Ancestry.com Pulls the Plug on Several Sites

myfamily This morning, Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, announced that it will be “retiring” five of its properties/services as of 5 September 2014:

I’m sure there are many questions and there will be an ongoing conversation for weeks to come. Let’s remember and use our best skills as genealogists: RESEARCH! This means don’t rely on someone else’s posting at Facebook with misinformation about other Ancestry properties or that Ancestry is next going to do [insert fantastically wild guess based on no concrete information at all].

Yesterday afternoon I participated in a group conference call with several other bloggers to learn the news directly from Ancestry.com upper management and to have our questions answered. See my analysis below of each of these properties including how and why they are shutting down.

For the latest information please visit the Ancestry blog at http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry. And to engage in a conversation with other Ancestry.com users and the staff at Ancestry, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Ancestry.com.

MyFamily

  • From Ancestry: Current MyFamily users can export their data to a zip file which will contain photos as .jpg files, messages as .txt files etc. Both subscribers (paying members) and users (family members) will be able to access and download data through 5 September 2014. Refunds will be issued on a pro-rata basis and effective as of 5 June 2014.
  • My feedback/insights: The handwriting was on the wall when several years ago Ancestry eliminated the free account feature at MyFamily. I estimate that 90% of those free users never converted to paying members of MyFamily. Also, given the target audience and demographic, MyFamily was a customer support nightmare for certain and probably detracted from the bottom line at Ancestry. In addition, in a world where more Baby Boomers are using Facebook to do the exact same thing they could do at MyFamily and for free, the product had been on life support for some time.

MyCanvas

  • From Ancestry: Between now and 5 September 2014, customers can continue working on current projects and even start new projects but they must finish by 5 September. No new project will be accepted after 4 September 2014. You can order copies of current/saved projects and even print them at home, but there is no data export feature available.
  • My feedback/insights: I always suspected that the actual work to produce MyCanvas products was outsourced and this was confirmed on yesterday’s call. The name was not given, but it could be the very same providers used by Shutterfly, Snapfish, MyPublisher and other publication sites. I have used MyCanvas and thought it was a great product that just wasn’t marketed properly. As time went by, I’ve seen this market expand with other providers and it just didn’t make sense for Ancestry to keep MyCanvas alive. What I suspect we will see is other providers partnering with Ancestry to make it easy to export your Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com Tree content to a self-published book or a keepsake.

Genealogy.com

  • From Ancestry: All subscriptions will be retired, including member accounts and the ability to contribute to message boards and user home pages. Users can log in and export/print/save information between now and 5 September 2014. Some content on Genealogy.com will be preserved in read-only format including the GenForum message board, Family Tree Maker homepages and the most popular articles.
  • My feedback/insights: A legacy property that Ancestry acquired years ago, the true value of Genealogy.com is in its domain name. I’ve always believed that this domain name should serve as a general “welcome mat” to all the Ancestry services and properties OR be an educational platform for newcomers to family history. We’ll see what Ancestry does with this site once the current content is archived and moved.

Mundia

  • From Ancestry: Mundia trees have always been a part of Ancestry.com. Members can download trees that they’ve created between now and 5 September 2014. Mundia trees can be accessed for free on Ancestry.
  • My feedback/insights: I never understood Mundia. Ancestry did a stealth launch one Saturday night several years ago and it just never took off. I think it was intended as a way to connect with social media users but eventually Ancestry added social media share features into its current offerings including actual records.

Y-DNA and mtDNA tests

  • From Ancestry: Only the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are being eliminated; Ancestry is devoting more resources to the autosomal test which survey’s a person’s genome at over 700,000 locations and is not limited to just the paternal or maternal line. Effective immediately, Ancestry is no longer selling Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. Customers who have taken the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests can download their raw data at http://www.DNA.ancestry.com
  • My feedback/insights: The elimination of the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests make total sense and Ancestry is keeping up with the evolving technology in the DNA field. One concern I have is what will be done with the actual DNA samples submitted (on the call Ancestry said they would be destroyed as specified in the Terms and Conditions agreed to by those test consumers). Several others on the call also asked if the samples couldn’t be retested using the autosomal test, especially if the sample were from someone who is now deceased. Ancestry has suggested that those who took the Y-DNA and/or mt-DNA tests call customer support with their questions.

