Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ancestry Deletes Hundreds of Databases

Red delete key by GDJ on OpenClipArt.orgFellow blogger, Rander Seavers, discovered last month that Ancestry.com had deleted over 500 databases. (See Randy’s “Where Did 567 Databases on Ancestry.com Go?” and the follow up, “Where Did 567 Databases on Ancestry.com Go? An Answer. UPDATED!”) I’m not overly concerned, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

Randy asked for an explanation of the deletions on the Ancestry Global Facebook group. That’s a secret group that the Ancestry Insider is not a member of. Not to worry. He has his own sources. <wink> <wink>. But I digress. You can see Ancestry’s two replies in Randy’s second article. Among other things, Ancestry said that the databases they deleted were

  • really old
  • mostly available elsewhere
  • text-only copies of books, city directories, and records that they have made available elsewhere with both text and images
  • seldom used
  • in a format that is not currently supported
  • databases being considered for re-keying

They also provided particular examples, which I found and verified using Google.

True to their word, some of these databases were really old, some were mostly available elsewhere, and some were text-only copies that were sometimes available elsewhere with both text and images.

Were they seldom used? I’ve done enough web analytics that I know that each record on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org is used about the same amount as any other. A collection twice as big as another gets about twice the usage. Huge collections get used a lot. Were these databases seldom used? Yup; a collection with 600 pages seldom gets used. (I had to roll my eyes several years ago when I learned that Ancestry had combined into one state collection, all the small city directories for the state. “They weren’t being used much. Now that they are in one collection, they are being used!” Well, if you add up all the small usages, it would about equal the amount the combined collection was used. Still, it made the executives feel better about their investment in city directories. But I digress…) Also, several of these databases didn’t have name indexes, so they would have been pretty much invisible.

Were some in a format that is not currently supported?

I remember when Ancestry implemented New Search. They wrecked the display of a bunch of databases they used to offer on DVD in the Ancestry LDS Family History Suite 2.

LDS Family History Suite Database List
A partial list of databases available on the Ancestry LDS Family History Suite 2

These databases used a technology called Infobases and Ancestry’s New Search didn’t support it. I begged until they added rudimentary support, a band aid. But the results were substandard.

So were some of these databases in an unsupported format? Yes and no. The Source and the Red Book were a nightmare to use, but they were usable. But since Ancestry seems to be rewriting some website code, they may be trying to avoid supporting Infobase databases by retiring them. Here’s a snippet of what an Infobase looks like when displayed by New Search code. Notice that some information is meaningless because the Infobase paragraph titles were not preserved. Also, notice that photograph links are all broken.

Snippet of the display of a database originating from an Infobase

Snippet of the display of a database originating from an Infobase

At the end of their first reply regarding the removed databases, Ancestry stated, “We are not able to provide other details.” They then turned around and provided other details, after which they said, “This is as much as I can say on the matter.” This refusal to provide a full list has really irked users. I have to agree on that point.

Ancestry LDS Family History Suite 2Using the clues above, it is possible to establish other retired databases. Use a Google search such as [site:search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx "title" ] (replace title) to search for LDS Infobases from the list above. I tried a few. Once I found one, I tried it. I could tell that a database had been removed because it was inoperable.

To establish other retired databases, use a Google search such as [site:search.ancestry.com "Generations Network, Inc., 1997"] to search for really old databases. I tried a few:

While I’m not willing to spend enough time to look for all five hundred deleted data bases, it certainly looks like many are Mormon-related, and many are old, tiny, text-only, poorly formatted, and pretty-much invisible databases. But Ancestry’s silence makes it seem that the list contains one or more that would embarrass Ancestry, cause them legal problems, or anger its customers.


  1. As the descendant of two United Empire Loyalists, both on the list, I can well imagine that not that many people used it--as what is the population of Canada?--but how absurd to delete a list of such historical significance on those grounds alone. Yes, of course it is available elsewhere, but still, I find it insensitive at best. And cloth-headed at worst, since early Canadian records are not that thick on the ground. Why REMOVE one?

  2. If they provide the list with the locations of where they can now be viewed it would help immensely.

  3. This is not precisely on topic, unless we expand the definition to include "Inexplicable Ancestry Decisions re Records", but I cannot figure out a way to raise the issue otherwise, and it is bothering me. I am finding it extremely tiresome to have to leave Ancestry census records to make a correction--you used to be able to fix several at once from the page itself. Now you have to go out of the record to correct wrong or missing data, and if there are several errors, you have to write stuff down or else keep going back and forth. It's cumbersome, and I bet will discourage corrections. It is beginning to bug me already, and I am an ardent corrector. Why did they do this?

    1. I correct things too, but what bugs me is that some corrections never ever show up. I don't like the two step process now, but I'll try to keep on correcting.

  4. Claire THOSE are the kind of things I would like to see in Story View instead of some of the lame things I am seeing in MY tree about snowstorms and media showers---instead of seeing USEFUL things like the plight of the Irish coming over, and the fact that about 50% came through Canada etc...if they are going to give us "stories" at least make them useful things that help progress our research, links to outside sources etc etc

    I don't know how often I run into people that don't even know the card catalog exists, let alone know how to use it...that is why the categories search can be so useful but many people don't use it.

    Sigh...I just don't like the new changes and then to find out we are losing databases because of then doesn't make me happy either.


  5. Only a computer nerd would see "32,222 databases on Ancestry.com." (from Randy's page) and think "Gee, getting close the signed 2 byte limit of 32,767." Maybe they are using two bytes to store a database identifier value? Just silly musing.

    Tom Vought

  6. Many of those databases may be less useful, unreadable, etc. as you mentioned. However, some of the databases removed were ALL of the NJ State original probate records which had been a well touted addition to Ancestry only weeks before. Removing these databases means there are NO actual probate records available for NJ before 1804, and only unpredictable, scattered and incomplete records for most counties after that date. So this is a case of removing something NEW, VERY USEFUL, and easily ACCESSIBLE.

    1. Sharon,


      New Jersey, Wills and Probate Records, 1785-1924

    2. Yes. I am aware how to find what remains of the collection. But please note that you will not find any records for Morris County, and no ORIGINAL NJ State records at all. By original I mean the will that was actually signed by your ancestor and offered for probate, along with original inventories. Any COPIED (by a clerk who hand wrote them in a book) wills and inventories which are available for some time periods for some counties cannot be depended upon for accuracy. Also, since there were no county offices for recording wills until 1804, there are no recorded copies of these documents -- only the originals, which have now been removed from Ancestry. Thus, the collection for New Jersey has been gutted.

  7. I notice that the One World Tree is gone. I know of at least one person with a reference to that old old old database with a date I can't find anywhere else. I'd sure love to see what was in One World Tree for that person.

  8. This question is totally off topic. But it bugs me immensely. Why do some of your emails come through...and print...in very small font? The current email above was so small I had to come here to the web site to view it.