Open Genealogy Alliance : Blog

Open Genealogy Alliance

Mocavo joins the Open Genealogy Alliance

Genealogy search engine Mocavo has joined the Open Genealogy Alliance. Here is the announcement in their own words:



With the help of our community members and partners, Mocavo makes family history records accessible for free. Uncover hidden information, break through brick walls, speed up research and connect with genealogists. Search millions of genealogy websites from one location and use advanced research tools to quickly and easily learn about your family history.

We are excited to announce our new partnership with the FreeBMD Trust.  The FreeBMD Trust shares Mocavo’s commitment to bring all of the world’s genealogical information online for free putting everyone’s family history within reach. Beginning today, Mocavo community members can search nearly 300 million FreeBMD records through the Mocavo search engine. Information from FreeBMD will also be automatically matched to Mocavo members’ family trees.

The FreeBMD Trust oversees the FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG projects in the UK, which are dedicated to transcribing the UK Civil Registration Index, UK Census Data and UK Parish registers respectively.  These projects are undertaken exclusively by volunteer transcribers who have dedicated countless hours to making this invaluable genealogical resource available and free for all to access.  To date the amazing work of these volunteers has resulted in the transcription of nearly 300 million records.  In 2007, the FreeBMD Trust was awarded the Prince Michael of Kent award by the UK Society of Genealogists for their ongoing contributions to genealogical research.

In addition to our partnership with the FreeBMD Trust, Mocavo is also honored to announce that we have joined the Open Genealogy Alliance.  Like the FreeBMD Trust, the OGA is aligned with Mocavo’s mission to bring all of the world’s genealogical information online for free putting everyone’s family history within reach. The FreeBMD Trust, Open Knowledge Foundation and the Open Rights Group are existing members of the Open Genealogy Alliance.  We are joining forces with them to enable everyone to easily discover their heritage.  There are many sources of genealogical information that exist in the public domain but are still beyond the reach of most genealogists because they are in analog format, are only made available through paid subscriptions or are made available by public agencies on antiquated and unnavigable websites. Mocavo is in the process of digitizing valuable records, hosting them for free and organizing them in ways that make it easier than ever for our community to make new discoveries about their pasts on a daily basis.  We look forward to working with the OGA and FreeBMD Trust on this important mission.

EU public information law extended to cover archives

The European Commission has just published proposed changes to the way archives, museums and libraries deal with public information. MLAs will now be covered by the EU directive on Public Section Information Reuse while before they were exempted along with public broadcasters. This is part of a comprehensive package of very positive reforms to the sector, which intends to promote the opening of public data in Europe.

Neelie Kroes 

Neelie Kroes, commission vice president, said: “We are sending a strong signal to administrations today. Your data is worth more if you give it away. So start releasing it now: use this framework to join the other smart leaders who are already gaining from embracing open data."

 The directive does not force archives to release materials, but if they do so it means they have to do it in a way that is fair and competitive. The MLAs have been given special status in order to deal with the problem of covering the costs of digitisation. Other public sector bodies covered by the directive are now going to be forced to sell the information at marginal cost pricing. This means the cost of producing one individual copy, which in digital materials is very close to zero. In contrast, MLAs will be allowed to charge a reasonable rate of return. Thus current charging practices will still be allowed

 One possible major change for genealogy is that the regulations do not allow exclusive agreements for the distribution of information. Major players such as the British Library and The National Archives have been carefully avoiding giving exclusive rights to any partner in digitisation projects, although in practice nobody may have an incentive to do a second digitisation and distribution of already published materials. However, smaller and regional records offices may have exclusive deals with family history societies or commercial publishers, such as Findmypast, and these deals will now come under scrutiny, although they have several years to change course.  The directive still needs to be agreed by the European Parliament along these propositions from the European Commission, and be approved by the Council. Once approved, the UK will have eighteen months to implement it. There are potential conflicts of interests at every step so we should not expect an overnight transformation.

 According to the Archives and Records Association, The National Archives will be leading the implementation of the directive and will be consulting with the sector on how to best introduce it to the UK context. 

OpenGenAlliance Update

Here are some highlights of current activities and related news.

