WieWasWie Introduces Paid Subscription

The largest genealogy website in the Netherlands, WieWasWie, will introduce a paid subscription starting 1 January 2016 [Update: this has been postponed to 8 February]. The data can still be accessed for free, but some of the advanced functionality will be behind a paywall.

Paid version

The following functionality will be behind a paywall:

  • Advanced search options: searching for 2 persons, using wildcards, option “begins with.”
  • Saving searches and documents as favorites.
  • Email notifications for updates for searches.

Free version

The following functionality will remain free:

  • Quick search (one search box, no wildcards).
  • Advanced search for one person (no wildcards, no ‘begins with’). This will allow you to fill out the search form for one person using multiple fields (e.g. first name, last name, role, place, date, record type).
  • Access to all the indexes.
  • Access to all the images.


The subscription will cost € 18.50 per year or € 5 for a single month.

Members of the Central Bureau for Genealogy get a discount: regular “Friends” pay € 10 per year, “Digital friends” get a complimentary WieWasWie subscription.

WieWasWie with cash register showing 18.50 euros

Credits cash register image: Paul Robinson, Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA)

How I feel about this

As the former webmaster of the predecessor of WieWasWie, Genlias, I know how costly these sites are to operate and realize someone has to pay the bill.  I can understand wanting to generate income to cover the cost and feel that it is fair that the people who use the website the most pay their share.

As paid subscriptions go, this one is rather friendly. The subscription fee is very reasonable, especially compared to some of the larger commercial genealogy sites I subscribe to in other countries. It’s also nice that you can still access the data for free so any links you already have will still work.

However, the free option will be too limited for serious researchers. There were so many spelling variations that you need to be able to search using wildcards or ‘begins with’ to have any chance of finding your ancestors. Also, searching for a record that contains two persons is the most efficient way to find all records about a family, and often finds information that can’t be found another way.

The Netherlands has laws that require archives to provide their information for free. A new law to reuse government information has just been passed, that requires archives to provide free access to all of their raw data. Government organizations are stimulated to provide their information as “Open Data” to stimulate reuse and the economy. This paid subscription doesn’t fit in that trend, even though it follows the law by only asking money for the functionality, not for access to the data.

Based on my experience managing similar websites, I expect that the running costs of WieWasWie will rise significantly with this subscription model:

  • Payment functionality will have to be added, which will require a level of security that wasn’t necessary so far.
  • The code for the paid functionalities will have to be changed to test if the user is logged in with a paid subscription.
  • All this new code will have to be maintained. People will probably try to find ways to bypass the paywall and hackers may try to gain access to the customer database and payment information, which will likely require regular patches to the code.
  • Doing the accounting and taxes of all the subscriptions will take time.
  • Paying customers have more issues than free customers, which will need to be dealt with by the back office. I’m thinking of things like charge-backs or people losing access to their accounts. Paid customers are also more demanding than free customers, so if there’s an outage, you can expect more complaints and claims for refunds. Reasonable or not, these will take time to deal with.

All in all, I’m afraid this subscription model will seriously undermine WieWasWie. Dutch genealogists aren’t used to paying, so they will be turning to the free regional alternatives. I think the revenues from this new subscription model will be less than expected, while the costs may be higher, so I think they will struggle to even recover the additional cost of the paid model, let alone make enough money to recoup some of the cost of running the existing site.

If visitor numbers drop, this could reduce the willingness of archives to keep paying for the shared infrastructure. If that happens, archives will start to leave WieWasWie and focus on their own platforms. The unique selling point of WieWasWie is that it provides access to all the information in one place. If archives start to leave, that may set a chain reaction in motion since that will cause visitors to leave too, which will further undermine the willingness of archives to participate.

Get a subscription

To make sure that my doom scenario doesn’t happen, I encourage everyone to get a subscription. You will get access to essential functionality and you will be sponsoring the most comprehensive genealogy website in the country. This is one occasion where I will be happy to be proven wrong!

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. This is unfortunate. I have no problem with the operators of the site trying to cover the undoubtedly high price of running it. I also have no problem paying for a service I use. What I find unfortunate is that the only function I will be sorry to lose is the ability to use wildcards. I don’t know if I want to pay for just that one feature.

