The Live Roots Project

Ten years ago, I created a website called GenealogyToday.com with the intention of keeping track of new genealogy resources. While I expected the number of resources to grow over time, I didn't anticipate the amount of growth we've seen during the past decade. While I wouldn't label the present genealogy landscape as being in a state of chaos, the sheer number of online databases, and the distinct repositories housing them, does make even the simplest research task quite challenging.

For many genealogists, the term database can often be confusing. A database is nothing more than a collection of records or data, and a genealogy database is often derived from a previously published work. While we await the arrival of "new" databases online, there really isn't any new data. It's all been published before, but in this digital age it is becoming more accessible.

Some folks look at a site like Ancestry.com and consider it to be one large database, when in reality it is a collection of thousands of databases of varying sizes. And, as is often the case, the database titles on a site like Ancestry.com don't always match the title of the original document it was derived from. This is a problem, because to compare online databases you really need to reconcile them down to the original sources used in their creation.

The work I did at GenealogyToday.com dealt more with tracking the arrival of new databases and less about comparing them. Comparing the online databases wasn't a major concern back in 2000 when there were only two large database sites: Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com (now both owned by The Generations Network). Today, we're blessed to have access to dozens of large data sites, and cursed that many of them host data from the same sources, but with different database titles.

So, while as consumers we can remain concerned with comparing the costs of various online data providers, or the distinct services (e.g. online images) and search capabilities each offer, without being able to where our personal research needs would be best fulfilled, it's difficult to decide where to spend our precious (and often limited) genealogy budgets. Two years ago, I came to the realization that with the launch of sites like Footnote, Genealogy Bank and World Vital Records, genealogists are desperately in need of some comparison tools. That's when I began sketching out plans for Live Roots (although it wasn't until October 2007 that I arrived at the name of this new service).

Existing search engines are great, but they only provide a partial picture of available genealogical resources. They do not blend together the variety of resources that exist, partially by design (i.e. they focus primarily on web pages) and partially because they are limited to what they can "see" based on what has been published online. With Live Roots, I wanted to build something without boundaries that would include resources of interest to genealogists regardless of where they resided (i.e. online or offline).

Here's my best attempt at describing Live Roots: it is a search engine, with Wiki and human-edited directory features, that presents transcriptions, databases, books, microfilm, news, articles, websites, and people in a combined search result. It sounds like a lot, but it's really what the World Wide Web was all about – weaving together information in a meaningful way.

There are two parts to Live Roots, the catalog and the index. The catalog is very much like the card catalog at your local library. Basic information about each resource is captured and is completely searchable. The index is an extension of the catalog that includes the names contained in many of the individual resources. Both components are extended to other sites through the use of dynamic Web Services. Searching Live Roots is no different from how you approach your favorite search engine. Any keyword, place name, surname can be entered into the search box on Live Roots, and it will query both the catalog and index for relevant results.

The results are oriented around the availability of the information. Those resources which are online and fully searchable are presented first. Those items which are available offline follow. Broadly matching resources (e.g. a web site or domain) are presented towards the end. And that's pretty much all you need to know to begin using Live Roots!

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