Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Owners of Ancestry.com Hoping to Sell

Stock image of a rubber auction mallet hitting a stack of money
Image credit: Keerati / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It seems Ancestry.com will soon be on the auction block, according to “people familiar with the matter.” Reuters broke the story last Wednesday, citing sources that did not wish to be identified. Ancestry’s owner, Permira Advisers LLC, has hired an investment bank to perform the auction.

Permira is a private equity firm. Let me see if I can remember how they work. I’m not an expert, so I may not have this completely right. But here’s how I think it works: A private equity firm is a company with expertise in buying and selling stock in privately owned companies. It invites people to give them money with the anticipation that ten years later they will get their money back, plus a profit. The pile of money is called a private equity fund. The firm takes the funds and buys multiple private companies. At the end of the ten years, the people want their money back, plus a profit. If the firm can’t deliver, people get awfully cranky. And they don’t want private shares of Ancestry.com; they want cold, hard cash.

So when Permira bought Ancestry.com back in 2012, it was expected that several years later they would want to unload it. I’ve been told that in the private equity world, three years is a long time. Well, we’re coming up on three years for Ancestry.com.

How much money will Permira make? It is hard to say, but let’s look at one, simplistic measure. In 2012 Ancestry.com sold $334.6 million in subscriptions and was sold for $1.6 billion. That put the value of the company at 4.8 times its subscription revenues. Last year they sold $553.8 in subscriptions. The same ratio would put their present value at $2.6 billion. Like I said, that’s pretty simplistic. Lot’s of other factors will be considered. But the Reuters “people” predicted a valuation of between $2.5 and $3 billion, so my napkin math is reasonable.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memoriam: Software Friends at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch

My thoughts and prayers today are with our military families who have lost cherished family members. I am also cognizant of others mourning loved ones. A recent death of a friend at Ancestry.com saddened me deeply. This Memorial Day, I’d like to honor him and several other software friends who have passed away at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.

Frank Edward Briscoe (1953-2015)

Frank Edward Briscoe
December 11, 1953 - April 26, 2015

Our husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend, Frank Edward Briscoe, graduated from this life on April 26, 2015 at his home in Orem, UT after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61. We will miss him.

Frank was born on December 11, 1953, to Lewis Samuel Briscoe and Catherine Rose Frustaci, in Denver, Colorado. He attended schools in Denver all throughout his growing up years. He attended Brigham Young University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, and later earned a Master’s in Public Administration. He worked for BYU Food Services for 7 years, then later began his career with computer technology, where he remained for 23 years.   At the time of his passing, he was employed with Ancestry.com, where he had worked for the past 11 years. (More…)

Scott William Pathakis (1960-2014)Scott William Pathakis
May 10, 1960 – April 26, 2014

We had to say goodbye too soon to our outrageously talented and lovable husband and dad, Scott William Pathakis. He was born on May 10, 1960 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to the late Ted William & Carlene B. Schlegel Pathakis. Scott was the most perfect husband to Lori Allred Pathakis and they have four wonderful children, Erin Tracy (Christopher), Andra Staley (Davis), Clark and Brooke.…Following a hike with Lori, Clark and Brooke in Capitol Reef National Park he suddenly became sick and collapsed into the arms of his sweetheart.  He left this world suddenly and painlessly, and his family finds comfort knowing that he is now with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.…

He was a software engineer with the Family History Department for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints …His expertise in database and search technologies has greatly contributed to the success of FamilySearch.org. (More…)

imageNolan Kay Larsen
June 6, 1958 - February 14, 2013

Nolan Kay Larsen, beloved son, husband, father, brother, uncle, and grandfather, passed away unexpectedly on February 14, 2013. He was born June 6, 1958 to Lee Larsen and Dawn Larsen in Provo, Utah.

He grew up in Bountiful with his 2 sisters and 2 brothers. He graduated from BYU with a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. While attending school, he met his sweetheart, Denise Norton, and made her his eternal companion on November 24, 1984 in the Mesa Arizona Temple.

He excelled in his career as a software programmer working on a variety of platforms. He enjoyed photography, technology, problem solving, genealogy, and traveling. (More…)

imageBrian Collings Cooper
February 14, 1953 - January 19, 2010

Brian Collings Cooper of Orem, Utah, passed away on 19 January 2010 at age 56 after struggling with cancer. He was born 14 February 1953 in Pocatello, Idaho, to Lindell and Blanche Collings Cooper. After serving a mission for the LDS Church in Colombia, Bogotá and Cali Missions, Brian married Janet Johnson of Rexburg, Idaho, on 20 August 1976 in the LDS Idaho Falls Temple. They are the parents of eight children: Jared (Sue Ann), Joseph (Amanda), Nancy, Nathan (Stephanie), Rebecca (Jeffrey Tucker), Elder Robert Cooper (California San Jose Mission), Jason, and Janelle (deceased). …

Brian [earned] his Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree from Brigham Young University in computer science. He has been employed as a computer programmer by Eyring Research, WordPerfect, Novell, Celio, and the LDS Church Family History Department. (More…)

Gone, but not forgotten.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Smiths and Joneses at #NGS2015GEN

Details from the old TV show: Alias Smith and JonesAt the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, Elizabeth Shown Mills presented a session titled “Smiths and Joneses: How to Cope with Families of Common Names.”

