IAJGS 2014 – Friday, August 1 – A tour of Ancestry.com

The woman on the right is Crista Cowan from
She accompanied us on the bus trip from
Salt Lake City, sharing little “tidbits” of info
as we drove along

My last day in Salt Lake City was Friday August 1. Arrangements had been made for a bus trip to Provo, Utah where Ancestry.com has its headquarters. I was eager to see what my annual $300 subscription was paying for! By the way, I recently learned that AARP members can get a 30% discount on their Ancestry subscription – good deal! It’s only for a 6 month membership, but the rep said I could renew it again for another 6 months.

We were allowed to take pictures throughout the facility so long as we didn’t photograph any specific records. However we were not allowed to use any writing implements! Since it’s been over a  month since this visit I can’t remember exactly why.

I hope you enjoy this “trip” through the facility!

When we entered the guide told us that Ancestry employs 1400 employees, not including contractors in 10 offices worldwide. The company originally was founded in 1983 as Ancestry Publishing and focused on publishing typed books.

The tour guide said some of the oldest indexed collections date back to the 11th century.  We were informed that there are approximately 75 million searches done per day and that , since going online in 1996, Ancestry has accumulated over 1 billion records from 67 countries.

The Inventory room is shown behind our guide.

We started our tour in the DPS area – Document Preservation Services area. I’m pretty sure this is where we couldn’t use pencils as the graphite might affect the materials stored there.

I had never thought about all the steps (translate that to costs) involved in getting images online.

Items waiting to be inventoried.

First, of course, is the cost of obtaining the original material. Once obtained, the material is inventoried. Each item is given a bar code. The code is crucial in keeping track of the multitude of items that arrive each day.

 Next, the images are cleaned and prepared for imaging.

Imaging Services

Close-up of computer screen

Imaging books that can’t be taken apart is quite time-consuming. To speed up the process only the odd number pages are scanned, then the book is flipped around and all the even number pages are scanned. The computer then re-paginates the book correctly. I plan to use this tip when scanning material myself in the future!

The process of imaging a book is quite tedious.

Following imaging is indexing – the process of recording the information so it becomes easily searchable by keywords. The indexing area was a huge room filled with (mostly) young people each sitting in front of two computer monitors. On one screen was the image (record) and on the other was the form to complete with the information from the record. Watching this work, all I could think of was how tedious it must be to do that for 6-8 hours day.

Another area was “Content Management.” Here we learned about the process used in obtaining records. I never realized how difficult it could be to acquire some of the materia
l. We just take for granted that “they” get the content, “they” put it online and we enjoy the fruits of their labor.

There may be many roadblocks (again, translate to costs) to obtaining original records. Ancestry works with archives in many countries to obtain records. Sometimes, the archive is encouraged to participate because Ancestry’s teams are able to preserve and save their treasured information. However there are often difficulties encountered along the way. Some documents are so fragile they literally fall apart as they are being imaged. Some governments flat out refuse to cooperate, making access to their archives impossible. We, the everyday genealogist, have no idea of the work being done behind the scenes to gain access to these important documents.

According to our guide, a trained archivist can process 20,000 – 40,000 documents a week. Amazing!

I really enjoyed the next portion of our tour where we learned about Ancestry’s products. Yes, I know. It is rather self-serving of them. The more you learn about a product, the more likely you are to buy it. It’s business. It’s what businesses do. It works. I bought the $29.99 Family Tree Maker even though I have RootsMagic and love it!

After hearing about all the “bell and whistles” in Family Tree Maker
I ended up buying a copy. Maybe I’ll use it…….

Interesting point by tour guide, ” Product managers try to understand and solve problems genealogists are having and create products to help them.

Some of the recently acquired and newly created Ancestry products.

Our visit with Kenny Freestone of AncestryDNA was pretty interesting as well. I finally did get a DNA test while at the conference. Haven’t gotten the results back yet.

He suggested people test with multiple companies as each company uses its own procedures each producing different results. Smart idea or sales pitch? Not sure. I loved his quote: “…..turning spit into information.”

The final product we learned about was the Shoebox app. The Shoebox app allows you to take a picture with your phone and instantly upload it to your Ancestry tree. I used this product a couple years ago but recently deleted it as I needed space on my phone! After hearing more about it, I may re-install it.

We ended our tour in a large room where we had some tasty treats. Before we left we each were handed a “goody bag.” Thanks Ancestry! One can never have enough pens and thumb-drives.

I am really glad I decided to go on the Ancestry tour. I have a new appreciation for all the work that happens in order for me to sit at my computer at 11:00 at night, in my pjs, finding records of my ancestors all over the world.

This is my final blog entry about my trip to the 34th IAJGS conference in Salt City. Considering I am 17 weeks behind on the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge maybe I’d better get back to work on that!! 

3 thoughts on “IAJGS 2014 – Friday, August 1 – A tour of Ancestry.com

  1. Not only was your description of the tour excellent, but I learned something from that tip about scanning or photographing all odd-number pages and then doing the same with all even-number pages. Thank you!


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