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Commercial Genealogy Complainers

by Steve Paul Johnson
March 17, 2004

I was compelled to write this editorial after having communicated with someone who runs another cemetery transcription website, one that limits itself to a couple of states on the Atlantic Coast.

I won't name names at this point, unless he chooses to name names first in the public arena. But I was amazed at the ignorance of this person. Perhaps that ignorance was born from emotion, or born from being mislead by the "anti-commercial-genealogy" society, or maybe this guy just never grew up.

It started when he sent me an e-mail expressing his dissatisfaction over the way I operate Interment.net. He claimed that I was "using his source code" and that I was using his "material". He didn't give me any specifics, so I responded by asking for some.

He replied back directing me to a specific page on Interment.net. That page simply had a link to his website. I replied back that this page did not use any of his source code or material, and that it was only a link to his website. I surmised that he may be complaining that our visitors are being mislead into thinking that his website is a part of our website. But, I had his link listed under the heading of "Outside Links", and the anchor text of the link was followed by this person's name. So, that clearly was not the case.

He replied back saying that there was no problem, and that I had not used his source code. He instead lumped me into the same group of "jerks" as he calls them, who make money off of genealogy.

Ok, so that's what his issue is.

First, the fact that he used a false accusation of me using his "source code" and "material" to get my attention, shows that he has yet to mature as an adult.

Second, the fact that all this has come out now, seemingly at random, without any provocation, suggests that this person didn't have anything better to do.

But let me address the issue with "commercial genealogy".

Interment.net is a publisher of cemetery transcriptions. We provide a publishing outlet for hundreds of cemetery transcribers all over the world.

The fact that we provide this outlet encourages people to create more cemetery transcriptions. It encourages people to get out and record more cemeteries. There are several transcribers who record cemeteries daily or weekly, as a hobby, knowing that we will give their efforts a public venue. And we command one of the largest venues for cemetery records, with between 16,000 to 17,000 visitors each day.

We've encouraged many more people to record cemeteries, and more cemeteries have been recorded as a result of our efforts. In addition, tens of millions of people over the past several years have used our website, and have been helped by it. In the words of Martha Stewart, "this is a good thing".

It costs me thousands of dollars each month to pay for the web servers that power this website. I also have other overhead costs to bear, including labor, software, etc. Am I supposed to just eat the costs?

I thought by now that most people understood the relationship between free content and advertising. In order to provide our visitors with free access to all cemetery transcriptions, we must recoup our costs through advertising revenue.

If you were to purchase a genealogy magazine, like Family Tree Magazine or Heritage Quest, you will discover lots of advertisements within its pages. Magazines also come with subscription fees, unlike our website. But those subscription fees only pay for the distribution costs. The advertising is what keeps the magazine operating.

For the last couple hundred years, book publishers have been publishing genealogical records. Census indexes, tax records, vital records, to name a few, have been published in books and sold for profit.

Dick Eastman, a noted genealogy writer and columnist, now charges people to get access to his "premium" articles. He too is "making money off of genealogy" because he has costs that must be paid, and MyFamily.com is no longer willing to pay him.

Everton's Genealogical Helper, another genealogy magazine, charges people to post a query in its pages. They've been doing this for decades, and continue doing so today. This is another example of a company profiting from genealogy.

So, if people don't have a problem with genealogy magazines and genealogy book publishers making a profit off of genealogy, then why do people still have a problem with websites making a profit?

I think there are two primary reasons the way I see it:

1. The Internet is a great way for people to establish a home-based business. Hence, there are too many "fast-buck" artists out there.

If I was someone looking to make easy money, I wouldn't have created this website. It's huge, it's demanding, and it costs a lot of money. There are better ways to get rich quick.

2. There are still people out there who believe the entire Internet should be a "commercial and capitalist free zone".

What are these people smoking? Nothing on the Internet is free. There is no such thing as a free web server, or a free Internet router, or a free network cable.

Somewhere, somehow, someone has to pay for the websites, the web servers, the bandwidth, the e-mail, everything. It all costs money. If you are not paying for your website, then someone else is bearing that cost for you. No matter what, somebody is having to pay.

To suggest that "genealogy should be free" and that "no one should profit from genealogy", is ridiculous. The only way this website could exist is if there was money to pay for it. Take a look at USGenWeb.org. Does anyone think that website is free? Guess again, MyFamily.com is paying for that. Actually, it's all the people buying subscriptions to Ancestry.com who are floating USGenWeb.

Without business and capitalism, there would not have been an Everton's Genealogical Helper. Dick Eastman would not be writing his column today or ever. Heritage Quest would have never existed, and Genealogical Publising Company would have never published any books. Are we to believe that genealogists would have been happier without these?

Heck, if these people are adamant about genealogy being free, then why haven't they complained about all the newspapers that have published obituaries over the past several hundred years, and made money selling copies of its publication?

Sometimes, no matter how much good you think you've done, there is always someone there to tell you what a jerk you are.

In the end, I removed all the links to that gentleman's website. I suppose he'll be happier knowing that the 16,000 to 17,000 visitors we get each day will have to find some other way to reach his website.

- Steve Paul Johnson

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