She taught a research process model, research analysis model, and identity triangulation model. These are covered in her QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to the Research Process. I reviewed this product recently. (See “Review: Research Process QuickSheet.”) She taught her Problem Solving Spiral, taken from her QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle). (You can see a diagram of the spiral on her blog.) Unlike some product-hawking presenters, she never mentioned the existence of these products. Quite the opposite. If you went to the NGS conference, you can print a copy of her handout (pp. 441-4) and you’ll have half the information from these two products.

Elizabeth states that when dealing with common names, the chance of erroneously linking a record to a person is greatened. I loved Elizabeth’s terminology: “identity theft” and “former ancestors.” Committing the first, results in the second.

One thing she taught was that we need to finish extracting information, analyzing documents, and correlating findings while we are still onsite with the records. I recently suffered the results of not doing so. I was on an expensive, cross-continental research trip. I thought my pristine photographs of a business ledger would suffice. No need to extract them on the spot. When I got home I found that while the photographs were pristine, the handwriting was not. How I wished I could examine additional pages to assist deciphering. Oops.

“Research is not trolling the internet for names.” Dealing with common surnames doesn’t change the rules of sound research. “Working with common names requires that every source and every piece of information be critically appraised from every possible angle.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Searching for Ancestry.com at #NGS2015GEN (Part 2)

I attended Crista Cowan’s class at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. The class was titled “Maximizing Your Search on Ancestry.com.” Last time I wrote about the first three things she does to maximize her search for records:

1.  Start by looking at hints.
2.  Next, look at suggested records.
3.  Then, initiate a search from your tree.

Today, we cover the fourth and final approach.

4.  Use the card catalog.

The fastest, easiest way to find what records are online is to use the card catalog. (I don’t think everyone at FamilySearch appreciates the role the card catalog can and should play in helping people find collections. But I digress.) At Ancestry.com, hover over Search on the menu bar. On the popup menu, click Card Catalog. (I’m glad they still call it a card catalog. I know that bugs some people. If they won’t say card when no card is present, why do they say dashboard when there is no board present and it no longer prevents dashing? They don’t have a clue, so to speak. But I digress…)

Crista likes to sort the catalog in two ways. One is alphabetically. Another is by date added. That makes it easy to see what is new. (As she sorted it, “Oregon, Motor Vehicle Registrations, 1911-1946” popped up near the top. That reminded her that Ancestry is working on driver registrations. Since they include traffic violations, she can’t wait to look up her uncle who has a propensity for speed. That was just one of many comments throughout her presentation that had us all laughing. But I digress… Wait a minute. It was Crista who digressed this time.)

To show us how to use the catalog, she typed [Arkansas] into the title box and clicked Search. That returned 56 titles. Beneath the search button are various ways to filter the list. She clicked “Birth, Marriage, & Death.” That dropped the number of titles to 13. She filtered to marriage and divorce. That dropped the number of results to ten.

Ancestry.com has ten databases covering marriages in Arkansas.

[It has been several days since Crista’s presentation, so I’ve forgotten some of what she said between what I noted. Consequently, some of what you’ll see from this point forward are my own interpolations.]

Some people wonder why Ancestry would have ten Arkansas marriage databases. Why not just combine them? We now have worked with the state of Arkansas, Crista said. But some Ancestry databases are extracted by private individuals, some from original records and some from FamilySearch microfilm. Some of the original records might have subsequently perished and the records in these extra databases may now be the only place they are recorded. So Ancestry keeps these databases, but keeps them separate so you can see the source of the records and understand the database.

As she had done before, she held down Ctrl while clicking a title so that it would open in a new browser tab. When you get to a particular database, the search forms are customized for the particular database. Global search is generalized for most records. We know what we indexed, she said, so we create a customized search form. Death date is not listed on this search form because death date doesn’t appear on the marriage record.

An example database-specific search form.

But before you search, scroll down below the search form and read the information. In the case of Crista’s ancestor, she needed Carroll County, but the description told her the database didn’t include it.

An example showing source information and description for an Ancestry.com database
One last thing to think about is the Place field. All have a type-ahead list. (See the Carroll County example in the search form, above.) Choose from that list and Ancestry knows exactly where the location is on a map and can perform searches in proximity to that place. If you type just anything, then it is treated like any other field that must match what is typed.

Here’s my counsel to you, Crista said. Do the other things first, but also use that card catalog.

