Thursday, May 31, 2007

Volunteer Indexing vs. Commercial Indexing

Ask a question, get an answer.

You know we've been trying to pull together a comparison between FamilySearch's volunteer approach to record indexing and's subscription-based indexing model. Ancestry charges users a subscription fee, which it then uses to pay transcribers to index records.

A source within FamilySearch reveals that 2 million names are being indexed per week. At that rate, FamilySearch could index the complete US Census Collection in... 5+ years.

Come on, people. If we're going to make volunteer indexing work, you better pick up the pace. Sign up at

Ancestry's CEO Interviewed on News Hour

Ancestry's CEO, Tim Sullivan Tim Sullivan was interviewed recently on PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. You can watch the video or read the transcript. Very sympathetic. Here are the points that interested us:
  • Sullivan states, "We digitize and take actual images, photographs of these documents. Sometimes, if they're typeset, we can use some technology we call "optical character recognition" to create digital indices. But a lot of the times, most of the time, since these are handwritten records, we actually have to go through and transcribe, in rather laborious fashion, name by name, date by date, and place by place. "
  • The interviewer tells us that Ancestry spent $3 million to digitize its military collection. We've mentioned before the question of volunteer indexing vs. paid indexing. How many volunteer hours does that translate into?
  •'s CEO, Tim Sullivan (technically, CEO of Ancestry's parent, The Generations Network) was previously CEO of the online dating service
  • Tim Sullivan stutters a, ah, lot more than, ah, Heritage Book's Craig Scott.
  • Despite a relationship with FamilySearch that many assume to be rocky, Tim's backdrop for the interview prominently showed the headquarters buildings of FamilySearch and its owner, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • The interviewer mentioned something we've failed to mention to you before. Free access to Ancestry's military collection extends through D-Day, June 6th.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nitty Gritty of Free Premium Websites at family history centers

Today, FamilySearch informed its family history consultants about the coming of World Vital Records, Godfrey Memorial Library,, HeritageQuest and Kindred Konnections. This just in case any consultants are living in caves and haven't seen any genealogy news during the month. Not all centers will get the premium services. Centers that qualify will be informed during early June. The requirements are
  1. The computers in the FHC must have LANDesk installed. This is software that allows Salt Lake to manage the computers remotely. FamilySearch will use it to place special security certificates on the computers authorized for the free access.
  2. The FHC must have more than 2 computers.
  3. The FHC must be open at least 10 hours per week.
A computer with the "I am a FHC" security certificate will be able to contact special proxy servers set up by FamilySearch. (There's an advanced Internet concept that should be intuitive to Church members.) The proxy servers will, then, on behalf of the FHC computer, login to the premium websites. This means users with personal accounts at any of these premium websites will still be able to access those accounts by going directly to the premium website rather than to the proxy servers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Big Ancestry Military Release

I mentioned yesterday the possibility that Ancestry was going to make a military release bigger than the announcements we heard at NGS last week. Well, confirmations of that rumor started hitting big time today. The list of new databases at started popping out new military databases. I counted 89 new and 6 updated military titles yesterday with 10 more new ones today.

And they are all marked free!!

The big confirmation came when Ancestry pre-announced the promotion to a small group of professional genealogists. With the new release, Ancestry's military collection now totals more than 700 databases and 37 million images. "’s U.S. Military Collection captures all major wars and conflicts from American history, including the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts as well as the Spanish-American War and the War of 1812."

I expect you'll see official announcements any time now. But you can start using these databases right now.

24-May-2007 Update
The announcement came late last night. The URL to the promotion page is Look for the link to a free eBook, also at the Ancestry Store.

New FamilySearch

Just a quick post. If you've not seen the upcoming new beta, you can learn about it at Gary Foster's new FamilySearch page and "The Near Future in Temple and Family History Work," a PowerPoint presentation from Randy Bryson, an employee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Generations Network reiterates, "we absolutely do not view the church as a competitor"

A tipster alerted me today of a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Online genealogy just got easier
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune

    For the first time ever, the LDS Church is joining forces with various archives, libraries and family-history Web sites in an effort to open a floodgate of free records and images onto the Internet.

