Family trees flourish on the Internet
New York (AFP) Oct 18, 2007
The Internet is fertile ground for genealogy websites branching out to connect the dead and the living with a shared dream of drawing humanity's family tree.
Spectrum Equity Investors underscored the success of online lineage-tracing websites on Wednesday by paying 300 million dollars for a majority stake in the parent company of Ancestry.com.
Founded in the US state of Utah in 1983, The Generations Network operates FamilyHistory.com, publishes Ancestry Magazine, but is for the most part the Internet heritage-tracking portal Ancestry.com.
Early genealogy websites provided online tools for ferreting out relatives from public records and other sources, winning the hearts of historians and amateurs curious about the branches of their family trees.
Such websites have taken lessons from online social-networking superstars such as MySpace and Facebook, evolving into interactive forums where people can share their findings, pictures, and family histories.
Websites enable people to connect their family trees with those of others in what operators hope will grow into an online outline of relationships between the world's human inhabitants.
Ancestry.com's popularity surged after it added tools in July of 2006 letting heritage-seekers connect with each other online.
It saw the creation of more than 3.8 million new family trees adorned with 330 million names along with pictures, testimonials, and scanned documents.
Ancestry.com operates in eight countries and claims 900,000 paying subscribers. The website boasts 2.5 million active members and one-time visits from approximately 8.2 million people monthly.
"None of those competing sites, or even all of those sites aggregated, have caused any financial pain yet for The Generations Network," Michael Arrington of Internet-tracking website TechCrunch.
"The company is pulling in 150 million dollars or so in yearly revenue and is hugely profitable according to our source."
Ancestry.com's data trove includes five billion names from US census reports dating back centuries; lists of immigrants aboard boats arriving at US ports; African-American community records, and US military files.
Young Internet firms are challenging Ancestry.com with strategies that capitalize on the capacity for people online to create their own family trees and form networks with others doing the same.
California start-up Geni has users make a biographical profile and then give the names and e-mail addresses of parents and other relatives, then use the network of connections to build a collective picture of their family.
Geni has attracted more than five million users since it launched in January. It lets people make family trees free of charge and plans to eventually make money from advertising.
German website Verwandt.de is based on a similar model.
Israeli site MyHeritage claims 17 million users and a database of 180 million names.
Spurred by the new competition, online genealogy pioneers are adapting to the new generation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website FamilySearch.org is digitizing ancestry documents it has spent a century collecting.
FamilySearch.org counts 640 million names in its files and says the number is increasing by a million per month, in part because the religion allows members to belatedly baptize ancestors.
Competitors in the market include FamilyInHistory, FamilyRelatives, FamilyLink, and TreeX.com.
Even increasingly popular website Facebook recently added a software application for ancestry hunters.
Ancestry.com announced it will start using what's in people's blood to track their bloodline with the launch of a genetic genealogy service at DNA.ancestry.com.
The website began this week selling kits that enable people to chart their genetic code in the hopes of matching it to those with shared ancestry.
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