Ancestry.com Withdraws Free Access for the Church

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    By Krystin Anderson

    One of the largest family history database search Web sites, Ancestry.com, may no longer provide free access to its full range of services for the Family History Library and family history centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as of April 1.

    “Over the past several months, Ancestry.com has been working actively to reach agreement with the Church on a formal licensing agreement by which it could continue to make its service available to the public for free. Unfortunately, the two parties were unable to reach an agreement on this matter,” Ancestry.com said in an official statement about the matter. The company, which searches more than 23,000 databases of genealogical documents including census records, immigration records and death indexes, has provided free services to the LDS Church for the past seven years in exchange for exposure.

    According to a statement by the LDS church, they were informed two months ago about Ancestry”s decision to discontinue free access. Since then, the two groups have tried to reach a consensus that would benefit both parties.

    Howard Bybee, family history librarian at BYU, said the change represents the end of a long-standing collaboration between the LDS Church and Ancestry.com.

    “Many people don”t realize that Ancestry.com was originally started by LDS entrepreneurs in collaboration with our library and with the Church,” Bybee said. “It was able to grow so rapidly…by the fact that they were very quickly available to thousands of people through the family history centers.”

    The BYU Family History Center is, however, considering other options including pursuing negotiations with Ancestry, ProQuest-which provides a limited version of Ancestry-and other online companies.

    “The negotiations have not become final, either,” Bybee said. “They still hope to find a solution before the April deadline, and there is a possibility that that might occur.”

    It is unsure what impact the change will have on family history research, but, as long as people are committed to the work, it will move forward, said Roger Minert, family history professor and independent family history consultant.

    “I see two possible reactions,” Minert said. “One, disappointment that it isn”t free anymore, which would lead to people saying, ”Well, I better not do this,” or ”Oh, this is too difficult now.” The other reaction would be, ”Well, it”s time for me to gear up and do more for myself.””

    He said he hopes people will turn toward original family history sources rather than the mostly secondary sources offered by Ancestry.com, and expand their research methods beyond the internet.

    “There”s a perception that…essentially anything they need can be found on the internet,” Minert said. “That is a perception that, in my experience, is not true.”

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