    The other thing I don’t look forward to is trying to pay for it if I do want to subscribe. It seems that those Dutch services I have paid for in the past make it harder and harder to do so if you’re a foreigner. It used to be that I could just use my credit card like any other on-line consumer transaction. Now it seems like those things have gotten rid of that functionality and marched boldly into the 20th century with more cumbersome systems. One such example is http://militieregisters.nl/, which I no longer use because of the changes they made in how you pay. I also find that the CBG isn’t easy to use if you want to pay for the services they offer if your are trying to pay from North America.

    The upside for me is that I don’t use WieWasWie anywhere as frequently as I use the regional archival websites. I use them hundreds of times more frequently than I use WieWasWie. Some of those sites are excellent and for a few of them I find they have a much better interface and cleaner, easier to use site than WieWasWie. With some of the more useful functions of WieWasWie behind a paywall, I will be one of those people who is much more likely to use the regional archival sites.

    That said, if WieWasWie makes it easy for me to give them my money (i.e. simple online credit card transaction), I will likely subscribe. If there’s even a bit of complexity or difficulty, I probably won’t bother. It’ll also mean I won’t be recommending the site to my Dutch friends in Canada when they ask me about doing Dutch genealogy. Instead I’ll direct them to the regional archives’ sites or other Dutch genealogy sites.

    • @Sean:
      I discussed this with WieWasWie: They’ll provide an all English interface from day 1.
      Available payment methods will be Credit Card and iDeal.

      • I checked the same thing, same reply. Thanks Fred 🙂

      • Thanks. I am glad to hear they intend to make it easy to pay. I guess the only barrier for me is whether I will miss the functions that will end up behind the paywall. I might wait until January to see what difference it makes to me. That will also be the time where the rubber hits the road in terms of finding out how easy it will be to make payments from abroad.

        I never thought about the English interface. Even though my Dutch is terrible, I tend to use WieWasWie in Dutch, only because I find the English translations are sometimes inaccurate or not as precise as they could be.

        Something I thought about since posting my comment is the fact I am willing to pay for services I use. Free is nice, but I know there’s a cost. I don’t actually use WieWasWie enough to feel like a freeloader, but it’s a different story for the regional archives’ sites. I’d happily donate to the regional archives that I benefit from, although I suspect those are paid for by Dutch taxpayers, much like my taxes support the Library and Archives of Canada. (I wish more of my tax dollars went there – maybe then it wouldn’t have to sell data like our 1921 census to Ancestry.)

  2. WieWasWie is not a government website! Sure the government poured millions of euro’s in the WieWasWie project and the CBG, which operates WieWasWie gets 1.7 million euro each year and the archives pay the CBG to present their data, but the fact is that the CBG is a private foundation. So it’s just one of the genealogical players.

    I believe the rationale of the European open data regulations is to stimulate economic growth thru new and/or better functionalities with existing government data. The sad fact is though, that the genealogical data offered by the archives via WieWasWie is only for a very small part open data. So there’s no level playing field, it’s still a subsidized data monopoly! But this will change very quickly, mark my words. Then other websites, which offer better functionality, can provide access to the same data. This competition is benefical to the user: they can choose between websites. WieWasWie can’t stay the same (like Genlias did for 15 years), they will have to innovate otherwise competitors will over take them.

    • As WieWasWie is the only platform on which some of the participants publish this information, and the platform is largely funded by taxpayers, I consider WieWasWie to be within the scope of the new law. I agree with you that there’s a world to win in terms of open data and that that will change the market completely.

  3. Dave Simmer says

    For many years, I have received free information about my Simmer family from Tresoar, Genlias, Alle Friezen, and others. I probably have all of the information and digital documents that I will ever need, however I think it is about time to have to pay a fee. I will do so mostly because of the information that I have received in the past. I also think the fee is more than reasonable for the service that we receive. My only problem is that I have to call or go to my bank to let them know of the transaction, because of all the fraudulent transactions that take place from the Netherlands. Even with that effort, it is well worth it.

