Mocavo Connects the Hidden Dots for Genealogists

By Trevor Gilbert , written on August 8, 2012

From The News Desk

Genealogy. The study of generational knowledge. It’s a curiosity for most, a hobby for many, and an obsession for some. Yet despite the wide range of interest in the subject, it’s surprising that the market for it is so underdeveloped. Thankfully, Mocavo is looking to push the market even further ahead with its genealogically-focused search engine.

Mocavo is looking to make this problem disappear. The company -- based in Boulder and backed by TechStars, Foundry Group, 500 Startups, and a number of other funds -- is looking to become the search engine tailored for genealogy.

The way Mocavo is approaching the genealogy market is similar to how Google approached the problem of an un-indexed Web. In fact, I asked Mocavo CEO and co-founder Cliff Shaw if Mocavo was looking to become the “Google for ancestry-related information,” but he shied away from the comparison. Despite his reluctance to make such a bold claim, though, the similarities between the companies, by looking to index previously hidden information, are intriguing.

The difference is that while users search on Google to find information they’re looking for, with Mocavo, they’re finding information they didn’t even know they wanted. Consider that many things users search for on Google get directed to the most popular sites. For genealogists though, you don’t want the most popular site, you want obscure information that wasn’t previously known. After all, if it’s popular, you probably already know it from previous research.

This may seem a simple problem, but the current state of genealogy information online makes it nearly impossible to solve.

On one hand, you have companies like, which dominate the market, the information of which comes from giant databases of information, like decades-old census information. On the other hand, you have small, local communities working together to piece together history. The information isn’t necessarily accessible, because it’s siloed on thousands of homemade websites scattered across the Web. Now, you *can* find the information, but it isn’t nearly as easy as it could be.

Again, it may seem like a trivial problem, but the genealogy market is big and growing. Consider that, the dominant company in the genealogy market, is individually worth over $1 billion. That’s based off of genealogical information that is supplied in bulk, with little sense of redundant information or new facts. That makes it incredibly hard to find new information.

For example, take the story of a trip I went on a few weeks back. My family is very enthusiastic about genealogy, so as part of a family reunion we decided to visit a cemetery in the middle of the countryside, where my great-great-great grandfather was buried. We spent part of the afternoon unearthing a fallen-over gravestone. I know: party time. But the story behind finding the gravestone is a long one, spanning years, the story of which might not be found unless one is willing commit to hours after hours of research.

It all points towards what Mocavo COO Ryan Hunter called “the drive to discover a new connection.” The shame, though, is that despite the years of research that might be valuable to a distantly related branch of the family, there’s no real way to make sure that the information is found.

And that’s why a service like Mocavo is valuable. With the genealogy community being very collaborative, the service can spread very quickly based solely off of word-of-mouth. One person finds information that they couldn’t find elsewhere, and then they share it with other people who have similar problems, and then it grows from there.

On the business side of the equation, the genealogy industry is pretty well-oiled for making money., which is a household name in most historically inclined homes, charges for the more advanced and necessary features of the service. Following that lead, Mocavo is charging for access to the more advanced and useful features of its search engine. It works for free for basic searches, but to really dive deep, it has a clear path for revenue.

[Image Credit: Family Tree via Shutterstock]