Partnership Agreement for public comment

Today’s post comes from Onaona Guay, digitization partnerships coordinator at the National Archives.

Digitization partnerships present an opportunity for increased access to historical government information through the increased availability of information technology products and services. NARA has shown that partnerships with private, public, non-profit, educational, and Government institutions to digitize and make available holdings can be a powerful model.

NARA has enjoyed a successful partnership with Ancestry since 2008. NARA has also partnered with Fold3, Ancestry’s sister site, since 2007. In the month of June alone, NARA records received 8.8 million views on, and 2.5 million views on

We are renewing our partnership agreement with and, and welcome public feedback. Here are the major updates to the agreement:

  • NARA effectively shortened the embargo period by 12-24 months by starting the embargo clock after scanning is completed rather than waiting for the partner to publish the collection. This incentivizes the partner to post quickly, rather than waiting for an entire project to be completed. It also allows NARA to monitor when the embargo period should start.
  • In very rare circumstances, a Partner would digitize material and not post it online immediately, but would wait until the collection was completely finished. The updated agreement drives the Partners to post segments of large collections immediately rather than waiting for the entire collection to be completed.
  • NARA will have the latitude to recover almost any cost associated with supporting Partners.
  • The updated agreement provides NARA the right to not recover costs from Partners. NARA will spell out all cost recovery in the project plan.
  • Outlines NARA’s commitment to protecting PII and more specifically spells out the Partners’ responsibilities if PII is identified.

The partnership agreement is available for public review and comment on our Digitization Partnerships page. To submit feedback, please email, or leave a comment below.

The agreement will be available for comment until August 21, 2015.

Please consult NARA’s Principles for Partnerships for more information about our digitization partnerships.

Update: August 13, 2015. Thank you for your comments. In response to several questions and comments, a few themes have emerged that we wanted to respond to:

How will records digitized by a partner be available to the public? 
– Records digitized and made available by partners are available online for free in all NARA research rooms across the country. You can use our public access PCs or NARA’s wifi to reach the sites for free.

Will NARA receive digital copies of the material digitized by the partners?  
– NARA receives a set of images and metadata from the digitization partner when the project is complete.

Will NARA put the digitized material online?  
– NARA makes records digitized by Ancestry available in our online Catalog once the five year embargo period has elapsed. Records in the National Archives Catalog are available for free to the public.

Why does NARA partner with outside organizations? 
– To complete digitization projects, we have partnered with both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Although they may be interested in genealogy records, the specific records these organizations are interested in can vary. Sometimes only one type of partner may be interested in a record series. We digitize in order to get our records online and expand access to them. We cannot do this by ourselves and so we are working with partners and looking into other avenues (see our Digitization Strategy for additional approaches) to make access happen. NARA has established principles for working with partners and you can read them at our NARA Principles for Partnerships page. (See our Strategic Plan for more information about our Strategic Goals.)

63 thoughts on “ Partnership Agreement for public comment

  1. Tou say “The updated agreement provides NARA the right to not recover costs from Partners.” Where will you recover them, if not from the partners? From the taxpayers? And if that is the case, will your Partners then be providing archival access without charge?

  2. Does this mean NARA records can only be viewed on these “partner sites” and only if you have then paid for membership with these partners?

  3. I asked this of your Twitter account, but thought I’d repeat it here:

    I really like that you guys shortened he embargo period. I also really like that you bothered to ask for public comment at all!

    But a question: after a record set is digitized as images, and/or transcribed into a searchable index, do you require that the images and/or data eventually be marked as being in the public domain? Do you ever upload the images and/or transcribed data to one of the government Open Data portals so that the public can use them too?

  4. I think it is wonderful, but feel the records should be available for free, or reduced fee, if they are indexed by the public. I do wish Fold3 was more user friendly.

  5. I don’t like private equity groups (like those who own and getting a benefit from the United States government, which those private equity groups use to increase the value of their companies, so they can sell them for an increased price to the next private equity group or groups. Just like there should be a separation of church and state, I believe there should also be a separation between the government and for-profit companies who want to use government property to enrich themselves, while doing as little as possible for the general public in exchange.

    I just now searched through databases on for those with NARA in the subtitle. I counted 107. Then I looked among those databases to see how many were also marked as FREE. I counted 28. Twenty Eight of 107 is not insubstantial, but to me, an amateur genealogist, the valuable databases, such as Revolutionary War pensions, Civil War pensions, and passport applications, are not marked as free. On the website, I can’t find a listing of the databases they obtained from NARA.

    I would rather the government ask for money from U. S. citizens or for volunteers to digitize and post document images online. Especially when the private equity groups that own have sub contracted so much (maybe even 100%) of their document transcription work to third world people, when the company is based in the United States, and when so many of their paying customers live in the United States.

  6. I would much prefer that NARA partner with or other organization where information is free to the public in the spirit of good will—one where volunteers donate huge blocks of time to index millions of records. I have been an on and off Ancestry subscriber for years, but recently when I cancelled my new subscription, I had to fight for a refund. Ancestry is too expensive to pay for one year at a time. It is about selling information to subscribers and making a buck.

  7. These are public records, right? If so, then I don’t see why I or anybody should have to pay Ancestry or Fold3 in order to access them or to make digital copies. Yes, they’ve done the work, but I assume they’ve been paid for that work; they should not be allowed to profit as a result.

  8. I think this has opened up the NARA files for many individuals. No longer do you have to completely understand the complete collection to enable access. I find it much easier to access through Ancestry, saving time. I also feel that if the Government could do more partnerships with commercial entities, we save the taxpayers money, while making access affordable to all.

    1. Do you work for ancestry? We don’t need to pay taxes and then have commercial entities charging us. It’s not affordable to all.

      When census data is collected we are obliged to comply.
      When information was gathered previously fees were paid to the government for the record keeping. This is a shame and a sham. Names mispelled with a or o change everything.

      A public agency has not right to contract with a private entity when collecting tax payer funding and operating as a government agency. Private corporations are people but we we can’t collect data on them, now can we?

      1. I don’t understand Lynda Cook’s comment, “No longer do you have to completely understand the complete collection to enable access”. This is straight out of an ancestry commercial, all right! It doesn’t make any sense.

