Posts Tagged ‘Lookup Providers’

The Genlighten Research Process: Provider View

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Genlighten Report PageIf you’re thinking about offering research services on Genlighten for the first time, you’re probably wondering how the Genlighten website works. In this blog post, I’ll walk you though it from the provider side with a quick summary of the steps involved.

Create a Research Offering
You can find a detailed description of how to post research offerings in a previous blog post titled Five Steps to a Successful Lookup Offering

Watch for Email
When a client requests your services, an email with the subject “Genlighten: New lookup request from” will arrive in your inbox. Please make sure the email address you have listed on your Genlighten account is current and typed correctly so those messages are delivered to you.

Accept or Decline
Review the information the client has provided, message back and forth, if necessary, and accept or decline the request. I usually send a quick note when I accept to let the client know what the likely turnaround time will be.

Do the Research
If a request involves multiple steps, I often upload documents to the report page for safe keeping and keep my notes in the report box. Clients aren’t able to view the report page if you haven’t selected “found” or “not found.” (Do that as a last step.)

Create the Report
Return to the request page and create a three-part report. Upload image(s), type in your report text, and select “found” or “not found.” You can use HTML to format your report, if you’d like.

Charge the Client
Once you’ve saved the report with all three parts completed you’ll be returned to the request page and a “charge client” button will be visible. Edit the report, if needed. When you’re ready, click the “charge client” button to finish the request.

Let the Site Notify Your Client
When you click the “charge client” button an email is automatically generated to let your client know that the research is finished. The email contains a link back to the request page so that he or she can read your report and view/save the images you’ve uploaded. You can continue to message back and forth on the request page and you can also edit the report, if needed.

Get Paid
Your account will be credited with your fee minus our commission when you click the “charge client” button. Funds for new providers are held in escrow for seven days but that period can be shortened or eliminated for providers who have stellar feedback. (If you’re a five-star provider, feel free to contact us about that.) Available account balances can be transferred to your PayPal account by clicking the “Payout” button.

Picasa for Family History Images

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

I’m a fan of Picasa, a photo editing program that’s available for free download from Google, and I mostly use it for organizing, tweaking, and sharing scans of genealogical documents.

A Picasa tutorial is beyond the scope of a short blog post, but I thought it would be useful for me share a list of the features I find particularly helpful with some simple directions on how to use them.

ORGANIZING


Select Images to Appear: You can decide which images appear in Picasa by selecting folders under “Tools” then “Folder Manager.”

Organize Images:
Move images from folder to folder by dragging and dropping. You can also rearrange images within a folder using the same approach.

Rename an Image: Click on an image to select it, then hit F2. Type the new image name in the pop-up box.

Rename Multiple Images: Select multiple images (holding down Ctrl lets you do that) and then hit F2. Type an image name and the selected images will be renamed in sequential order. For example, decree.jpg, decree1.jpg, decree2.jpg, etc.

TWEAKING

If you open Picasa and double-click on an image and you’ll see three tabbed menus appear on the left: Basic Fixes, Tuning, and Effects. These menus are key.

Rotate an Image: Click “Straighten” under the “Basic Fixes” tab; use the sliding bar to rotate the image left or right, then click on “Apply.”

Crop an Image: Click “Crop” under the “Basic Fixes” tab; draw a box around the portion of the image you want to save and click “Apply” when done. If you’re not happy with how the cropped image turned out, click “Recrop” and try again.

Tweak Brightness and Contrast Automatically: Click “Auto Contrast” under the “Basic Fixes” tab; if you’re not happy with the result, just click “Undo Auto Contrast.” If Auto Contrast doesn’t work, click on the “Tuning” tab. Move the sliding bars to tweak the image.

SHARING

Print an Image: Click on the image(s) you want to print. Click on the “Print” icon at the bottom of the page. Use the resulting menu options to assure that the image will appear on the page the way you want it to.

