Reference Centre, Planning, Website Review
Ancestry.com has undergone many changes in layout, design and offerings over the years since its debut in 1997. Essentially, however, the site continues to have the same original problems and has further compounded some of those problems by continually attempting to re-design its search facility.
Ancestry.com, the nemesis of many a trusting researcher who has fallen into the "free trial" period only to discover that extracting oneself comes after much effort. How then, can I possibly see my way clear to award a 2 and one-half gold shield standard? These marks have been gained solely due to the bulk of the content, the clarity of that content, ease of navigation and free search results that are offered on this website.
Interestingly, the free search results differ in no material manner than the search results that are returned if a subscription had been purchased, the only difference arises in the "lock" icons becoming unlocked. Inasmuch as Ancestry.com does not operate on a reductive credit system, having to search each item individually on the search results page creates no hardship and results in no devaluation of the subscription fee.
Concerning content, Ancestry.com has lost one gold shield for persisting in adding donated and otherwise privately completed family lineages to their list of subscription resources. Under no circumstance is it appropriate for any company to market for its own private gain donated and privately completed family lineages. Even Burke's time-trodden tomes are known to contain blatant and deliberate errors in lineages. How then, can a modern company, in all good consciousness and corporate responsibility, flog a product that is likely rife with errors to those who are largely novices and amateurs. In my estimation, this is just one more avenue through which the genealogy world at large will continue to perpetuate the already inaccurate genealogy that is pervasive on the internet. Familysearch.org makes it clear that donated and privately completed family lineages found via its' portal need to be verified in original sources. Ancestry.com makes no similar assertion concerning its World Family Trees. Shame on you, Ancestry.com for continuning to take profits through such an undertaking.
Aside from donated and privately completed family lineages, which, according to the corporate information posted on the website represents "users have created more than 70 million family trees to the core Ancestry websites", the remainder of the content found on Ancestry.com is not new, nor is it proprietary to Ancestry.com. What that entity has accomplished, however, is to facilitate the easy and convenient access to many different types of records. Amongst those different types of records are secondary and tertiary transcripts. So, I have to caution anyone who takes information found on Ancestry.com either in the form of records and most particularly in the guise of ancestry "hints": unless every link in your lineage has been proven from at least two primary sources and you have viewed and retained copies of the actual documents your efforts will have resulted only in an ancestry comprised of hearsay and, if produced under the Ancestry.com website guidance, is likely to be fatally flawed. I shudder to think how many of those 70 million trees contain fatal flaws that even more unsuspecting novices will continue to perpetuate on into the future. Ancestry.com LLC has, no doubt, projected current and future profits that it could manufacture from repackaging those fatally flawed trees into other offerings on the existing and new web sites. For examples, of fatally flawed trees found on Ancestry.com visit our Errors in Published Genealogies page.
Although I will not discourage a researcher from purchasing a subscription to Ancestry.com, I will not encourage such action, either. Subscriptions to online research services that ultimately provide links to original resources - census and other primary and secondary sources - can be a great benefit to those who are unable to attend at a research facility. A great many people fall into this category, not only those who are housebound but also those who are geographically-bound - live too far away from a library or research facility to be able to justify a trip. Ancestry.com has to be given due praise for bringing to market original images of many primary and secondary sources.
The downside to online subscriptions comes in the form of exaggerated subscription fees. Yes, a reasonable fee has to be charged by the data provider to cover the costs of acquisition of resources, technical experts and service providers for producing and maintaining the online resources and website presence, and to pay all corporate expenses, fixed, overhead and otherwise, and still provide a modest profit or ROI (return on investment) to the shareholders. But the key here is the "modest" profit. Genealogy has become a hobby in which the demand for tools has outstripped supply of those tools and too many opportunists have taken this as a signal for potentially unlimited high returns. You might be shocked to learn that Ancestry.com, LLC, in their posted first quarter results of 2015 have,
"Total revenues for the first quarter 2015 were $164.6 million compared to $153.6 million in the first quarter of 2014 driven by growth in revenues from the Company's AncestryDNA product and its core Ancestry websites."
Ancestry.com with its absurd subscription fee structure is a prime example. Differing levels of subscription are offered for separate resources - for the U.S. records collection, for the U.K. records collection and for a combined records collection. Having monitored messages on many genealogy mailing lists concerning the difficult and in some cases, impossible, suspension of an Ancestry.com subscription, I have to provide a warning to anyone who is contemplating the purchase of a subscription. When your subscription period is close to an end, provide written notice to Ancestry.com of your intention to NOT renew the subscription. Also write to your credit card company advising them to not accept any further credit charges from Ancestry.com, Ancestry.com, LLC, or any of its affiliated companies. This is good advice that should be heeded regardless of to what subscription service one is subscribed.
Before locking yourself into an Ancestry.com subscription carefully read through its rather extensive and concise list of databases. To view an alphabetical listing of databases click on the link to 'Search' button in the top navigation bar and then click on the 'Card Catalogue' option. With the aid of the filter options provided in the left-hand column on the new page you can select which country, time period, language and type of record you are seeking. To find only records produced in one of the countries of the United Kingdom you first have to filter the records by country by clicking on the 'Europe' option. Then, scroll down the new list of countries until you come to United Kingdom. Clicking on that last option will open another filter list of the individual countries - Scotland, England, Wales and so on. If you are looking for a particular county in England, clicking on 'England' in the filter list will open yet another filter list of counties from which you can choose the desired county. Once you achieve a listing of the records in which you are interested you can further sort those record titles alphabetically, if desired by clicking in the link box at the top-right hand side of the record listing titled "Sort By".
