The Fruits of Others’ Labour
Ancestry.com, based in Provo, Utah, is by far the biggest commercial online genealogy company, with 1.8 million subscribers and a turnover in 2011 of $400 million. Over the past decade they have expanded steadily by buying up smaller rivals – last week the U.S.-only archives.com cost them a mere $100 million. Ancestry is steadily becoming the default option for most researchers, the Microsoft of online research
One irritating little fly in Ancestry’s ointment over the years has been the lack of a significant collection of Irish records. In the past twelve months they’ve been going about removing the fly, in ways that have raised eyebrows and blood pressure here in Ireland. The digitising of the National Library’s microfilms of the registers of the Catholic diocese of Meath without asking either the Library or the diocese is only the most conspicuous example.
Now they are adding what they term “Web records” to their searches. These are online records available elsewhere for free, which Ancestry now search via their own site, redirecting users to the original website if there are positive matches. So far, Kerry local authority burial records from kerylaburials.ie and the parish burial registers on irishgenealogy.ie have been added. Anyone who searches via an Ancestry subscription is now also searching these. Many more sources will follow, I would imagine, again elevating Irish eyebrows and blood pressure.
Let me make it very clear: Ancestry is not stealing anyone’s records. It is relatively simple for a website to have its “Web records” removed. And access to Ancestry’s database skills and variants collections can sometimes even improve the accessibility of outside records. On the other hand – and this may just be old age creeping up on me – something about using the work of others to attract subscribers smells bad. Welcome to globalization, governed by the laws of Utah.
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]