Upload an Image to a Picasa Web Album: Web albums are a great way to keep, backup and share images. Click on the “Upload” button and follow the instructions. Images will be sent to a folder associated with your gmail address and once they’re there you can rearrange them, add captions, and share links to individual images or a folder. It’s a convenient way to back up the files and it’s a nice way to make sure they’re accessible from any place you have Internet access. (The image below says “paid storage” but free storage is also available.)


Emailing Images:
The one thing that hasn’t worked well for me is the email option. I find that the documents shrink somewhere along in the process and the resulting images may not be large enough to be read easily. (If anyone has a solution to that problem, please let me know.)

These are just a few ideas but I’d encourage you to explore the program to discover other useful features and if you discover one, please add a comment to this post.

PICASA & GENLIGHTEN

Picasa and Genlighten go great together! Here’s how:

For lookup providers: use Picasa to enhance the quality of the document scans you upload to your clients. Here’s a tip. Upload both your original scan and a second one that you tweak with Picasa. That way, clients can see the difference and appreciate the extra effort you went to. Also, there may be certain details in the image (handwriting, for example) that are discernible in one version but not the other.

For clients: once you’ve downloaded the images your provider posted to your account, use Picasa to bring out details you might otherwise have missed. Experiment with the techniques mentioned in this post and save different versions of your images with descriptive names. Have fun!

The Tao of Genlighten Profile Photos

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

When a new user registers on Genlighten, the first thing I do is take a look at their profile page. Have they added a profile photo? If they have, I get excited! It’s usually a sign that they intend to offer lookups themselves or that they plan to be part of our community long-term.

In this post, I want to focus on the impact profile photos can have, as well as options beyond the traditional “headshot”.

Why Bother With a Profile Photo?

I can understand the anxiety that comes with selecting a profile photo or avatar. You might struggle deciding how to represent yourself, and wonder what others will think of you as a result. Nonetheless, it’s worth it!

If you plan to offer lookups through Genlighten, you should really consider adding a photo to your profile. Here’s why:

  • Potential clients will sense an intriguing personality behind the qualifications you list
  • You can make a statement about the kind of lookups you like to do or your motivation in doing them
  • Depending on the image you choose, you can convey friendliness, reliability, or a sense of fun!
  • Going to the effort of completing your profile says something about the effort you’ll put into your lookups.

Even if you mainly plan to order lookups from our providers rather than offer them yourself, it’s still makes sense to upload a photo:

  • When the provider has a visual sense of who you are, the quality of the service you receive may subtly improve
  • If you come across happy or intriguing in your photo, providers might take on a difficult request from you that they would otherwise decline.
  • Adding an image indicates your long-term investment in the site, which makes you more attractive as a potential client.

OK, ok, I’m sold. What are my options?

Here’s a list of potential profile photo types, along with examples from providers and clients on Genlighten:

pamela_pollard_profile_photoTraditional headshot — by far the most popular choice on the site

jane_schapka_profile_photo“Professional” photo — it helps to know a professional photographer, or a friend with a strong sense of composition

steven_wright_profile_photo“Old” photo — for a genealogy enthusiast, this seems a natural choice

timothy_young_avatarGraphical image — these can create a whimsical touch or signify your “brand”

cewolbert_profile_imageNon-Headshot Photo — here the idea is to show yourself doing something interesting, perhaps genealogy-related, perhaps not

chigen1Novel Composition or Design — something demonstrating your creativity, sense of humor, or both

thekingbug_profile_imageLocation-specific photo — perhaps of a landmark, landscape, or local artifact

Adding a photo to your profile takes just a minute

Just click on “Profile” (in the upper-right-hand corner of any page on the site) then click the red “Edit My Profile” link.  Click the “Browse” button and you’re on your way. A square, high-resolution image that’s 180 x 180 pixels works best. Feel free to contact us at support[at]genlighten.com if you need help.