    Under the Records Access program, unveiled this week at a conference of genealogists in Richmond, Va., the collaboration will provide free services to archives and other records custodians who wish to digitize, index, publish and preserve their collections.

    Here's how it works: An army of volunteers will continue to index data from 2.4 million rolls of microfilm being housed at the LDS Church's Granite Mountain Records Vault, as well as digitize and index data from other sources. They will collect information already indexed at other sites. Then the records will be posted on the church's Web site,, and opened to the public.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' new program will speed up the process of indexing and posting billions of records and reduce costs for each party involved, said Steve W. Anderson, marketing manager for

    "It is Google with a twist," Anderson said. "It is both a content Web site and a portal to other sites."

    This is a "welcome move," said Tim Sullivan, CEO of Generations Network, parent company of "We absolutely do not view the church as a competitor."

    For the past decade, has spent $100 million digitizing and indexing records from archives in many countries. It already has posted more than 6 billion records online. While it is considered the market leader of online genealogy, Ancestry is not among the church's partners in its Records Access program.

Let me interrupt to comment here.

Is not a part of the Records Access program? If isn't an official part of the Records Access program, I think the program is at least an outgrowth of's partnership with the Church. Word is, the Church gave access to microfilm masters for imaging and indexing and in return is providing FamilySearch patrons in certain situations access to certain indexes and images.

But it is really confusing. Services provided at the Family History Library (FHL) are different from FHCs, which are different from the services at, where patrons must be members of the Church for the special access. Meanwhile, back to the Tribune...

    "There are gazillions of records that all of us need to get online. We are thrilled that others can get into it. It's only going to help us as a company," Sullivan said. "The church's model to have volunteers, nonpaid indexers, is intriguing but unproven and has a ways to go before it could scale to the way we digitize records."

This little sentence may be easy to overlook, but it is the pivot point upon which the future of genealogy websites turns. How quickly can the Church index records using its army of volunteers? How long did the Church take to index the U.S. 1880 census? Sure, FamilySearch Indexing is a giant leap forward. But how long have they been working on the U.S. 1900 census and when will they finish?

While it remains to be seen exactly how the Records Access program will function, it is said that the Church will provide images to the commercial site, which will index the images (alone or with Church help) and provide the index back to the Church. Users at can search the indexes for no charge and can find links to the images on the commercial site. The commercial site can then make money via advertising, selling accessing to the images, or in any other way they can find.

From the viewpoint of a non-commercial firm, this model looks perfect. But since the cost of imaging is almost nothing, and the costs of indexing are enormous, one can well imagine that this business plan doesn't appeal very well to (One rumor even says the Church asked for "indexes" to its OneWorldTree offering as a requirement to be an official partner. I find this hard to believe. Trees are an extremely valuable commodity in the commercial genealogy field and it would be quite naive if the Church asked for tree information.)

    Anything the church does, though, will move the whole industry forward.

    The Records Access program's first project is Revolutionary War pension records, which contain information on an individual soldier's rank, unit, date mustered in and mustered out, basic biographical information, medical information and military service assignments. These files often include supporting documents, such as narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers.

    As part of the agreement, FamilySearch will digitize the images currently held in the National Archives Record and Administration's (NARA) collection in Washington, D.C., and will create the electronic indexes.

    When complete, the images and indexes of this vast collection of information will be viewable at the more than 4,500 LDS Church-run family-history centers around the world. They also will be available online at and through project partner

    "With this system, everybody wins," Anderson said. "Archives get their collections digitized, genealogy Web sites like get to post their records and users get records that wouldn't be available otherwise."

Did I miss anything? Did make any announcements at the conference mentioned? If I had a nickel for every time that outdid a competitor and then failed to tell anyone about it, I'd be retired by now. (OK, maybe I am retired now, but don't let that derail my point here.) It would be just like to skip last week's opportunities and next week release something more impressive than Revolutionary War Pension Records.

Not that I've heard anything.... ;-)

Ye Ol' Geezer Meat Shop and Funeral Parlor

I'm sure Esther was a wonderful person. Born 25 Feb 1939 in Pratt, Kansas. She died 14 April 2007. Memorial services will be held at the Friends In Christ Lutheran Church, 1240 S. U.S. 191, Moab, Utah on Saturday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. Our best wishes to her friends and family... especially after reading her obituary in the local paper.