        What is the point of doing something if you don’t understand what you are doing? That is EXACTLY what we have at NARA and elsewhere–the “volunteers” are an army of indentured servants pressed into service by their religion under the guise of it being their “mission”, when few of them have any idea what they are looking at or doing, and furthermore don’t care. They are enslaved to make money for their “church”. They are not historians, and worse, they have a very long track record of poor work ethic, nonperformance, and outright dishonesty. The Mormons will not commit time and resources to correct mistakes, even huge mistakes, and usually will not even admit that they make them, even lying in front of researchers at a public researchers meeting at NARA some years ago (I am talking about the three representatives from the Mormon partnership “trinity” of FamilySearch, Ancestry, and Fold3).

        For more details, see my reply at the end of this thread–and NARA’s complete silence and refusal to give any specific answers to my specific questions, and their refusal to discipline their “partners”. This is not new–it has been going on for many years. As of this morning, the Fold3 Union pension index still has thousands of Civil War soldiers in alleged South Carolina Union regiments! The “volunteer” who indexed the cards saw “USC Infantry” or “USC Artillery”, etc… at the top of the cards and were apparently not interested in doing it right, so instead of asking they decided that it must mean “U.S. South Carolina”…when these are actually regiments of colored troops! South Carolina did not have UNION regiments in the Civil War! Yet it has remained this way for years at Fold3. What has NARA done to discipline their Mormon “partners” about embarrassing stupidity such as this? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!

        YES, if anyone is making money selling copies of records, it should be the federal government, to offset their operating expenses, instead of enriching some religious entity that many American people find offensive. FamilySearch is not even paying taxes, because they are a “church” that is tax-exempt! They send their slaves in to do the scanning work for free, and they make the indexes available for free, but they give the actual scans of the NARA records to their primarily Mormon-owned entities, and They make their money on the 10% tithe from those profits because it is “church” members who have controlling ownership of those for-profit companies. A pretty good deal, apparently, since they can afford all of those prime-time TV commercials brainwashing the masses that they need to spend hundreds of dollars every year to sign up for something that they “don’t need to know anything” about. South Carolina Union regiments and other huge laughable gaffs are contributing to a great dumbing-down of the American people with regard to history.

        Having a period of “public comment” is a formality before the contracts can be renewed, but it has been, and still is, just a formality. Our comments, as well as any proof of nonperformance, incompetence, or dishonesty on the part of the entities, makes no difference whatsoever. In fact, the comment period is over, and what has changed?

  9. It is becoming more and more sifficult to conduct family research with increasing membership fees. As a researcher, one knows there always an enormous amount of money spent on reproducing copies of information. Subcription fees should nominal and made available to all who wish to seek information regarding their ancestors. How does public information become a privatized lucrative business that has been monopolized by one or a couple of entities who use the general public to transcribe information for those seeking to learn more about their lineage. Its a business that seeks to minimize the joy in researching because it has become so costly. If the rates continue to rise there will be less memberships and more traveling and networkingn with those who reaide in the cities where the information is made available for and less expensive to retrieve. As a subcriber of the only entity that is peofiting tremendously off of the subscriptions its offers I am asking for a reduction in membership fees and services

  10. I had my trepidations as to NARA partnering with commercial sites when it was first suggested and over the ensuing years have found them to be well founded as those commercial sites shifted materials to its sister companies and closed off access to what was heretofore publicly owned materials (e.g. via NARA), and charging exorbitant subscription fees throughout its companies in order to access those materials, and which in some future time may decide to withdraw those materials from public view and access. While NARA’s fees may have themselves come to be high, the materials were still public and copies accessible through the order process, and not considered proprietary as has come to be under Ancestry and its subsidiary companies. NARA’s mission is to safeguard the papers and history of the United States for the people of this country. Ancestry’s is to line its own pockets.

  11. Digitalization is always good for genealogists and family historians. Most of us can’t travel to the places our ancestors’ records are housed.

  12. What is the point in commenting on this “Partnership”. Bottom line is that Ancestry has the money and apparently NARA does not. These records are our records, the American taxpayer, and no matter how long this Partnership agreement is (I read it, its long), Ancestry still has the upper hand. They get to digitize our records, give you a copy, but to access them we still have to pay the huge fees for Ancestry, and now that they OWN Fold 3, we pay their fees also. I am a long time member of Ancestry and Fold3, I am a genealogist and prepare applications for Lineage Societies, so I pay their fees. As far as the paragraph about their resolve to accurately transcribe the records, HA. All you have to do is a simple search on their census records to see they cannot spell, and do not transcribe the names correctly, most of the time. I always submit corrections with sources, and they have improved their time in adding the corrections. What a better use of time is to transcribe them correctly in the first place, and have a backup proofread the spelling. Your deed is done, now we have to pay them. I hope you reap some benefit from this partnership. I know Ancestry’s bottom line will.

  13. Why should we need to pay for information collected by the U.S. Government? What is the point of privatizing information that should be free? Why isn’t the US Government collecting payment from Ancestry and Fold3 to use this information. I resent having to pay for information that my taxes paid to collect.

  14. Why should I have to pay for information my taxes helped collect. Why isn’t NARA charging for this information to the partners? Privatizing this information is stealing from the American public.

  15. My concern with a public/private partnership, such as that with Ancestry, is that then the private prices become so inflated that they are out of the affordable range for most of the public.

  16. This partnership is invaluable to all researching their ancestral lineages! Thank you for making records available – would love to see more records released to Ancestry, as well as digitized genealogy books.

  17. I would much prefer that NARA partner with or other organization where information is free to the public in the spirit of good will. I am sure the volunteers at Familysearch would be more than willing to help digitize and catalog the info. The Latter Day Saints are known as the original keepers of the records for a reason.