Five Steps to a Successful Lookup Offering

Monday, March 15th, 2010

create_new_lookup_offering

We’ve gotten a bunch of new lookup offerings submitted for our approval by potential providers over the past few weeks. Some of them we look at and immediately say to ourselves “Wow…this [guy/gal] gets it!” Others give us a little more pause. In this post, I hope to share the things we think make for a highly-appealing lookup listing — one that will get potential clients clicking “Add to Cart”. Here goes:

1) Offer to Lookup Records That Aren’t Available Elsewhere Online

Genlighten is about helping people find offline records from local repositories. Try to avoid offering lookups for documents that your clients could easily find online at Ancestry or FamilySearch. Of course, if a record is offered online for $40 and you can profitably offer to look it up offline for $10, go right ahead!

2) Craft a Concise Headline Referencing the Locality

Here your goal is to get clients to click on “Get Details” from our basic search results page. Limit your headline to about 50 characters so it doesn’t get truncated.

Good examples: “Jefferson County Kentucky Probate Records”, “Bloomington-Normal Obits from the Pantagraph”. You don’t need to include the date range covered in your headline. Just put it in the “date range” field and we’ll insert it at the end of your headline automatically.

3) Don’t Forget to Put Details in Your “Detailed Description”

“Key Lookup Details” should include these elements:

  • The archive or repository where you’ll perform the lookup
  • How often you visit (and the resulting turnaround time clients can expect)
  • How you’ll perform your search (including the information you’ll need from the client)
  • An online index the client can search to obtain an index entry or certificate number for you to reference (if available)
  • What a “found” and “not found” result will mean for the client
  • What information the client is likely to obtain from the record
  • Limitations on the scope of the search you’ll perform (a single individual, a certain range of years, etc.)

4) Set Realistic Yet Affordable “Found” and “Not Found” Prices

Pricing your offerings is difficult, we know. Only you can decide what your costs are and what you need to earn for the time and effort you’ll spend. Set a price that seems fair to both you and your clients. If in doubt, ask yourself, “What would I be willing to pay for this lookup?”

5) Use the “Client Instructions” to Spell Out Exactly What You Need

Your job as a lookup provider will be easiest when you can reduce the process to a repeatable algorithm that takes specific known inputs and produces the desired record on a consistent basis. This obviously won’t work in many cases, but it’s a goal worth striving for. As you compose your instructions to the client, reduce the data you ask for to the absolute minimum necessary. Tweak this based on the queries you receive.

Summary

The main thing that sets the best lookup offerings on Genlighten apart from others is the level of detail they include. Details show that you’ve thought through the lookup process and that you know what you’re doing. They also inspire confidence in potential clients and yield requests that you can successfully fulfill. We’ve had site visitors tell us that they’ve seen lookups they’re interested in but they haven’t ordered because the descriptions were too vague.

We’re happy to offer suggestions and guidance with this process. Please feel free to contact us for help by e-mailing support@genlighten.com.

Nine Questions with Banai Feldstein

Monday, February 8th, 2010

banai_feldstein_provider_avatar

I first met Banai in August 2009 at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia. I was struck immediately by her intensity and passion, her technical savvy, and the degree to which she was connected to other researchers and leaders at the conference. She was one of only a few attendees who “live-tweeted” from numerous conference sessions. I quietly hoped to one day recruit her as one of our providers, and was thrilled several months later to see that she had signed up.

From BanaiFeldstein‘s Profile

Banai specializes in Eastern European research — including Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, and Belarus– and in Jewish research. She’s the President of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society and an APG member.

Nine Questions with Banai

1) How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

I was living in Nashville when I had a relapse of the genealogy bug. A few years later,  I wasn’t getting any web design clients, so I figured I could move to Salt Lake City and not get any web design clients there, but at least I could do more genealogy research. I also hoped to turn it into a business, which I have.

