Ancestry Concedes Defeat as It is Unable to Restore All of the RootsWeb Site

Ancestry has been trying for weeks to fix a data loss in its RootsWeb/USGenWeb/WorldConnect web pages. The company has been able to repair many of the lost pages but not all. In fact, the company is asking customers to upload any pages they may have available.

The company also promised, “Going forward, we are adding additional technical resources to support the site and ensure such an issue does not occur again.”

Ancestry sent the following announcement to many of its customers today:

As you may know, the RootsWeb site was recently unavailable as the result of a hardware failure in our datacenter. Our development and web operations teams worked diligently and carefully to address the issues, and as a result, the site is now available again.

Regretfully, despite their best efforts, our teams were not able to retrieve all of the data associated with the site. Specifically, we were unable to retrieve content from FreePages added after the summer of 2015. We understand these pages are important to you and are very sorry that we are not able to recover the data that was lost as a result of the hardware failure. Going forward, we are adding additional technical resources to support the site and ensure such an issue does not occur again.

If you have a backup of your own please upload it to the site so that you have the most current version of your pages.

If you have any concerns, please contact our Member Services through our support form.

The RootsWeb Team

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who sent copies of the announcement to me.

80 Comments

Scary that Ancestry has never heard of backing up their website!
Hardware failure I understand but failure to back up the site = unforgivable!

Liked by 5 people

    I agree and that is what is happening!!! What happened to a company not being able to own EVERYTHING?? Monopoly??? I do not even subscribe to Ancestry since they control everything and I feel it is wrong. Too big, but they cannot keep things available for the public that keeps them in business! Let’s go back to companies owning one company and not the “whole world”!!!

    Liked by 1 person

The sad thing is – this isn’t the first time!

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So, Ancestry can mistakenly lose Mailing List posts, but list members can’t have posts removed? Typical!

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    Post can be removed. I do that all the times to remove spams and bad or rude posts.
    http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/remove

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    Actually, it is not mailing list posts that have been lost, it was several months updates to peoples FreePages web sites. With those you have complete control and can simply remove our data if you wish.

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    Actually some of the mailing lists I manage have been affected. There’s no way to post and the archives are missing. I’ve been told that techies are working on restoring the material, but have been told that is unknown when it will be accomplished, if ever. Decades of genealogical research is missing and may be lost forever.

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C. Christopher Sirr March 28, 2016 at 10:13 pm

So much for the cloud and trusting others with your data.

Liked by 2 people

Those people at Ancestry and Rootsweb should read Eastman’s Newsletter where he advises: BACKUP YOUR FILES!

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Why do these American companies base everything on their seasons? Pages added after the summer of 2015. Who’s summer. Why can’t they just say July?

Liked by 2 people

    Dave,
    The only reason to give a date like “the summer of 2015” is when you can’t pinpoint an actual, firm date. Plus, they may not have realized that things change once you cross 0 degrees.

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    Ancestry hasn’t been an American Company since 2012. It was sold in 2012 to Permira a London based diversified holding company, they sold it in April 2016 Silver Lake and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC Private Ltd. In December 2015, they moved everyone to their new system which was not good. The complaining and people leaving must have made a difference because toward the end of January many of the old features reappeared after weeks of being told they were gone forever. During this change some of my trees had gallery items came up attached to the wrong people, others also had problems. It has improved, or I would not have stayed. I back up my trees on Family Tree Maker, which they have discontinued and say they probably will drop the sync function next January, maybe that will change with the new owners, we will see.

    This is the problem with these large diversified companies, they have no clue what a genealogist needs, they tried to dumb it down but only made it more difficult in the long run, losing many users that had been members for 15-20 years. They have monopolized the genealogy market by having the majority of the records available. I am hanging in for now, we shall see what the new owner does, maybe they will give their supporters more consideration than Permira did.

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No backup!? What about Ancestry.com – do they back that data up?
Pretty shocking!

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They obviously need someone to remind them to do a backup the first of every month.

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Dick —
Why can’t those missing pages be retrieved using the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive?

Liked by 1 person

    —> Why can’t those missing pages be retrieved using the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive?

    I believe many of the pages, but not all, are available on the Wayback machine. See https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com

    HOWEVER, the Wayback Machine only captures IMAGES of the pages. It cannot perform searches of databases. For instance, you you look at the WorldConnect search page on the Wayback Machine and then enter a surname to search for, the search always fails. Only the text of the pages was saved, not the databases that contain all the data.

