16 December 2011

Archives.com and Family Tree DNA

Archives.com Partners with Family Tree DNA

In late September 2011, Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, founders of Family Tree DNA, called to ask if I would review a database company called Archives.com as FTDNA was creating a partnership with Archives to sell their DNA tests. I groused that I had run into that website more times than I liked since it is a paid site and seemed to have itself connected to many counties I was researching. I just didn’t want to get involved with another paid site. There are many costly databases for genealogists to use, and I feared this one was too expensive as I had found it everywhere. As I was able to explore the site without paying and was asked to give my honest opinion, I agreed.

I was introduced to Julie Hill, Product Manager, and John Spottiswood, Vice President of Business Development who answered any questions I had and requested any feedback I wish to send. Julie spent time showing me around the site, and later I spoke with the director of acquisitions which, to my pleasure, was a certified genealogist.

Archives.com was launched in July 2009 and has its headquarters in Redwood City, California. This budding company’s goal is to make records available to genealogists at an affordable price. As Julie Hill stated:

At Archives.com we’re extremely proud of our accomplishments this past year adding substantial value for members, and securing a number of fantastic partnerships. We look forward to adding millions of records, bringing the 1940 Census online, and other exciting enhancements in 2012.

 Archives.com contracts with many companies and develops partnerships to allow customers to access various databases at one location. The database is updated weekly, and some content is not available elsewhere.

The company’s focus for historical records acquisition is primarily US based, though they do plan to integrate a number of new international collections. They are adding vital and census records whenever possible, but are interested in any records valuable for family history research. These include immigration, military, obituary, newspaper and others.. So it’s a wide variety!

Archives.com has
...Over 1.6 billion historical records and counting.
...18 of the 20 top records collections of the nearest competitor
...Over 4 million unique visitors monthly.

Family Tree DNA Partnership:
Archives is running the same sale that Family Tree DNA is having until December 31 with kits up to 30% off.  Just go to the site to order your test.

Archives.com Features

Original Hard-Copy Certificates: 
Birth, death, marriage and divorce records are obtainable through Archives.com.

Digitized Historical Newspapers:
This large collection does not focus only on obituaries, but encourages the researcher to look for other topics such as birth and wedding announcements, professional achievements and volunteer work of your ancestors. You can also look up historical events or learn more about the period your ancestor lived and even the prices they paid for products. All genealogists know how the local news can enhance the knowledge of our ancestors’ lives.

On-site County Records Research:
This feature allows you to request a person to search any court, criminal, or civil records in the US, saving you the time and expense of travel. This feature is especially helpful in researching more current records and does require additional cost.

Roots & Branches:
...Partnership between Archives.com and the National Archives to provide the 1940 Federal Census to the public. This is free access to browse, view and download images from the census and will be available April 2, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. See www.archives.com/1940census for more details on the census.
...Contest to win a trip to reunite with a long lost relative for the holiday season through a partnership with WhitePages.com. The deadline is December 19th to submit your favorite memory about a lost relative you would like to locate. See: http://www.archives.com/blog/miscellaneous/win-a-trip-to-reunite-with-a-relative.html
...Partnership with Family Tree DNA, the world leader in genetic genealogy, to sell their tests on Archives.com, giving their customers the opportunity to find historical records and explore their genetic genealogy in one location.

My Tree:
This feature allow you to build a family tree, upload an existing Gedcom, add records, images, and notes from the Archives.com database and share it in email, video, and on social media forums such as Facebook. You can add family members from those social networks and share your lineage with them. 

Under this heading you can view several topics, and with each you can visit several resources to help you with each section, including watching webinars, downloading various guides, and reading articles from experts.

Grow Your Tree: 

This section is wonderful for beginners and allows you to start building your tree.  It explains how you should be a detective and offers the ability to set up an alert for information on an ancestor.  This alert will notify you when data has been found about an ancestor you seek.

How to Search: 

This section provides tips and ideas on searching the databases.