I’ve read many times that you should find something you love to do, then find a way to make money at it. I’ve always loved puzzles and detective work, and that’s what genealogy often is.

2)      Do you have a genealogy “superpower”? If so, what is it?

I am really good with languages. Some clients ask for records in languages I haven’t worked in before, and I tell them so up front, but they trust that I can do the work anyways. I usually can. Dutch was tricky, but all the Eastern European languages I’ve found pretty easy.

3)      Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

My mother has told me numerous times that she had an older sister who was given up for adoption. Late last year, I found her birth record. We’re still in the middle of trying to find and contact her now.

4)      What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request?

My favorite potential clients are the ones who provide me with specifics: locations, dates, religion. When they ask for something generic like “Polish research”, that doesn’t help. If I lived in Poland, maybe I could do something, but I need to know the exact location to know if I have access to any records. When they openly share their information, that’s the best query and gets the most thorough response as to whether or not I can help. Also, it’s good when they’re at least slightly organized. Figuring out what they’re asking and putting their family information in order takes extra time.

5)      What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

There is nowhere else on Earth like the Family History Library.

6)      What technical tools do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

The FHL provides the equipment for me. I just need to bring along my flash drive.

If I have to order a record from an archive, then I use my trusty CanoScan LIDE, which I’ve had forever. This scanner has travelled all over with me, scanning photos and documents from relatives too. It’s one of those 1 inch tall scanners that fits right into my large laptop bag.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Plenty. I can do almost anything at the FHL. It’s just a matter of entering it all into Genlighten.

8)      What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

They should be very familiar with the archive and the records that they want to provide. Know which record types and years are available, the hours of the facility, any costs involved, and be sure that they can get there often.

9)      What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups?

I love improving my house. It was neglected for at least three owners and empty for two years before me, so it needs a lot of TLC. The current project is refinishing the hardwood floors.

I love ice skating and the Utah Olympic Oval is conveniently a few blocks from my house.

I also love to write. I’m the newsletter editor for the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society (as well as the president now), so I get some genealogy writing in there several times a year. I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November. And I just started a  blog this year; I’m enjoying the extra writing.

Lookups BanaiFeldstein Offers

Jewish Polish Birth Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Birth Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records & Translation, 1830-1900

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge #5: Trying Out Worldcat.org

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

logo_wcmasthead_enThis week Amy Coffin‘s 52WtBG challenge directed us to explore the online library catalog aggregator Worldcat.org. Here’s how Worldcat defines itself:

WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. WorldCat grows every day thanks to the efforts of librarians and other information professionals.

I wasn’t sure what to expect here… would I find lots of historical records about my distant ancestors, or would most of the results returned in searches be modern ones?

Initial Success

After creating an account and a profile (you don’t need to but I was interested in the social features a personal account offered) I started out by typing ancestors’ names into the search box. My first try was Benjamin Trafford, my great-great grandfather who eventually rose to the rank of Colonel in the Civil War. I had heard he’d authored a book on military tactics, but no luck there. Instead, the following entry was second in the results list:

worldcat_benjamin_trafford_results1

It’s hard to read at this resolution, but the catalog entry was quite a find: military orders issued by Benjamin Trafford to the 71st Regiment, N.G.S.N.Y., New York, February 6th 1865.

Can I View It Online?

Naturally I was hoping Worldcat actually had digitized the “book” so I could view it and download it. But alas, no. Instead, I was shown a list of repositories from which I could theoretically inter-library loan the record (or retrieve it in person if I lived near any of them.) Turns out the New York Historical Society has it.

Sounds Like a Job for Genlighten

Since Genlighten has several lookup providers who live in the New York City area, I could go create a custom lookup request and ask for a provider to retrieve this document, scan it and upload the resulting image to my account. Or, since our daughter works reasonably close to the New York Historical Society, I could ask her to make the trip. Either way, it sounds like it’d be worth it. I would have had no idea this record existed if WorldCat hadn’t found it for me.

