I spent a lot of time in the Exhibitors' Hall at the recent annual conference of the U.S. National Genealogical Society. Perhaps the most revolutionary new service that I found was WeRelate, a free web search engine and wiki for genealogy.
WeRelate is sponsored by the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit Utah corporation that relies on tax-deductible donations for its support. The Foundation for On-Line Genealogy, Inc., is a completely independent organization; it is not affiliated with any other genealogy, religious, or other group.
WeRelate's stated goal is to "make it easy for you to discover and share information about your ancestors." It seems to have a great beginning.
WeRelate is actually a combination of two separate services that work together in a synergistic manner. The first service is a great, genealogy-specific web search engine. It has already indexed 58,000 web sites to include 1,300,000 genealogy sources, 430,000 place names with descriptions, 115,000 names of ancestors, the entire Family History Library catalog, and more. The search engine is growing by thousands of new entries per week.
Of course, there are many different search engines available today. What differentiates the WeRelate search engine from Google, Yahoo, and all the others is its built-in intelligence about genealogy-specific topics. For instance, the search mechanism understands location hierarchy. That is, WeRelate's search engine already knows that Bangor is located in Penobscot County, which, in turn, is located in Maine, which, in turn, is located in New England, a term referring to the six states in the northeastern-most part of the United States of America. In the past, when searching for my ancestors, I had to specify multiple searches:
EASTMAN in Bangor
EASTMAN in Penobscot County
EASTMAN in Maine
EASTMAN in New England
The WeRelate search engine simplifies the required searches. If I specify a search of "Eastman in Penobscot County" on other search engines, those searches will not find occurrences of "Eastman in Bangor." Normal search engines only look at the exact words that I specify. If I specify a county name on Google and other search engines, all I will find is the pages that contain both the surname and the name of the county. Those searches ignore pages that list the surname and the name of a town within the county.
In contrast, conducting the same search on WeRelate will automatically find all the occurrences of "Eastman in Bangor," "Eastman in Brewer," and "Eastman in Corinth" because it knows that all three of those towns are within Penobscot County. I do not have to conduct separate searches for every town within the county. Google and the other search engines do not have this level of intelligence.
WeRelate also does a good job of separating surnames from other words. Unlike Google and the other search engines, WeRelate generally separates people named EASTMAN from references to photography, the Kodak Corporation, or the town of Eastman, Georgia. Generally speaking, references to a surname of EASTMAN will appear higher in the "hits list" than will the corporate name or the name of a town.
The challenge is greater on surnames that are also common English words, such as Smith, Brown, Green, Church or Town. However, you will often find the surnames listed higher in the results than other occurrences of the same word.
The second part of WeRelate is a powerful wiki. It becomes sort of an "encyclopedia of biographies of our ancestors." You contribute information, creating a separate page for each ancestor. Others may see your work and then contribute still more information on each ancestor. This collaborative effort will eventually create hundreds of thousands of pages of information, one page per individual and each page created by collaborative efforts of multiple genealogists. Each new visitor may add the scraps of information that he or she has about a common ancestor. The results of this collaboration are visible to all.
Any number of people can add information to each page, each of which can include source citations to original documents that verify their information. In fact, not only can you add source citations in text form, but you can also add scanned images of the original sources. For instance, if you state that your ancestor was mentioned in a tax list of 1765, you can include a scanned image of the original tax list that shows his name. You can also include information about where you obtained the image, such as the microfilm number or book name and page number or the call number of the original document at some archive. In my mind, that is the best form of source citation!
You can create or modify WeRelate pages about individuals, research sources, places, surnames, and how-to's. WeRelate's search engine scours users' pages on this web site as well as 6 million genealogy-focused pages from the rest of the Web.
The part that I like best is the option to send an e-mail that will notify you of any changes made to pages that you are monitoring. For instance, if someone else modifies the page about great-great-grand-dad, you receive an e-mail notification within a day or so.
Each user is able to use each service as much or as little as he or she desires. You can use the search engine without ever accessing the wiki pages or vice-versa. Each is a free-standing service, but the result of using both appears to be greater than the sum of its individual components.
WeRelate is free and open to all. There are no charges for its use.
I can get very excited about WeRelate.org. This new online service has the potential to represent every person who ever left records behind. To be sure, it will not achieve that goal overnight. However, if thousands of genealogists get together and pool their knowledge and their records, the results could be something that few ever imagined even a few short years ago: an encyclopedia of every person who ever lived and left records behind, each page containing the results of many genealogists' research as well as images of original documents and/or citations to where those documents may be found.
WeRelate is sponsored by the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit Utah Corporation that presently consists of two people: computer scientist Dallan Quass and his wife, attorney Solveig Quass. The Board of Directors consists of those two plus Ronald Seamons from LDS Philanthropies. An advisory board to the non-profit corporation consists of those three plus several others who are well-known as genealogy experts. This is a high-powered team! Both boards are expected to expand soon as the corporation and its web site begin to grow.
Funding will be an issue. Private contributions have been used to purchase the first servers and disk farms that are already installed. However, the funding is not infinite. Additional donations will be necessary to expand the capabilities as the service becomes popular. The founders of the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy hope to keep the service free and open for all users forever.
WeRelate is in public beta at this time. It is open to all, and the public is invited to participate. Keep in mind that beta software changes often, and bugs frequently appear, only to be stomped out as users identify them. You may even see system outages as new hardware is added to the disk farm already in use. Frankly, I think that is part of the charm of a beta product. If WeRelate succeeds as its founders hope, you could someday say, "I was there in the beginning."
If you would like to be in on the ground floor of an exciting new free online genealogy service that may revolutionize online genealogy, take a look at http://www.WeRelate.org.