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 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
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
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
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
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
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