What’s Next?

I’m sure there will be plenty of speculation as to what Ancestry may do with some of its other low-performing properties and services in the future as well as legacy acquisitions. It is natural for a company to prune assets that don’t have a high return or a high usage and put resources towards both new technologies and more productive services. That’s all we are seeing here with this news from Ancestry. It has been my belief for sometime that Ancestry.com would eventually take some of these actions and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more properties to be retired over the next few years; this just makes good business sense.

Yes, there will be consumers and users who aren’t happy and some will ask why they should bother using other services from Ancestry (or even other vendors) and risk losing their data or uploaded information. I always tell other genealogists to make sure they 1) read the Terms and Conditions for any site where you upload data and 2) have an exit strategy for your data in terms of exporting it and importing it to a new platform.

Finally, although I don’t use all of the services targeted for termination by Ancestry, I agree with their move to focus on core services that help expand the ability to research and share one’s roots.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Calling Jamboree attendees: Ancestry needs you!

ancestry.com

Ancestry depends on user input to help mold the future generation of their offerings. A range of opportunities are being planned here at SCGS for participants to share their impressions of upcoming Ancestry features across multiple products.  These will include both focus groups and individual interviews all four days of the conference.

They are looking for subscribers of all levels of expertise, membership tenure, and tree size. To be considered, please fill out the following online questionnaire and members of Ancestry’s User Research team will reach out to you for scheduling. Incentives will include the latest version of FTM for Mac or PC, an AncestryDNA kit, or a 6 month subscription extensions to your membership.

Please access the survey here: http://ancestry.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_5gn6n5glPfQA76B

Please reach out to Ancestry directly if you have any concerns: User-Research@ancestry.com

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Genealogy and Family History Industry – Boom or Bust?

genealogy boom or bust

  • Is there still an increasing interest in tracing one’s roots, especially as the Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement? Or is the interest in genealogy on a downward slope?
  • Will the Millennials embrace or ignore genealogy as they age? Will they shift the paradigm to a different view as to how to perform genealogical research?
  • What impact will Big Data continue to have on the genealogy industry? Are vendors like Ancestry.com merely data brokers who have found a way to gamify the use of data for those interested in genealogy? Or is Big Data the answer to bringing more consumers into the industry?

I do not have all the answers to those questions, and to others discussed and debated in the genealogy industry, but I do have opinions on where I feel the industry is headed over the next few years.

The Influence of Baby Boomers and Nostalgia

The generation born between 1946 and 1964 – the Baby Boomers – now seem to rule Facebook and other second-generation social media platforms that seem to be well suited to sharing family history information. The rise of the Boomers on Facebook – as noted by this recent e-surance commercial with Beatrice – has come about partly due to a desire to reconnect and reflect.

Many of us – me included since I am on the tail end of this generation – are using new methods to reconnect with high school and college friends. Parents and grandparents who developed computer skills in the 1980s and 1990s when the personal computer and the Internet took off, are taking workplace skills sets and now using them to keep tabs on children and grandchildren via social media.

Over the next few years, more and more genealogy marketing will be focusing on “do you remember” call to action mechanisms covering the advent of rock and roll music to the Beatles to Woodstock and love beads and more. Besides shared memories, many Boomers will also want to find out more about how their ancestors fit into the context of history.

The “Gap Decade” in Genealogy – A Good Thing

One concern of those who’ve been involved in the genealogy community since the late 1970s when popularity grew due to the television miniseries Roots, is who will take up the task of not just researching ancestry, but preserving the research these Boomers have assembled?

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center indicates that the Millennial generation tends to be less religious, less patriotic and more liberal than older generations. What impact will this have on the genealogy industry?

I have posed this question at various online platforms and many do not feel there is any connection in the generational difference. However, the genealogy community with which I am familiar is marked by a strong sense of patriotism (especially when it comes to researching military ancestors), tends to be more conservative and many are tied to faith communities, such as the Mormon church.

More importantly, what I am seeing in my own market research is the sense of a “gap decade” when it comes to interest in genealogy. Similar to a “gap year” when graduating high school students take a year off before staring college, Millennials may have shown an interest in family history as a child up until and through high school. However, they are not likely to maintain an interest through their 20’s and early 30’s.

