Saturday, February 22, 2020

Eeek! It's Almost March!

While some in the genealogy world will know exactly what I'm thinking with a comment like that, others will be saying, "So?"

Back in the first few days of the new year, word went out that one of the "dinosaurs" of early Internet genealogy was about it meet its demise. A fossil from the heydays of, the function of Mailing Lists once served to connect a community of avocational genealogists keen on pursuing their roots. Organized both by localities and surnames, the lists were places where people could electronically post queries and help each other with their search for missing ancestors. Those most interested in a particular subject could subscribe to that list to receive emails whenever someone else posted (or collect those posts conveniently into "digests" emailed to subscribers in a more manageable stream of information).

With the evolution of the web, of course other options sprang up, and eventually Rootsweb saw the decline of their Mailing Lists' popularity. But to say no one uses them now? I'm not sure. For one, I greatly value the obituary-finding service at one list I have subscribed to for nearly twenty years; the only reason I'll have to stop my subscription now is because someone else is making me.

When that word went out, back in January, the host's announcement was carried on several genealogy blogs. Here in California, blogger Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings published Ancestry's announcement, along with a few comments of his own. Dick Eastman, the man behind the "most popular online genealogy magazine in the world," ran the story, also with a copy of Ancestry's press release, on January 7, followed by a howl of protest from his readers, prompting him to analyze a suggested substitute service,, a few days later.

That was January. This—soon—will be March. And it is the second day of March when the boom will be lowered and an online service constructed to serve thousands of family history researchers will be demolished. Oh, I know what's already been posted will be archived, but what does that do for connectivity? The plan doesn't leave much wiggle room for connecting with other researchers from the past.

Yet, is it really true that "no one" uses that service anymore? Here's one facet of the disappearing Rootsweb which did mean something helpful to people, even now: Cyndi's List. Since Cyndi Ingle first put together lists of genealogy sites in 1996, the collection has done nothing but grow and grow. It's grown so much, in fact, that she developed emailed lists to keep subscribers updated on what was new at Cyndi's List.

Well, guess what? Those email lists were hosted guessed it...Rootsweb. And now, by March 2, if she wants to continue keeping her followers updated, she'll need to find another venue for that service.

Apparently, she has. In an email sent out to her subscribers—yep, before March 2—she announced that the services would be migrated over to MailChimp. There are both pluses and minuses to the move, since the antiquated Rootsweb had some downsides which the more up-to-date services at MailChimp feature as a matter of course; but the move, which was already in the works, wasn't slated to occur until later. Let's just say she's going a wee bit hurrier than she had planned at the start.

As we stare down the entrance of March, the changes at Rootsweb may mean absolutely nothing to some, and an immense lot to others. Nobody likes change. A good many don't appreciate the lack of search functionality on substitute community sites for genealogy like those adapted to Facebook. Sites like may be a bit too uncomfortable a change for those who have relied on this one source for over two decades.

Regardless of individual reasons for preferring—or disliking—change, though, I see one overarching cause for alarm with yet another passing of an old bastion of genealogy: the eroding infrastructure which once enabled us to operate as a community of like-minded people. While social media may serve as an adequate substitute for these passing, early Web 2.0 pioneers of the genealogy world, we have to remember we are not just people wishing to connect, but researchers who want to go back and review our sources in a searchable, archivable collection—one which isn't here today and, poof!, gone tomorrow, like many entries posted on Facebook groups. While connecting with other researchers is vital, re-connecting with what those researchers said is also important.

Yes, onward and upward with progress is often good, but we, of all groups of people, need to remember how valuable preserving history should be to us—both the content and the process of what worked for us as researchers in the past.  


  1. Sad to see rootsweb go that was the only place for our local county info:(

    1. There were a lot of people whose labor-of-love work went into making Rootsweb such a help for researchers from around the world. I sometimes wonder if anything like this could be recreated by a commercial entity--there's just not the profit margin in it. But the heart that volunteers put into it made it just what some of us needed, to reach across the country and into those out-of-the-way places. What a great way to connect that was!


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