What Else Can I Do on WorldCat?

The site offers all the Web 2.0 features you’d want in a modern online catalog. Using nearby links, I can:

  • Add the record to a list of my favorite finds (I can even customize different lists with different titles)
  • Tag the entry to help future searchers
  • Write a review or rate the document from zero to five stars
  • Share a link to the entry via email, on the usual social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or via social bookmarking sites like Digg or Delicious
  • Find similar items in the WorldCat catalog (in this case, a great collection of books about the 71st Regiment, NY State National Guard.)

I promptly created a personal User List (one of the benefits of actually registering and creating an account) and added the Benjamin Trafford entry to it.

Wouldn’t it be Cool…

As I tried each of these social features out, I couldn’t help but wish that WorldCat had the Family History Library Catalog entries available with all of this functionality. But of course, that’s where Genseek is supposed to come in, right?

“Click Here to Order Digital Images of this Item”

Missing of course, was the feature we at Genlighten are particularly eager to see: the “Click Here to Order Digital Images of this Item from Genlighten.com” button. Not to worry, we’re working on that.

Nine Questions with FamHistFinder

Monday, February 1st, 2010

famhistfinderThe Salt Lake City area probably has more professional genealogists per capita than just about any metropolitan area in the US. So it comes as no surprise that Genlighten has several lookup providers who live near the LDS Church’s Family History Library and know its resources well. Barbara Smythe is one of them. She joined our provider network only recently and already offers an extensive collection of vital record lookups covering eight states plus Chicago and Manhattan.

From FamHistFinder‘s Profile

Barbara has a BA in Social Science and Library Science. She’s been a school librarian and teacher of reading and geography in Kansas, California, Hong Kong and China.

Nine questions with Barbara

1)  How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

About thirty years ago a close friend asked me to help her find out something about her mother and we both became hooked.  We lived in Southern California where there was a National Archives and several good libraries.  We then began doing family history for friends and family, we have never stopped.

2)  Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

My “superpower” is my husband of 53 years.  He is an historian and will always go to libraries with me and do his research as long as I want to do mine. We once spent 27 days at the Library of Congress, and have been to many of the State Historical Libraries. I’m a detail person and never tire of going from one lead to another in order to solve a problem, and I love huge libraries.

3)   Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

A friend said that his wife, who was adopted as a baby, wanted to find who her birth parents were.  All she knew was when and where she was born.  She was adopted soon after her birth.  I was taking a trip to the Salt Lake Family History Library and there I started looking at birth records for a female baby born on the date and place given.  There were two girls born that day, one with the right first name, but no father mentioned.  I then looked for the mother in the census.  I found her with her parents at a younger age and found her marriage later, tracked her down in the same town where she still lives.

The problem was how to get in touch with her.  Do you just call one day and ask if she had put a baby girl up for adoption 50 years ago?  I took the information back to my friend, and he said that his wife had decided since her adoptive parents were still alive and lived close to them that she would not try to find her birth parents.  I am pretty sure that my information was correct, but will never know whether this lady ever used that information to find her birth mother.

4)     What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request/research query?

It is always important to have a specific goal. Give names, places, dates and any clue about the people who the person is looking for. If they know where the people are during a census year, it is great to have siblings and other people who might be living with the family on a census.

5. What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

The Salt Lake Family History Library.

6)  What technical tools (hardware, software) do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

Desktop PC with Windows Vista. HP Deskjet 4480 (3 in One, Printer, Scanner, Copier).

7. Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Any lookup which can be answered with records from the Salt Lake Family History Library.

8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

Live near a large library or repository that has a great number of records.

9. What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups/research?

I’m always working on my own and my husband’s family history. I am a member of a local chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution and help prospective members and friends with their applications for joining the DAR. I have done the research for 14 DAR applications which have been accepted.

