21 August 2008

Chicago 2008: A new chapter, Part 1

While whispers of a JewishGen/Ancestry relationship have been flying around the Jewish genealogical world for several months, the formal agreement announcement was made public Tuesday night, August 19, at the Chicago 2008 conference.

Speaking at the meeting were Ancestry CFO David Rinn, David G. Marwell of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and Ancestry indexing manager Crista Cowan.

Comments focused on features, tools, functionalities and extensive Jewish content being added to Ancestry's seven billion names and 26,000 databases. Both Ancestry and JewishGen will cross-market this new arrangement to their constituencies; Rinn called the arrangement "good for the genealogical eco-system."

Over the years, JewishGen has experienced technical problems with servers and other issues. The data will now be housed on Ancestry's more robust servers providing improved reliability

Marwell said that this "new chapter" in the life of JewishGen, will "build on and extend the organization" founded by former JewishGen director Susan King. The arrangement was concluded, he said, after "a long and complex negotiation."

The bottom line is that JewishGen's data will remain free and freely accessible. Technically, JewishGen will be more stable and able to sustain a growing database.

The arrangement grew out of financial difficulties at JewishGen. Said Marwell, Ancestry makes money, while JewishGen loses money, and needed the means to survive. The financial aspects of the deal will enable JewishGen to extend its reach, while thriving in a stable environment.

According to Marwell's comments to the packed room of conference attendees, Ancestry will provide "pipe and power" - hardware, bandwith, facilities - while JewishGen will remain an independent non-profit entity, with its own management, and free forever. Ancestry will not administer JewishGen and will not have access to registrants' personal data.

Technically, this will result in better user experiences for both sites, with more records online and better navigation capabilities. Rinn called it a win-win situation: While Ancestry gains new content and a new user base, JewishGen gains the benefit of marketing experience and access to more users. The new partnership makes Jewish genealogy resources more accessible.

The Jewish genealogy world has also been hearing about Ancestry's negotiations with seven additional Jewish entities for more content, including digitization projects. At posting time, no further information was available.

Ancestry indexing manager Crista Cowan offered a glimpse of how the new integrated system will operate as she searched Rinn's Jewish family and provided new records in various databases, including Jewish Records Indexing - Poland (http://www.jri-poland.org/) for the RYN family's Lublin records.

JRI-Poland associate director Hadassah Lipsius said JRI-Poland is an independent organization whose database, website and discussion groups are hosted by JewishGen; she released a written statement:
"After thorough discussion by the JRI-Poland board, it was voted to grant permission to JewishGen to sub-license some JRI-Poland data to Ancestry. This will include nearly 1.5 million index listings from Polish-Jewish records microfilmed by the LDS and historical sources. This will not include any data indexed pursuant to JRI-Poland's agreement with the Polish State Archives (PSA)."

Search results on Ancestry will provide a link back to JRI-Poland, and the data will remain free forever on Ancestry agreement.

(Part II follows)

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