  18. I am opposed to the partners monopolizing public records for their own profit. These are public records that when digitized will no longer be available to the public in their original form. There is little to no oversight from NARA during the digitization process so mistakes are not exposed nor are they corrected. The partners’ volunteers are allowed preferential treatment at NARA in comparison to independent and legislative researchers. i.e. Volunteers are not subjected to the same security checks as others. Claims from the partners that a complete record group has been digitized has been found to be patently untrue in the past. When these records are no longer available to researchers at NARA there is no way for one to determine the truth of this claim. There is obviously no training for many, possibly most, of the volunteers who digitize and index these records. The indices available on many of the subscription-only sites are atrocious to the point of comedy. It is obvious that many of the indexers have limited English skills and most have no skills in reading old handwriting. Researchers are required to pay a steep price to access public records which are often poor quality images and have useless indices. This is not a partnership; it is a monopoly by a megalith corporation for private profit. I would much rather pay higher fees to NARA than to the partners for what is often poor service.

    These partnerships are allowing the public to be defrauded, both by restricting records, charging high fees to use public records and censoring what records may be accessed.

  19. I realize the financial realities of digitization of NARA’s holdings necessitate entertaining creative solutions, however, if I read section 1.12 correctly, during the 5 year embargo, NARA can only allow researchers to view files on a computer screen at NARA locations, no downloading, no printing, etc. This seems awfully restrictive access to public records that belong to the American people.

    I have no direct experience using either Ancestery or FOLD3 websites since I cannot afford the subscription fees, but if, as several comments suggest, they’re having that much trouble creating quality metadata, then I shudder to think how horrible their scanning must be from poor quality assurance. Also, at least 1 comment here says outsources work to other countries and the workers in that country are treated poorly. If this is true, it is certainly not a practice a governmental agency should endorse by signing their name to an agreement with said company.

    1. The ONLY object which can legally be embargoed is the digital copy of the document that Ancestry and Fold3 do. A NON Exclusive Contract means just that, non-exclusive! NARA does not have the legal right to take the original records out of access, denying companies and other non-profits who wish to provide the same records online free, access, or to researchers who physically come into an Archives research room. This is a violation of the Copyright law, section 105. The federal public domain records are just that “public”, and as such, NARA is violating the federal laws, choosing to twist “access”, by stating that they are providing access to the records through a “for profit” company.
      Ancestry cherry picks through records, their images are horrible, and do not represent the original records.
      NARA, it is time to do your job RIGHT! These contracts call for 300 dpi images to be saved as jpeg images. Anyone with a technological background knows that these standards are 20 years old, is not providing a preservation copy of the record. If you don’t have the storage space, or a user friendly catalog, then get your ducks in a row, get the organizational part done right, then think about digital partnerships.
      But we all know that no matter what we say in these comments, NARA will proceed to continue doing what they have been doing for the last 10 years, ending up with the same results. Bad images, bad indexing, Ancestry raking in billions of dollars, while the American public loses. They lose access to the records.

  20. I suppose that NARA staff themselves may not be to blame for this shameful giveaway of extremely valuable public records to, who use them to make all the profit they can get out of the market. It’s the lawmakers who in the name of “smaller government,” and such ideological cover, cut the budgets at all government agencies and force them to privatize what should be public services. Those elected officials are at the beck and call of private industry — they serve whoever has the money to call the shots.

    1. In response to the claims of “rigorous” checks for accuracy in Ancestry’s indexing programs which have been outsourced to China, Bangladesh and the Philippines, I reply that they are unbelievable. I did a check on one page of the 1840 Johnson Co., AR census and found a 20% accuracy for names indexed as compared to my own reading in combination with other previously published indexes. I have not yet compared’s indexing for accuracy

  21. I would much prefer NARA partnering with Familysearch than a subscription site. MUCH prefer. Hard to believe that the government would give information to a company that sells it. Then who knows what happens to the info when that company is sold – again, and their rates are prohibitive for much of the population.

  22. I would prefer a partnership with an organization providing free access; Family Search or the like. I’m trying to encourage adults and children from lower income homes with limited transportation options to explore genealogy and unless they can get to a library during open hours, they have no access to Ancestry but Family Search is free and available, even if a family has to share one computer. Unless there is a caveat that stipulates government provided records must be accessed freely, I disagree with this arrangement.

  23. Public records should be publicly accessible. I cannot afford the steep prices of private genealogy sites.

  24. I would really like to examine this information on Ancestry but, unfortunately, I am retired and don’t have the $200.00 for an annual subscription. Nor do I have the funds for a Fold3 subscription. Has suggested that NARA become an subsidiary, then lock NARA down except to those people who can afford subscriptions.

  25. Records held by the government should not be used to increase the profits of Ancestry and Fold 3. The government records should be provided free of charge. Getting source documents from towns, or other online programs is very expensive already. Although I have issues with the indexing done on Family at least their information is free. I did indexing and if the arbitrators incorrectly change your indexing it is uploaded even though you notify them there is an error. I take great issue with that. But I also have issue with Ancestry sending everything indexed to China, they made such a mess of the Canadian Drouin, Ancestry added the ability for users to correct the name and it can be found under the corrected name when searching.

    Overall I feel NARA records being digitized and made available should be FREE for all citizens.

  26. Previous commenters have covered the issues I would like to address. Some of these concerns are philosophical and some are practical. My concern are costs of preparing the archival material for publication online, cost to researchers to find and use the archives once transferred, the transfer of governmental materials ostensibly owned by American citizens to private companies, access to materials by all Americans, whether or not they are paid members of this private company, etc.

    As an amateur genealogist considering certification, I know what it costs for membership to these websites and to support the non-profit ones such as JewishGen. I am a member of several of them. is owned by the LDS church and giving them access to these archival materials is no better than allowing Ancestry to provide the access. While they do not charge researchers to use the materials they have digitized and indexed, the fact that they are a church raises different issues.

    I also know that each organization acquires databases in different ways from owners of the data, and negotiates contracts with each supplier. I have spoken with managers at Ancestry about this issue. Some of the original owners of the information place restrictions on its access and usage. Why not place requirements on Ancestry or Fold3 – owned by the same company – to allow American citizens free access to these materials since they belong to us anyway? If they require some sort of fee for maintenance of their servers and the work they put into digitization and indexing, have a much lower fee – just enough to cover costs – for this database (and others owned by the U.S. government)?

    There must be a better solution than handing over government materials to private companies in order for them to make money off of the very people who ostensibly own the material!

  27. Thank you for your comments. In response to several questions and comments, a few themes have emerged that we wanted to respond to:

    How will records digitized by a partner be available to the public? ​
    – Records digitized and made available by partners are available online for free in all NARA research rooms across the country. You can use our public access PCs or NARA’s wifi to reach the sites for free.

