This column appeared in newspapers in early February 2018. I have since received an update on RootsWeb, and I wanted to share it here.
Disruptions at RootsWeb Continues
Diane Lynn Tibert
IN LATE DECEMBER, I searched for information on one of the many websites hosted by RootsWeb that has collected genealogy data over the decades. To my surprise, the site was down. It was a busy time of year, so I didn’t look into why, but I continued to do a quick check for the information every few days. Each time, I found the site ‘out of order’.
In mid-January, I saw a notice on RootsWeb’s main page that stated they were reviewing the functionality of RootsWeb. It would take a few months to return the contributions made by users over the years to the online database. Their first step was to allow access to the information but not restore the ability to add to it.
The hosted websites would be the first to return. As they do so, RootsWeb plans to scan the contents—for what, I don’t know—before making them available. The next sites restored would be the Family Trees and World Connect that contains GEDCOM files.
In the January 23rd update, there was news that not all functions previously available would be returning. Each would be evaluated first by the RootsWeb team.
In the January 25th update, I learned the Mailing Lists would be offline for a few more weeks as they upgrade the system. This is not a surprise since they didn’t seem to work well anyways. Their archives won’t be unavailable for some time.
All these issues with RootsWeb remind me of the rumours that circulated in 2016 about the ultimate demise of it when the site went black for weeks. I went searching to see if I could learn more news about RootsWeb and its future.
I came across a post on John D. Reid’s Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections regarding RootsWeb’s Future. It began with this quote: “We will be discontinuing the Rootsweb Surname List and Genealogy Forum features on Tuesday Oct 24, 2017.”
I don’t often use these features, so I hadn’t realised they disappeared last fall. What’s more disturbing is Reid suggested more will disappear in the near future.
A graph with Reid’s post indicated the number of messages a month sent through the Mailing Lists since it started in the late 1980s. The traffic slowly increased until about 1997 when it shot up like a rocket heading for space. It rode a wave for several years, then the numbers slowly decreased to match those recorded at the creation of the Mailing Lists.
As the graph shows, few people take advantage of the Mailing Lists. This is because there are many other online outlets where genealogy information is shared. So while some will dearly miss the Mailing Lists if or when they are removed permanently, that won’t be the biggest loss to the genealogy community: their archives will be.
The archives is more than 20 years-worth of messages posted to the lists by genealogists and researchers. Many of these people who participated during the Mailing Lists’ peak are no longer with us. Others may no longer research actively or be online. The information they shared is preserved in the archives, but if the Mailing Lists cease to exist, what is the fate of these messages?
I have often found vital information in these archives, and the thought of losing them forever is mindboggling.
UPDATE as of February 10, 2018: I received the following message from RootsWeb
We are on track to bring the mailing lists back online by the end of this month. The mailing list archives will be up and running with current emails in them. We are in the process of importing the old archives into the new system which will take some time.
We appreciate your patience as we continue upgrading the systems that run the RootsWeb mailing lists. We know how much value this service provides to our members.