Expert Articles:

This is a wonderful section!  There are many articles on a large variety of topics from many well-known experts in the field of genealogy.  I have had the pleasure to meet several of them and can vouch for their expertise.  Everyone can learn from this feature.

Video Tutorials: 

Brick wall Strategies, Finding Your Family in Old Newspapers, Online Immigration Records, Online Census Secrets, and Vital Records are currently listed with more to come. These Webinars can be downloaded or viewed online.

Member Forums:

Here you can ask research questions, help others and get help for yourself.

AND, your membership includes a free copy of Family Tree Magazine.

A year’s membership is $39.95, but some features require additional payments which are cheaper than using other companies or traveling yourself.  A comparison of Archives.com to their nearest competitor may be viewed at:  http://www.archives.com/compare

The Good:
I found the site easy to maneuver. If your search does not give you enough examples, Archives, provides suggestions and possibilities. You can choose to search on the exact given and/or surname or not. The result of a search is given according to databases (i.e., census, newspapers, obituaries, etc.) with the number of entries allowing you to choose the area of interest or you can view all the entries at once. It is easy to alter your search without going to a separate page. I often find on the right of the search page a list of newspapers containing the name I am searching. This list gives the date, name of newspaper and city and state so you can determine if it could be your person without viewing the entire article.

Archives.com has retained the Social Security Death Index as that is a current controversy. From that search I am able to locate the last known residence on a map link and often a listing of cemeteries in the county. However, the word county isn’t indicated and that needs correcting as it can be confusing to the novice. For example: Paul Ogan last resided in Kansas City, MO. There are 72 listings for Jackson, MO. That should read Jackson Co, MO. I know that Kansas City is in Jackson County, but I wouldn’t know the county name for many smaller towns.

The obituaries can be seen in full and are easily printed. I found a few which were poorly transcribed, but that is a result of the organization that partnered with Archives. What was very helpful is that every location mention is linked to a map which shows you the locations of family members. This source is invaluable for genealogists seeking family members that may still be living as well as clues for relationships.

All of the census images will be ready by the end of 2011 and they are working on the 1940 census to have it ready soon after it is available in April 2012 with all its indexing ready a few months after that.

I also found that John and Julie were very helpful and listened to my comments. I was told they listen to their customers, and I find that is true as they have already implemented some of my suggestions and have put others in the queue for IT to repair.

The Bad:
Like most database companies, Archives.com relies on other companies and volunteers to transcribe and index data, and results in errors. All genealogists know how frustrating it can be when those volunteers do not know how to read the old handwriting, do not take the time to match difficult to read letters with other examples on the page or nearby pages, or do not clarify the difference between towns and counties clearly. In other databases, I have seen the surname Talley spelled by indexers as: Lalley, Salley, Falley and more. One only needs to compare the handwriting with other names (in this case, Lawrence, Sally, Franklin, and Thomas) to determine the correct letter. Every database has these problems, but I want to see less errors. It may be extremely difficult to correct once the material is uploaded, but as I have been researching for the last forty years, it is very worrisome that, with the advent of the computer, we are seeing more and more people take what they read online as gospel and not use multiple sources to double check facts. For this reason it is imperative that a company demand their workers and clients produce the most accurate product possible.

The Best:
Besides all the features above, the pace at which this company’s database is growing, and their willingness to listen to customers, it is wonderful to have a business give the other huge database companies a run for their money and to do so by not taking all of ours! The subscription is only $39.95 per year, quite affordable for anyone and well worth the cost.

The generosity of this company towards its Family Tree DNA partner is wonderful. Attendees at the FTDNA conference last November heard the first public announcement of this partnership. Those near me were very pleased with what they saw from Archives even before Archives announced that all present would receive a year’s subscription free. FTDNA has formed a committee, under Katherine Borges, Director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), for feedback to Archives, and I look forward to their growth and partnership with FTDNA.

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