    ​Will NARA receive digital copies of the material digitized by the partners? ​
    – NARA receives a set of images and metadata from the digitization partner when the project is complete.

    ​Will NARA put the digitized material online? ​
    – NARA makes records digitized by Ancestry available in our online Catalog once the five year embargo period has elapsed. Records in the National Archives Catalog are available for free to the public.

    ​Why does NARA partner with outside organizations? ​
    – To complete digitization projects, we have partnered with both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Although they may be interested in genealogy records, the specific records these organizations are interested in can vary. Sometimes only one type of partner may be interested in a record series. We digitize in order to get our records online and expand access to them. We cannot do this by ourselves and so we are working with partners and looking into other avenues (see our Digitization Strategy for additional approaches) to make access happen. NARA has established principles for working with partners and you can read them at our NARA Principles for Partnerships page. (See our Strategic Plan for more information about our Strategic Goals.)

    Markus Most
    Director of the Digitization Division
    National Archives

    1. Markus Most: If these public records are to be available for free to the public, the agreement with the partners should stipulate that these databases be FREE to EVERYONE at Fold3, Ancestry or whatever business entity is involved. It is ridiculous to call these records available and free to the public if the public is restricted to viewing them ONLY at NARA locations.

  28. In response to Markus Most: While it may be true that free access to public records digitized by religious and private for-profit entities, this free access is ONLY available at NARA locations. In addition to this geographic limitation, these digitized records are no longer available to see and use in their original format. Instead researchers are limited to the copies created by the less-than professional volunteers of these partners. How can any researcher be confident that they are looking at the complete file of anything. It has become a derivative source. This is not acceptable in the world of true research. Shades of Orwell’s “1984.”

    With all the current debate over Separation of Church and State it is ironic that the State releases public records to any Church for purposes of its religious doctrine and financial gain in an agreement that restricts or effectively prohibits the right of access of the average American citizen. In this case The United States Government is subsidizing a particular religious organization, which gets further subsidy in the form of tax exemption since it is a church.

  29. For Markus Most and other NARA employees reading:

    Basically, it boils down to this one question: isn’t there ANY other way to get NARA records digitized and online for free public access, besides cutting deals with outside partners? Because once you start down that road, then you get all kinds of access restrictions and problems with the index quality and nobody’s very happy.

    What about crowdfunding? (Ideally, the crowdfunding is done through our taxes that fund NARA, but you know what I mean.) The Smithsonian just did a Kickstarter that raised over $650,000 in 30 days to preserve Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, with a stretch goal of preserving Alan Shepard’s suit too. Would NARA ever consider trying a similar crowdfunding venture to raise the money to preserve and digitize more records in-house, instead of through partners? Why or why not?

  30. No deal with Ancestry before you obtain a written agreement that Ancestry will stop holding tree users hostage. Ancestry must be required to have tree users opt in (not opt out) to having their trees accessed by health and genetics researchers.

    Health and genetics researchers can and do buy access to Ancestry’s user provided family trees and/or DNA membership test results. Case in point is their press release on 7/21/2015 announcing their partnership with Calico’s longevity research project.

    DNA customers can opt out of allowing company’s such as Calico to access their genetic test results. However, tree users are not allowed to opt out of Calico’s research. In fact, Ancestry’s “terms and conditions” requires tree users to give full and perpetual access to user content family trees to anyone Ancestry chooses.

    Anonymized user tree content is not an acceptable compromise. Users must be given the right to opt out of anyone accessing their family tree without their consent. NARA should not be partnering with any company that requires its customers to relinquish such an important fundamental right.

  31. Unlike many I appreciate the efforts of NARA to widen the scope. Allowing many reputable companies to digitize material from the archives gets the records preserved, reduces handling which can cause further deterioration, and gets the data out to the consumers. Digitization is an expensive operation, and the funds must come from somewhere. Either we pay through additional taxes or we pay through organizations such as Ancestry, Fold3, FindMyPast, etc. Nothing in life is free. Without these companies, it is likely we would have much fewer documents to peruse from our homes, because the federal government could never supply the necessary funds to do what has been accomplished.

    I like the incentive to post the information earlier, allowing us access quicker than before. I know that each circumstance is different and how costs will be determined must be clear. My concern is that the rules covering PII constantly change, getting ever and ever more complex. What happens to information that was previously within the bounds of PII rules and because of new legislation becomes a problem. Individuals who are in the know download as much of the original documentation as they possibly can and withdrawing these documents is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. How will NARA address this issue?

    Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this agreement.

  32. As with most things, there are positives and negatives to the new agreement, as I read it. I’m guessing that NARA does not have the tax funding to digitize the records, and that the partner agreements provide an avenue for that to happen. Digitization is only the beginning – the IT costs for maintaining what they would create would be high.

    I do have to say that I am a bit puzzled at NARA contracting this out. I understand for instance, why the LDS gave up PAF – managing a software company wasn’t their core competency or their primary focus. However, if records preservation, records retention, and making records available to the public is not at the center of the core mission of NARA, what is?

    If I’ve understood what I’ve read, after 5 years NARA has rights to, and plans to make these same records available online for free through their own catalog. Thus, the commercial partners carry the brunt of the cost, and have a 5-yr. window in which to sell what they can by subscription and recover their costs.

    I feel that if the only alternative is for the public to travel to a NARA site to view the records, the digitization plan is a good trade off. Digitization is important for record preservation and retention. I too would like to see the LDS/Family Search as the partner in this project, putting the records online for free and using volunteers to handle the digitization. However, I don’t know whether they were solicited and perhaps felt it didn’t fit into their short-term goals or capacity, etc.

    The topic of PII is a non-starter for me, as the records themselves I would hope/assume are old enough that PII contained in them is now a moot point where privacy regulations are concerned. The only PII concerns would be the PII of the subscribers, and the partners are already managing that under whatever policies and procedures are in place for their existing digital records.

    I’ve been an Ancestry subscriber for many years, and have had my ups and downs with their products and services, but would have to say that for the most part, my experience with them has been good. I think their subscriptions are reasonably priced for those of us are heavy users of their services. Maintaining their servers, firewalls, etc., as well as staffing aren’t insignificant expenses.