I also have to address the "free trial" period offered by Ancestry.com. The word "free" means that a 'thing' is not restricted, impeded or confined in any manner whatsoever, that the 'thing' is clear of any obstructions and exempt of any impositions, monetary or otherwise. Consequently, any "free trial" that requires the conveyance of credit card billing information is not "free" at all. I put forward a challenge to Ancestry.com and to all other subscription services offering so-called "free" trial periods: Make those trial periods truly free! If your product and service provides a real value to the tester, then that tester will likely purchase your product. Perhaps not at that very moment, but, certainly, at some time in the future.
It also appears to me that Ancestry.com is also guilty of disseminating mis-information by omission of information. Any Family History Centre that has an internet account also received a free subscription to Ancestry.com. Very recent directives have now removed any previously charged nominal internet research fee, so that, in essence, Ancestry.com is now fully and freely searchable at a Family History Centre as well as at many public libraries around the world. I believe that if Ancestry.com, as a service to its more frugal customers, published that fact on their website, that that information would not really have any significant impact overall on their financial bottom line. I believe that it would, rather, engender a sense in those customers that Ancestry.com is really interested first with the customers success in research. Nothing in business goes farther to produce continued success than to demonstrate a real interest in one's customers and in fulfilling their needs.
I care so little for the "Customize your homepage" options that I have never bothered to change the landing page to anything other than what is presented as the default page and contains the most pertinent selection categories to me - the default Search box, My Quick Links, What's Happening at Ancestry (which is the listing of the latest records posted), Recent Activity, which includes my recent searches, and My Shoebox, which contains the records that I last viewed. The landing page is identical on the soon-to-be released new Ancestry.com.
Lately, upon visiting Ancestry.com I am greeted with a new marking overlay [web parlance for that annoying popup that covers up all content with a window touting a special announcement or new product to buy].
"Try the new Ancestry. And experience the next chapter of storytelling. The new site is here, with features and enhancements that can help you tell stories as remarkable as the people who lived them. Ready to see your family story, reinvented?"
Watch out! I've experienced the new site and gave them my feedback. It is absolutely terrible. Where the resources became even more difficult to find for a search once they made the switch from the original search facility to the then "new" search facility, this next generation of the Ancestry.com web site is about to become ridiculously innane. Already, I've seen the site attempt to "reinvent" my "family story" to one that has little resemblance of fact to it were I to follow their hints and suggestions. Furthermore, some of the resources that were initially returned in a search in the current search procedure - most notably the Canada Voters Lists - are now so far absent from view that it took me over one-half of time sifting through links in my shoebox and databases online to find a link to that resource as I could not recall what that dataset had been titled and a mere search for "voters lists" and "electoral rolls", which is what we Canadians call them, failed to return the one for Canada.
Lastly, I cannot recommend against anyone using a particular genealogical research service over another - to each his own. However, I would like to highlight the new fees for any professional research carried out by Ancestry's ProGenealogists. Straight from the website, I quote,
"Standard professional genealogical and family history research pricing starts at US $2300 or 20 hours of research. Factors that can increase the cost and time include:
Multiple Ancestor Research
Onsite International Research"
This US$2,300.00 fee translates into $115.00 per hour for research that doesn't include any pre-1850s documentation, doesn't include any immigration documentation, which, presumably would also preclude the examination of any naturalizations, passenger lists and such like and certainly doesn't include more than one ancestral line being researched. Outrageous! The average hard-working genealogist charges between US$20.00 and US$50.00 per hour. However, those genealogists do not necessarily have the budget, know how or time to be manning a one-person-driven social media marketing campaign to drive traffic to their website and to convince interested parties that their services are just as worthy, if not more comprehensive, than those offered by this bloated service.
Both the "Hire an Expert" option under the "Help" menu item and the "ProGenealogists" under the "Extras" menu item take one to the identical fee estimate page. So, don't be fooled into thinking that there are two different pricing ladders. They're not. I would also point out that the link from the current site for "Hire an Expert" has been redirected to the new Ancestry site as evidenced by the new layout, font, typography, banner, et cetera. So, the new prices for their research services are effective immediately. Funny, I don't remember seeing any announcement about price increases in services.
Watch out also for the soon-to-come Ancestry Academy on the new site as it has also become a subscription based enterprise whereas on the current site the lessons are free. The "Learning Center" [sic] is to be reduced on the new Ancestry to a mere shadow of it's former self. Ancestry Academy, monthly, runs at the rate of US$11.00 for unlimited access to all courses, or $99.99 per year. Or, if I upgrade my current Ancestry World Explorer Plus subscription from a monthly sort to a six-month subscription for $199.00. Now tell me, why my equally good monthly Ancestry World Explorer Plus subscription is not sufficient to cover the costs of these courses when, in fact, by paying monthly I am paying far more than $199.00 in six months? Some courses are supposedly free. Well, I don't really need a course to tell me how to conduct a search on Ancestry or on any other site for that matter. So, the "free course" carrot is not going to work on me. I would also point out that this Ancestry Academy feature was not part of the current or past incarnations of the site. However, the link has been added to the menu on the current site under the "Learning Center" menu item. Yet, when clicked on it clearly takes the reader to the new Ancestry site evidenced by the new layout, font, typography, banner, et cetera.
There are many things I find reprehensible in this world and U.S. corporate greed ranks very close to the top of my list. Or, perhaps, Ancestry.com is just suffering from an over-inflation sense of self-worth!