Branching Out: Charging Ahead

Branching Out: Charging Ahead

OneWorldTree charges ruffle feathers.

MyFamily.com’s new online subscription service has ruffled feathers in genealogy circles — particularly among researchers who’ve submitted family tree files to free pedigree databases on the MyFamily.com-owned sites Ancestry.com <Ancestry.com > and Roots Web <www.rootsweb.com>.

OneWorldTree <trees.ancestry.com/owt/about.aspx>, the fee-based search engine Ancestry.com unveiled in June, links together all of the site’s records and information about an ancestor. It uses a process the company calls “stitching” to find and combine probable matches so you don’t have to weed through multiple databases and irrelevant results. An annual OneWorldTree subscription costs $49.95 ($39.95 if you’re already an Ancestry.com subscriber).

The service has drawn genealogists’ ire because it taps family tree data that thousands of researchers supplied to Ancestry World Tree <www.ancestry.com/trees/awt> in the spirit of collaboration. MyFamily.com also plans to include files submitted to RootsWeb WorldConnect <worldconnect.rootsweb.com>. (But that’s “not at the top of the list,” says vice president of products Gary Gibbs.)

After MyFamily.com acquired RootsWeb in June 2000, the company merged World-Connect and Ancestry World Tree files into a single free database that’s grown to 325 million names. A press release promised that “the RootsWeb.com site will continue to be free to all users.” You still can search both sites for free.

Word of OneWorldTree spread quickly before the service’s debut, in some cases inspiring online postings such as this one at GenSuck.com <www.gensuck.com>: “The dangerous part [of] what is happening here is the precedent that Ancestry.com is setting. They are taking donated information that was understood to be ‘forever free’ and making a subscription out of it. What will be their next harvest?”

But MyFamily.com spokeswoman Mary-Kay Evans points out that the Ancestry World Tree and RootsWeb user agreements allow the company to incorporate user-submitted data into the company’s other products — both free and fee-based.

RootsWeb creator Brian Leverich hails OneWorldTree’s potential to advance online research. “It would be almost unthinkable, and surely a great loss to the genealogical community, to exclude Roots Web’s resources from a tool with this potential,” he says.

Gibbs gives an example of that potential: “I have an ancestor Owen Pratt, born in 1811. A search for him in WorldConnect turns up something like 150 results. In OneWorldTree, I get one result. Inside that, it shows all that information aggregated together in tree form, similar to a pedigree form. Each individual has a page.” To view records from Ancestry.com’s subscription collections, you have to buy access to them.

Filters keep user-submitted trees with obvious errors — too few dates, parents born after their children and the like — out of search results. Still, says Evans, MyFamily.com can’t guarantee the reliability of those trees.

At press time, MyFamily.com was planning a new feature that would enable OneWorldTree users to edit their trees by attaching names and documents. When other subscribers use OneWorldTree, the search engine will “mine” that new data — but will try to verify it using other record matches. “So in many instances, your edited tree will not become a part of the OneWorldTree search results that others see,” says Evans.

Genealogists who’ve contributed files and don’t want them included in OneWorldTree can remove them, although there’s a delay before the removal takes effect. Their trees also get deleted from Ancestry World Tree and RootsWeb WorldConnect. Despite the uproar, Evans says MyFamily.com didn’t notice many people removing their files before the OneWorldTree launch.

For biweekly updates on the world of family history, subscribe to Family Tree Magazine‘s free e-mail newsletter at <www.familytreemagazine.com/newsletter.asp>. To get free content for your genealogy publication or Web site, sign up for the Family Tree News Service at <www.familytreemagazine.com/ftns-subscribe.asp>.
 
From the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine.
 

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