Online Genealogical Research Resources

More than three million Internet sites offer their services to genealogists and family historians for research. This truly exhausting array of Internet sites makes online genealogical research more convenient and more confusing for beginners and professionals. Keeping up with innovations can easily distract an Internet researcher. Individuals, family organizations, corporations, nonprofit organizations, libraries, and governments continually create more online content, much of it useful for family history and genealogical research. What we used to call genealogy has morphed into family history, and the web serves as both the scholarly publisher and the vanity press for primary and secondary sources used by genealogists and family historians of every degree. Researchers are spending more on subscriptions and document downloads and less on travel and copy orders, and governments have discovered a revenue source for supporting their archives and record repositories by charging for downloaded digital copies of vital records and by licensing companies to scan and publish documents on the Internet. Competition is keen for digital rights, creating a competitive atmosphere between Internet publishers, both fee and free. Keeping up with proliferating websites is a challenge to the professional and amateur researcher, who must discover, sift through, and subscribe to a growing array of resources in order to write family history.

Genealogists collaborate naturally because of the feeling that everyone belongs to “one great family,” which will be joined, eventually, into a single family tree. The newest sites have adopted wiki-like, user-contributed content operating models such as those found at Geni.com, Footnote.com, Ancestry.com’s World Tree, OneGreatFamily.com, and FamilySearch.org. These sites and others recruit volunteers to index, comment on, upload, collaborate, and correct data. The policy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to digitize and index microfilmed records and offer them for free contrasts with commercial models, either pay-per-view or subscription. There are sites offering a blend of both models: limited free access, broader access by subscription, and digital document download for an additional fee. Some tension exists when the sites see one another as competitors, the fee sites looking askance at the free sites and vice versa. Each fears the other will corner exclusive digital publication rights to documents. The competitive business model often leads to dispute and contention, even in the benevolent pursuit of deceased ancestors.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 47:1
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