    Many public libraries and repositories that genealogists use for research on a regular basis have subscriptions to Ancestry, Fold3, etc. and patrons can access the records without charge. I subscribe to services for the ease of using the records/dbases from home.

    1. This partnership has been ongoing for more than five years and I have yet to see any of it posted for free through NARA except at onsite locations.

    2. Very few people know that once Ancestry gets done digitizing the records, a sign goes on the box of records saying that Ancestry has digitized, do not pull. The documents, which belong to the American public are no longer available to researchers, if they physically visit the National Archives to do research. NARA has sold our historical records to Ancestry and Fold3, in that the records are no longer available to the general public. NARA will try and use the old “preservation” excuse, but that is not the case with most of the records that are within NARA. And color is vitally important in these records. The color provides historical data, that is not retrieveable with black and white images.
      Ancestry and Fold3 have been providing NARA with low resolution images, for over 10 years. The images do not even meet the standards for digitization. They digitize images in black and white, with cameras that are minimal quality. Ancestry and Fold3 both set the number of images that the employees must do every day.
      The ONLY thing these partnerships own are the digital copy of the document. NARA has no right to deny access of the original records. This is a violation of Copyright Law, Section 105, which makes all public domain federal records accessible by the general public.
      It is also a fact, that while Ancestry and Fold3 have provided poor quality images to NARA, less than 20% are actually online because NARA does not have the storage or technical ability to get these resources online.
      An employee of Ancestry, in St. Louis, was caught throwing away attachments to records they were digitizing. NARA has absolutely no clue how many record were thrown away, before this person was caught in the act.
      There is absolutely no quality control at NARA. Third world countries are indexing the records for both Ancestry and Fold3 and while the researchers have vocally discussed the poor indexing, the poor quality of images, everything poor with both of these companies, NARA continues to work with these companies that will continue to provide poor quality images.
      NARA can’t even create a digital partnership agreement for the 21st century. Still asking partnerships to digitize at 300 dpi, and save as a jpeg. No digital image should be less than 600 dpi, preservation quality, and saved as a .tif image, which doesn’t lose its quality, as a jpeg image does.
      NARA will not listen to any of the comments here, and will grant Ancestry and Fold3 another partnership agreement, selling our records to these for-profit companies, which are now owned by a European company. So basically, NARA is outsourcing, ignoring small companies, who for years, have been trying to get partnerships to provide free access to records for those who can’t physically come to the Archives to do research. If NARA is allowed to continue taking records out of access to the general public, telling researchers that they have to get on a for-profit website to view public domain records, in a few years, none of us will have access to anything.
      A definite NO to any partnership agreements with Ancestry and Fold3. All partnerships should require instant free access to the records, globally, without subscriptions.

      1. From the NARA website: NARA Principles for Partnerships to Digitize Archival Materials

        4. To further the goal of full access and to achieve preservation benefits, partners will digitize full series or cohesive, substantial file segments of records, not just selected documents. This practice will allow for the removal of the original records from research room use. NARA may permit the digitization of selected archival materials, when a partnership primarily intends to support the development of educational materials, online exhibits, and other thematic presentations—or when partial digitization may otherwise support NARA’s access and preservation goals.

        Lincolngroupdc: Your comment is on point. They told us it would happen, right in NARA’s own post and no one in charge listened. And it has happened.

        7. NARA currently cannot guarantee the authenticity of the digital copies. NARA requires the partner to take reasonable measures to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the digital copy, including assurances to protect against hacking or other security violation of converted materials. However, NARA cannot endorse the authenticity of archival materials hosted on a digitizing partner’s website. Although NARA will guarantee that our digital copies have not been altered after we take possession, copies for users requiring certification will be made from the original documents or NARA-created microfilm.

        Many researchers have told NARA that the images created by the partners are proven to be inaccurate and of poor quality. Again, they don’t listen. Our nation’s records are being taken from us and replaced with facsimiles that even the keepers of these documents are unable and unwilling to vouch for.

  33. “Powerful model”, “successful partnership”, not so fast.
    This can also be seen as a model for an agency to relinquish its public responsibility by creating a monopoly with government resources, one beholden to itself and not the public. Congress should overrule the administrators at the National Archives and Records Administration and abrogate this partnership, and then provide the NARA with the funding necessary to open the public records for the benefit of “We the People”.

    The NARA should address the issue of transcription errors attributed to outsourcing to China.

  34. This partnership has been in place for more than five years. As yet, I have not seen any of the info available for free except through Ancestry subscriptions at NARA onsite locations.

  35. I realize I’m late to the party, here, but my comments have never mattered to NARA in the past, and I’m sure they won’t matter now. But for the purpose of enlightening the people who haven’t been around as long as I have–working as an independent researcher for hire in the research rooms at NARA DC–I’ll make a few comments…

    First, in the piece written by Onaona Guay of NARA, which we are commenting on, there is a HUGE untruth: “NARA makes records digitized by Ancestry available in our online Catalog once the five year embargo period has elapsed. Records in the National Archives Catalog are available for free to the public.” I realize that is what the original “partner” contracts of 2007 said would happen, but this in fact HAS NOT happened. Where are the Revolutionary War pensions that are supposed to be “free” on the NARA site, since ancestry did those about 10 or more years ago? And those early Civil War Widows’ Pensions–where are they on the NARA website? You have to buy those from Fold3, and poor images at that! It has been eight years since the first of those were digitized, and I can’t find them on the NARA site, can anyone else? Those pensions that were digitized are also not available to researchers in person any more at NARA–we are pointed to the “public access computers” where they have the institutional version of ancestry and fold3. The only copies we can obtain are the poor black-and-white images that are not always readable and DEFINITELY not professionally done in any kind of “preservation quality”, printed directly from the fold3 site. The images that we get are not actual size, they are shrunk down in order that Fold3 can fit a “frame” around the image with the fold3 logo emblazoned across it. NARA has copy machines that make awesome digital images in color PDFs when we can copy from the original documents, but we are not allowed to have original documents from the widows’ pensions if we are asking for any that the LDS church already OWNS. I’m sure NARA will correct me that the LDS doesn’t own them, but what we are seeing at NARA says otherwise. It is easy to see who really owns NARA. As an independent researcher, I am not allowed to make color digital PDF scans to sell to my clients if the files that they want are among those already scanned in poor black and white and owned by the LDS “partners”. Is this not the definition of a monopoly?

