Last Rites for Find-A-Grave? What the Ancestry.com Acquisition Means

Find a Grave Acquired by Ancestry.com

Today’s announcement (here) that Ancestry.com has acquired the popular collaborative genealogy site Find A Grave is still sending shock waves throughout the genealogy and family history community three hours after the announcement. And I can almost guarantee that this will be the lead topic of conversation online and in-person/at events by members of the genealogy community for days, if not weeks to come.  But what does this acquisition really mean? Here is my take on it which means my observations plus some answers to questions posed to Ancestry.com via email:

How Much Did Ancestry.com Pay for Find A Grave and When Did the Sale Happen?

The terms of the deal have not been released nor is it likely they will.  And I don’t believe they need to disclose the price in any of the Securities and Exchange Commission filings but I think some sleuthing in those documents in the next few weeks might be fruitful. In addition, I’ve been told by my contacts at Ancestry.com that the purchase has been executed and the deal is “closed.”

Will Ancestry.com Turn Find A Grave Into a Pay or Subscription Site?

Usually, reading comprehension is a valued and available skill for genealogists. But when emotions take over, as in the case of Ancestry.com purchasing another company or site in the industry, genealogists forget about those reading skills.  From Ancestry CEO Tim Sullivan in the press release:

“We will maintain Find A Grave as a free website, will retain its existing policies and mode of operation, and look forward to working with Jim Tipton and the entire Find A Grave team to accelerate the development of tools designed to make it even easier for the Find A Grave community to fulfill its original mission to capture every tombstone on Earth.”

What About Find A Grave Staff?

I followed up with a question to Ancestry.com as to whether Find A Grave staff were now employees of Ancestry.com.  Here is the response from  Heather Erickson, Sr. Dir, US PR & Corporate Communications at Ancestry.com:

“Jim Tipton (Find A Grave’s founder) is the only paid staff member of Find A Grave, and he has already made the transition to Ancestry.com. Jim will continue to run the website but will have the support of a full, dedicated Find A Grave team at Ancestry.com – so the pace of updates / improvements / new features should accelerate. The familiar administrators that many have come to know over the years will remain and continue in the same capacity.”

What About the Current Content at Find A Grave?

Again, from Ancestry.com:

Find A Grave plans to continue its focus on honoring user’s privacy and protecting their user generated content. As always, any photos you add to Find A Grave will remain yours and neither Find A Grave nor Ancestry.com will own them.

 The current copyright policies of Find A Grave will remain in place. Contributors will retain copyright over any photos added to Find A Grave. It will still be wrong for someone to ‘steal’ a photo from Find A Grave and post it other websites as if it were their own.

So Why Did Ancestry.com Acquire Find A Grave?

This is where my two cents come in. Find A Grave is currently ranked as the #826 website in terms of popularity in the United States (Ancestry, by the way is #154) and money was made through its advertisements. For now Ancestry.com says it will leave ads as they are, but I expect Ancestry to ditch all third party ads for ads promoting its own products such as Family Tree Maker.  This is what Ancestry has done in the past.

So without an income stream, what gives?  Well Ancestry realizes that in the long term it makes sense to buy the content outright rather than license it, which is what it has done since early 2012 according my contacts at Ancestry.com.  Also, with such a popular platform, the hope would be that a visitor to Find A Grave might give Ancestry.com a try and get hooked.

Finally, the “gamification” aspect of Find A Grave is very powerful, something Ancestry.com already knows through its “shaky leaf” concept which entices users to keep building their family tree.  At Find A Grave, you build memorials and add content and photos and it is fun, engaging and addictive. Many contributors feel they are giving back to the genealogy community (which they are) and helping other researchers. Find A Grave has great value not just in its content, but its sense of community and collaborative aspect.

Ancestry.com has instantly brought in another gamification aspect of genealogy and they’ve seen the potential of the Find A Grave site which noticeably does not have an app allowing users to view or enter data, especially onsite at cemeteries. I predict that Ancestry’s Shoebox app (which it got in its acquisition of 1000 Memories) will allow Find A Grave contributors to take a photo of a grave, upload it and even add GPS and other metadata.  This all greatly improves the content which can then also be used by Ancestry.com members.

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Are the waters calmer after reading all of this and processing the “why” behind the Ancestry.com acquisition of Find A Grave? There is no way to predict accurately what Ancestry.com will do with its new property, but a look to past practices and to trends in the Internet and genealogy industries, give us a much clearer crystal ball for prognosticating as to their intentions and future actions.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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