FamilyLink.com soft launch

I have been in NY and Chicago this week, and haven’t found the time to blog about this yet, but our wonderful sleepless team at World Vital Records has quietly opened up FamilyLink.com to the public.

We are hoping for a few thousand early users, experienced genealogists primarily, to set up personal profiles, tell us what cities they do research in (and where they live), create some ancestor pages, and most of all, give us lots of feedback about the site features and design.

So far, without any promotion, we’ve gotten more than 700 users, 100 pieces of feedback, and nearly 200 ancestor pages. Yesterday more than 300 email invitations were sent out by users to family and friends. Yesterday we had almost 20,000 page views on FamilyLink. That is for a three day old site. World Vital Records usually generates 30-40,000 page views each day, and it is 10 months old.

I have blogged recently about how FamilyLink, based on social networking and user generated content, is the key to our success at World Vital Records. Because of its unique value to genealogists, it really has a chance to attract millions of users worldwide.

I really appreciate our early users. At first, FamilyLink won’t be a tremendous experience, because like any social network, the main value comes from the connections you can make with others.

Can you imagine being one of the first 100 users of eHarmony.com? You spend 20 minutes filling out a detailed profile, hoping to be matched using 29 criteria with your soul mate, your true love, only to find out at the end of the process that you don’t match a single person? That must have been devastating to the early adopters at eHarmony. I hope they have all since recovered from the emotional trauma, and are among those that are now happily married eHarmony graduates. 🙂

As the eHarmony registrations grew into the millions, the likelihood that new users were going to see five potential matches, that would be in many ways compatible with them, increased dramatically.

Same thing with FamilyLink–although we are not trying to match singles with potential mates. We are trying to match you (the genealogy researcher) with other genealogy researchers who are experts in the very locations where you are looking for answers.

If you have an ancestor who lived in Groton, Connecticut, and you are not able to travel there, what do you do? Perhaps you go online and hope to find some databases that contain something about your ancestor. But it is very unlikely that you will understand much about how records were kept there, how far they go back, the local history, religion, and culture, and what the best strategy would be to get started in your research there.

Hopefully you will randomly meet someone at a Family History Center or at your local genealogy society that might know something about research strategies and available records for Groton. But the chances of that are extremely slim. (Although in the field of genealogy research, there do seem to be a high number of these kinds of “chance” meetings that turn out to be very serendipitous.)

Enter FamilyLink. For the first time in history, you can list all the cities where your ancestors lived or where you are doing further research, and in one click you can see a map of that city and the photos and names of other genealogists who live there or who have experience doing research there. Again, one more click and you are contacting those people to see if they can give you any suggestions or even do a local record search for you, or an online search for you to help you out.

A wonderful organization called Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) has thousands of volunteers who have been helping other genealogists with these kinds of lookups for years. (If you want to do something nice right this very moment, visit RAOGK and make a donation even a few dollars, to help the organization pay its expenses.) There are good, kind and unselfish people everywhere who love family history. There are tens of thousands of volunteers who work at LDS Family History Centers, and thousands of dedicated genealogy societies all over the world.

Our hope is to enable the wonderful people in the field to connect with each other in meaningful ways, far beyond what genealogy message boards have allowed in the past.

Our feature rich social network will enable people all over the world to connect around ancestors, cities, languages, and even the software they use for family history.

We are excited also to enable our experienced researchers in each location around the world to help us create lists of the best sources (online and offline) for genealogy research as well as the strategies they use to make new discoveries and to validate their conclusions.

People who are actively involved in genealogy tend to be older. Some of our surveys at Ancestry years ago showed the average age of our paying subscribers was 47.

People have asked questions about whether older people will jump into social networking the way kids jumped into MySpace and college students rushed into Facebook. But industry reports show that the average age of MySpace users is climbing fast, and now only 50% of Facebook users are college students. LinkedIn.com has demonstrated how people of all ages will join a social network with a serious purpose. And if Quantcast’s data about Eons.com is correct, then 4 million people over 50 are using that social network every month.

Increasing your odds of success in your family history research by connecting to other family history researchers in any location in the world is a very compelling reason for people to sign up for FamilyLink.

We haven’t yet invited the 100,000 genealogists on our mailing list to join the site yet, but as we improve the site experience, we will soon do that as well as start other promotional efforts to spread the word.

Please don’t check out this site and sign up if you are a 22-year old Techcrunch reader with no real interest in family history. There are a hundred other social networks for you to join. We aren’t interested in cluttering the site with inactive personal profiles.

But if you are into family history, and want to get help with your research around the world, or help others, or share information that you have about your ancestors with all your relatives, then please, try FamilyLink.com. There is a feedback link on every page of the site, so you can tell us what we should do to make the experience better for you. Together, with your help, we can create a social network for family historians around the world that will forever change how genealogy is done.

Genealogy doesn’t have to be a lonely, isolated and troubling experience where you are often stuck, wondering what to do next, and quite possibly duplicating the research already done by one or more people somewhere else. Genealogy can be a real-time, ongoing, exciting, social experience, where collaboration across time and space enables more discoveries than ever before, and more shared connections to important people and places.

All over the world are people who are extremely knowledge about locations where they have lived most or all of their lives. But when you are doing genealogy research 5,000 miles away, you don’t know who they are, or what they might know that can help you. That’s why genealogy travel is so much more productive than trying to do genealogy remotely, using only microfilms or online databases.

When I was in London recently, and mentioned Islington (where my wife’s ancestor was born) in a conversion with a stranger on a train, I learned in a few minutes a lot about that place several important facts about that town (now a borough of London) including that it had been the home of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, about 150 years before my wife’s ancestor was born. Those facts gave me an entirely new appreciation for the town where she came from (and some new ideas about where to visit next time I’m in London!)

Imagine every time you discover a place where your ancestors lived that you are just one click away from seeing names, photos, and profiles of a dozen experienced genealogists who live there now, or who have done extensive research there already, and that you are another click away from connecting with them, and getting the help you need.

That is our vision for FamilyLink–but only with the help and involvement of many thousands of family historians will this be possible.

So please, start spreading the word slowly to your more helpful genealogy industry friends. Then, when we’re ready for the big launch, we’ll let you know, and you can help us open the floodgates and invite everyone around the world with even a passing interest in family history to come join the party.

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