acquisitions. The larger companies continue to expand. The notable exception, of course, is FamilySearch, International, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary corporation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch International is listed as first registered in 1999 and is doing business as FamilySearch and the Genealogical Society of Utah. In fact, FamilySearch was formerly known as the Genealogical Society of Utah and the name "FamilySearch" was first used by that organization that began in 1894.

The organization and the acquisitions of the other large companies are much more complex and more difficult to reconstruct. Some of the acquisitions over the years have not been well publicized. Current ownership is usually a larger corporation or an investment group. Some of the acquisitions have been substantially modified or even completely absorbed by the new parent corporation.

The current genealogical scene is further complicated by the fact that some of the companies have partnerships or "strategic alliances" with other companies. FamilySearch has been particularly aggressive in seeking these partnerships, some of which have been well publicized. Since my last post on this subject, these partnerships have become a major factor in the expansion of all of the larger companies and many more of the smaller companies. With the larger companies, the partnerships involve a trade of genealogical record accessibility for technological assistance primarily through providing indexing services.

In the past, response to my posts has included a measure of paranoia from certain commentators. It is usually evident from the content of the comments that the individuals involved in making these comments about possible conspiracies are entirely ignorant of genealogy as an activity and are merely making their comments based their impressions of large corporations in general or, in some instances, prejudice against the owners of the companies or some-sort-of imagined agenda.

Another area of concern by commentators has been the issue of the ownership of genealogical records per se. There is a certain segment of the online community that believes that any information, no matter how acquired or designated, should be entirely free and so a certain amount of ire is directed at the large companies simply because they exist. This attitude also shows a marked degree of ignorance of the way records are created and maintained. Record repositories have very substantial overhead expenses and the cost of maintaining, cataloging, indexing and providing access to billions of records is enormous. These costs have to be covered by subscription or donation. These commentators also wrongly discount the cost an individual would have to pay to acquire access to these records before they were made available online.

That said, here is the current list. As usual, if there are any omissions, I would be more than happy for constructive comments.

I may as well start with the most popular and what is claimed to be the largest online supplier of genealogically related records. Quoting from the website, "About Ancestry,"
Our revenues have increased from $225 million in 2009 to $620 million in 2014. The company is majority owned by Permira funds, along with certain minority co-investors. was for a time, a publicly owned stock corporation. The purchase by Permira Funds took the company private.  Permira is described as follows on their website:
Permira is an international private equity firm. Since 1985, the funds have made over 200 private equity investments with a focus on driving transformation to build better businesses.
 Permira has a rather long list of investments and is one of the largest. Most of the companies are unfamiliar to me and are outside of the United States. Permira currently has fourteen offices, all of them outside of the U.S. has a long list of subsidiary websites that it has established or acquired. Here are the ones I have been able to find. The international websites are quoted from the International list.
Ancestry™Ancestry, launched in 1996, hosts the world's largest online collection of family history records - currently more than 14 billion, including the complete US Federal Censuses, US immigration records, military records from as far back as the Revolutionary War, and also many exciting collections from around the world.™, launched in 2002, hosts the UK's largest online collection of family history records with more than 1 billion searchable records including England, Wales and Scotland Censuses, exclusive online access to UK birth, marriage and death records, plus a comprehensive selection of WW1 military, immigration and parish records.™, launched in 2006, is the leading Canadian family history website with 235 million family history records including exclusive online access to the Censuses of Canada, the Inbound Passenger Lists and Ontario and British Columbia vital records. The site is in both English and French language.™, launched in 2006, is Australia's most popular family history website and home to more than 2 billion Australian and UK family history records which includes Australia's largest online index of birth, marriage and death records, the most comprehensive online collection of Convict and Free Settler records, the Australian Electoral Rolls, plus parish records, newspapers and much more.™, launched in 2006, is the first website to host a significant collection of German family history records - currently more than 185 million, including the Hamburg Passenger Lists, both the German Phone and City Directories, plus international censuses, military and parish records with German relevance. The site is in local language.™, launched in 2007, hosts more than 20 million Italian family history records including civil registration records of births, marriage banns, marriages and deaths assembled from provinces across Italy, plus international immigration and census records with Italian relevance. The site is in local language.™, launched in 2007, hosts more than 40 million French family history records including Paris vital records of births, deaths and marriages from as early as 1700s and other civil registration records from a variety of French provinces, plus international immigration and census records with French relevance. The site is in local language.™, launched in 2007, hosts more than 220 million Swedish family history records including immigration records from as far back as the early 19th century, Varmland church records from the 1600s, plus international censuses and vital records with Swedish relevance. The site is in local language.
Here are some of the other websites owned by has made several other purchases in the past of websites that are no longer online. 

In the next post in this series, I will take a look at some of the other websites. 


  1. Thank you for sharing this information. When I first started researching my family tree, I too felt the information should be free until my husband pointed out someone is gathering and storing the information and I'm just paying them for all the hard work.

  2. Hello, James,

    I must take exception to ‘exclusive online access to the Censuses of Canada’ in your description of The Canadian census comes from Library and Archives Canada (LAC) where they have all of the Canadian census from 1825 to 1916. does have exclusive right to the 1921 census, but only until 2016, when it will go back to the LAC, and will be available free.

    And, the researcher has to go to the LAC for the ingredients to write source material for the census.

    It also has databases on passenger lists, First World War records, and land records.

    And the site is FREE!


    1. Thanks for the correction. My quote was from's website as I indicated by indenting and quoting.

    2. I feel there is a communication issue at Ancestry :-) A record there can be anything. Ancestry does have its own indexes to Canadian censuses and passenger records. There are other indexes on-line free but not for the complete series. Same for Ontario Vitals, I believe. As for British Columbia's Vital Events, a free official index has been on-line for years at the BC Archives website and that index is also now on FamilySearch too. And between BC Archives and FamilySearch, images of historical Vital Event records are linked to those free indexes available and it's free to print, download, save, etc. Ancestry only has an index for BC Vitals.( I have noticed that Ancestry's index has one of the same mistakes as the official index.)

  3. It is one thing to own, store and disseminate formal records. Perhaps access should cost something. On the other hand libraries are free if you can get to them. Then there are become, etc, submitted freely by subscribers, but the submitted is then charged to see his own submissions.This is graft.

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