Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ancestry announcements - Public Indexing and FGS Collaboration

The announcement today by and the Federation of genealogical societies is very welcome to me, as a genealogist, an Ancestry subscriber, and a member of a local society.

The email I received (and posted by Dick Eastman and DearMYRTLE, and partially posted on the Blog) reads:



Philadelphia – Sept. 4, 2008 –, the world’s largest online family history resource, today launched the World Archives Project, a global public indexing initiative designed to give individuals everywhere the opportunity to help preserve historical records. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is the first organization to partner with during this beta phase of this new venture, enlisting genealogists and family history enthusiasts to help test the software and prepare it for a more public release.

Now in public beta, the World Archives Project allows individuals to transcribe information from images of original historical records and to create indexes that will remain accessible for free on and on Ancestry’s localized sites in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Sweden, and Italy. Active contributors* will soon be able to access all original images that are part of the World Archives Project. Organizations can also partner with the World Archives Project and sponsor indexing projects. will donate a digital copy of the sponsored index and images back to partnering organizations.

“As a global society, we are falling further and further behind when it comes to digitizing historical records,” said Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of The Generations Network, parent company of “The World Archives Project allows us to work collectively as a community to preserve and to digitize records that will otherwise surely be lost to the wear and tear of time. By providing free access to these indexes on the world’s most popular family history website, we will provide millions of people with access to records that might help them unlock new clues about their ancestors.”

Already, several thousand individuals have joined the World Archives Project private beta, indexing Wisconsin Mortality Schedules and Nebraska State Censuses. Participants provided feedback and recommendations for this public beta release.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this cause and to help spread the world about this new initiative,” said Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg, president of FGS. “The World Archives Project is a great way for enthusiasts and genealogical societies to directly impact and further family history research.”

FGS has been enormously helpful in the development of our vision for the World Archives Project,” said Sullivan. “The 500+ genealogy societies that FGS represents are absolutely critical to the continued health and growth of genealogical research. We’ve been searching for years for the right way to partner with genealogy societies, and we think this project will allow us to help them attract new members by leveraging the popularity of We appreciate the encouragement and support FGS provides and look forward to continuing our relationship as this project marches forward.”

For more information about the World Archives Project or to get involved, visit

*Specific guidelines must be met to be considered an active contributor. For more information, visit


We have had earlier announcements of this project, and questions were asked, like "what's in it for me?" The second paragraph answers that question - "Active contributors* will soon be able to access all original images that are part of the World Archives Project." However, the last paragraph mentions being an "active contributor" which probably means that the contributor has to stay active indexing a certain amount per month in order to have free access to the images. This is a win-win for both Ancestry (which gets significant work content) and the active indexer (who gets free access to records on Ancestry).

Why would organizations and societies partner with to create indexes? The second paragraph says " will donate a digital copy of the sponsored index and images back to partnering organizations." It seems to me like this will be a real benefit to societies - they receive an indexed database with images of their paper material, and can put their digitized genealogy databases behind their member firewall. Being able to use the index and images would be a benefit for society members without having to be an Ancestry subscriber. This is a win-win for Ancestry and societies or organizations.

One major drawback that I see is that the Indexing project can only be performed on Windows computers (not MacIntosh computers or other Windows operating systems). Maybe they will address these issues soon.

The records that could be indexed by society members and digitized by Ancestry are exactly those records that are currently hidden from online genealogists - the unindexed society periodicals, the collection of obituaries cut out of newspapers, the cemetery lists, the donated records in file cabinets, family records in members' basements and attics.

One of the real benefits of an indexing project like this, that enlists society members to do the work, is that it creates a camaraderie withing the indexing group - they enjoy their work, they feel like they are accomplishing something tangible, and feel like they are contributing to their society and to genealogy as a whole.

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