Over the holidays Ancestry.com CEO, Tim Sullivan, announced “12 things you can count on from Ancestry.com in 2012.” There aren’t really 12. They’ve often stuffed multiple items into one so that the resulting count is 12. Some of them are:
- 1940 U.S. Federal Census.
- Fully indexed 1911 UK Census.
- More U.S. state censuses.
- Vital records from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts,
- Parish records from Lancashire and the city of Manchester and UK non-conformist records. Ancestry.com claims the largest collection of digitized parish records. Really? Have they outstripped FamilySearch’s venerable International Genealogical Index? Users the world over know to go there as their first pass for English parish coverage.
- U.S. Quaker records. Ancestry alluded to the Quaker records several years ago in one of their Bloggers’ Day presentations. I’m not certain they thought the wait would be so long. It’s nice the project is seeing the light of day.
Shaky Leaves Hinting System
- Ancestry is making improvements to their Shaky Leaves hinting system. They are adding a dedicated page so users can see a list of pending hints.
- They say they are improving photograph related hints. I hope that means they are improving their searching algorithm for photos and user-submitted stories. I always get lists of barely related results.
- They’re developing a method of identifying entire collections that likely relate to your family. I hope this is a better treatment of family genealogy books. Their hinting system has long ignored books about my ancestral lines. I’m related to the extensive Hendricks family of New Amsterdam, but the Hendricks book—with thousands of my relatives—is never returned in search results. Granted, it is extremely difficult to accurately return matches from OCRed books, but when an entire book is about a surname of interest, it would be nice to be alerted to its presence. The same is true for local histories about the communities and periods for where and when my ancestors resided.
Other New Website Features
- They are releasing a new image viewer. Is it my imagination, or didn’t they already do that? Just as FamilySearch was moving away from their user-disliked Flash viewer towards an HTML-based viewer like Ancestry’s Basic Viewer, Ancestry announced they were moving towards a Flash Viewer.
- Ancestry also alluded to a new treatment for U.S. censuses, although they didn’t say much more than it will work with individual lines from the censuses.
- Ancestry says they will return to the days of a What’s New page. Ancestry had such a page in the pre-going public days. They got really paranoid at the time and stopped sharing lots of information with the public and with bloggers. I never understood how they felt comfortable releasing information to small groups of financial analysts in semi-private phone meetings, but wouldn’t release non-material news about incidental improvements to dozens of members of the media/blogger community. (Private message to Heather: can you work on that? Embargo us if you must, but…)
- Ancestry’s cool-looking iPad app is coming to Android. Reviewing their smart phone app is high on my to-do list. First of all, though, I’ve got to get a smarter smart phone. (When did my top-of-the-line smart phone becomes so dumb?)
- It sounds like they are loosening a little bit the ability to share records via social networking. That makes sense. Letting thousands and tens of thousands of records slip to freedom outside their pay wall hardly damages the value of a subscription giving access to a collection I estimate to be around 7 billion records.
- I’ve reported the hiring of DNA experts and wondered what new features that would bring. Ancestry says to expect the enhancements this year, although they say little more than the ability to identify the ethnicity of your ancestors.
- “Demonstrations from our own team of experts. We’ll be hosting Q&A sessions…to tackle the toughest research challenges.”
Ancestry leads FamilySearch in so many ways, it is glaringly the holes in which they don’t:
- FamilySearch’s extensive microfilm collection
- Its world wide network of family history centers with
- an army of family history consultants ready and willing to give hands-on help
- The unrivaled Salt Lake Family History Library, and
- the treasure-trove of expertise of its reference librarians.
You can’t go to a major genealogical conference without seeing a large number of FamilySearch experts presenting on various research topics. Ancestry? A smattering of sessions advertising and assisting users in the use of their products.
True, my glowing adjectives reflect my current employment. However, I have no qualms pointing out that for years FamilySearch has been running a distant second to Ancestry in so many ways.
What will we see in 2012? Will Ancestry lengthen its lead, additionally closing gaps in its service offerings? Will FamilySearch successfully empty its vast vault holdings onto the net, surpassing Ancestry’s online content?