Lookups FamHistFinder Offers

Manhattan, New York Birth Certificates, 1866-1897, $10.00
Manhattan, New York Marriage Records, Index to all Boroughs, 1866-1937
Chicago, Cook, Illinois Birth Certificates (not yet online at FamilySearch), 1916-1922
Alabama Death Certificates, 1908-1974
Florida Death Records, 1877-1939
Georgia Death Records, 1914-1927
Idaho Death Records, 1911-1937
South Carolina Death Records, 1944-1955
New Mexico Death Records, 1889-1945
Minnesota Death Records, 1908-1955
Louisiana Death Records, 1850-1875, 1894-1954

Amazon for Lookups vs. Yellow Pages for Researchers

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

As my wife and I use Genlighten day by day, we notice things it does well and things it’s not so good at yet.

On the Plus Side

One of the things Genlighten does well is handle the iterative back-and-forth communications between client and provider that lead to a successful lookup result. Short notes from each party to the research transaction are displayed together in chronological order on a summary tracking page for each lookup request, along with the documents and report that are eventually produced.

lookup_notes_back_and_forthDiscovering Providers, on the Other Hand…

But when we go looking for a specific lookup provider (say, one that specializes in Jewish research or one who can access a certain repository in California) Genlighten doesn’t have a well-designed way to do that yet.

There’s a reason we didn’t build that feature in initially. We view ourselves as an e-commerce site (like Amazon.com) for genealogy lookups — NOT a Yellow Pages-like directory of genealogy researchers-for-hire. The distinction is an important one, and it arises out of our focus on fixed-fee lookups rather than on open-ended hourly research.

Buying a Camera vs. Hiring a Photographer

I’m not sure about you, but when I go to buy a digital camera, I focus on the product first — the features, price point and customer ratings — and pay attention to the brand second. On the other hand, if I wanted to hire a photographer, I’d focus on referrals from friends, professional credentials, portfolio… and only then would I look at specific packages the photographer might offer.

The initial design of Genlighten has a distinctly product-oriented e-commerce mindset, where the “products” are lookups. If our products appeal to you, you can then check out the profile of the providers who offer them, and evaluate their background, experience, and customer ratings before deciding to submit a lookup request. We made the assumption that most potential clients would approach the site in that order, and our information architecture reflects that.

product-oriented-lookup-searchThe Problem with Assumptions…

Four months in, it’s becoming apparent that some of our site visitors don’t use Genlighten like we thought they would. One piece of evidence showed up recently in our Google Analytics logs:

google_site_search_for_ca2

Notice the Google site search for the keyword “California”. It’s hard to tell exactly what the site visitor had in mind, but my guess is they wanted to see if we had any providers that could do lookups either in California (i.e., at California repositories) or for California records. Or they might have read Randy Seaver’s blog post about Genlighten the week before and tried to find out if we’d added any California providers. Either way, they didn’t find our UI sufficiently intuitive and decided to take a shortcut.

“Hidden” Lookup Providers

A second indication that users aren’t behaving as we expected showed up when I went to do a census of every registered user so I could count the number that were offering lookups. To my surprise (and dismay!) I discovered sixty-some users who had filled out a provider-oriented profile (listing their qualifications, repositories they could access, etc.) but who weren’t yet offering any lookups. Because of the design assumptions I mentioned above, these providers are effectively hidden from our users. They won’t show up in any lookup search results, and we don’t yet offer a purely provider-oriented search capability. That’s starting to look like a problem.

Now perhaps the hidden providers don’t want to bother with basic lookups, but instead are just interested in quoting on custom requests that clients post. We do offer that capability in addition to off-the-shelf lookups, and it’s seen a fair amount of use.

But our thinking on custom requests was that providers would first establish a reputation for reliable, high-quality service with their off-the-shelf lookup offerings, and then be more likely to have their custom lookup quotes accepted based on high ratings they’d received. I still think this is a sound approach, but it’s become clear that we’ve done a poor job of communicating the idea.