    One excuse that I got from NARA at some point is that some of the images ARE being made available for free through FamilySearch. The catch, of course, is that the LDS church makes you “sign up” or “sign in” with an account at their site. The federal government is saying that in order for me to see the records that belong to me and every other taxpaying citizen, I have to give my email and personal information to a “church” that goes against my own personal religious beliefs–one that I do not wish to have any part of, and that I have learned through experience not to trust!

    Second, “” is not necessarily owned by the LDS church, it IS the official website of the LDS church, at least it was in 2007. The early contracts that NARA had with FamilySearch, Footnote (which became fold3), and Ancestry, consisted of these entities working together. In fact, they had contracts with each other, as well, and this was no secret as they made announcements to that effect on their various websites. FamilySearch (allegedly a “nonprofit”) provided free labor to do the scans at NARA, and the scans were then given to the for-profit entities (ancestry and footnote/fold3) to sell to the rest of us (of course they conveniently didn’t announce that part in the press releases)! FamilySearch made indexes to these records available on their site, but you won’t see those early Civil War pension file IMAGES for free–OH NO! Those are in high demand and making big money for one huge monopoly. Members of those organizations (Fold3, Ancestry, FamilySearch) over the years have vehemently denied having any association with each other, but the NARA records were obviously divided between the two sites–ancestry and footnote (which later became fold3)–so that any serious researcher would have to buy BOTH subscriptions in order to get everything they might need. It is difficult for any reasonable person to believe that they were NOT working together when, in fact, NOT ONE NARA database out of the multitude of those digitized was duplicated between the two companies. This was not just a highly unlikely coincidence (unless you believe in Santa Claus). They were not competing, they were cooperating from the beginning.

    In the summer of 2011 issue of Prologue magazine (Vol. 43, No. 2, page 2), Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said, “Through a series of partnerships with commercial entities, we are getting many records digitized in return for, in some cases, use for a limited time by the partner for a fee on its web site, Eventually, these records will all be available free on our website…” Really? It doesn’t look that way. The original contracts said 5 years. Now it’s “eventually”. When?

    Think about this, Mr. Ferriero: You have a whole room full of FamilySearch volunteers at NARA, perhaps more than one room at this point, and a number of cameras allegedly doing scanning of the widows’ pensions all day every weekday. That project started in the summer of 2007. In a full 8 years’ time, how many widows’ pensions has that army of volunteers scanned? Bear with me and see…

    You and anyone else can go to without a subscription and click on the database for Civil War Widows’ Pensions. In the search box, type WC followed by the certificate number and you can see how far they have gotten. They started with widows’ certificate #1 (WC1) and they are numbered consecutively. It won’t show you the images unless you have a subscription, but it will tell you if the file is there or not, and will tell you how many document images the file contains. I could not find a certificate number higher than about WC148000. Keep in mind, this is not 148,000 pension files because some of those numbered files were pulled out and filed elsewhere, in which case Fold3 only has the card saying that the file isn’t there. The early widows’ pensions were issued during the war, to the widows of men who died in the war. They are very small files, which average about 30 document images each. There are some that are larger, but many are smaller. Thirty documents is the average. So here’s how I count it:

    140,000 pension files (allowing for ones that were pulled out and filed in another series)
    On average, 30 documents per file
    4 FamilySearch camera crews doing the filming (four the last I heard, maybe there are more now)
    8 years of work on this project.

    This means that four camera crews working 40 hours per week have only been able to do an average of 1,458 pension files per month. That’s about 365 files per camera crew per month. At about 30 images per file for those early files that they are doing, that would be about 10,950 images per month per camera crew, which breaks down to about 506 images per crew per day. Seriously?! That’s all a team of two can do in one day? With the color digital copiers at NARA, one person could do well over 1,000 images per day (I have done it). I mean, how many years’ experience does it take to get quick at laying documents down straight on a scanner and scanning them?

    What will happen when they get further along (which might not be in our lifetime), where more documentation was required to be pensioned, and the pension files start averaging a hundred or more documents each, and then regularly 200+ documents each later on? With files getting increasingly larger…will it be completed in 100 years? 200? Is putting a narrower deadline on the FamilySearch volunteers going to help? They already have a reputation for skipping over documents that are difficult to film. Some of the “partners” were recently caught putting documents in the trash at NARA St. Louis just to fulfill their daily quota. To make their quota or their deadline, they are not suddenly going to get more efficient and care more about their work. It is more likely that things will get worse. They are unpaid, and have no incentive to be quick, and their work is anonymous so they have no incentive to be accurate.

    Third, and finally, FamilySearch and their partnering for-profit entities–Ancestry and Fold3–have never had a reputation for good work or for a good work ethic. For as many NARA meetings that local DC researchers have attended and complained to NARA about this, nothing ever changes. The “volunteers” are given carte blanche access to files that the rest of us do not enjoy. The rest of us are only allowed to request 4 pension files in each pull of the day (4 or 5 pulls, used to be 6). Yet the indexes that they make, and the mess that they make of the scanning of the NARA records is deplorable, embarrassing, and an outrage to all of the American people who own those records, and whose taxes pay to maintain them. There is absolutely NO auditing and NO accountability for the work of the partners, though NARA claims otherwise. NARA gave us local researchers a contact person to report “corrections” to. NARA expects US to submit corrections to a profit-making entity so they can steal our time for free!

    At the last researcher meeting that I attended (which has been a couple of years ago at this point), NARA had a representative from each of the three main “partners” (FamilySearch, Fold3, Ancestry) up front to “answer our questions”. All three of them claimed to use double-entry system with an arbiter for records that they were scanning and indexing. Really? Consider this:

    How do three different people, or even two, look at a name like “John Smith”, spelled “Kpjm Smith” and not notice an obvious error? Fingers that were moved over one key on the keyboard to the left or right–try it yourself! Pick a database, ANY database at Ancestry, Fold3, FamilySearch, and scan for the ridiculous. Try scanning just for a last name, and look at some of the garbage that comes up for first names. The representatives told me that the hits I get for “Kpjm” are likely OCR hits. In other words, a machine scanning a newspaper page where those letters are in close proximity to each other. Try it for yourself and see if they’re right. I think you will see a lot of census and other actual records that were butchered by unpaid, unskilled, uncaring, and unsupervised “volunteers”. Conveniently, they did not have a computer on hand at that meeting for us to show them specific things.

