This is a dark day indeed.
Ancestry, who acquired RootsWeb, including the mailing lists and WorldConnect Trees back in the year 2000 is going to delete both.
The original purchase agreement reportedly included the provision to keep both free, but I never heard anything about a provision to keep them intact. A lot changes in 23 years in terms of technology, but other companies have updated infrastructure and maintained service for their customers. Ancestry can too.
The RootsWeb mailing lists will be gone April 6, and the WorldConnect trees on April 15th.
Ancestry has removed many RootsWeb features over the years. Blogger Margaret O’Brien reviewed what was left in October 2020, here.
This isn’t the first time Ancestry has deleted an essential database. In 2014, they deleted their own Y and mitochondrial DNA database, followed by the Sorenson DNA database in 2015, despite petitions to reconsider and offers within and outside of the genealogy community to keep both alive.
Here we are again. Another crushing blow to the genealogy community in terms of irrecoverable record loss.
You can read more about Ancestry’s corporate, acquisition and product history, here.
RootsWeb Mailing Lists
You’ll see this notice if you go to the main RootsWeb page.
What I don’t know is whether this means that the RootsWeb lists will be entirely deleted, or they will be kept intact in a similar format as Ancestry did when they purchased, then shut down the Genealogy.com trees, articles and forum in 2003.
I would think that if Ancestry had planned to keep anything in place, or maintain the RootsWeb list information in any way, they would have said so. The posting functionality has been gone for years, but we were still able to find information posted previously.
If you need something from the RootsWeb lists, assume that Ancestry is doing exactly what they said, and obtain it NOW!!!
The WorldConnect trees will be gone too. Back in April of 2019, Ancestry substantially changed the format of the trees, along with the web links. People could not find their way “back” to trees through links they had previously used.
Worse yet, tree contributors often included substantial notes, plus sources. In the “new” format, all notes were deleted, and sources, when included, were incomplete.
For users, this purge was gutting when so much information was included, and then, was entirely gone. Genealogists used to be able to contact tree-submitters, and even download some trees, but that functionality has been gone now for years.
Case in point, I’d love to find or make contact with Jim Weber who maintained an absolutely wonderful tree, above, complete with both text and sources for Medieval genealogical individuals.
If you know Jim Weber, PLEASE put us in touch.
Now, Jim’s tree will be gone and according to Ancestry, WorldConnect trees will be ported to Ancestry later in 2023. I can only HOPE that Ancestry replaces the text they stripped out in 2019 which removed a huge amount of Jim and other people’s work. However, that’s doubtful.
I wonder if these trees will be available for free or only to paying subscribers.
RootsWeb Message Boards and Hosted Webpages
The intertwined history of Ancestry and RootsWeb websites is complex and confusing. FamilySearch provides background information, here.
It’s unclear what will happen to the Message Boards and RootsWeb Hosted Websites.
For example, this unpublished manuscript of Indian Atrocities Along the Clinch, Powell and Holston Rivers of Southwest Virginia 1773-1794 by Emory L. Hamilton is invaluable and the Russell County, VA site is the ONLY place this is document available.
The Russell County site is a VAGENWEB site but it’s hosted by RootsWeb.
If you’re depending on any RootsWeb hosted site, I’d be making alternate plans.
Here’s the GenWeb index site with the following notice.
I can’t imagine that Ancestry is going to invest any resources in anything RootsWeb anymore, although I have not heard chatter from GenWeb site administrators.
Steps to Take NOW
The best plan of attack is to recover and save anything you can from RootsWeb lists, meaning locations or surnames of interest.
The index of RootsWeb Mailing Lists is here.
Make Your Voice Heard
It’s difficult to provide feedback to Ancestry, but try.
At the top of your Ancestry page is a Help button which includes a Support page which has a Chat Bot, but no phone numbers.
I could not find a support phone number on my page, but I found 1-800-615-6560 and 1-800-262-3787 as their corporate numbers.
The Ancestry CEO is Deb Liu.
Don’t Rely on the Wayback Machine
Don’t rely on the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive for two reasons. The Wayback Machine is a wonderful archival resource, but the sites have to be crawled to be archived.
The WorldConnect trees were never crawled and those links are not there today. I tried that to find Jim Weber’s original tree entries with their wonderful notes – to no avail. Entering the current page links produces the same result. It’s easy to prevent the Wayback Machine from crawling sites and Ancestry has apparently done so.
For sites like the Russell County GenWeb site, the primary page itself was crawled, but the sections of the Indian Atrocities book were not. So if the site disappears, you’ll be able to see what you want, and used to be there, but can no longer get there. The Wayback Machine doesn’t always crawl buried links.
Time is of the Essence
Begging and pleading with Ancestry, including petitions from the genealogy community, have been of absolutely no use in the past. Let’s hope that perhaps this time is different and an organization like FamilySearch or the Library of Congress or even the Allen County Public Library will be selected to be an electronic repository for the RootsWeb list contents.
Don’t count on it, though, and do what you need to do for your genealogy, now.
Ancestry – It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
It really doesn’t have to be this way. There is absolutely no benefit to anyone by deleting this information forever when there are other viable options with non-competitors.
Ancestry can position themselves as responsible stewards and write their corporate legacy in a positive way instead of creating a nightmare scenario.
I hope Ancestry preserves this priceless information contributed over three decades by thousands of researchers, many of whom are deceased now. That an entire generation of information that is irrecoverable. It’s literally erasing our family history and burning the digital genealogy library of Alexandria.
PLEASE. DON’T. DO. THAT
Ancestry, if you’re not going to preserve the lists in any format, at LEAST donate the information to FamilySearch to incorporate into the FamilySearch Library.
That’s the responsible stewardship approach, rather than having a huge digital bonfire, again.
I’m sure FamilySearch would gladly preserve these records and make their contents available to everyone, honoring the original intent and all of the contributors who trusted Ancestry.
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