Who Owns GenealogyBank? (A Brief History)

GenealogyBank is one of several newspaper archives available to family history enthusiasts.

But who owns the GenealogyBank website and subscription service? There’s an interesting history behind the brand.

Who Owns GenealogyBank?

GenealogyBank is a newspaper and genealogical record subscription service owned by NewsBank, a private company headquartered in Florida. NewsBank was founded in 1972 by John Naisbitt, and purchased by current owner Daniel Jones in 1973.

The company launched GenealogyBank as a subsidiary in 2006.

Prior to the launch of GenealogyBank, the NewsBank newspaper service was available to libraries and other organizations for a sizeable subscription fee.

Library customers could search the archives if their local library had access to the service.  

Why Did NewsBank Launch GenealogyBank?

Around the turn of the century, NewsBank took note of how library visitors were searching through their newspaper services.

They saw that obituary and death notices were the most highly searched items. But there was a big problem for the library visitors and for NewsBank.

Death notices are usually in the classified sections of regional newspapers. Relatives or funeral directors pay for the listing through the newspapers’ advertising sections.

That meant that the content wasn’t included in the main newspaper archive.

NewsBank set out to get access to the obituaries that were buried (ahem) in the classified sections. This effort would turn into a new offering for consumers that didn’t require library access: GenealogyBank.

A History Of NewsBank And GenealogyBank

GenealogyBank is a 21st-century internet service, but its origins and influences go right back to the first decade of the twentieth century.

The story starts with Albert Boni who opened a bookshop in 1913 in New York. Let’s look at how we get from there to here.

The rest of this article fills in the gaps in the timeline below! We’ll also give you a biography of current owner Daniel S. Jones and the previous owner John Naisbitt.

The Early Years Of Albert Boni

A young Albert Boni attended Harvard but persuaded his father to let him drop out in 1913 before completing the course. Instead, Boni Senior put up the funds for Albert and his brother Charles to open a bookshop in New York City.

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Genealogy Quotes By Writers

Albert Boni had a chequered career in book publishing with a few failed ventures. But he co-founded the Modern Library in 1917, which eventually would become Random House (long after Boni’s involvement).

The Founding Of Readex MicroPrint

In the 1940s, Albert Boni learned about new developments in photographic reproduction. He quickly realized that compressing images into a “micro” format would considerably reduce costs for printing.

Boni founded Readex Microprint, which was both a publishing house and a developer of micro technology.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned newspapers yet! Readex published a range of material through the 1960s, but one of their imprints was a collection of Early American Newspapers of 1690-1876. They also published microprints of congressional documents and other collections.

At this point, I’m going to switch tack to another major figure who was part of the genesis of GenealogyBank: John Naisbitt.

The Formation Of NewsBank

Writing books about predicting the future of business and society was a big thing in the 1970s and 1980s.

I discovered Alvin Toffler during my college days through his third book, Powershift (1990). My memory now is that the book’s publicity touted Toffler as coining “Information Overload”. I see now that Toffler didn’t invent the term, but he popularized it in his 1970 publication, Future Shock.

Toffler was cautiously optimistic about the impact of technology on our lives but expressed concerns about people who might be left behind.

John Naisbitt’s book MegaTrends (1980) was a contrast to Toffler’s caution. Naisbitt seemed to me to be a full-on cheerleader for a techno-driven utopia fuelled by unfettered capitalism.

John Naisbitt and NewsBank

Before his 1980’s mega-success as an author, Naisbitt had a more chequered career as a business analyst and entrepreneur.

He specialized in researching socioeconomic trends through local and regional newspapers. In the 1960s, Naisbitt founded two research firms that went into bankruptcy.

He founded NewsBank in 1972 but moved on from the company a year later. The company’s business was to analyze and index regional newspapers and sell the printed summaries to libraries and other organizations. But it was struggling financially.

It just so happened that an ambitious young financial consultant named Daniel Jones was looking around for a business to buy and run for himself.

Daniel Jones And NewsBank

Daniel S Jones graduated with an accountancy degree from Northwestern University in 1961. He joined the military and spent five years managing the supply department on a U.S. Navy Destroyer.

With a business degree from Columbia University, he joined First National Bank. He was Vice President there from 1966-1970.

Jones moved on to work as a management consultant for Knight, Gladieux & Smith. But he was keen to run his own business.

Dan Jones was 32 years old when he purchased NewsBank from Naisbitt in 1973. The company had about twenty employees and was struggling for sales of its microfiche offerings.

First success

The young owner had a struggling business on his hands for several years.

Looking back, he spoke in an interview about how an unrelated development boosted his business. Every entrepreneur needs a bit of luck.

The Alaskan oil pipeline was started and finished between 1975 and 1977. The increase in Alaskan state revenues provided extra funding for state institutions such as the libraries. Suddenly, local libraries could afford to buy what NewsBank was selling.

The Alaskan sales moved NewsBank onto a sound financial footing.

NewsBank Goes Digital

Up until the 1980s, NewsBank used microfiche technology to deliver newspaper indexes and content.

The company transitioned to CD-ROM offerings in the mid-1980s. They hired a specialist named Chris Andrews to help with this new technology.

The late Mr. Andrews wrote a technical but entertaining book on his long career in CD-ROM publishing. A couple of chapters cover his stint with NewsBank.

I’ll recount one of the best bits here. If you’re interested in the full story, here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

A CD-Rom Disaster

Andrews describes his worried bewilderment when several libraries phoned the company to say that the latest cd-rom “didn’t work”.

NewsBank’s policy at the time was to deliver a new cd-rom and take away the old version. So these libraries couldn’t even revert to a working copy.

Andrews was flummoxed because there was very little change in the new version other than some extra content. Then he remembered that the marketing department had changed the cover art.

He contacted 3M (the disc producers) to investigate. 3M confirmed that the new ink had seeped through the label to cause micro-holes in the aluminum and plastic.

New discs were immediately dispatched, and NewsBank changed its policies to leave older discs with their clients…just in case.

Compared to Ancestry

It’s interesting to compare the timeline with the inception of the much younger Ancestry.com.

Paul Allen, one of Ancestry’s early founders, started out in business by publishing U.S. census data on CD-Roms in 1990. Allen sold his discs from the back of his car. You can read more in our article on the history of who owns Ancestry.

NewsBank Goes Online (And Dances With Google)

Of course, NewsBank couldn’t stop its innovation in delivery with CD-ROMs. Otherwise, the company would have met its demise long ago.

The next big transition was the online delivery of content. This would present a massive challenge for a small company that specialized in older technology.

So, Daniel Jones decided to work with the behemoth of online content services.

In the late 1990s, he hammered out a deal with Google to provide their Google News service with access to the newspaper archives that NewsBank managed.

NewsBank launches GenealogyBank

NewsBank launched two related services in October 2006:

  • A consumer service through GenealogyBank.com
  • A library subscription service named America’s GenealogyBank

The initial consumer website lacked some of the advanced search features available with the Readex system. The consumer service was available for about $70 per year. This was a fraction of the substantial fees with the older library Readex system.

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