Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Love/Hate & Ancestry.com
Genealogists in general have a love/hate relationship with Ancestry.com. We all love the 24 hour access to U.S. Censuses with every name indexes from 1850 on and the ability to print or save census images on our computers. But we hate the index errors caused by farming the work out to third world non-English speakers with no knowledge of American history or language idioms.
We love the ability to search Civil War service and pension records, World War I draft records, and 1000s of other databases, some only available online via Ancestry. But we hate their antiquated interface that complicates finding a database let alone a family connection.
Too many Ancestry databases are indexes only. We would love to see more record images attached to those index entries, and a better method for searching across all databases.
At our recent Green Valley Genealogical Society seminar I picked up a marketing brochure "Getting Started with Family History" produced by Ancestry.com. The brochure states you can complete a three generation family tree in 1 or 2 hours with Ancestry. In a weekend you can discover the origins of your family! In 1 to 3 months you can print a professional family history book. I hate to disappoint a beginner, but this is just not true.
Step 1, "Begin with what you know," and Step 2, "Ask your family for more," are good so far! But Step 3, "Let us fill in the blanks for you" is an invitation to disaster, implying Ancestry already has researched your family and is just waiting for you to make contact with them.
Page 8 and 9 of this costly, professional advertisement emphasizes Ancestry's free offerings but neglects to note that none are real research tools. Online the user is informed, "And while accessing most of the record collections on Ancestry.com requires a paid subscription, your online family tree is completely FREE." The downside of the free items is they are solicited from the Ancestry community, information contributed by users, none of it verified and little of it documented with source information. Some errors are very obvious, others subtle and deceptive. Nothing found here should be assumed factual without verification with original records.
The only cost quoted is "as low as $12.95 per month" but online the monthly fee offered to use the U.S. record databases is $19.95. An annual subscription to U.S. records is least expensive in one payment of $155.40. The brochure lists eleven of Ancestry's major record groups including International Records, but to access them the annual cost increases to $299.40.
Nowhere in the brochure is there any mention of the real sources of records without which a quality family history can never be produced: courthouses, archives, libraries, etc., and the LDS microfilms of billions of original documents. Despite what Ancestry would have us believe it cannot all be done on their website or even on the entire Internet.
Ancestry is a division of the Generations Network, a group that has bought up many competing formerly free genealogy websites, such as rootsweb.com. With millions of Ancestry subscribers the Network has become a multi-million dollar corporation. My annual subscription to Ancestry in 2000 was $69.95. While it's a useful research tool, it's certainly not the only online tool. I love having 24/7 access especially to Ancestry's U.S. census images, but I hate deceptive advertising. Caveat Emptor, a principle of U.S. law since 1817 still applies today.
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30 March 2010
15 April 2010