Open Genealogy Alliance in Berlin

Nick Barratt, executive director of FreeBMD -- one of the founding partners of the Open Genealogy Alliance -- will be introducing the ideas behind the alliance at the Open Knowledge Foundation Conference in Berlin, June 30th.


School Registers Digitisation Project

Javier Ruiz, coordinator of the Open Genealogy Alliance met with representatives of The National Archives and The Archives and Records Association to explore the possibility of OGA partners taking on the project to digitise and index 500,000 pages. The talks were very positive and the OGA was strongly encouraged to follow the bidding process.

The deadline for proposals is the beginning of July, very short. If you have experience with the LIA programme of The National Archives you could greatly help with the bidding papers.


Partnership with Citizen Science Alliance

We have reached a preliminary agreement with the CSA, the very nice people behind the successful and popular science crowdsourcing project GalaxyZoo, to have access to their amazing transcription software in the schools register project. Details need to be finalised but this will be an updated version of the software they currently use in


Wikimedia and GLAM

GLAM is an acronym for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. Wikimedia is organising an event to promote free and open content in institutions.


Access to parish records project

Open Rights Group and FreeREG are trying to improve access to parish records. There are as many licensing and access criteria almost as parishes and this seems to be one key area for the OGA in campaigning potential. ORG is starting to develop some guidance and would like to hear about your experiences. They need information on access issues in as many County archives as possible. Mail javier AATT openrightsgroup.org for now. We are setting a dedicated email address for access issues.

Response to Society of Genealogists Blog on OGA

The Society of Genealogists have published an interesting blog on the OGA. This is our response.

Dear friends

As one of the co-ordinators of the Open Genealogy Alliance I am very happy to see that the issues are being debated, although I would hope that it's not such a divisive issue.

Generally, the benefits of opening up genealogical information  -- so it can be shared, combined and built upon to develop new information and services -- are not questioned. As you rightly point out, the main issue of concern for hobbyists and citizens is the sustainability of the genealogy sector. However, we believe that there is a confusion between enabling particular efforts of digitisation of archival materials and the long term viability of the sector.

The bulk of genealogical information is public information, and as such I am sure we all agree that any restriction on access should be exceptional. This is taken very seriously in relation to on-site access, and few if any archives or registers charge access fees. Our fundamental premise is that citizens of the Internet age expect this principle of open access to extend to digital materials online, not to have a completely different value system based on paid for access.

The very real costs of digitising materials to be available online could be borne in a variety of ways. Governments have generally a duty to make available cultural materials including genealogical data.  We must remember that in other areas -- such as geographical information -- the policy of the coalition government is making public data freely available in order to generate innovation.

If institutions supplement limited public funds by forming partnerships with private organisations, all we are saying is that the agreements should be carefully constructed to maximise the original organisational mission of public access archives or educational charities. This is a not prescriptive principle.

In practice, this means that after the costs of digitisation have been covered -- including the commercial partners' expectation for a reasonable profit -- the digital materials should probably be made as widely available as possible as soon as possible.

The costs involved in the dissemination of digital materials are very different from the costs of digitisation. The marginal costs of online digital materials (the cost of producing one new copy) are very low, and decreasing every day. We should take a hard look at what it takes keeping the materials online, and look at what business models could sustain these.

This is one thing we would like to clarify: we are not anti-business per se, we just highlight issues with what we believe are outdated business models based on data hoarding. But we are not particularly unique on this, we are just applying the same logic that has seen changes in many other sectors.

The market on CDs is probably the best example of how things are moving on, with or without us. Music CD sales have plummeted in the past few years, with Rock holding a bit better than other genre because of the older demographics of the buyers. The Apple Ipad does not even have a CD slot. A model based on CD sales does not look very sustainable nowadays.

And it's not just a matter of formats. The whole notion that data is something that you have to keep in your computer, or in shelves full of CDs, is currently being challenged. Data is increasingly seen as an always-on service you expect to be able to receive on your desktop, mobile phone or as part of your social media platform. Many commercial companies of course have already clocked this, for example Ancestry’s co-founder Paul Allen is now developing exclusively Facebook applications.

In your blog you also raise many other issues we are exploring, such as the role of volunteers, quality, licensing, etc. Actually, you managed to bring up so many interesting things that it would be impossible to cover everything here. We will be very happy however to continue exploring these and discuss any concerns people may have.