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As K Chase notes, this is a pretty serious issue for Ancestry and lack of adequate backup is indeed unforgivable. Ancestry will quite happily take our money but fail at the most basic aspect of their business – ensuring the security and safety of data provided by us, its users. In my view Ancestry does not understand the genealogy “business” and should not be taking people’s money.

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Looks like worldconnect is still down. Any news of it being repaired/scrapped?

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Hi Patricia

This is very interesting especially the comments – I have finally come to a decision on what I am going to do and this last posting has finally pushed me into it.

Barbara

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It makes you wonder what arrangements the other genealogical database providers have made for backing up their service. My university had a second server system constantly mirroring the main server’s contents. It kicked in if the main server was down because of faults or simply when it needed maintenance. As a previous comment implied, it’s not rocket science, but it’s what the customers should be able to expect when they pay their subscription.

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    But that cost money, which cuts into profits.

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    Apparently it is rocket science when they cannot give working passwords for sites. Had a USGenWeb coordinator die, needed a new password since no one knew what it was. They changed it. Didn’t work. Asked for a new one that would work? No you have to use the one we gave you. That was a year ago. Put the site elsewhere.

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Actually, this happened to the “free pages” which were free websites that were given out to those who registered years ago. But, the confusing thing is that, a while back we all who had one of these sites were informed that the sites would be retained but that we would be unable to make any changes to them and would not be able to log in any longer. So, I wonder how they expect people to add in any missing pages? I haven’t even checked mine to see if it is still there yet. The last time I did, the link I used to get to it did not work. So, I think this may be a little more involved than what their e-mail said.

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    You can still make changes to those pages, that functionality has not been removed

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    I’ve had a FreePages site for several years, and there most definitely has not been any removal of functionality. It did go down when RootsWeb had its outage, of course, but aside from having had to re-upload the missing pages because of the outage, I’ve had absolutely no problems with the site. If you are having problems using your site, there is something else that must be wrong and you should contact RootsWeb about it.

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    I can’t access my freepages or genealogies because my usernames and passwords no longer work. They are back up but I can’t make any changes or additions.

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I have checked my website on “Free Pages” and it is all there. The only thing missing is that there is one broken link to another site I used to have on Genealogy.com, which also went down in the past. So, I have to say that ancestry actually did a good job getting it back up. I have also had one other website which was lost on free pages on my server due to AT&T doing away with the free pages it had given to it’s customers. That one was my favorite website. I have not re-done it anywhere else because I am still looking for a place to put it…..somewhere I can pay for so that it will never be destroyed again. It encompassed a lot of work. It was all about old court cases, family stories, and old forgotten grave yards I personally worked to find. Fortunately, I had made a hard copy book out of it so would be able to either publish that or use it to reconstruct the old site. That time, AT & T never even sent an e-mail to the people to let them know what was happening. I learned a great lesson there as it was the first site I lost. I will never trust free pages again.

Liked by 1 person

…and THAT’S the reason why local backup is so important. Ancestry’s decision to dump Family Tree Maker must be embarrassing now regardless of plans by others to take it on.

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Sounds familiar, each time they “update” the Ancestry website, parts of my tree disappear, generally photographs and stories. I emailed them about it a couple of time and never received a response. I am now waiting for the new Rootsweb with a charge added to access it.

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I guess I am of a suspicious nature. Ancestry doesn’t want anything offered for free! They want our membership! When I first started genealogy in 2003, roots web directed me to many ancestor discoveries. It was a site not owned by ancestry and no major problems.

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It’s interesting that the announcement doesn’t appear on RootsWeb’s Home or Help page. Of course, the announcements on the Help page haven’t been changed or updated for quite a long time. Typical inadequate support of RootsWeb. Shame on Ancestry.

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My DAR chapter has it’s chapter website there because it’s free. It did come back, but it didn’t. And by that I mean that everything needed was there, along with a lot of files and directories that were not needed, so the site wouldn’t load. Once I deleted the unnecessary stuff, it loads fine. But, as everyone else said, the fact that there apparently was not an adequate backup is appalling. If we could afford to pay to host the site somewhere else, we would.

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For one, I cannot believe they are not using Google or Amazon cloud servers like everyone else? Are they really only using their own server farm? No wonder their prices are so hi. They should fire their IT director.

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    —> Are they really only using their own server farm?

