World Vital Records Partnerships Announced

Today is a very big day for World Vital Records, a company that was started less than a year ago by a talented group that included several former Ancestry.com employees. This is quite likely the biggest day in our 11-month history.

At the NGS conference in Richmond, Virginia, the following new partnerships were announced:

1) We have teamed with The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation and FamilySearch to make the online searchable index to 25 million passenger arrival records, covering 1892-1924, available on World Vital Records. (See full press release here.)

Wayne Metcalfe, Vice President of Records Services for FamilySearch commented, “We were pleased to provide assistance to the Foundation for the opening of their family history center in 2001 and are equally excited to see the expanded availability of these important records via the Internet. We were equally pleased to work in conjunction with World Vital Records in our new Records Access program. World Vital Records is part of a growing group of new breed online genealogical service providers who are seeking to promote the needs of records custodians and foundations like Ellis Island around the world.”

The opportunity to be a part of FamilySearch’s Records Access program and to partner with the Foundation to provide increased access to their records is a tremendous one, for which we are very grateful. Dick Eastman has called the newly announced Records Access program “perhaps the most important genealogy announcement of the past few years.” (See Dick Eastman blog entry.)

In their press release, FamilySearch talks about a “tidal wave” of online databases. We’re exciting to be involved to a small degree in creating that wave.

2) More than 4,500 Family History Centers throughout the world will now have access to the genealogy databases available at World Vital Records. I don’t know how many researchers visit Family History Centers around the world, but I have been to many of them, and imagine the total number of patrons served is in the hundreds of thousands.

To search for a Family History Center near you, visit FamilySearch’s Find a Family History Center Near You Page.

Visitors to Family History Centers will also have access to FamilyLink.com, a new social network that connects family historians to each other around places and topics.

Here’s an example of how it might work. If a researcher in any Family History Center (let’s say Arizona) has a question about records from a city in Germany that the Arizona Family History Center director and volunteer staff cannot answer, she can instantly connect with English-speaking genealogists who live in that very city in Germany and ask them her question. They might even be willing to do a local record lookup for her.

FamilyLink is growing quickly and will soon have members in thousands of cities around the world. New features are being added weekly. Two features that are currently being tested and will be rolled out soon are GEDCOM uploading and live online chat.

3) Quintin Publications has chosen World Vital Records to make its massive CD ROM collection of genealogical and historical books and databases available online. More than 10,000 individual titles, including significant French Canadian databases, state vital records, town and county histories, family histories, historical maps and gazetteers, modern publications by genealogists (after 1923), and international works will be available in the coming months.

You can visit the Quintin web site to get an idea of the scope of the Quintin CD ROM collection.

The Quintin family has been carrying on the wonderful legacy started by company founder Bob Quintin, who passed away two years ago. Our sincere hope is to help that legacy grow so that millions of genealogists worldwide will benefit from the work of this genealogy pioneer, the man Dick Eastman said was the “first person [he knew] who entered the business of republishing old books on CD-ROM disks.” (See Dick Eastman tribute to Bob Quintin, September 2005.)

Our team is very happy to be serving the genealogy community once again, and we feel that we are really just beginning in our quest to provide affordable access to the world’s genealogy records. But we are not alone in this quest. FamilySearch is leveraging their skills to create the “tidal wave” of online databases. There are many wonderful companies serving the genealogical community, and I think this tidal wave may lift all boats, by dramatically increasing the overall interest in family history, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Eleven years ago, when a small team in Orem, Utah launched the original Ancestry.com web site, the internet was fairly new. In June 1996 we posted the SSDI database, and soon thereafter, posted the Roots-L Message Board archive. By April 1997 we had some 50 databases online and we started charging for monthly or annual access to the site.

In January 1998 I wrote this draft press release (but I’m not sure if we ever released it):

OREM, UT (January 9, 1998) — Ancestry, Inc. announced today that it has selected Global Center to host its popular genealogy web site. Global Center, located in Sunnyvale, California, hosts sites for internet leaders such as Netscape, Yahoo, and Quote.com.

“We are committed to building the world’s largest virtual genealogy community,” said Paul Allen, Ancestry CEO. “Our recent investments in our web site, and the selection of Global Center as our web host, demonstrate our commitment to provide the best service possible.”

More than 19 million adult Americans are “highly involved” in family history research, according to American Demographics magazine. Recent data from Media Metrix suggests that increasing numbers of genealogy buffs are turning to the internet for information. Ancestry’s site attracted 1% of the total online audience in September, or about 350,000 unique visitors, and averaged more than 15 page views per visit, according to Media Metrix data.

Dan Taggart, Ancestry’s President says the company is now prepared for a projected site usage increase of 400% in the first half of 1998. “We have attracted millions of visitors to our site since our launch in June 1996 by providing searchable databases and research tips to genealogists,” he said. “This month we are relaunching the site and introducing more than a dozen community-oriented features, including chat and forums. Our visitors will now become members of a genealogy community where members can help each other find their ancestors and relatives, and discover their heritage,” he said.

Ancestry boasts 250 searchable databases that contain more than 100 million records of interest to genealogists. Most of these are available only to subscribers who pay $6.95 per month or $59.95 per year for unlimited access to the database library. Visitors may access selected databases, or receive a free trial subscription to the Ancestry Library by registering at www.ancestry.com/freetrial.htm. More than 300 genealogy products, including books, CD-ROMs, and magazines are available at the Ancestry Genealogy Shoppe.

The Ancestry site experienced a three-fold increase in traffic during the week after Christmas. Ancestry’s T1 line and its 15 internal servers at Ancestry were overloaded, according to Graham Hawkins, customer service manager. “The site was completely down for approximately 15 hours at different times during the week. We received and answered more than 2,000 e-mail messages,” he said.

The genealogy industry has been completely transformed in the past ten years. The modest 100 million records has grown into the billions. And billions of additional records will be coming online in the coming years.

I hope more people are doing family history than ever before. I think they will, as records become more accessible and affordable. Another press release I drafted in 1996 said that a Gallup poll found that “eight million Americans spend three hours or more per week doing family history.” Back then, most genealogists were probably doing their research with microfilm, or with records found in archives and courthouses and other repositories–not online.

I loved this comment from one of Dick Eastman’s readers today (speaking of the “tidal wave” announcement by FamilySearch):

I am crying with JOY !!! I have spent 4 to 8 hours a week for the last 8 years reading microfilm at local FHC site. This was not a computerized microfilm reading site and the work was extremely difficult. I spend many days at the NARA site reading census records. And finally I have spend weeks at court houses reading the OLD books and records. I am famliar with digitized records using new technology. This will be a joy to view. I send a prayer of blessings and thanksgiving to FamilySearch and all the volunteers that will work on this project.

Can you imagine if 8 million people spent three hours a week ten years ago doing family history research this way, how many more should be doing family history today when so many records are online?

You would think that the number would be at least double or triple what it was. But I think the hobby got increasingly expensive, which has really limited the growth. Also, there was little competition in the genealogy industry, so search engines and tree tools didn’t really evolve very quickly. A lot of what you find in online genealogy search today is very similar to five or even ten years ago.

But it is all changing now. FamilySearch is supporting non-profit and for-profit efforts to digitize the world’s records. Geni is proving that tree building tools can be interesting to anyone. FamilyLink is creating a new opportunity for family historians to help each other. And more and more companies are being formed to commercialize access to records (Footnote, WorldVitalRecords) to build tools that make family history interesting and rewarding (Geni, Ourstory.com) and to create physical family history to preserve important memories (Heritage Makers, iMemoryBook, and many more).

It’s a great time to be involved in family history.

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