04 September 2008

FGS 2008: Ancestry's new world initiative

Genealogy news is made public at the various annual genealogical conferences. Just announced at the FGS conference - underway in Philadelphia - is Ancestry.com's World Archives Project and first collaboration with the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

Researchers know that handwritten historical records may disappear or disintegrate quickly if not carefully preserved in a variety of ways. This new project allows the genealogy community to help bring free historical record collections to public access.

The process includes gathering historical records and scanning them into the system, entering facts to create a searchable index, and adding that index to Ancestry free to all.

Large collections will be broken down into smaller image-sets and keyers will log in to download a set. Each record will be seen by two keyers and the results compared. If data matches exactly, it will be published on Ancestry. If data is different, an arbitrator will review each keyer's results and decide which is most accurate. There is a tutorial explaining more.

According to the Ancestry.com site, the searchable indexes will be available free to all, while document images will obe accessible for-fee, although "active contributors" (those who help index 900-plus records per quarter) will also receive image access.

Here is the press release:

Ancestry.com Introduces the World Archives Project to Preserve and Provide Online Access to Historical Records

Philadelphia – Sept. 4, 2008 – Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, today launched the World Archives Project, a global public indexing initiative designed to give individuals everywhere the opportunity to help preserve historical records. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is the first organization to partner with Ancestry.com during this beta phase of this new venture, enlisting genealogists and family history enthusiasts to help test the software and prepare it for a more public release.

Now in public beta, the World Archives Project allows individuals to transcribe information from images of original historical records and to create indexes that will remain accessible for free on Ancestry.com and on Ancestry’s localized sites in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Sweden, and Italy. Active contributors* will soon be able to access all original images that are part of the World Archives Project. Organizations can also partner with the World Archives Project and sponsor indexing projects. Ancestry.com will donate a digital copy of the sponsored index and images back to partnering organizations.

“As a global society, we are falling further and further behind when it comes to digitizing historical records,” said Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of The Generations Network, parent company of Ancestry.com. “The World Archives Project allows us to work collectively as a community to preserve and to digitize records that will otherwise surely be lost to the wear and tear of time. By providing free access to these indexes on the world’s most popular family history website, we will provide millions of people with access to records that might help them unlock new clues about their ancestors.”

Already, several thousand individuals have joined the World Archives Project private beta, indexing Wisconsin Mortality Schedules and Nebraska State Censuses. Participants provided feedback and recommendations for this public beta release.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this cause and to help spread the world about this new initiative,” said Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg, president of FGS. “The World Archives Project is a great way for enthusiasts and genealogical societies to directly impact and further family history research.”

“FGS has been enormously helpful in the development of our vision for the World Archives Project,” said Sullivan. “The 500+ genealogy societies that FGS represents are absolutely critical to the continued health and growth of genealogical research. We’ve been searching for years for the right way to partner with genealogy societies, and we think this project will allow us to help them attract new members by leveraging the popularity of Ancestry.com. We appreciate the encouragement and support FGS provides and look forward to continuing our relationship as this project marches forward.”

According to the site, all indexes will remain free to the public at Ancestry.com, which will donate copies of record indexes and project images to partnering government archives and genealogy societies. Project images and indexes will also be available at subscribing US libraries, and Ancestry will provide free advertising to partnering genealogy societies. This last bit of information was intriguing and I asked Suzanne Russo Adams of Ancestry's Professional Desk, who just responded:

"Free advertising means society partnership logos will be placed on a designated partnership page as well as society logo and link on the database page for the specific project. For example, the Nebraska State Genealogical Society is the partner for the NE State Censuses; therefore, they will get their link and logo on a World Archives Project partner page as well as on the database, when completed. A partner society also receives a copy of the images and indexes for the society."

Active contributors (those helping to index 900-plus records per quarter) will be able to vote - in the future - on which records are indexed next. They will receive free access to original images in the project’s databases. Those who already subscribe to Ancestry.com will be eligible for a discount (10% US Deluxe; 15% World Deluxe) on renewal.

Note that according to this wording, searchable indexes will remain free to all, but that public access to the document images will be for-fee. General researchers who either wish to download an image or to check the accuracy of a transcription will need a subscription.

For more information, click here. Active contributor guidelines are here.


  1. Hi Schelly,

    Thanks for this (about Ancestry.com's World Archives Project). I know you usually report facts, but perhaps you can speculate a bit on what Ancestry has in mind? They seem to really be sweeping up lots of things (JewishGen too, of course), and I'm wondering where they're going with it all.

  2. There isn't too much speculation in my comments below - it is rather transparent and simple.

    TGN - the parent company of Ancestry.com - is a for-profit corporation. As the pursuit of family history fascinates increasingly larger numbers of people around the world, those individuals want more access to records which may be difficult to view in person, to read or to translate.

    TGN understands that supplying access (images and searchable indexes) to genealogical records of many types translates into subscriptions and other profit-generating activities. In general, it is an excellent business model, followed also by other sites such as WorldVitalRecords, FootNote, GenealogyBank, FindMyPast, etc.

    While not all research can be conducted online, more and more can be accessed, which is a benefit to international researchers who understand that the Internet makes the world smaller and more accessible from even extremely remote areas.

    However - there is always a "however" when discussing these sorts of things, is that a corporation must still keep a human edge to decisions ... that someone at every corporate level must say "Yes, we can take this or that particular action ... but should we?" and discuss the possible ramifications of actions.

    Tracing the Tribe readers will remember what happened with Ancestry's Biographical Collection that had to be taken down because no one asked that question about including materials from copyrighted webpages without asking the page owners for permission to do so.

    Consultation with the genealogy world's non-corporate experts and professionals is advised. This is now being addressed by Ancestry/TGN.