    Yes. I have been in their data center a couple of times. I am not supposed to say where it is located for security reasons but will say it is in a non-descript building. You could drive by the building many times and never know there is a data center there and there is no sign on the building that says “Ancestry.”. Their data center is not “in the cloud.” Obviously, Ancestry has a lot of different pieces of their web site and it is possible that some pieces are hosted elsewhere in the cloud. But their own data center contains hundreds of their own servers and they are not cloud-based.

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    I’m not sure what the difference is, as all “clouds” are actually data storage in buildings. Amazon and Google have huge storage facilities for their clouds.

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    All cloud based storage is actually collections of servers and spinning disks sitting in non-descript buildings in non-descript industrial parks maintained by non-descript employees. There is nothing special about “the cloud” which in Ancestry’s case appears to be more of a fine mist than a cloud.
    And I agree with S. Hobbs about their IT director. I know that would have been my fate.

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    —> All cloud based storage is actually collections of servers and spinning disks …

    Uh, “cloud computing” usually also includes REDUNDANCY in multiple locations with multiple servers in multiple locations sharing the load, resulting in uptimes of 99.99% or more. Ancestry’s data center does not seem to have that.

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It seems to me Ancestry is trying to do too much, too fast. Trying to take over the genealogy world on a shoestring budget and charging us for the “privilege” of accessing information. Their subscription is not inexpensive and is not affordable for some, especially seniors on a fixed income.

Liked by 1 person

    Information held by Ancestry is available at many libraries on AncestryLibrary database that can be used in the physical library, not remotely, as some databases. Archiving your own family tree is not available through this database, but most of their data, including public trees, is there.

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    I agree! I long for the good old days with Ancestry when researching was fun and FAST. Now, we are not smart enough to write our own story. And we can just “put in our ancestor’s name and up pops our tree.” No fun anymore.

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It is sad that data was lost and it shows once again how important back ups are. I’ve used computers for 50+ years now and we keep learning the same lesson over and over and over.
However, RootsWeb is still free and separate from the not free Ancestry. We are berating a company who has kept those pages free when it could have eliminated them or imposed a fee to access them. While we probably all wish RootsWeb had stayed independent, it probably wasn’t financially feasible. Wikipedia is free but solicits donations to cover its costs. I make a donation once a year. Maybe a site like RootsWeb should too.

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I work at Ancestry and have been asked to take on RootsWeb and one of my responsibilities is to review and fix the backup procedures where needed so that this doesn’t happen again on the RootsWeb site.

Your data is safe on Ancestry. Ancestry is focused on the security of its data and has prioritized its efforts to focus on and invest in our core services—Ancestry.com and AncestryDNA— to make family history more fun and available to millions around the world. As part of this, Ancestry continues to invest heavily in consistently renewing the infrastructure underlying Ancestry sites.

The Ancestry site runs on separate servers and technology than RootsWeb.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Ancesty

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But isn’t what was lost rather inaccurate anyhow? All those faulty trees gone – sounds like a good thing to me…or am I missing something?

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    Ancestry dot com is replete with inaccurate tree info, too, which is increasingly finding its way onto Find a Grave memorials, unfortunately.

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    FreePages isn’t the same as WorldConnect, which seems to be what you are referring to. WorldConnect are the Family Trees on RootsWeb, while FreePages consists of free genealogy based websites done by many genealogy societies and related sources, as well as personal family & genealogy-based websites, many of which have extremely valuable records and resources for researchers.

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    There are many excellent trees on World Connect. They often have information in note areas and in citations that Ancestry Public Member trees do not have. They can be found by Googling.

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In recent years the ancestry site has gone downhill, fed up with the following
1. not being able to access pages when researching
2. being fed info on the US records when I am trying to research my English ancestors
3. Having to trawl through pages of unwanted data looking for a name after I have fed in the correct details.
4. Constantly being fed unwanted info that has nothing to do with my ancestors.
The whole setup including search facilities, bad timelines & mis matches. Just leave the public to do their own researches instead of impeding your customers efforts.
Disillusioned

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Having worked in IT since 1974, all I can say is “Wow.”
I cannot believe that Ancestry doesn’t backup their data.
I cannot believe that all of Ancestry’s database servers are not virtualized and easily restoreable to different hardware in a matter of MINUTES.
I cannot believe that they had no failover protocol in place.
I cannot believe that they are actually blaming a hardware failure for the loss of a year’s worth of data.
I cannot believe that Ancestry actually thinks that we’ll all believe what they’re feeding us.
(So, I guess that I can say more than “Wow.”)

