Thursday, January 27, 2011 and the Genealogical Community

This week's Open Thread Thursday topic on the Geneabloggers blog is and the Genealogy Community.  Thomas asks:

"This week announced that it would cease operation of Expert Connect on February 3, 2011. This has caused much discussion on various genealogy blogs and mailing lists about’s commitment to and role in the genealogy community.

"What are your opinions about’s role in the genealogy community? Does the biggest player in the industry have any duty to this vibrant group of genealogists and family historians? Or is its duty solely to its stockholders and customers since Ancestry went public in late 2009?"

My observations and opinions (I am not an attorney):

*, and its subsidiaries, has a contractual obligation to live up to its Terms and Conditions with its customers.  However, they can unilaterally change them.  Have you read them recently?

* has a contractual obligation to its investors to operate according to the Corporate Governance documents created by the company.  The Board of directors can change them.

* has no "duty" to the "genealogical community" as a whole, but since many of its customers are members of that community (researchers, authors, bloggers, etc.) it would be foolish, almost negligent, not to interact (listen to, improve relations with, and market to) the community. 

* will thrive or die based on two things - the content and services that it provides to customers, and how it deals with those customers, individually and as a group.  They have a significant churn rate (4% per month is the last number I heard - that means they have to replace 4% of their subscribers every month) that impels them to do marketing in all media and events, and to add content, add services and improve the quality of the content and services constantly.  If they don't add content or improve services constantly, existing subscribers may drop off.

*  At the first Blogger Day two years ago, said that "Content is King, Quality is Queen" and they promised to improve community relations with the genealogical community.  The past two years have been characterized by much more content, improved services and more openness and communication - via email, telephone, online and at conferences.

* has significantly improved the Search capabilities for users of the records collection to the point that it is the most complex and sophisticated search engine in the genealogical community. Some think it is too complex.

* have made substantial changes to the Member Tree experience, but it is not nearly as fast or user friendly as many genealogy software packages.

*'s Family Tree Maker genealogy software is one of the best selling, and was completely reprogrammed in 2008.  It now has added capabilities over the earlier software versions (16 and before), but is much more complex to use, and has some GEDCOM file creation problems.

*'s MyCanvas book building tool produces high quality coffee-table type books that can be printed or purchased, but they are limited in the number of pages available.

* has a DNA testing service that is competitive with other services, accepts results from other services to attach to persons in a Member Tree, and finds possible matches to a subscribers markers.

* has a Learning Center that contains how-to videos, articles, and webinars to help all levels of researchers.  The site promotes other products. 

* just terminated the Expert Connect service after buying ProGenealogists in August 2010.  The termination has been painful for some of the "experts" hired through by customers.  Will ProGenealogists do a better job for customers needing record lookups, consultation, family tree research, book writing, etc.?  Will ProGenealogists be cheaper for the customers desiring the services?   My guess is "yes" and "no" but only time will tell. 

* owns Rootsweb, a totally free site with record databases, a family tree system, mailing lists, message boards, web pages, etc.  The free record databases have not had added content for years (except for incremental regular Social Security Death Index additions). The Rootsweb WorldConnect family tree database adds maybe 30 million names per year, and the mailing lists and message boards add content every year, but not at the level of earlier years.   Many local and regional genealogical societies have web sites on Rootsweb.

* owns, a subscription site with some free elements. The subscription elements on are, I think, duplicated on, but there are still subscribers for the service that is essentially static.  The free elements are user web pages and the GenForum message boards and have minimum added content each year, but are a good resource.

* now owns, a subscription site with some free elements, and with significant technological capabilities and contracts with content providers.  I would not be surprised to see more interaction between Ancestry and Footnote databases - that Footnote results might show up in Ancestry search results and vice versa, and that Ancestry Member Trees might link to or even create Footnote Pages.

*  If one of the measures of a company's benevolence is the free services that it offers customers, then certainly should be credited with contributing to the genealogical community by hosting and adding content to the Learning Center, Rootsweb and websites. 

*  They say that the sins of the fathers persist for generations, and the same is true for companies like that serve customers while trying to grow the company and keep it profitable.  They made several mistakes in past years that affected their reputation, but I think they have repaired that reputation among many in the community over the last two years.

*  There are still  people that resent and other commercial companies that provide genealogical products and services for a subscription cost.  These folks think that the services should be free and the products should be cheaper.  Frankly, the only way that the products and services will be cheaper is if there is more competition in the marketplace.  It has been hard to start and grown any company in the current economic climate, but it may be easier in the future.  I doubt that there will be any companies or organizations with "free" record content and services, except for FamilySearch and the various government archives.

* has been the "Elephant in the genealogy room" for a long time.  FamilySearch has grown significantly over the past two years and is now ":Elephant sized" as well, and is free to use.  While it doesn't have as much content as yet, it no doubt will have more content as more microfilms are digitized and more historical collections are indexed.  There's room for both in the genealogical community.  It's really a good time to be a genealogist!

What have I missed?   What are your opinions about


Bill Gatchell said...

I agree Randy--Ancestry is a business that services us genealogist BUT it is still a business. No profitable company can continue to offer the same services without continual evaluation of what works and what is profitable. It's the best thing going for the money spent in my opinion and if you don't like them or their prices, don't subscribe.

Thanks for a great blog entry as always Randy!

Darlene said...

"Frankly, the only way that the products and services will be cheaper is if there is more competition in the marketplace. It has been hard to start and grown any company in the current economic climate, but it may be easier in the future."
What competition there was, they bought it.

Anonymous said...

I just received an email from indicating my membership fee upon renewal this year will be $489.70 for the basic U.S. package! Although I've been an admirer of this site and value the services provided, they are now pricing themselves outside the reach of many - and that's a shame. I think they've just lost my business.

Kevin said...

I've only started using Ancestry in the last 6 months, mostly because of price concerns. While I agree that genealogy software is likely faster, having my family tree and associated records in the cloud is a real benefit. However, it's my understanding that FamilySearch will be offering the same kind of online tree by the end of the year.....for free.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I just received an email from indicating my membership fee upon renewal this year will be $489.70 for the basic U.S. package!

I'll be blunt- until I see an actual copy of that e-mail I won't believe there actually is any such e-mail from period.

Geolover said...

Randy, an interesting overview.

You asked if you forgot something. One item is the site, more or less a mirror for the PublicMemberTrees, which are automatically installed on has made some blunders regarding the site, including privacy issues and a software glitch that allowed some trees to be changed by persons not invited to the parallel Trees on the MemberTrees site. still has some core issues -- log-in is confusing (insisting that users designate a primary tree and designate an individual in the tree as themself, for reasons that are not explained) , and a confusing orientation to allowing a user to change material about a tree-individual that they claim as 'themself' whether or not they are associated with the same tree in the site.

Overall hardly mentions such picky matters as evidence, source-citations, etc.

It is still in 'beta' and free to access, but what its overall purpose is -- aside from projected multiple-language capability -- is not really clear. It is not presently linked at all to the database resources on the site, except to the extent Tree source-citations are linked to Of course non-subscribers are not able to see the documents.

Leanna Tynan said...

I haven't visited this site yet but I think it has a lot of good stuff where I can learn about the genealogical community. Thanks.

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