Moab's not all that big, so you'd think supplementing the address with directions to the church wouldn't be necessary. With an address on U.S. Highway 191, you'd think even out-of-towners could make their way easily to the service. So how do you think the family is going to feel when you direct people to the church "next to Ye Ol' Geezer Meat Shop"? That's right; "Ye Ol' Geezer Meat Shop." Stop it! Yes, she was 68. But that doesn't make it appropriate!

Are there so many Lutheran Churches on the highway south of town that you have to distinguish it as the one next to "Ye Ol' Geezer Meat Shop"?

"No, not the Lutheran next to Frank's 'Furters. That's across the street. It's the one on the right, just past Ye Ol' Geezer's."

Couldn't they have identified it by the business on the other side? Or was that even worse?

"Right. If you get to the IRS offices you've gone too far."

Hopefully, we haven't taken this too far. Robert and family, if you should read this, we hope it gives you a little to smile about. Genealogists think about death maybe more than most. And it is our sincerest desire that your dear wife, mother, sister and friend will always be remembered.

Friday, May 18, 2007 problems attributed to hard drive failures

Users of continue to experience the problems I mentioned yesterday. This morning I was greeted with this message: Error Message

DearMYRTLE published this explanation, an email from one of her readers:

Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2007 8:29 AM
To: jcbrooks@...
Subject: Server overload

Dear ...

FSI ( is continuing to limp along. It is believed that the slowness is related to the database storage device (SAN) operating at a reduced rate to protect the data. The SAN had a couple of drives fail two weekends ago, which have been replaced, during the past week to 13 days. It is actively re-populating the new drives and redistributing the data across the new and old drives. The combination of data redistribution and the SAN operating at a reduced protective rate have slowed it to the point to where it cannot keep up with requests during peak hours. The requests have been throttled by taking the site offline when the queue becomes excessive to allow it to recover. It is estimated that this may continue to be the case until around Saturday. It is hoped that the system will return to normal when the new drives have been fully reintegrated. We are hopeful this will be the case, but will have to wait until the site is recovered for confirmation.

Even today, the network computer systems show signs of being well on the road to full recovery....

FamilySearch Support

Flash Drive

What is a SAN?

SAN stands for storage area network. You might be familiar with flash drives or external hard drives. A SAN is a related concept in the world of server computers. But instead of connecting one external hard drive to one computer, a SAN allows you to connect an external hard drive to more than one server.

In the server world, external hard drives come in sets and are stored together in a storage device. Data is stored in a weird fashion that makes it possible to "hot swap" a drive from the set. That means you can pull a drive out--say, because it goes bad--and stick in a new one. The storage device is smart enough to copy the original data back to the new drive, all while continues to function! However, some of the time the storage device could be sending data to visitors must be set aside to copy data to the new drive. Hence, the slowness.

Storage Area Network (SAN)

The downside to all of this is that most of the time that could be used to copy data to the new drive must be set aside to sending data to visitors! Do you take completely offline and fix the problem in days, or do you leave it up and struggling and fix the problem in weeks?

Prevailing wisdom says.... some access is better than none.

Thursday, May 17, 2007 servers continue to struggle continues to struggle today. I imagine with all the news coming out of FGS this week, their servers--already in a fragile state--are swamped. Earlier today I couldn't get in, getting a message along the lines of, "Our servers are currently experiencing higher than normal traffic volume. Please try again later." If you can get in, you'll see this message on the home page. Here's what I get searching the Family History Library catalog (FHLC): Hopefully, they are taking steps to address these problems.

WorldVitalRecords accessible for free at FHCs has joined Footnote and Godfrey, rushing in to "fill the void left by Ancestry in the FamilySearch operated Family History Centers," according to David Lifferth, President of WorldVitalRecords. This is more great news from a week already replete with great announcements.

It also raises numerous questions to be explored in this blog in the days and weeks ahead. cut back its free offering in FamilySearch Family History Centers (FHCs) to just titles for which FamilySearch (formerly the Genealogical Association of Utah) had provided assistance. This matches the formula I mentioned in a previous blog.