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All wise computer users know that u need to have more than one backup. Especially if months you add details on a regular basis. Many are now keeping upwards of six months of backups so one can backtrack beyond where corruption began then restore a clean image back onto the system, yes you may loose some details but better than having to start from scratch .

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I did find some with the way back machine, That might help those that are missing items. It depends on the date. https://web.archive.org/web/*/www.rootsweb.com

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Not sure that Rootsweb should be expected back-up user data; I would assume that users that have uploaded their genealogy data to WorldConnect or Freepages, have the data on their own machines too, and periodically perform backups themselves for safe-keeping.

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I got a new domain for my content, moved it all off of FreePages, left notices at the old Rootsweb sites, and haven’t looked back. We had a major outage over a year ago, this is the second one. This is unacceptable for my genealogy projects.

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And for any of your newer users of Rootsweb, I remember when it first started about 1997 or so, it was operated up by an individual in California and his wife. I was one of the original subscribers probably. Many times we would get an email stating that a server had failed and that the individual had spent all night trying to locate parts or a new server to bring the website up. “Those were the days.”

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    Mostly it was a list back then, before the web. They ran it off the Rand Corporation server, (I’m not sure they had permission to do so!), but were eventually forced to move it off that as it got larger and more used. The good old days of dial-up, slow modems, and text-based everything!

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This entire discussion brings up a related point. From time to time, I have seen FTM and FTB referred to as providing an extra redundant “backup” for family trees online with Ancestry.com and myHeritage respectively, in addition to whatever other backup systems one has in place. But these are not backup programs but synchronization (matchup) programs. If they work the way other synchronization programs have worked over the years, applying the most recent changes in both directions, wouldn’t it be true that the inadvertent but logged deletion of some of a family tree’s data on either online service would then result in the DELETION (not restoration) of that same data from their matching program on one’s computer, the next time one were to open the computer version and allow automatic synchronization to proceed?
Nate

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    —> wouldn’t it be true that the inadvertent but logged deletion of some of a family tree’s data on either online service would then result in the DELETION (not restoration) of that same data from their matching program on one’s computer, the next time one were to open the computer version and allow automatic synchronization to proceed?

    Not true with Family Tree Builder and I think it is not true with Family Tree Maker although I need to verify that with someone who has more experience with Family Tree Maker than I have.

    In both cases, NOTHING gets added or deleted without the user’s consent. Just because someone else adds or deletes entries in their database does not mean that the same changes get propagated to yours automatically. In all cases, the individual user is in control: he or she can decide to accept or reject any suggested changes.

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>”In both cases, NOTHING gets added or deleted without the user’s consent. Just because someone else adds or deletes entries in their database does not mean that the same changes get propagated to yours automatically. In all cases, the individual user is in control: he or she can decide to accept or reject any suggested changes.”

Maybe I need to further clarify my question/comment. I’m not referring to changes made on other people’s family trees, but to data lost or deleted inadvertently from one’s own family tree by Ancestry or myHeritage or other online family tree programs. Example: Suppose through either human or computer error by Ancestry, a few ancestors constituting a branch of your online tree is deleted and the deletion logged (dated/timed) online. Being unaware of this error at Ancestry’s end, and perhaps because you did intentionally make other additions and deletions online as you once again learned more about your ancestors and did some cleanup as we all do from time to time, you then open FTM on your computer and it automatically begins its normal synchronization process or you start it as part of your normal routine. FTM internally notes that the most recently logged changes includes those mistaken online deletions by Ancestry, but it doesn’t tell you those details, just numerals (additions and deletions) thrown up in small print on the screen, and so you okay the sync. Doesn’t FTM then make the same deletions on your computer, including deleting the branch you did not know was deleted at Ancestry’s end?
What distinguishes backup programs from synchronization programs is that they are master-slave, and do not make changes in both directions as the latter do. Long before I got interested in genealogy, I ran into this problem years ago with two-way calendar syncing programs,etc. and would get burnt from time to time until I finally accepted the fact that two-way syncing programs are never going to be as reliable and trustworthy as redundant versioned backups and, worse yet, that lost data from syncing often goes undiscovered, sometimes permanently, only being caught in time when there is a massive data wipeout which is caught immediately, before the next sync.
Maybe today’s programs are successful in overcoming this inherent flaw, but I guess that’s what I am asking and if so how, because it seems relevant to the current reports of large unrecoverable data loss by online genealogy services.
Nate

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    —> I’m not referring to changes made on other people’s family trees, but to data lost or deleted inadvertently from one’s own family tree by Ancestry or myHeritage or other online family tree programs.

