Tuesday, July 8, 2014

War of 1812 Project. Ancestry.com Drops BillionGraves.

War of 1812 pension digitization projectI was going to lead this article with an invitation to photograph the grave marker of a veteran of the War of 1812 and have it indexed on both FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. It seems that is no longer possible. But first, let me speak of the War of 1812 project.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and BillionGraves have invited the public to honor veterans of the War of 1812.

BillionGraves and The Federation of Genealogical Societies are asking anyone with knowledge of a cemetery marker for a War of 1812 veteran to upload the image of the marker to the BillionGraves website (www.billiongraves.com) using their free mobile application during the month of July to honor and remember the service of those who served in the “Second Revolution.”

The grave marker project is closely aligned with the War of 1812 pension digitization project, which also honors veterans of the war and makes available important documents to their descendants and all historians. There are 7.2 million pages of documents in 180,000 pension files. None are available on microfilm. Heavy use presents a danger to these fragile documents. FGS, NARA, Fold3, and Ancestry.com are collaborating on this project which is funded by your donations. FGS is leading the effort to raise the funds necessary. NARA is archiving these valuable documents. Fold3 is hosting the digitized images for free to the general public. (I think they are also digitizing them.) Ancestry.com is matching donations. Fold3 is posting the digitized and indexed images as they become available. The files are being digitized in alphabetical order. If your veteran’s name is before Ha, then his file may already be online.

For more information or to make a donation, visit the Preserve the Pensions website. Read the full text of the FGS/BillionGraves announcement online.

Ancestry.com Drops BillionGraves

Now back to Ancestry.com and BillionGraves. There seems to be a growing rift between Ancestry.com and FamilySearch over support for grave marker websites. Previously, Ancestry.com hosted both a Find a Grave index and a BillionGraves index. (See “BillionGraves Teams Up with Ancestry” on the BillionGraves website.) However, BillionGraves is a Find a Grave competitor and is growing fast. Sometime between January 2013 and April 2014, coincident with Ancestry.com acquiring Find a Grave, Ancestry.com dropped the BillionGraves database.

The URL to the BillionGraves database on Ancestry.com new returns a general, unhelpful error message.

Ancestry.com error message for BillionGraves database
Please Search Again
The search request could not be completed because insufficient information was provided to Ancestry.com. …
Search for your ancestors at Ancestry.com, or click here to return to the previous page.

If you happened to have bookmarked a URL to Ancestry.com search results from the BillionGraves database, you can still revise your search and get new results.

Ancestry.com search results for BillionGraves database

However, clicking on a result or a bookmarked URL to a BillionGrave record returns an error message.

Ancestry.com error message for BillionGraves records
Collection Not Available
Our apologies for the inconvenience, but unfortunately the record you are trying to view is no longer available on Ancestry. You can visit BillionGraves.com directly to find the record.
Or try conducting a search for other death records on Ancestry below.

This is pretty extraordinary for Ancestry.com to invalidate links to records. As we saw when Ancestry.com combined all its Find a Grave state collections into one, it preserved all the old links. When a user complained about a broken link to a BillionGraves record, Ancestry.com support personnel provided a link to the same grave marker in the Find a Grave database and Cara L, Ancestry.com Support Community Manager provided this explanation:

Thank you for your comment. We have been evaluating similar cemetery content collections available through Ancestry.com and have determined that the records found on BillionGraves are also available through FindAGrave. To reduce duplication, we are removing the BillionGraves database from our website and are also working to remove all of the links to BillionGraves. That however, might take some time, so in the meantime, please go ahead and disregard any BillionGraves links you come across.

Given MyHeritage’s recent endorsement of BillionGraves, the statement may not be true outside the United States. About 25% of BillionGraves records are outside the United States. Ancestry.com is walking away from a potential goldmine. Within the United States, however, the statement is most likely true. The “U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current” index on Ancestry.com boasts 105 million records while BillionGraves has a mere 6 million United States deaths.

While Ancestry.com sits with a Find a Grave index and without a BillionGraves index, FamilySearch has a BillionGraves index and no Find a Grave index. Has FamilySearch lined up behind BillionGraves in opposition to Ancestry.com and Find a Grave? Or is FamilySearch unable to acquire a Find a Grave index? Neither side has commented publicly. However, about the time Ancestry.com acquired Find a Grave, the Find a Grave terms and conditions changed with the addition of the clause: “Bots, crawlers, spiders, scraping and other automatic access tools are prohibited.” If FamilySearch wishes to obtain a Find a Grave index, they can’t sneak it out the backdoor.

BillionGraves has started well but it remains to be seen how successful they will be. Out of the its starting block, BillionGraves boasted a smart phone app, giving it a significant technological advantage over Find a Grave. BillionGraves quickly grew from nothing in May of 2011 to 8 million records today. It took Find a Grave 10 years to garner its first 8 million. However, Ancestry.com recently released a Find a Grave app, muting the BillionGraves advantage. And while BillionGraves has averaged about 2.7 million new records a year, Find a Grave has averaged 12.9 million a year since their start in 1995, accumulating 116 million records. Further, Find a Grave is entirely free, funded completely by advertisements. BillionGraves’s revenue model is offering premium upgrades to its free service, plus advertising revenues. Find a Grave also has a mechanism for requesting a marker photograph by a volunteer. BillionGraves has not yet released a similar service.

But if you want to participate in the 1812 veterans’ grave marker project, BillionGraves.com is the place to go.


Disclaimer: I have close associations with two BillionGraves executives.

1 comment:

  1. I am a member and volunteer at both Find-a-Grave and BillionGraves. Call me a brute for punishment, but I feel, at least at this point, that they are both of value, so I have duplicated efforts on both. Thanks for the informative and fair review of them both...


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