Several life events and influences will likely bring them back to looking more closely at their own family history: for young women, the birth of their first child triggers an interest in family stories and genealogy. For young men, it seems that the best way to hook and reel them in, is to help them locate an ancestor who served in the military or who had an engaging story related to surviving the Great Depression or participating in sports while in high school or college.

While there have been many attempts at “bridging” this gap – even via television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? with its recent focus on younger celebrities – perhaps we need to stop pushing Millennials and the younger generations into the genealogy community and understand that they will eventually take an interest as they get older.

Technology, Big Data and Crowd Sourcing

With the release of the 1940 US Federal Census data on April 2, 2012, the importance and role of Big Data was confirmed: both genealogists and those with a passing interest crashed many of the web servers hosting over 3.8 million images representing over 132 million names. While intense interest in this “once a decade” event was anticipated, what wasn’t planned for was how quickly a diverse crowdsourcing group could index the images. Over 150,000 volunteers succeeded in building a searchable index in just four months! And what about the 1950 Census? There’s already a project for that.

In addition to the focus on indexing, other offshoot projects which grew out of the interest in the 1940 Census included Direct My NYC: 1940 by the New York Public Library – a tech mash-up of scanned NYC telephone directories and the 1940 Census. The project asked visitors to not just match up their family members between the directory and the census data, but also leave a short story about the ancestor. Look to see more “mash-ups” involving Google Maps, directories and user-submitted photos to help understand record sets and translate various data points into a story to be shared. In fact, Ancestry.com’s Story View is already solving this problem for researchers.

Big Data will continue to play an important role in the growth of the genealogy industry. This will mean a “race” to locate new and obscure data sets and secure exclusive licenses to digitize the data. While Ancestry.com and FamilySearch (the genealogy operations of the Mormon church) last year announced a partnership to bring more records online, competition to secure records by these two entities as well as MyHeritage and FindMyPast will increase. In addition, look for various municipalities at the local, county and state levels seek to monetize the public records they are sitting on.

Big Data is “big money” and we actually don’t all win: privacy will increasingly take a back seat despite recent efforts to restrict access to the Social Security Death Index. When you or your parents or grandparents provided answers to the 1940 Census, they were likely told that no one, especially their neighbors, would see their responses (see this Life magazine article for example). Yet, 72 years later, those answers were revealed and placed on the Internet, whether the person listed was living or dead.

While the incidence of identity theft related to genealogy records is minor and over-exaggerated, look for more collisions between Big Data proponents and privacy advocates in the coming years.

DNA Test Results – The New Easy Button?

A week doesn’t go by that we don’t hear or see some story in the media about a set of siblings separated for 30, 40 or more years reunited; or how someone placed out for adoption 25 years ago found their birth parents. Many of these stories are engaging and success is based on the use of DNA testing.

Many genealogy vendors including Ancestry.com and MyHeritage are betting big on the DNA revolution and are using it as a way to bring in a new crowd to the genealogy community. In addition, some research problems which have been traditionally more difficult to solve due to a lack of records or to historical events such as slavery in the United States, can now be solved in part by incorporating DNA testing results.

There has even been a gamification element to marketing DNA kits that may diminish the seriousness of the science and the importance of privacy in an attempt to reach a bigger market. An example is the recent “house party” marketing attempt by Ancestry.com DNA aimed at females in the 35-50 age demographic.

Over the next few years, traditional genealogy researchers will need to add interpretation of DNA testing results to their skill set to serve clients and most genealogy records providers will be integrating test results with a subscriber’s online family tree. To take a line from Maury Povich, the phrase “You ARE the 3rd great-grandfather” will become more common than you think.

Is Now Really “The Best Time Ever” for Genealogy?

In conclusion, my answer to the question is a strong and resounding YES. Due to the convergence of technology, social media, Big Data, and a desire by many generations, both young and old, to discover more about their roots, there is no better time than now to either be involved in the genealogy community or to get started.

And to that end, I predict that we’ll not only see more family history related startups over the next few years, but other existing vendors and service providers will understand how obsessed and dedicated genealogists and family historians are when it comes to the “hunt.” The need for new tools, products and platforms will grow as we bring in more consumers who are new to genealogy. We’re looking for ancestors, we’re discovering stories, we’re sharing our discoveries and we’re also finding ourselves.

©2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hackgenealogy.com.