    Again, NOTHING gets added or deleted in the user’s copy of Family Tree Builder or Family Tree Maker unless that user approves the change(s). The user remains in control of his/her data at all times.

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Shocking to say the least. How dare they charge anyone for a service they are unable to provide. They should be sued! How dare they take people’s money and hard earned research and lose it. Not having a regular backup of “users” data is inexcusable!

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    Diane,
    Freepages is a free service, I believe World Connect is a free service; not sure about USGenWeb. Please say what services were lost that users paid for.

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It sounds like they were letting the servers that handle the free services like Rootsweb run on autopilot because they don’t make much if any money off them. The servers probably did back themselves up regularly, but as drives start to go down their backups also become corrupted if the problem isn’t caught and corrected right away. It is a lesson on not trusting your data to the cloud – make sure you have backups on your own physical drives kept in several different locations – and also make sure you keep non-electronic (printed) copies of your work on decent low-acid paper. The last are probably the only ones that will survive long-term.

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As someone who has been involved in developing technology for the past 20 years, I find this absolutely shocking. Ancestry.com simply isn’t up to contemporary cloud computing standards. This kind of failure was common in the 90s, but extremely rare the past decade. Even losing a few hours of data these days is unheard of from well implemented cloud provider, but to lose 6 months of customer data tells me that they allowed other factors to take precedence over the preservation of customer data.

That said, whenever I upload anything to any cloud service, I do so always assuming the worst will happen. I always have 3 other backups on at least 2 other mediums.

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There is NO support at Ancestry.com. Period.

I see that some of you have Freepages that came up fine and some have had issues. I manage 4 sites for lineage societies on Freepages. Two of the sites came up just fine, but the issues with the other two are going to be so obscure that they will not be fixed. One of the sites has 3 tables with images on the initial index page: two of the tables display just fine, the third will not display one image – no matter WHAT image I put there or how I arrange the table rows, it will NOT show the image in that position. I have e-mailed support “using the support form” three times. I got a response on all three from “Kevin,” none of which addressed the problem – they only addressed “key words” from my message. The third response sent me to a help page about how to start my website and upload files – like I had not been doing that for 8 YEARS! So there is no “Kevin” out there and you do not get a response from a human being on the “support form.”

The other website issue – “Kevin” at “Support” told me – was a Facebook issue. Prior to “the crash,” typing the domain name in FB brought up the banner image from the website’s main page. After the crash it went down the page and pulled up an image that was 4 or 5 images down the page. So I removed that image and the “spiders” next picked the second image on the page, still bypassing the initial banner image. So I removed the second image and replaced the first image and I see today that the spiders have now zeroed in on their original first image which is again far down that page. I have put a favicon on the page which works on he URL bar, and I have programmed a specific image in the meta tags to be used otherwise. None of this works. And there is no way I can make “Kevin” at “Support” understand my question, but something about the way the site is being indexed for the “spiders” is causing them to short-circuit in locating the proper image to display.

I am looking for some other venue for these websites, but – as some have noted above – non-profits cannot afford a lot of $$ for websites.

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Another reason I will not be renewing my ancestry subscription in the fall. These servers should be virtualized and at minimum daily snapshots should be made and uploaded to an offsite location which could be “turned on” immediately in another virtual environment. This is not 1950. Thier CIO should be terminated immediately.

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I thought the LDS, owners of Family Search . com bought out Ancestry a long time ago? That is why they merged their records.

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I have been unable to get onto Rootsweb Worldconnect for several weeks now, it always comes up as “page unavailable” even using links on the net & those of others who say they can still get onto it; could my computer be blocking that site ?

Yvonne

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As of mid-August 2016, the FILEMAN file manager, which is used for editing RootsWeb Freepages, has been unavailable for several weeks again. I sent a message through the help desk, and got a replay back that they expected FILEMAN would be available again “in a few days”. It’s now pushing two weeks since that message. Anyone have any idea when/if FILEMAN will be back?

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The Rootsweb mailing lists have been down for a week now, but nobody seems to care Genealogy notes and news: Rootsweb mailing lists. The Yahoo-hosted genealogy mailing lists are still working, though.

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According to Joan Young, Randy Winch, inventor and owner of Rootsweb passed away last week.
Apparently, he, was the only one who knew how to revise, correct, and update Rootsweb. The crew at Ancestry appears to be helpless and have no idea what went wrong or how to fix it. It has been down since Dec. 5th. Yesterday, no family tree was reachable.
We may well have lost the only free genealogy website.

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