These technicians are importing microfilm from 1901, containing marriage certificates from New York, while nearby employees watch over machines that are quickly cycling through pages from a city directory from 1958.
Just a few feet away, these crumbling French law books are being carefully turned, page by page, and photographed, all for posterity.
This room at Ancestry headquarters in Provo, Utah is where some of the documents that end up online are first scanned and uploaded. They arrive from places like the national archives, though some collections are considered so rare that these camera stands are dispatched and teams of ancestry employees are deployed to take photos wherever the records are stored.
Todd Jensen “We were in the UK recently and the records had been moldy, there had been a fire, but we were able to save some things..”
The orderly stacks of data to be pulled into the system, all barcoded, don’t offer a true glimpse of what is happening at ancestry. It is in the middle of another round of large-scale hiring, the third year the company is looking to bring at least 150 technological-focused new hires to the company, both in Provo and San Francisco.
It is also unleashing new beta versions of added features to Ancestry.com, along with the shift in mindset that is propelling the site’s technological innovations.
“We aren’t a genealogical company that uses technology. We’re a tech company that does genealogical research, so we first need to make sure that our tech is up to bar.”
One of the beta phase technologies is called “Gridline.” It is software that makes a once static historical document more interactive, by highlighting the names of ancestors and explaining what each of the boxes on a census record means, without having to know each grids criteria by reading the top.
It seems like a no-brainer for hard-to-decipher handwriting on a census form. But that ease-of-use factor was actually quite complicated.
“We had to develop software for the each census form first. When we first did it, we thought there would be about 7 forms—there were 42.”
“It’s quite complicated but the user experience is that it’s easy—which is how we want it to seem.”
Another new Beta-initiative—a DNA test. Especially useful for members whose ancestors were slaves, it can pinpoint a user’s ancestry to a specific tribe in Africa.
“It’s great for them, but also those people that don’t want to do the work…”
Ancestry’s employees are about to be slammed with work again. The 1940 census will be released April 2nd. It will be up on ancestry’s site quickly, but it will take a few months to add all the gridline information to those documents too.
From Provo, Utah, Kerry Davis, IDG News Service.