Unfortunately, I suspect that some of these hidden providers don’t know they’re hidden. They assumed we’d make it easy for users to find them, like the yellow pages does, even if they didn’t offer any products in our online marketplace. And we haven’t.

So What to Do?

As a result of the thought process I’ve described, we now plan to:

  • Reach out to our hidden providers and explain the advantages of offering off-the-shelf lookups so they can gain credibility and exposure to potential clients
  • Invite our users to participate in usability testing so we can get feedback on typical flows through the site
  • Develop search tools that let users discover providers based on the contents of their profiles, not just on the lookups they offer.

Glass Half Full

I’ve decided to take a positive view of these discoveries about our users. If I’d followed Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany when we were first building Genlighten, I might have uncovered these design issues during the Customer Development process. But now that I’m belatedly trying to adhere to Lean Startup principles, customer-centric iteration is a sign that we’re heading in the right direction. Now if we can just work on making those iterations “ferocious” and “rapid”!

Want to Help?

Are you interested in helping us make Genlighten easier to use? We’d love to have some 15-20 minute chats with clients and providers willing to talk with us over the phone while navigating the site and pursuing basic tasks. E-mail us at support@genlighten.com if this sounds like your idea of fun!

How long before “It’s not all online” isn’t true anymore?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
cgs_iceberg1

Courtesy California Genealogical Society and Library

David Rencher, FamilySearch’s “Chief Genealogical Officer” stopped by the Genlighten booth at NGS in North Carolina last year and we had a pleasant chat together. He asked a question that I’ve thought about often but never come up with a perfect answer to:

How will Genlighten’s business model stay viable over the long term as more and more records become available online?

As you already know if you’ve been reading this blog for long or if you’re one of our users, Genlighten’s unique selling proposition is that we help you find offline genealogy records — the ones that are only accessible in libraries, archives, courthouses, historical societies, etc.. In fact, when a provider signs up and offers to do lookups solely using their Ancestry or Footnote subscriptions, we ask them to modify those offerings to utilize an offline source instead.

Beneath the Tip of the Iceberg

Our unspoken assumption here is that many more records are available offline than online. Or as the marvelous image shown here depicts it, the biggest part of the iceberg is below the surface. I stand confidently behind that assumption, despite the fact that I can’t back it up with any meaningful data or statistics.

David’s question implied that he foresees a time when the statement “Most genealogy records aren’t online” won’t hold true anymore. And in fact, he’s in charge of an organization — FamilySearch — that is working hard to digitize and index every single reel in its vast collection of microfilmed records. Whether it takes five years or ten, they will eventually achieve their goal. Whither offline genealogy research (and our business model) then?

The Power of Family Search Indexing

This point hit home particularly hard for me this last December. I visited the Massachusetts State Archives just outside of Boston, mostly to see what kinds of records Genlighten providers could retrieve there, but also to do some of my own research. I was excited to see how many records were available on microfilm and could be scanned at low cost. Within minutes, I easily found the marriage certificate for my Walter Ferdinand Knapp and Rosamond Guilford.

A local Boston provider, I reasoned, (or one with access to the corresponding FHL film) could just as easily provide Massachusetts marriage record lookups for a reasonable fee and still be well-compensated for their forty-minute trip on the Red Line. Cool! Now I just needed to recruit the right providers and help them take advantage of the opportunities available.

Just as I was about to tweet or blog about this discovery, though, what should appear in my Twitterstream but a link to a post about Massachusetts marriage records becoming available on the FamilySearch Record Search Pilot. I tried the site out, and lo and behold, in seconds I had the image of the very same marriage record I had just finished printing out. Thanks to FamilySearch indexing, that was one lookup opportunity that no longer seemed as attractive. Massachusetts Births and Death records still weren’t available online, but for how long?

