The World Archives Project at Ancestry, by Juliana Smith

World Archives.bmpA little over ten years ago, I had a baby in diapers, a part-time job with a fledgling Internet company called, and I had volunteered to edit the newsletter of the Chicago Genealogical Society. When a full-time job opened up at Ancestry for editor of the company’s e-zine, The Ancestry Daily News, it was my volunteer experience editing the CGS newsletter that helped me get the job.

The experience also gave me a profound respect for the work that genealogical societies do for the community. Always on the forefront of records preservation, so many records would be lost forever if it weren’t for societies taking steps to preserve them through publications, periodicals, and more recently, online databases.

Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of societies, government agencies, the Family History Library, and the work now being done by commercial entities, the number of records still deteriorating in their original form is staggering. Last year the New York Times estimated that at the March 2007 rate of digitization, it would take 1,800 years to digitize the estimated 9 billion text records in the National Archives. 

And that’s just the records of the National Archives! Think of all of the records in local municipalities across the U.S. and around the world, waiting to be digitized. And I thought I had a big job scanning family photographs and documents!

The World Archives Project
Fortunately, government agencies are finding hope in partnering with experienced commercial entities. In May of 2008, The Generations Network signed an agreement with the National Archives that will help speed up the digitization of some of the records mentioned in that New York Times article.

With scanners already onsite at NARA, Ancestry is now looking to harness the power of volunteers to create indexes through its new initiative, the World Archives Project.

The indexes created through the World Archives Project will be free to everyone. Images will remain behind the paid subscription wall to cover the costs of digitization, but active contributors to the project who key 900 records or more per quarter will have access to all of the images that are part of the World Archives Project–not just those that they have helped index. In addition to that, they will receive a 10 percent discount on the renewal of their U.S. Deluxe membership and 15 percent on the renewal of their World Deluxe membership.

In addition, active contributors will also have a vote in what collections are indexed next. Here’s your chance to promote that collection from your ancestor’s hometown!

Partnership with Societies
Last week at the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ conference in Philadelphia, Ancestry announced its new World Archives Project would be partnering with FGS in a way that will be beneficial to societies. Partnering organizations will be able to suggest collections to be digitized and members can work together to index the records. The society would receive digitized copies of the indexes and images to use to as they see fit, perhaps using them in publications or making them available to members to help increase membership and revenue.

Ancestry is also hoping that the partnership will give societies more exposure to potential members. The World Archives Project will display the logos and a link to all of the partnering organizations’ websites. The participating society will also be visible on all of that society’s project databases at Ancestry. Since Ancestry users working in that organization’s database will likely have a research interest in the society’s area, this kind of targeted exposure will likely help the organization grow.

Ancestry is also supplying each organization with materials to help spread the word about their project to members and to the community at large.

A Win-Win-Win Situation
Projects like the World Archives Project and FamilySearch Indexing will undoubtedly help millions of family historians by preserving the fragile records of our ancestors, and making them available online. Ancestry and FamilySearch are coordinating efforts to avoid duplication, which means that with both parties working to make records available, the speed at which records are being preserved is doubled.

The society focus and the ability to choose indexing projects from relevant areas of interest means that people who have experience working in an area will be creating the index. Since they are more likely to be familiar with the names and locations in that particular area, they will probably do a better job at indexing than someone who is unfamiliar with the area. The indexes will also be double-keyed (keyed by two separate individuals and then compared, with differences in the entries to be sent to a third party for arbitration). These two factors mean a higher quality index is available to all researchers—indexes that might otherwise be waiting in a queue for a long time before they make it online–or worse, overlooked completely.

On the self-serving side, I’ve found through my experience during this initial beta stage that I’m sharpening my detective skills when it comes to reading old handwriting. I’m doing a better job of comparing characters on the page to decipher names and locations and am finding it is coming easier to me as I go along. Since I know I will be encountering these same problems in my own family’s records, the experience is helping me to become a better researcher.

If you’ve been looking for a way to give back to a society that has helped you in your research, this is a great way to say thank you. See if they plan on sponsoring a project somewhere and volunteer to help index for them. Or just do it to build up some genealogical karma points. It’s easy to do, and there are no strings attached. You’ll be contributing to the preservation of records—something all family historians will appreciate—now and in the future.

The project is still in beta mode, and Ancestry is eager to hear about your experience with the keying tool, so if you take it for a test drive, be sure to share your feedback with them. We’ll be talking more about the World Archives Project in upcoming newsletters, with tips for indexers and updates on the status of the project. But if you’d like to learn more now, or try your hand at indexing, you can learn more here.

Society leaders can contact Suzanne Russo Adams for more information on partnering with Ancestry at

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Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

7 thoughts on “The World Archives Project at Ancestry, by Juliana Smith

  1. Pingback: The World Archives Project at Ancestry, by Juliana Smith

  2. I’d gladly volunteer to help with this indexing project but the software apparently isn’t applicable if you use a MAC. I know I’m not the only MAC using genealogist out there who would help if the software was compatible

  3. I have been trying to download the program to do this and this is what I keep getting:

    Component Microsoft WSE 3.0 Runtime has failed to install with the following error message:
    “Fatal error during installation. ”

    The following components were not installed:
    – Visual C++ Runtime Libraries (x86)

    The following components failed to install:
    – Microsoft WSE 3.0 Runtime

    See the setup log file located at ‘C:\DOCUME~1\Owner\LOCALS~1\Temp\VSDBE.tmp\install.log’ for more information.

    Any suggestions? I already went to the trouble shooting guide and it didn’t help.

  4. I am another MAC user that would like to help if compatible software is ever available. Is this a possibility in the future?

  5. I’ve been mainly focused on my surname people in the UK, and I’m just boggled and thrilled at the combination of the UK Censuses (at Ancestry) and the BMD (Birth, Death, Marriage) indexes. People researching for UK ancestors have a monstrous advantage over US ancestors because (a) recording and reporting of BMD data to a central authority has been required by law since 1837, and (b) a group of dedicated researchers have been transcribing, digitizing and posting all that indexed data onto the web FOR FREE. Here in the U.S., all those equivalent records are generally non-existent before 1895 or so, and now they’re generally available (when not proscribed by law or custom due to terrorism paranoia) scattered over counties, cities, municipalities and states, but generally only on-site in paper form.

    A wonderful project would be a comprehensive, nationwide effort to make all this U.S. BMD data available in a form equivalent to the UK data. One can but dream !

  6. I would be happy to help transcribe as well. I think an incentive for the many people who use,.ca or any of the ancestry sites would be if you would give free credits to people who transcribe this data.
    Just a thought.

  7. I have been working almost continually since 1979 as a Name Estracter and now as an Indexer since it began. I would very much like to work with you on The World Archives project
    as well.

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