    When they put the Civil War draft books online (at ancestry), I tried scanning for Kpjm as a first name…yep, there were about 10 of them. If you click on the image of the actual book, the handwriting is perfectly readable. This is NOT double entry with an arbiter, unless you also believe in Santa Claus! Try that same database and scan for soldiers with the last name “Chronister”. Look at what color they are. All white, except for three or four who are black. Really? NO, not really! Click on the image of the page. None of them are actually black. What happened? Every draftee on those pages is white, so the indexer couldn’t have looked at one line above or below and gotten confused. In fact, because they are all white, the “race” column was left completely blank on the whole page! Someone made four of them black on purpose for some reason. The representative tried to tell me that it was a database that was acquired before their company took over, or something like that, but it wasn’t. The Civil War draft books had just been added when I confronted them with it at the meeting, which is why I purposely chose that particular database. They used the same canned answers that they have been taught to use over the years, apparently, whether it’s the truth or not. NARA, as usual, just looked the other way and then moved on.

    I put most of this on the NARA blog a year or two ago, and got nothing but silence and/or patronizing double-talk answers from NARA. One big question that they never answered is, WHO at NARA is in charge of the auditing of the partners’ work on these federal records, and WHY are there not significant financial penalties for the kind of blatant incompetence and kindergarten antics that the unpaid volunteers are amusing themselves with? There has been breach of contract for a very long time, and as I said, our comments here will not change that. There are a lot of people making money on these deals, but the American people are the big losers. It is NARA who has breached their responsibility to the taxpaying public.

    The next time you scan for a name in one of the partners’ online indexes and don’t find it, how in the world will you ever know which “alternate spellings” of the name to use? It was hard enough before, now you will have to scan for John as Kpjm or some other gibberish nonsense. You will have to try every possible combination of transposed letters, fingers moved one way or the other on the keyboard, etc… OH, and keep in mind that we were told at one of the researcher meetings that the partners’ indexers were instructed not to use good sense under any circumstances! They were told to index EXACTLY what they see, so when the record has a name listed as “Sam’l Smith”, the apostrophe looks like an “i”, so the name becomes “Sanil Smith”. Don’t believe me? Try scanning “Sanil” as a first name and see how many you get. This is the work ethic that NARA has been embracing for years, and that people are paying big money for at Fold3 and Ancestry, thanks to the dedicated volunteers at FamilySearch! In fact, in a genealogy fair at NARA that was sponsored by the “partners”, there was a whole workshop dedicated to finding “workarounds” for problems like these. WHAT?! Why do we have to “workaround” the shoddy work?! Why not have some accountability and make the volunteers sign their work and penalize the partners for any of their volunteers who consistently prove themselves to be incompetent goof-offs?! Poor work HAS to cost them something, or it will continue and get worse.

    Meanwhile, folks who don’t live here have to rely on the subscription services, thinking that they have it all. The sad thing is that most of them are satisfied, because they have no way to know what is missing from those databases unless they are here to see it for themselves. I have seen it all, but couldn’t possibly cover it all here! This will have to be enough.

    1. Hello Ms. Reeves:

      Thank you for your comment. The partners have undertaken many digitization projects outside of the digitization partnerships, particularly before the partnerships were established. Partners oftentimes purchased microfilm publications, digitized them, and made them available on their websites. Because these images were produced outside of an agreement, NARA does not receive a copy. For example, the Revolutionary War pensions were digitized prior to a partnership agreement and are therefore not available through our catalog.

      Additionally, in 2013, NARA posted the first 250,000 partner images that could be released from the 2007 digitization year. Subsequent to that initial release, over 750K additional images have been posted to the National Archives Catalog. Over the past several months, NARA has been working diligently to enhance the Catalog’s ability to accommodate the growing storage and processing needs resulting from both partner and agency digitization efforts. We are nearing completion of this development period and, once finalized, the Catalog will have greatly enhanced capacity to add new images from our partners. In fact, more than 1.3M additional partner images will be added as soon as this work is complete.

      Onaona Guay
      Digitization Partnerships Coordinator
      Office of Innovation
      National Archives and Records Administration

  36. I am glad to hear that NARA is finally making some of the subscription only scans available for free on the NARA site. However, none of us seem to be able to find them. Can you give us a link to those early Civil War widows’ pensions? At a researchers meeting over five years ago, I think around the time that the NARA blog was announced, we were given a handout that had a whole list of NARA databases that the subscription services had finished putting on their sites. How about giving us that list here, with links for where to find those data sets at the NARA site?

    NARA still has not answered who is in charge of auditing the scanning that FamilySearch is doing. Since I received no answer (twice), I assume the head of digitization has not appointed anyone to do this, and is just letting them do whatever they want. It shows!

    I understand the concept of doing preservation quality scans and then taking the original out of circulation for preservation, and I agree with it–provided the scans are of “preservation quality” (which they certainly are not), and that they are made available to all for free (which they are not).

    When I need to copy a Civil War pension for a client, and it is not yet on the NARA site, then I expect to be able to make a TRUE preservation quality, high-resolution, color digital scan for my client and do it better than FamilySearch and profit from my work. I don’t expect to be pointed to a computer to make scans from the fold3 site with their logo around a shrunken-down image! Where does the law allow for one particular monopoly to be able to access those records so they can make the rest of us pay them for it, at the exclusion of all other competition, whether for 5 years or any other length of time?!

    If the only people who are allowed to profit from those widows’ pensions (among other records) are the two partnering entities that (FamilySearch) chooses to give the images to, then that is a serious problem, and goes further than just favoritism. Is NARA saying that I do not have a right to view and copy those same files and sell my services for profit just like everyone else, simply because I am not a Mormon? I want an answer. Especially in light of this article in Deseret News, announcing that all members of the LDS church get free subscriptions to Ancestry:

    Well, is this true? The only way to get NARA high-demand records for free is to be a Mormon? Is NARA making exclusive contracts and showing favoritism to the Mormons and cutting off all other independent researchers, prohibiting us to profit from the same files? YES, it’s true from where I sit.