  • Is Ancestry the poster child for FamilySearch's new model of cooperation or the prodigal?
  • Was Ancestry not seeing any benefit offering all its titles free to FHCs?
  • What, if anything, is FamilySearch providing to these 3 organizations in exchange for these free records?
  • Ancestry leads this segment and seems to know what they're doing. OK, I admit, they continue to alienate their customers with astounding regularity. But they seem to know how to pump new record collections out, and all indications are that they know how to run a successful business. This begs the questions, do they know something these other fine folk are about to learn?
  • Was it a big mistake for Ancestry to curtail its free offering?
  • Did FamilySearch solicit these businesses or did they solicit FamilySearch?
  • Was FamilySearch's pursuit of these relationships the cause of or caused by Ancestry's pull back?

Curious minds want to know! Keep your anonymous tips coming to the

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 accessible for free at FamilySearch Centers

Previous to the announcement, Godfrey Memorial Library also announced a partnership with FamilySearch (formerly called the Genealogical Society of Utah) that would give free access to in FamilySearch Centers (formerly family history centers).

Access to these new services at FamilySearch centers will likely not come for several weeks, accordingly to Beverly Odom, who shared a message she received from Richard Black at Godfrey Memorial:

From: Richard Black Date: May 14, 2007 7:53 AM Subject: RE: family history centers To: Beverly Odom

Beverly, the church is getting us a list of IP addresses for your computers. They told us that it will be a couple of weeks before they have that list. At that time, we will be able to finalize the FHC connection

Richard E. Black, Director Godfrey Memorial Library 134 Newfield Street Middletown, CT 06457 (860) 346-4375 richard@...

Whether the dreaded IP-based access-scheme prevents access to personal accounts at Footnote and Godfrey remains to be seen. You'll recall the houpala that surrounded's usage of an IP-based access scheme at the Salt Lake Family History Library. accessible for free at FamilySearch Centers announced today an agreement with FamilySearch (formerly called the Genealogical Society of Utah), making accessible for free at FamilySearch Centers (formerly called Family History Centers). This and previous agreements are starting to make the FamilySearch formula more apparent:
  • FamilySearch will supply something to the 3rd party, such as copies of microfilm from its vaults, digital images obtained directly or via microfilm of genealogical records, use of FamilySearch software such as FamilySearch Indexing.
  • The 3rd party will supply something back to FamilySearch, such as rights to digitize genealogical records or indexes to genealogical records.
  • In one form or another, the 3rd party provides free access to the records to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This might be via indexes on the FamilySearch website or via access to the general public at FamilySearch Centers (formerly Family History Centers).
This is great news for everyone with access to FSCs!

Friday, May 11, 2007

It's Official! Access personal accounts @ Family History Library (FHL)

This morning an spokesperson, Suzanne Russo Adams, posted this message on the APG mailing list:
We are happy to announce that has found a solution to enable patrons at the Family History Library and Family History Centers to login to Ancestry using their personal accounts. We have been coordinating this deployment closely with representatives from the Family and Church History Department, the Family History Library, and administrative representatives of the Family History Centers.

What we have done...

We have created a new domain called for the Family History Library and the Family History Centers to use to get access to the collections available to them by contract.

With this new domain name, patrons at the FHL and local FHCs can login to their own personal accounts using just like they would from home.

This should ease some frustrations experienced by patrons--particularly professions--at the FHL and FHCs. Better yet, it's going to allow patron's to tap into the power of Ancestry's new free tree tools. Did I mention they are free? I'm going to have to show you some time what you can do with their new trees.

Mind you, I still like Ancestry World Tree (there's a subject for another couple of blog entries), but if you haven't tried the new tree stuff, go to Ancestry's home page and start a tree or look at a sample tree.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Using Personal Accounts at Family History Centers (FHCs)

I have a little more information since my last post. I made the trip to the local family history center (FHC) in my area. I typed into a browser and was automatically taken to I assume there were cookies from a previous login using the FHC's account, which allowed Ancestry to take this action.

I clicked on the advertisement on the right-hand side of the page and was taken to which displayed the normal login boxes in the upper-right corner. I logged in using my own account and all looked right with the world. But I began to get nervous when I noticed the usual FHC Edition message at the bottom of the page. You know the one I mean? The one that contains the link to the list of titles that are included in the Ancestry FHC Edition. I guess I've never stopped to read the rest of the contents, so I can't tell you what else it contains.

