Monday, January 2, 2012

Ancestry.com 2012 Plans

Ancestry.com is planning new content for 2012Over 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:

New Content

  • 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…)

Non-website Features

  • 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.

Expertise

  • “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?

Stay tuned…

5 comments:

  1. "Have [Ancestry] outstripped FamilySearch’s venerable International Genealogical Index?"

    You said the answer yourself - IGI is an index. Most (though not all) of Ancestry's UK PRs are images of PRs or transcripts of them. For non FH Centre users, few of FS's images are a/v online with many blocked by agreement with the rights holders who want to get some income from their stuff.

    "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"
    Ironic isn't it? My reading of Ancestry's posts on the matter was that they were utterly brassed-off with Firefox breaking their previous viewer every time they released a tiny tweak that was labelled as a major version release, with the consequential knock on to their version checking code. All so Firefox could give the illusion of rapid major progress in the same manner as Chrome.

    "searching algorithm for photos and user-submitted stories. I always get lists of barely related results"
    Oh good - it's not just me then!

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  2. Ancestry just sent me a hint from the Washington Birth Index. Not enough data to confirm it was the right one. So I checked Family Search. Their index included the parents names. It was the right one. So Ancestry is in the lead in providing hints, but Family Search had a better index.

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  3. And no mention of fixing the WWI Draft records index items that link to the wrong images? They acknowledged that error years ago, are they doing nothing about it?

    And they're moving their census image viewer to Flash? Do they not believe that any of their subscribers have and use iPads? I haven't tried their mobile app yet but most mobile versions leave me wanting so much more.

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  4. I agree with brucefuimus regarding the IGI. Images vs. an index. As for the gaps you mention between Ancestry and FamilySearch, it seems like you are comparing apples to oranges:

    FamilySearch’s extensive microfilm collection:
    The Genealogical Society of Utah started microfilming in 1938, Ancestry.com didn't launch their website until 1996. GSU/FSI had a 58 year jump on Ancestry. I would expect an extensive 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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began branch genealogical libraries in 1964 with volunteer consultants. Again, about 30 years ahead of Ancestry and non-profit vs. profit entity.

    The unrivaled Salt Lake Family History Library, and the treasure-trove of expertise of its reference librarians:
    The FHL collection stems from the GSU library formed in 1894 with the beginning of the society. Nearly a hundred-year lead and with volunteer librarians with a religious motive for their service.

    I don't ever expect Ancestry to take on the model of FamilySearch or vice-versa. I believe they work well as partners when they choose to align goals. I think Ancestry comes closest to volunteer consultants, librarians, and content contribution via their message boards, forums, wiki, and the Ancestry World Archives Project.

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  5. I have free access to Ancestry at my local council lending library, but I prefer to use a paid FindMyPast subscription. Their indexes / transcriptions are much more accurate than Ancestry's. I should mention, though, that my research is mostly in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, where FindMyPast really shines.

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