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A glimpse into the thriving business of family history

Published: Wednesday, April 9 2014 10:52 a.m. MDT

“You cannot address genealogy well by catering to one market, and even if you cater to the important U.S. market, people in America arrived here from somewhere. They have relatives in other nations,” Japhet said. “You need to support users from other nations. That has allowed us to become the leader in many markets worldwide.”

The matching-record technology was designed to save time for researchers and carries a 97 percent accuracy rate, even with different name spellings and languages, Japhet said.

When a person subscribes to MyHeritage, that person's family is granted free access to the website and its resources.

“We are about socializing, sharing and collaborating. It spreads the word and … they infect, in a good way, their family members,” Japhet said. “They get hooked on genealogy.”

Challenges

Like any industry, there are a number of ongoing challenges in the family history business. There will always be a need for more records. There is a need to develop new technology. Perhaps the two biggest challenges, the CEOs agree, is continuing to fine-tune the user experience and appeal to a younger generation.

Ancestry is always looking for talented technology engineers with innovative ideas, Sullivan said.

“Without question, the single biggest challenge is creating a user experience that is easy and intuitive,” Sullivan said.

FindMyPast and MyHeritage both want to bring family history to the masses. For now, that means appealing to a younger generation of users with mobile devices.

“You see too many people with gray or no hair. How do we get younger generations hooked and engaged?” Japhet said. “We have to do it with excellent mobile applications. We need to compete for their short attention span.”

Dennis Brimhall, the CEO for FamilySearch.org, a nonprofit family history organization owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and based in Salt Lake City, expressed concern about another challenge. Some members of the LDS Church around the world don't have access to a computer or the Internet. For these people, FamilySearch has created a booklet called "My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together," in which they can record family information by hand.

New technology

Each company mentioned continues to devote a significant amount of its resources to technology development.

Ancestry has been in the DNA business for more than a year and in that time has created a database of more than 300,000 people. Many subscribers have already used this new technology to unlock family mysteries and make new family connections.

“Traditionally, Ancestry has been about our ancestors. DNA is now bringing that experience of connecting with living people,” Sullivan said. “That’s a powerful new way people are going to be able to explore their family history. We think DNA will be an incredibly great way for people to get started in family history.”

Brimhall said FamilySearch is interested in creating a texting app that will enable users, primarily teenagers, to build their family trees.

Preserving stories

StoryWorth.com is a family history business that was recently featured in the New York Times. According to StoryWorth, a user selects a list of questions. Each day one of the questions is emailed to loved ones who in turn reply with a story or experience. The stories are then collected, preserved and shared with family members.

It's an easy way to write a little bit each day, StoryWorth founder Nick Baum said in the article.

According to the article, 31-year-old Baum founded StoryWorth in 2012. Since then, subscribers have generated more than 10,000 stories while paying an annual fee of $49, which covers a family of up to six members and provides an unlimited amount of data storage. Baum didn't tell the New York Times about his company's revenues, but he did say it was profitable.

Team Taylor

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