A Prediction

longtail2I don’t know how FamilySearch decides which records to digitize and index next, but I can guess. They must know which FHL film sets are ordered most, and I suspect those ones get bumped up in priority. So in the short term, we should expect that films of records towards the left end of the long tail will become available online. FamilySearch and other organizations will gradually work their way down the long tail, digitizing and indexing as they go. Over time, more and more long tail records will become available at low or no cost online, just as obscure bands’ music can now be found on iTunes and films that only a few thousand people even know about are now available on Netflix.

Another Prediction

So Genlighten has four, maybe five years before its business model begins to evaporate? I can’t be sure, but I suspect not. At least, not due to a lack of offline records. I will go out on a limb and predict that for many years to come, as fast as old records are brought online, “new” old records will be discovered. In other words, the entire curve will rise.

Where will these new records come from? Diaries, generic government agency paperwork, medical records (despite HIPAA regulations), legal proceedings, SEC filings… I bet you can think of many more. The types of offline records that Genlighten providers will be asked to look up will change, but there will still be plenty of them to perform lookups for.

Of course in five to ten years paper, microfilm, and even electronic data storage as we know it may have been completely superseded by some grand and glorious new medium. Or Google may simply have achieved by then their goal to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In which case, they’ll hopefully have already acquired us!

Nine Questions with CarolinaAncestry

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Carrie Henry of CarolinaAncestry

Carrie Henry of CarolinaAncestry

It’s always a highlight of our day here at “Genlighten World Headquarters” when new lookup providers register with our site and create their first lookup offerings. We plan to introduce you to some of our providers this year by posting occasional e-mail interviews with them on our blog. Today’s post profiles Carrie Henry, who goes by the username CarolinaAncestry on Genlighten.

From CarolinaAncestry’s Profile:

Carrie has a master’s degree in Public History and eight years of genealogical research experience. She lives near the State Archives in Raleigh, North Carolina and is an active member of the North Carolina Genealogical Society, where she currently serves as book review editor. She’s also a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). Her archaeological expertise brings a unique perspective to her research efforts.

Nine Questions with CarolinaAncestry:

1)      How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

I began researching my own family history in 2001 and immediately became hooked.  Through my “day job” at an archaeology/cultural resources firm I was able to incorporate genealogical research into quite a few of the projects.  My love for genealogy and the desire to help others is what has led me to provide lookup and research services.

2)      Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

I don’t think I have a genealogy superpower… I try to be open and honest with people about my limitations and capabilities.  However, I think I do provide a slightly different viewpoint since I developed my genealogical skills while conducting archaeological studies.

3)      Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved.

I was very proud to have assisted a lawyer in his attempt to prove heirs to an estate.  This was a challenging project because the surname was one that was spelled many different ways in various documents.  Ultimately, I was able to find proof that the individuals claiming to be heirs were telling the truth.

4)      What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request/research query?

I find queries that are limited to a few specific goals and with details including full names, birth and death dates, and locations (city, county, state) easy to work with.

5)      What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

I have the privilege of living very close to the NC State Archives; needless to say the archives holds some amazing records.  However, I find data from the Office of State Archaeology or the State Historic Preservation Office quite useful in “fleshing out” someone’s family tree.

6)      What technical tools do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

I sometimes utilize Family Tree Maker to organize data.  I often use a digital camera and scanner to provide electronic files for clients.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Not at this point.  I am still working on building a client base and want to focus on families with ties to NC.

8)      What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

Join your state and/or local genealogical society and get involved.  You can learn so much from your colleagues.  Attend conferences as much as possible.  Take advantage of professional memberships like APG who will post your information on their website as well.

9)      What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups/research?

I keep working on my own family research and that of my husband’s.  I spend time with my cats and stepson.  I also read for pleasure and like to bake.

Lookups CarolinaAncestry offers:

Carrie offers lookups covering Land Records held at the North Carolina State Archives. She’s one of several providers on Genlighten who offer North Carolina genealogy record lookups.