Next time you visit GenCircles <www.gencircles.com> to search for ancestors, be prepared to pull out your wallet. You now need a subscription to access and download user-contributed family tree files from the Web site’s 90 million-name database.
GenCircles’ hallmark SmartMatching technology has made it a popular online genealogy tool. When you upload your family files to GenCircles, the site compares people in your file to those in the database, weeding out irrelevant results and letting you see where other users’ information overlaps yours.
Pearl Street Software, which operates Gen Circles, indicated that SmartMatching’s popularity ultimately prompted the shift from free access to subscriptions. In an announcement on the site, Pearl Street president Cliff Shaw said GenCircles’ growth had led to slower development and cost increases that were threatening to shut down the site.
Charging for access could have turned out to be an unpopular move: On the site, Pearl Street previously had posted a promise that “GenCircles will continue to be free and always will be.” But Shaw says almost no one protested when he proposed the subscription. “About 500 people wrote in positively, with about five complaining.”
That feedback led Pearl Street to implement the subscription fee. A $30 introductory offer let subscribers lock in that price for life. At press time, Shaw hadn’t decided how long the offer would last or what the regular rate would be.
You still can search the site for free — results show matching names and the submitter’s name. Subscribers can view full Smart Matches, including birth and death dates, burial information, parents, spouse, children, related message board postings and other notes. Users of Pearl Street’s Family Tree Legends <www.familytreelegends.com> genealogy software, which includes automatic searching of GenCircles, will continue to receive free access.