To see a short, two minute interview of Crista Cowan, view DearMYRTLE’s “AmbushCAM - Ancestry's Card Catalog Crista Cowan.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Searching for Ancestry.com at #NGS2015GEN (Part 1)

The Woodrow Wilson Junior High School Elementary Band, 1932Friday morning at the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society I attended “Maximizing Your Search on Ancestry.com,” taught by Ancestry’s corporate genealogist, Crista Cowan. She told us that Ancestry.com, the website, has 16 billion records online. Some years ago Crista supervised Ancestry’s indexing. At that time, they were publishing one to two million records per month. Today, that number has grown to one to two million records per day. They have been doing that for the last two years.

When looking at a person's hints, the first one is for member trees, followed by the record hints.One challenge we have as genealogists is that we have become searchers, not researchers, Crista said. A researcher thinks about what they are searching for and then takes steps to find that thing. Another mistake is that we think we are looking for people. But we are not searching for people; we are looking for records about people.

1. Crista’s search strategy begins with hints.

Ancestry provides hints for the top 10% of its record collections. The presence of hints are indicated on a pedigree chart with a leaf icon that shakes momentarily. Crista said, “It used to shake forever, but you didn’t like it so we stopped it.” (I don’t hear any laughter. Crista is a masterful presenter and the way she said it, people laughed. I guess she speaks better than I write. :-) Go to the person whose records you seek. Then examine the record hints for that person.

Hints are not provided for every database. That is intentional. “We want to get you started,” she said. “We grab that low hanging fruit so that you experience that aha moment.” The collections that are hinted include vital records, census records, cemetery records, and draft records. “Remember that hints are just hints.” You need to look and decide if a record should be attached to a person in your tree. Concentrate on record hints. Member Trees are the first hint. Below that are the record hints. (See example to the right.)

When viewing a record, suggested records are listed to the right.2. After examining hints, Crista next moves to suggested records.

Suggested records are those along the right side of records about your person. “These are suggested by you,” she said, referring to all Ancestry users. She had us think about Amazon’s “People who bought this, also bought this.” Suggested records are records attached to persons in member trees that were attached alongside the record you are looking at. “I’ve found some real gems,” she said. If you find no suggested records, it means you are breaking virgin ground. “I get giddy when there are suggested records and I get giddy when there are not!”

To search for records about a person in your tree, click Search Records.3. After utilizing hints and suggested records, Crista performs a search starting from the tree.

Go to the person whose records you seek. Underneath their portrait, click on Search Records. This switches to the search page and loads the search form with information about the person, including names of parents, spouses, siblings, and children. (For an example, see the parameters along the left side of the screen shot, below.)

“The computer returns what we call our ranked search results,” Crista said. For example, suppose the tree loaded up 22 pieces of information for the search. Will any record match all 22? No. But the record matching the most fields, say 18, would be listed first. Results are sorted in the order of the number of matching fields. (It might be a touch more sophisticated. Some fields may have more weight than others.) Go far enough down the list and you’ll see records that might not match the name at all, but match several other fields.

Crista scans through the result list, opening ones of interest in new tabs. To open a page in a new tab, hold down the Ctrl key while clicking the link. She stops scanning the list somewhere along the first page. For me, that is typically when the matches start to get less than helpful. Only after clicking all the records of interest does she come back and start looking at each tab. Examining the results in this manner has several benefits. When the Internet is being slow, other tabs load while you examine one tab. The search results page is still available in the first tab. Tabs can be reordered using drag-and-drop, perhaps to arrange them chronologically or some other desired order.

The default view for search results is the ranked record view:

The default view for Ancestry.com search results is ranked records. Click Categories (circled in red) to switch to category view.

Click on Categories (circled in red, above) to switch to category view:

Ancestry.com search results can also be displayed in category view.

“I can go directly to a particular section that might have a database with the information I’m searching for,” Crista said. It also helps identify record collections you may not have thought of.

“One of my favorite collections is our yearbook collection,” she said. One day she was working in the Ancestry booth in the exhibit hall at a conference. A man walked up, “clearly his wife’s designated driver.” He asked what was being done at the computers. Crista told him she was helping people search for their ancestors. She added, “Would you like to search for yours?”

“Can you find me"?” he queried.

We won’t have much of any interest about you, she told him. “Tell me about your Dad.”

“No. Search for me.”

She typed in his name, expecting nothing more than perhaps an address from the U.S. Public Records collection. One of the first things that came up was a junior high band photo. He just stood there, fascinated. He got really quiet. Then a little teary.

“Don’t move,” he said. “I’ve got to go find my wife.” He brought his wife back and began relating stories about his youth. He spoke eagerly for about 15 minutes. Crista says his wife looked over his head at her and mouthed the words, “Thank you!”

Stay tuned to learn what Crista does next to maximize search effectiveness…