Monday, March 19, 2007

Another Side of the Removal From the Family History Centers

Yesterday I posted the announcement about the removal of “free” from the Family History Centers. I’ve now received a copy of communication written by The Generations Network CEO Tim Sullivan, to Ancestry employees. Keep in mind that there are two sides to every issue - so I think it’s fair to make this post.

Although I personally don’t profit in the slightest from the success of, I am big supporter of what they do for the genealogical community. I believe that although their product isn’t inexpensive, it’s a tremendous value for any genealogist. Their continual addition of new digital data (case in point - The Iowa State Censuses!) - as well as indexes makes a real difference to genealogists. That said, you can see that I’m probably a tiny bit prejudice. I know that sometimes coming to agreements that work for all parties is hard - if not impossible.

Mr. Sullivan’s letter follows:

From: Tim Sullivan
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2007 4:38 PM
Subject: Update

As promised, it’s been an incredibly busy first two months of 2007, so I thought it would be a good time to take a quick pause and take note of an amazing list of stuff that we’ve gotten done so far this year. This list is by no means complete, but it’s a representative sample of traction on multiple fronts: successfully launched their WWI collection with an event at the Churchill Museum. The release of this content collection received fantastic national media coverage and drove material incremental traffic and new members.

Together with the New York Daily News, we broke the “Al Sharpton / Strom Thurmond” story on Feb. 25th, generating unprecedented media attention in the U.S. with:

587 AP stories across the nation - in print, online, broadcast, and radio
87 Top-tier / regional stories in such publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME Magazine, and
1,261 broadcast stories reaching more than 100 million people, including MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, the Tonight Show, Inside Edition, and Good Morning America (and even The Daily Show and Colbert Report last night)
1,800 blog postings
All of the press generated a huge spike in traffic on Ancestry. On Feb. 27th, Ancestry experienced a record-breaking day for both page views (20.7 million) and member trees created in one day (46,003). 2.0 has soft launched and is now promoted on the home page of and through advertising on and Rootsweb.

Business in Canada is ramping nicely and exceeding budget. Our Heritage Day promotion there was a tremendous success.

The launch of our enhanced hint / search engine capability represents a huge step forward for our core technology. With the launch of this improved technology, the number of tree hints accepted nearly doubled over night.

Our self-publishing platform for has been released in alpha mode, and we continue to be excited about the idea of giving users the ability to publish and share their family history.

Family Tree Maker started limited beta testing March 2 and is barreling towards a major summer release

And, finally, we welcome the Member Services team into the Riverwoods building. It is fantastic to have our customers that much closer to us….

This is a great start to the year. Congrats to all.

I also wanted to share a few thoughts with all of you on another topic. For the last seven years, our company has provided free access to inside the family history centers of the LDS Church. During this time, we’ve done this without any formal agreement or compensation. Several months ago, we informed the Church of our desire to craft a formal relationship that would allow us to continue providing this free access. This is similar to the way that we license to over 1400 public libraries in the U.S. and U.K. We do this for a license fee which lets patrons of these institutions use our service for free inside their facilities. As you can imagine, this is a very popular program among libraries.

Unfortunately, we were not able to come to agreement with the Church on the terms of this proposed relationship. We are disappointed by this, as we know that patrons of family history centers value, and we think our institutional licensing program is priced very fairly. We remain willing and eager to have available in family history centers, and we are even hopeful that at some point the Church will reconsider their position and decide to give patrons of their family history centers access to the world’s greatest online resource for family history research.

We will continue to provide access in family history centers to a small number of databases which are covered by other agreements, and none of our other many agreements with the Church are impacted by this change. We continue to have a number of mutually beneficial agreements and relationships with the Church, and as two large players in the family history space, we share a common goal of getting as many people as we can interested in their family history. Our relationship is a good one, and we are always looking for ways to cooperate with the Church in order to grow our business and ignite more interest in the category. I’m sharing all of this with all of you because I am sure that there will be some unhappy patrons of family history centers, and I wanted everyone to understand that this was not a one-way decision on our part.

Finally, I am constantly asked whether we think of the Church as a competitor. The answer to this really depends on the underlying assumptions of the question. Are we competing for dollars? No. Do we have exactly the same goals? No. Are we unfriendly? Absolutely not. Is TGN committed to making sure that remains the #1 resource for online family history? Absolutely. Is Ancestry going to continue to be the home of the world’s largest online family tree? Yup. Should we be able to innovate faster than anyone on the planet in this space? Of course. Are we two large players that each have done tremendous things to help people understand their family history? Yes. Can we continue to cooperate with the Church to get millions more people interested in family history? We can, and we will.

I think we have a pretty good game plan for continuing to grow a truly great company.



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