    The next time I ask for a Civil War widows’ pension at NARA DC that is not yet available for free on the NARA site, I expect it to be brought to me so that I can do a better job than FamilySearch. I have a right to look at and copy and profit from the same records as everyone else, until good scans are made and are available for free to EVERYONE on the NARA website, regardless of their religion!

    1. Hello Ms. Reeves:

      Thank you for your comment. We recognize your frustration and are considering your feedback as we work to build our program.

      Onaona Guay
      Digitization Partnerships Coordinator
      National Archives and Records Administration

  37. Search Archives. Digitization partnerships present an opportunity for increased access to historical government information through the increased availability of information technology products and services.

    1. No, it hasn’t so far! Many people who previously had access, particularly retired folks, have been cut off because they are on fixed incomes and can’t pay hundreds of dollars a year for subscriptions to the two for-profit businesses that FamilySearch chooses to enrich by giving the scans for free. People can no longer see those same files in person to take their own digital photos or get a local researcher to pull the files and do it for them. We are DENIED access. Yes, digital scans COULD be made available to everyone, increasing access, but the fact is that they are NOT made available, as was demonstrated by the two database links that we were given. Those databases list all of the various microfilm groups in the description, but the fact is that there are very few service records that have been loaded into them so far.

      There have been a lot of years where NARA and the religious group they are partnered with have been saying all kinds of things–clearly written in the contracts and in the minutes of the NARA meetings–that are just plain NOT TRUE. I have given endless examples of it, here and elsewhere. The contracts are not being held to. Where are the widows’ pensions that were started 8 years ago? Who is auditing the FamilySearch “volunteers” who are doing the work? Who is making sure that there is double-entry with an arbiter being done, as all three “partner” representatives attested to in front of us at a meeting a couple of years ago, which has clearly been proven to be a lie? Has anyone been fired for some of the stupid and juvenile stunts that we are seeing in these databases at Ancestry and Fold3 that people are paying for, that NARA is giving their blessing to? Is this stupidity called “preservation”? These questions are ignored again and again and again, because the answer is that NARA is letting the Mormons do whatever they want, in fact, holding the records hostage for a price to everyone who is NOT a Mormon.

      I am told that NARA is considering my input as they build their program. Obviously not. They have “valued my input” and thanked me for it for over 8 years. If the Archivist was serious about preservation of records and wanting quality work, he would be embarrassed enough to terminate these exclusive contracts immediately for nonperformance. Has anyone at NARA ever looked at who the majority owners of ancestry and fold3 happen to be? I think the American people need full disclosure here.

  38. This public comment does not appear to have been originally posted to social media web sites such as Facebook – I found out about this particular blob only when I saw a response that was posted today (Sept 10th)

  39. 1.4 Digital Images will be created to meet imaging standards that will be provided by
    NARA and that will be described and agreed to in a Project Plan. The assumption
    is that projects will be digitized at 300ppi, but occasionally, depending on
    individual projects and records, NARA may require a different ppi. Because
    physical materials and customer-driven needs may vary for selections of Archival
    Materials, imaging standards and other specifications will be incorporated into
    each Project Plan.

    Nothing less than 600 dpi, 24 bit color should be accepted. NARA has absolutely no excuse to use lack of storage, etc. as a reason to choose 300 dpi as their standard. If you don’t have your foundation set up with appropriate storage, and technical expertise, especially creating a user friendly catalog, then you have the cart before the horse. If you can’t do it right the first time, doing it half right isn’t going to make it right.

  40. I think the phrase, “customer-driven needs” really sums it up! WHO, exactly, are NARA’s “customers”? Exactly WHO is NARA selling public records TO? And who are they keeping them FROM? “Customer-driven needs” is the language of business. NARA is the keeper of the federal records, supposedly preserving them for all to see. They should not be a “business” with “customers”, but thanks to the profit-making monopoly, that’s exactly what NARA has been reduced to–a lucrative business for one specific religious group.

    Digitization of NARA records is driven by the profit-making ability of specific data sets as determined by the monopoly that NARA has sold it’s soul to. Opening it up for public comment is just a formality that is required by law.

    I have asked some pointed questions on this blog in my previous posts, and NARA blatantly ignores the questions that they don’t want to answer. Maybe they just want me to keep trying until their “partners” can feed them some kind of carefully crafted answer. I’ll try again:

    1. Can you give us a link to those early Civil War widows’ pensions? NARA’s website is a black hole of an abyss that is not the least bit user-friendly. It is easy for NARA to say that things are being put on there, but none of us can find those “customer-driven” high demand records, the widow’s pensions being the records that are in highest demand.

    2. WHO at NARA is in charge of the auditing of the partners’ work on these federal records, and WHY are there not significant financial penalties for the kind of blatant incompetence and kindergarten antics that the unpaid volunteers are amusing themselves with?

    3. Where does the law allow for one particular monopoly to be able to access those records so they can make the rest of us pay them for them, at the exclusion of all other competition, whether for 5 years or any other length of time?

    4. Is NARA saying that I do not have a right to view and copy those same files and sell my services for profit just like everyone else, simply because I do not go to the right church? I want an answer, because this is a significant issue.

    5. Who is making sure that there is double-entry with an arbiter being done, as all three “partner” representatives (familysearch, fold3, ancestry) attested to in front of us at a researchers meeting a couple of years ago, which has been proven to be a lie?

    Those are five big unanswered questions, that have been asked repeatedly. Maybe NARA just doesn’t want to bite the hand of the monopoly that is feeding them. If they “value” my input, they’ll give real answers instead of cutting and pasting double talk nonsense from the contracts and telling me how much they understand my “frustration”.

  41. You have to remember this, Mormons are Republicans & now want a 21st wife, the US Government to sleep with. They love giving out your life history, or should I have said, love selling you your life history, but raise holy hell when someone gives out theirs. Read these: (its there, you just can’t get at them on the page, you need the links) (the link) (get it here, before they remove it)

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