You may recall my post regarding the dangers of the "weird hybrid" environment that resulted from use of an unauthorized deep link at the Family History Library (FHL). I started to worry that such might still be the case. I immediately tried accessing some of the censuses not included in the Ancestry FHC Edition. I found they worked! I started work on my tree and tree access seemed normal also.

It wasn't until I tried to access English BMD records that I found problems. I was not able to access the BMD Death Index without getting a message that I needed to buy a World Deluxe subscription (which I already have) or registering for a username/password (which of course I have since I have a subscription). It wasn't until I logged into that I could access the database.

I tried logging out, which seemed to work fine. I tried logging in a second time and found that neither the username nor password fields auto-remembered me. Looks like a pretty tight solution to me, other than the 2 problems noted.

I talked to the staff who didn't seem to know anything about the change. Hopefully Ancestry will inform them that they need to reset links, bookmarks and favorites to go to rather than Otherwise FHC people will have to log in to every time a user wishes to use the FHC account.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Fix coming for personal accounts at Family History Library (FHL)

Thanks to an alert tipster, we've learned that a fix may be in the works for those wishing to use personal accounts at the Salt Lake City, Utah Family History Library (FHL) and at other libraries. Domain registrar,, reports that The Generations Network (owner of has acquired a new domain address,

Theoretically, the Ancestry FHL Edition login could exist on simultaneously with a person logging in to I visited and found this theory probably correct when I received a message stating, "Access all of Ancestry through The domain is for institutional access only, not personal accounts." To make this work, the IP-style login used at the FHL would have to be disabled on the domain. If that's the case, then all institutions using the same IP-style login would benefit from the ability for individuals to login with their own accounts on Since the message doesn't refer to the FHL specifically, this may be Ancestry's plan.

I was able to login on with my personal account. The UI looks somewhat like it does at the FHL, except the tabs along the top were replaced with the message, "If you are not using a login account from an institutional account, go to". Also, the Log Out link was still present.

A contact inside Ancestry confirms--in general--these plans and says to expect these changes to start later today! It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Post your experiences here or confidentially to

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Generations Network forces RootDig images offline


Famous Census Pages

ever wonder what the rich and famous said when the censustaker came knocking?

You can no longer find out here!

The new marketing staff at The Generations Network made me remove the images we formerly hosted on this site. The phrases “legal action” and “hear from legal department ”were used. The pages clearly contained links to Ancestry, indicated where the images had been obtained, and indicated the value a subscription had for the average person.

Until I have time to view the NARA film myself and re-obtain the images they will not be posted on this site.

This doesn't make any sense. Is trying to shoot itself in the foot?! Michael, you may wish to consider creating a free Ancestry Public Family Tree with all your census images. You can link back and forth (although Ancestry doesn't hotlink the links you put in). Sorry, man.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 forced offline

From the website creator:
Free On

Update: April 27, 2007

The website "" was forced offline by The Generations Network, the parent company of was originally built with the approval of the previous affiliate marketing staff of, the same company before the name change to The Generations Network. They felt a site like was a great way to create a positive image and branding to the genealogical community by highlighting the free tools and databases available to the public. It was a way to show genealogists that was not just a big greedy cash cow that everyone seems to think it is, but a site that does in fact give back to the community.

But the new marketing staff didn't agree. They threatened us with legal action if we didn't take the site down.

They claimed that the domain name, "" is a violation of their trademark, because it contains the word, "". AS IF they have rights to any and all domain names with the word "ancestry" in it.

Bottom Line

So, we've taken the site down, because The Generations Network is still the primary source of income on our flagship website, We can't afford to jeopardize that relationship. There just isn't another source of income that can provide us with the funds that requires.

       - Steve Johnson, Clear Digital Media, Inc.

Meanwhile, please enjoy these other websites that provide free records for genealogical reference...

That's unfortunate. Why not rename the site to Oops. That still has "" in it. How about Oops. I guess they own the trademark also. Well, how about Nope! They own the trademark also. Misspellings? Yep. You guessed it.

Sorry, Steve. I guess you really can't bite the hand that feeds you.