That site is Ancestry.com, and its parent company is racking up nearly $200 million a year charging people to peruse scanned family-history documents--things like birth and marriage records, but also more obscure databases like immigration records and draft-registration cards.
People can create their own, basic online family trees free of charge on the site. But they have to pony up $19.95 a month to access the digitized records and do more in-depth research. (It's cheaper to sign up for a year's subscription, which is $155, or $12.95 a month; a "World Deluxe" membership is $299 a year.)
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The site, owned by the Generations Network in Provo, Utah, grew out of a dot-com-era company called MyFamily.com. That firm was an early social network similar to Geocities, a first-generation Internet site that let users create personal home pages. In 2001, MyFamily was retooled to focus on family history; it received a $300 million infusion from investment firm Spectrum Equity in 2007.
A site called MyFamily.com that lets people post family photos and other information online still exists, but "we're still trying to figure out if it's relevant in the age of Facebook," says Generations Network Chief Executive Tim Sullivan.
The company doesn't have formal ties to the Mormon church, which maintains extensive family-history records used by genealogists of many faiths. But "we work very closely and carefully with the church," Sullivan says. Sullivan, who is not Mormon, joined the company in 2005 after running online dating site Match.com.
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