Open Thread Thursday: The Content Wars

star wars light sabers

Some readers may or may not know, that in my business – High-Definition Genealogy – one of the services I offer is market research within the genealogy industry. I follow the trends and issues, look at figures such as website traffic, demographics, etc. I attend conferences, meet with management of genealogy vendors both large and small, and generally try to have my “ear to the rail” so to speak.

One issue that has become more noticeable is The Content Wars or as some call it, The Content Race.  Namely, the practice of acquiring access to holdings of research information – both public domain and proprietary – and then digitizing them for use by genealogists and others.

I will have more to say on this topic later this week and into next, and I don’t want to share my thoughts and insights just yet.  I’d like input on this topic just from a reader standpoint without the influence of my written word.

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For our Open Thread Thursday, please comment on these issues:

  • Once a collection of documents is digitized and indexed, should they be made available to researchers for free or for fee? This means they would either follow the FamilySearch (free) or the Ancestry (fee) models. Note: there are many other vendors and providers both free and fee – I am only using the most recognizable vendors as examples.
  • Does it matter if the documents themselves are in the public domain when it comes to charging a fee for access? Does a good index and search mechanism add value to the record set, to the point of justifying a fee for access?
  • Think about the holdings that genealogical or historical societies have.  Should they place access behind a members-only website, even if the documents are in the public domain? What about making the index free but the images members-only?
  • Let’s say that 20 years from now, most records of use to genealogists are digitized and accessible – either free or fee. What will genealogy vendors need to offer consumers to keep them engaged in genealogy? What will genealogical societies need to do to survive if their public domain holdings are made available for free?

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Unclaimed Persons Solves 100th Case

Congratulations to Unclaimed Persons and all of its hard-working volunteers on solving their 100th case!

In case you are unfamiliar with Unclaimed Persons, this volunteer organization is comprised of genealogists, family historians and cyber-sleuths who use their research skills to help coroners and medical examiners located next of kin for unclaimed persons.

I highly recommend that if you have a some time or are looking for a volunteer project that you can do from the comfort of your own home, consider becoming a member.  Not only will you be assisting overburdened state and local agencies but you’ll also hone and sharpen your research skills.

Click here for more information on becoming a volunteer (this link will take you to a Facebook group page).

Congratulations to everyone at Unclaimed Persons!

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Review: Casefile Clues

casefile clues

Recently I was given the chance to look at two recent issues of Casefile Clues which is a genealogy newsletter produced by Michael John Neill.  When first contacted, I thought to myself, “Just what I need, another genealogy-related newsletter.” But was I wrong – Casefile Clues is no ordinary newsletter.  After one issue I was intrigued and could see the value of the case study to my own research efforts.  After the second issue I was hooked.

So what did I like about Michael’s well-written and well-researched efforts apparent in each issue?

A First Rate Research Guide

First, as someone who is working to gain their certification as a professional genealogist, I like learning about different research techniques and areas of research.  A reader of Casefile Clues is given a wide variety of cases covering different time periods and different geographical areas.

For example, the issues I recently read covered a case involving a homestead application in Nebraska.  Now in my own personal research I have never had a need for a “how to” on researching homestead applications.  But who knows when I may need it for clients in the future?  If I do need such a resource, I can turn to the Casefile Clues case to get a better understanding of the records involved and the research process.

I know that if I were a subscriber to Casefile Clues, I could have access to different research topics and easily consult back-issues when faced with many different research situations.

The Value of the Research Process

Second, I love the “CSI” aspect of genealogy.  This was apparent with my recent research project where I helped locate the family of Marjorie Pauline Frost in order to return a 1926 baby book her family once owned.  Many said that while reading the series of posts, they felt they were right inside my head watching the thought process as it happened.

I get that same feeling when reading a case study in Casefile Clues.  Another recent issue dealt with what was assumed to be a wrong name in a 1910 U.S. Census for a Chicago, Illinois family.  As Michael picked apart all the data and organized it in a way which made it easy to do further research, you could just watch the thought process unfold.

The Devil? In the Details, Of Course!

Third, when you work with a case study in Casefile Clues you get not only a well-written narrative but one that is filled with source citations, images of original records and even visual aids such as Google Maps.  Michael’s research expertise is obvious in each issue and he goes the extra mile by sharing every bit of information with you.


I was impressed with Casefile Clues.  So much so, I felt that a $15 annual subscription rate was well worth the information provided in each issue.  I’ve become fairly selective lately in terms of publications that I purchase, organizations that I join and newsletters/magazines to which I subscribe.  I didn’t have to think twice about my subscription to Casefile Clues.

[Disclosure: I was contacted by Michael John Neill in October 2009 and received two recent issues of Case File Clues (at no charge to me) with no obligation to publish a review. I have not been compensated monetarily in any way for this review or any work with Case File Clues. My intention is to give a good review, which does not necessarily mean a favorable review. In my mind a good review is one in which the subject of the review is fully researched and tested and my opinions are given while at the same time remaining fully transparent as to my involvement with the vendor of the product.]

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee