Archive for the ‘Genealogy Websites’ Category

ExpertConnect’s going away. Can Genlighten take its place?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

At Genlighten, we’ve tried to take the 37Signals approach towards our competitors:

People sometimes ask us how much we look at the competition. The answer: not much. We can’t control what they do. We can control what we do. So we focus on that.

Still, when I first heard about Ancestry’s plans to debut ExpertConnect just a few months before our beta launch in 2009, my stomach experienced one of those roller-coaster drops that tend to characterize startup life.

Now a year and a half later, ExpertConnect is shutting down. When I saw Ancestry’s e-mail in my inbox yesterday, I went through three reactions in rapid succession:

  • Cool, the 800-pound gorilla has left our market… we don’t have to compete with them anymore!
  • Uh-oh. If they can’t make this business work, how can we expect to?
  • Darn… I wish all our marvelous new features were ready to go right now!

Now that we’ve had a little time to process it, here’s our “official” response to Ancestry’s announcement:

To our current clients and providers:

  • Genlighten will continue to serve you in the months and years ahead. We’ve heard your feedback and we’re working hard to implement the improvements and new features you’ve asked for.
  • Our next release is currently targeted for the end of June. We’ll be inviting some of you to test the new version beginning in March or April. You’ll see an upgraded homepage, simplified navigation, a brand-new search capability, internal messaging, and an overall higher level of fit and finish.

To ExpertConnect users considering switching to Genlighten:

  • We’d love to tell you that we’re ready right now to step in and completely fill the void left by ExpertConnect’s departure. We’re not. But we expect to be there soon.
  • When we first launched, we focused Genlighten on offline record lookups rather than hourly research in order to differentiate ourselves somewhat from Ancestry. In response to client and provider requests, we are now revising our strategy. We plan to fully embrace high-end professional research offerings and online searches in addition to document retrieval and record lookups.
  • By joining us now, you’ll have the opportunity to exert a significant influence on the direction we take in response to ExpertConnect’s closure. We’d love to get your help in making Genlighten all you’d like it to be.

Our next release

When our new release is launched this summer, we plan to offer both new and existing users the baseline functionality ExpertConnect had, plus:

  • a flexible and customizable storefront interface optimized for client discovery and frictionless e-commerce.
  • no one-year “lock-in” of clients you acquire through Genlighten
  • active social media marketing of your profile and service listings
  • tools to let you promote your presence on Genlighten via your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Adwords and more
  • analytics to help you understand how to draw more traffic to your offerings.
  • search-optimized research tools for localities and repositories that will attract visitors to the site and spotlight our providers to prospective customers.

How we plan to succeed

Genlighten lacks Ancestry’s global reach, brand awareness, massive staff and financial backing. Still, size and strength apparently weren’t enough to make ExpertConnect “a winner“. [Note the first comment to that linked post on Dick Eastman's blog. It's a particular favorite of mine!]

We think there are some advantages to our small size that will keep us from getting “blown out of the water.” For one thing, we don’t need to make anywhere near as much money as Ancestry required to justify ExpertConnect’s existence. We’re completely bootstrapped, with no institutional investors, so we’re quite content to be a “lifestyle business.” At the same time, Genlighten is our core product, not an add-on to a much larger offering, so you can expect us to be focused on it for the long term. And there’s another upside to our small size: when you call us on the phone or e-mail us, you’re connecting directly with our founding team.

Thanks!

As you can imagine, this is an exciting time for our little startup. We hope you’ll share it with us! If this is your first time here, please explore the site and contact us with your questions and suggestions. If you’ve been with Genlighten for a while, please help us spread the word to your fellow genealogists. Either way, Thank you for your interest and support!

Follow Friday: AppleTree.com

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

appletree_logo

The folks at AppleTree.com have been our booth neighbors this week in the NGS Exhibit Hall. It’s their first genealogy conference as an exhibitor and they’re getting an enthusiastic response from attendees. I’ve only got a few early impressions of their startup at this point, but from what I’ve seen, I think they’re building something that’s going to make a big impact in the online genealogy space. Here’s why:

  • AppleTree is aiming to build a single comprehensive “family tree of the world that “we all belong to”, echoing the vision of NewFamilySearch and several private companies.
  • Their founder Scott Mueller is a serial entrepreneur, the veteran of several startups that have seen successful exits.
  • AppleTree has earned venture backing from a top-shelf VC firm, which gives them the runway they need to hire talented people and develop crucial features at a rapid pace.
  • AppleTree’s business model appears to involve a combination of advertising and paid media hosting, while the basic tree functionality will be free to users for the foreseeable future. This differentiates them from Geni, which has pursued a slightly different freemium / virtual goods model and largely avoided ads to this point.
  • They appear to be working hard on integration with NewFamilySearch, claiming “We are the only way to link media with people, events, locations and sources in New FamilySearch.” The folks at Photoloom would dispute that point, but such competing claims are to be expected.

I’m excited to see energetic and visionary new startups tackling the goals that AppleTree is going after. I think they’re worth paying attention to, and they’re my Follow Friday recommendation for this week.

Facebook’s Open Graph: How Could It Help Genealogists?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

This week, Facebook introduced what it calls the “Open Graph” at its F8 conference for developers and entrepreneurs. While some leading lights in the tech community went nuts, labeling Open Graph “evil” or lamenting yet another web-based privacy apocalypse, most Facebook users, including many genealogists, either yawned or didn’t notice.

So Far, I’m A Supporter

Count me among those that are amazed at Facebook’s ambition and awed by its ability to implement it so effectively. Based on what I know so far, I’m with Martin Bryant of TheNextWeb.com, who described the OpenGraph’s potential for good, not evil:

By providing a ‘Like’ button that developers can add to any website, for any content or subject, Facebook is becoming the central hub for its users tastes and preferences.

Imagine the potential. Amazon can recommend films for you to buy based on what you’ve been looking up on IMDB, Pandora in turn can play music you’ll like based on your friends’ Amazon purchases. Suddenly the web is connected in a far more cohesive way than has ever been possible before. Some of it will be used to promote products to you but there will be a lot of scope for developers to create amazing, new, social services that feed deep into your social graph.

cnn_facebook_social_plugin_screenshotHow’s It Work?

Here’s what I saw when I headed over to CNN.com this evening: a module on the right-hand side of the homepage offering me recommendations from my Facebook friends for CNN articles. One of them is from Illya D’Addezio, well known in the genealogy community as the founder of Genealogy Today and Live Roots, among other valuable resources. Apparently, by installing one of Facebooks new “social plugins” on its pages, CNN now has gained access to my “social graph” of friends on Facebook.

Instead of being creeped out by this, I immediately grasped its utility. Now I can more easily access web content that has been curated by friends whose judgment I respect and value. Furthermore, I control that curation and filtering capability by selecting the friends I connect with on Facebook and by setting my own privacy controls.

recommend_button_smaller_snipTo recommend the “Life more colorful than black and white” article, Illya just had to click on the “Recommend” button displayed at the bottom of the online text, as shown here.

genealogy_today_like_button_snipA “Like Button” for the Entire Web

When I visited Illya’s Genealogy Today site tonight, I found another implementation of Open Graph at the bottom of the homepage: Facebook’s new “Like Button” for the entire web. Rather than going to Facebook and posting a link to Illya’s site into my Facebook News Feed, I can just click on the “Like” button on Genealogy Today and that “like” will show up in my feed automatically.

Of course, the “Become a Fan” button has been around for a while, but Facebook has changed the terminology (“Become a Fan” => “Like”) and made it easier for websites to implement it.

How Could This Help Genealogists?

Here’s a quick list of ways I’d like to see Facebook Open Graph utilized across the online genealogy community:

  • My favorite geneabloggers could put the “like” button on their homepages and the “recommend” button after each of their posts. [How about it, Randy?]
  • The Family History Library online catalog could have a “like” button next to film/book search results so users could share the records they’re researching with their fellow genealogists on Facebook.
  • Footnote (already a pioneer of social collaboration around historical documents) could implement Open Graph features to show users which of their friends were currently active on the site and to pull annotations they make back to their Facebook News Feeds.
  • Darrin Lythgoe’s TNG could allow its users to easily implement Open Graph on their sites, making it even easier for extended family to get involved in building out their family tree collaboratively via Facebook.

And What About Genlighten?

Here at Genlighten, we’re currently pondering our own response to Facebook’s new features and we hope to begin implementing them within the next several months. If you have suggestions, concerns or questions, please let us know in the comments to this post!

“FamilySearch Certified” Done Right: Family Photoloom

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

family_photoloom_logo_screengrab

Here at Genlighten, we’re eager to get on the “FamilySearch Certified” bandwagon. It just seems like a natural fit for us. Here’s what the ad copy might look like when we become certified:

Want to make sure your genealogy data on New FamilySearch (NFS) is accurate and well-documented? Come to Genlighten and get help finding the offline documents you need, delivered to you in digital form. Then attach those documents to your ancestors’ NFS entries as sources with just a few clicks. It’s easy and affordable!

OK, so that’s just a draft.

Problem is, it’s not at all obvious how to do this yet. FamilySearch has an API that let’s us “pull” NFS data to our site if we want, but they (understandably) don’t let us “push” document images to the NFS tree. So our basic option would be to reproduce a user’s tree on our site and “decorate it” with the documents that user gets through us. We’re considering that, but not yet actively pursuing it.

Family Photoloom’s Take on “Decorated Trees”

In the meantime, though, I’m super-impressed with what the people at Family Photoloom are doing. First off, their site just looks good. Clean, spare, simple — not too many bells and whistles. And their copywriting is marvelous — it says just what they need it to, and no more.

But here’s where it gets really cool. They let you pull in close family connections from NFS, then associate photos you upload to Family Photoloom with your NFS data. From the demo video they show, it looks straightforward and intuitive. You haven’t modified anything on NFS itself from what I can tell, but the name-photo associations are maintained in your Family Photoloom account. So basically, they’ve got the “decorate your tree” thing down perfectly. And in the process, they’ve become a “FamilySearch Certified” affiliate. To me, they’re a great example of what the FamilySearch affiliate program is intended to accomplish.

I’ve met Family Photoloom’s co-founders — Scott and Renee Huskey — at numerous genealogy conferences, and I’ve listened to them pitch their product. They’re just great people. They love what they’re doing, and their product arose as a solution to a problem they had themselves — how to organize photos around family history data.

I plan on checking their product out in more detail so I can write a full review, and I’d encourage you to do the same.

Follow Friday: FamilySearch Labs Blog

Friday, January 29th, 2010

fsl

Like many genealogists, I’m anxious for the LDS Church to  open up New FamilySearch (or whatever it’s eventually going to be called) to a broader (i.e., non-LDS) audience. In the meantime, I’m eager to hear the latest from their development team: new features, new records collections, opportunities to get involved or give feedback… you get the idea.

An Inside Source

One place I can go to get this info is the FamilySearch Labs Blog. Here, various members of the group developing NFS cover the latest progress they’ve made. The most common post author is Senior Project Manager Dan Lawyer, but Grant Skousen and several others also contribute from time to time. They don’t post every day, and they don’t offer tons of specifics, but at least I can get a feel for the major milestones they’re hitting, even if the news is mostly after-the-fact.

A Thought-Provoking Post

One recent post that caught my attention was entitled Obstacles in the Genealogical Workflow by Dan. Though extremely low-key, I thought it hit on a crucial point that genealogy software needs to address but seldom does: recognizing the chaotic thought processes most researchers experience  and trying to tame them to allow greater productivity. Ideally, genealogy software wouldn’t just store records or offer them up for searching… it would accompany us on our genealogical journey and offer coaching, support, and encouragement at just the right times. Here’s the key workflow diagram’s from Dan’s post:

fslb_genealogical_workflow

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious why I liked this diagram: notice that box in the lower right corner. It indicates that gathering and searching for genealogical records involves three stages: tapping personal knowledge, mining online records, and finally, retrieving offline records. Naturally, we think Genlighten can become a huge help in the offline record retrieval stage of the genealogical workflow process.

Its Continuing Mission

I look forward to hearing about the NFS rollout to Southeast Asia, and about NFS’  eventual availability to those without a membership number and a confirmation date. Sure, the Ancestry Insider will probably be all over that news when it comes, but I suspect Dan and his team will offer a perspective on those accomplishments that won’t be available anywhere else. I encourage you to include their blog in your RSS feed subscription list.

Genealogy Startup Idea: Preserve and Curate My Social Media for Future Generations

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

me-post-itLast week, Bud Caddell posted a cool personal and family history startup idea on his blog “What Consumes Me“. Here’s Bud’s proposal:

At every demarcation of time, we look back. We sift through our memories for those bookmarks… for those vibrant moments, and we blur the rest into our periphery.

Now with so much of our social interaction tied to digital means – why aren’t we collecting our actions for posterity in a more accessible form? Why can’t I look back ten years and see the sites I visited, friends I accepted, content I created, and content I shared? Why can’t I look back to see the seeds of a new friendship or the first movements within a new social networking site?

I think this is BRILLIANT and I wish I had thought of it first! Why does this excite me? I’ll try to explain.

Archiving Social Media Preserves Status AND Relationships

For one thing, I find that I use Twitter and Facebook very much as our ancestors used a line-a-day diary to record seemingly trivial things such as who they visited, what the weather was like, what they did at work or what they made for dinner. So preserving my tweets and status updates for posterity performs the same function passively — without any intervention on my part. But because social media is about connections rather than just about status, preserving my social media content will also preserve the story arc of my relationships. This is huge!

When we’re successful in genealogy research today, we can construct basic timelines for our ancestors: where they lived when, the property they bought, the dates of key life events like birth, marriage, death, military service, employment. With great effort, we can piece together basic family relationships… but we can seldom see those relationships unfold in quasi-real-time.

If we are sharing our daily lives, thoughts and interactions with family and friends through tweets, blog posts, and “likes” on Facebook, then archiving that content will make those details available to our descendants much as a dusty journal would. But a particularly smart web application could do much more than that.

Curating My Social Media Artifacts

By tapping the power of context-sensitive tagging, our hypothetical website could categorize our social media participation and make it easy for future generations to mine our content for trends, relationships, ideas, disappointments, and epiphanies. All the things that we worry about social media doing while we’re alive — letting marketers target ads towards us based on our preferences and interests for instance — could be turned into something much more benign and beneficial after we’re gone.

Some Basic Specifications

Here’s a quick list of what I’d want this hypothetical web application to do for me:

  • Monitor the social media content I consume, including blogs I subscribe to, posts I bookmark or “favorite”, friends’ newsfeed items that I “like”, comments I accept on my own blog, people I follow on Twitter, etc.
  • Track the content I create and contribute, such as blog posts I write, tweets I submit, stuff I post on others’ walls, websites I link to…
  • Continually sift through my email and keep a running log of who I communicate with most and what topics I discuss with them.
  • Build tags, categories, “trending topics” and other high-level organizational infrastructure to facilitate future search and analysis tasks undertaken by my descendants (and by me, for that matter!)
  • Do all of this in a transparent yet unobtrusive manner that doesn’t require me to change the way I’m currently using social media tools and doesn’t bog down my computer or my browser.

A Few Caveats

Of course, I can already anticipate numerous objections to this entire concept:

  • In the wrong hands, this kind of information could and would be exploited for nefarious purposes
  • As Facebook and Twitter evolve or are replaced by newer, shinier online toys, our web app will need to constantly reinvent itself to keep up with the latest social media innovations
  • Given the difficulties we experience now getting our family members interested in our shared genealogy, we might go to all the effort of archiving our social media interactions only to find that none of our posterity cares!

Smarter people than me will have to tackle these legitimate concerns. I’m convinced, however, that there is real value in the service Bud proposes.

How Much Value?

Bud suggests he’d be willing to pay $99/year for such an application. I’d probably want an entry-level price point closer to  $50/year, with the premium version going for $99. How about you?

Care to Give it a Try?

I suspect several companies are already working on something like this (here’s one I know of.) But I doubt that anyone has much of a head start yet. The idea strikes me as an ideal one to propose in an application to either Techstars or YCombinator. If any of you reading this decide to do it, I’d love to help!

Thank You, Find A Grave!

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

I was taking a look at the list of sources of traffic to Genlighten today on Google Analytics, and I noticed several visits originated from findagrave.com. A little later in the day, I received a Google Alert that pointed me to a forum thread for Cook County Illinois mentioning Genlighten. I’ve reproduced part of it below, with the usernames obscured.
From the Find A Grave forums

It’s probably not obvious from this screenshot, but the basic gist is this. A Find A Grave member posted a query on Find A Grave’s forum asking for help tracking down a Cook County Illinois death certificate. A helpful individual recommended that the original poster visit Cook County’s excellent site, which charges $15 for images of vital records. Another individual then mentioned “a cheaper alternative” and linked to chicagogenealogy’s profile on Genlighten. The original poster visited Genlighten, ordered the death certificate they wanted and received it promptly.

Our goal at Genlighten isn’t necessarily to always be the “cheaper alternative” (we often won’t be) but we very definitely want to continue to earn these kinds of referrals from satisfied customers. Thank you to all involved, and especially to Find A Grave for the tremendous service they provide to the genealogy community.

Adding Phone Support to Your Genealogy Website

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Phone Support Operator

A recent post on Hacker News asked “How have you guys gone about setting up a support line for your startups?” This is an issue we grappled with early on at Genlighten: Should we offer phone support, and if so, how?

How the Big Dogs Do It

A quick glance at Ancestry, Footnote and World Vital Records shows that they all offer a toll-free phone support hotline, available during standard business hours Monday-Friday. Ancestry displays their 800-number prominently in the footer of their homepage. Footnote and WVR place theirs one level deeper on their “Contact Us”  or “Customer Service” pages.

Startup Realities Dictate Support Strategies

So for established, well-funded genealogy sites, phone support is clearly a given. But what about for smaller startups? Is it necessary or even practical for them to offer phone support, even when they’re only seeing a few thousand visitors per month? I took a look at three that I’ve encountered in the exhibit halls at various genealogy conferences: Ohana Software, Photoloom, and Arcalife. All are run by cool people who I’ve met personally and whose business judgment I respect.

Of the three, only Ohana offers a phone support line. It’s toll free, and staffed Monday-Friday 10-4 pm. Both Photoloom and Arcalife offer email support but do not display a phone support number. This makes sense if we consider their respective business models. Ohana sells desktop software that the user downloads and installs (and eventually needs to upgrade.) This process can prove challenging for its customers, so phone support is pretty crucial. Photoloom and Arcalife, on the other hand, offer cloud-based subscription services which function totally within a web browser and do not require installation. So phone support isn’t as important for them or their customers.

Genlighten’s Approach

We’ve actually offered a toll-free phone contact option using Onebox since May of 2008, even though our private beta only launched in October of last year. At the time, I felt that visitors to our placeholder website or people who picked up flyers at our exhibit booth needed a toll-free phone number to call with a serious-sounding PBX-like voice greeting. It just seemed like the professional thing to do. In retrospect, that was a mistake. I like Onebox, but at $49.95/month, we should have just gone with my cellphone number until we were actually taking paying customers.

Now that we’re up and running, it makes a bit more sense. Since we’re an online genealogy lookup marketplace, customers are likely to have payment-processing and lookup delivery questions more frequently than they would if we simply offered a subscription service. But we still don’t receive enough support calls yet to justify the cost. The $49.95/month gets us a professionally-recorded voice greeting, up to four extensions, 2,000 minutes of calls, and numerous other cool features. [For example, it forwards support calls to our cell phones when we're out.] But we’ve only gotten about 20 calls in the three months since the private beta began, so that’s about $7.50 each. Overkill, obviously, particularly for a bootstrapped startup.

Other Options

One alternative would be to go with Grasshopper. They offer a similar service to Onebox, but their lowest-cost plan offers 100 minutes per month for just $9.95 [a one-time $25 set-up fee is extra.] That sounds like it’d be a better fit. As our customer base (and the volume of support calls) grows, we could then upgrade to Grasshopper’s 2,000 minutes/month plan, which is priced the same as Onebox’s.

Or we could just try Google Voice. It does pretty much everything we really need at this point [including call forwarding] and it’s free. I suspect for most small startups, this is the way to go until they need to scale to something more enterprise-oriented. I haven’t dug deep into Google Voice since my invitation arrived, but I plan to shortly.

What About You?

Are you interested in adding phone support to your genealogy blog, society page, or e-commerce site? Do any of the options I’ve discussed appeal to you? Have you had any amusing or noteworthy experiences with genealogy website phone support? Please let us know in the comments.

Genealogical Typosquatting — Two Annoying Examples

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

One of the things our recent AdWords experiment has helped us understand is that in trying to advertise a genealogy website, good keywords are hard to find. Or rather, search terms that are both popular and relevant for a website like Genlighten tend to be few and far between.

I’ve also been amused to discover how the curious phenomenon of typosquatting plays out in the online genealogy marketplace. Let me focus on two familiar examples: New.FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.

New FamilySearch

Genealogy enthusiasts attempting to visit the LDS Church’s eventual replacement for FamilySearch.org might be excused for mistakenly typing the URL into their browser as NewFamilySearch.org. But this turns out to point to a site that has nothing whatsoever to do with New FamilySearch:

Typosquatting example: fake NFS page

Instead, the site is a bland collection of generic stock images and carefully-chosen keyword links, each of which points to a page filled with Google Adsense Ads. If the unwitting genealogist looking for NewFamilySearch clicks on the link “LDS Genealogy Search”, for example, they’ll see this page:

Adsense click harvest page

which is populated prominently with various paid ads from genealogy websites: some highly reputable and others less so. If the confused visitor clicks on one of these ads, the owner of the typosquatting site immediately earns a few pennies (or perhaps more) from Google.

You might say to yourself “This can’t possibly work — no one would ever fall for this. There’s no FamilySearch logo, no nothing.” And you’d be right. Yet sites like this make money precisely because otherwise intelligent people fall for this scheme hundreds of times per day.

In fact,in a March 14th article about New FamilySearch in the Deseret News, the author originally posted a link to this typosquatting site and included an image similar to the one above with the smiling co-ed. This in a newspaper owned by the LDS Church, the developer of New FamilySearch! Shortly after I pointed this out in an email to the paper, the mistake was corrected and the correct link and screenshot substituted for that of the typosquatter. But that’s how well the typosquatting strategy apparently works.

Ancestry.com

Here’s a second example. Suppose you’d heard of Ancestry.com from their ads and wanted to find their site but weren’t sure how to spell “Ancestry”. If you added a single extra “e” in the last syllable and typed  “www.ancestery.com” into your browser, this is what would come up:

Ancestery.com

Here at least the owners of the site went to the effort to use some halfway-relevant graphics. But good luck finding the 1930 census here! Once again, the site is simply a list of links reflecting the most popular Google search terms relating to genealogy. Clicking on any of them leads to a page full of Adsense ads. If you happened to find an ad from Ancestry.com there, and clicked on that, you’d finally be brought to the real Ancestry site. But only after Google and the site owner made about $0.50-$1.00 from The Generations Network, owner of Ancestry.com.

So How Does This Impact Me?

Well of course, you and I would never make these errors, right? Well… maybe you wouldn’t, but here’s the thing. Sites like Ancestry and Footnote have to assume that many of their potential customers will make these kinds of mistakes. That increases the amount of money they have to spend bidding on keywords, paying for ad placements, acquiring mis-spelled domain names, etc.. Ultimately, that increases the price we end up paying for our Ancestry and Footnote subscriptions!

What about the impact on Genlighten? Though we’re still analyzing the result of our AdWords tests, it looks as if typosquatting sites make life more difficult for us in at least two ways:

  1. They compete in the bidding process for popular keywords that might be relevant for those searching for the offline genealogical documents Genlighten’s providers offer.
  2. Because they essentially hijack their visitors’ search queries while delivering little or no value to genealogy enthusiasts, these sites may end up reducing the “quality score” Google associates with genealogy-related search terms. This in turn can potentially diminish the perceived utility of those searches, making it tougher for sites like Genlighten to be found on the web by potential new users.

But all is not lost… it just means we’ll need to be a little more creative and work a little harder to get our message out. That’s a challenge we’re eager to take on.

How Genlighten Works

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Diane Haddad was kind enough to mention Genlighten on her Genealogy Insider blog today. For those of you who are visiting this blog as a result of Diane’s post, I thought I’d offer a brief overview of “How Genlighten Works”.

First and foremost, we’re an online marketplace for genealogy document research and retrieval services — or genealogy lookups for short.

If you’re looking for specific genealogy documents — death certificates, marriage licenses, obituaries, probate records, etc. — and they’re not already available online, you can use Genlighten to connect with a local researcher who may have access to the documents you want. You can get help from our local researchers — we call them lookup providers — in two different ways.

First, you can search our lookup listings geographically by county. For example, if you need a record for Chicago or elsewhere in Cook County Illinois,  you simply select that locality on our lookup search page. You’ll see a list of our providers and the lookups they offer, their fees, and client ratings they’ve received. If you see a lookup you’re interested in, you’ll click through to get more details, enter the data the provider needs to perform the lookup, and add the lookup to your shopping cart. The provider will then retrieve the document and upload a digital image to the site for you to view and download.

Second, if we don’t currently offer the lookup you’re after, you can submit a custom lookup request. Here you’ll define a document retrieval task you’d like performed, set a target price and a specify a deadline. Our providers will be alerted to your request and submit quotes. You can then choose from among them the one that best meets your needs. Providers can’t see each others’ quotes, so there’s less chance of a “race to the bottom”.

Our site is still not fully operational yet, and we won’t be open to a wide audience for another month or two. For now, you can register to be invited to our private beta. We’ll send you an invite code when the site is ready for you to try out. If you have questions in the meantime, please feel free to click on the “Contact” link above for ways you can get in touch with us. If you’re interested in becoming one of our lookup providers, you’re welcome to download a copy of our free Provider “How To” Guide. Thanks!