  4. Elaine Obbink Zimmerman says

    I have no problem with paying for a subscription as long as I receive information that a free site receives. Best website and newsletter for Dutch research. Keep up the good work. When can I signup?

    • The paid subscription to WieWasWie will start on 1 January 2016, which is when you will be able to sign up at WieWasWie.nl. Their newsletter will remain free.

      This Dutch Genealogy website and newsletter, which isn’t affiliated with WieWasWie, will also remain free.

  5. Judd Zandstra says

    I agree with the comments above that knowledgeable researchers will use the free regional web sites plus family search rather than pay. Another business model might be to solicit donations. I might rather donate $25 rather than pay $18.50 if they appeal to my sense of altruism. Wikipedia does this. Another problem is that i use a great many web sites for genealogy and other interests. If each charged for access I could be paying hundreds or thousands of dollars each year. You are also right, Yvette, in saying that paying customers will expect better service. Right now, wildcard searches don’t work correctly if you use certain combinations of asterisks and question marks. The number of results returned is the total number of records in the database, I think. Also, I have had some links go dead recently particularly in Groningen. If I was paying, I would likely pursue these problems more avidly.

    • Thank you, Judd. Funny that you mention the donation option, that’s one of the things that I suggested when I was webmaster of Genlias but the board didn’t think that anybody would voluntarily pay. I know that WieWasWie is also reading this discussion so I hope they will use some of the ideas in the comments to their advantage.

      • Judd Zandstra says

        One of my other interests is birding and I an a member of several organizations including the Audubon Society and Cornell Labs for which I pay a membership fee. I get certain benefits like e-mail newsletters, a magazine and other low cost (to them) things. But all of their web site functionality is free. I don’t know how this kind of business model would play in the Netherlands but it’s common in the US.

  6. I read somewhere that when becomeing a ‘digital member’ of the CBG Organization, you pay slightly less more & then you also get the digital version of their periodical. I think that’s a nice offer.

    • Sorry, you pay a little more & then get the digital periodical, too. That’s what I wanted to write.

      • Yes, for 40 euros you get the digital subscription to the Central Bureau for Genealogy Quarterly Magazine, free access to all the resources in their digital reading room and a free WieWasWie subscription. However, the digital Quarterly is online-only, on a website that’s (in my opinion) rather cumbersome to use. There is no way to store the digital magazines, for example as PDFs on your own PC. So I prefer the paper Gen and will keep my regular subscription, which will be 10 euros higher since I want access to WieWasWie too.

        • Aren’t they rebuilding the website at the moment?

          • Not a complete rebuild I think, but changing some things to get rid of the family tree building function and getting ready for the paid system. I don’t know if this will also affect the way you can access the digital magazine. I had not heard that that would change too.

            • The CBG tells me: “Het lezen van Gen.magazine kan niet alleen via de website, maar ook via de gratis te downloaden app Gen.magazine op smartphone of tablet. Het inloggen werkt hetzelfde als op de website.”
              In English: there’s an app.

        • Thanks Yvette, for the additional info. When I can’t download the Gen.Magazine as a website, I will think about buying the full subscription, too.

  7. Hoi Yvette. Ik was lid geworden van het CBG. Heb betaald in januari. Maar kan nog steeds nergens bij bij dat CBG of WieWasWie. Ik heb jaren als software enigneer gewerkt, ben ir., maar die CBG website is compleet ondoorgrondelijk. Zou met email adres en opnieuw toegemaild wachtwoord kunnen inloggen. Kent mijn email adres niet. Zou met factuurnummer, waarmee ik heb betaald, kunnen inloggen. Ook niet.
    Zonet bekeek ik de site opnieuw en toen popte er ineens een veldje op, waar ik dat factuurnummer in kon voeren en nu lijk ik binnen te zijn met het CBG, heb zelfs ‘eenheden’ toegekend gekregen.
    Maar hoe ik nu dat WieWasWie lidmaatschap kan activeren is me nog steeds volledig onduidelijk, want als ik links volg, dan staat er steeds weer dat ik een lidmaatschapsabonnement moet kopen, maar dat heb ik dus al gedaan.
    Heb jij enig idee, waar ik een handleiding “hoe werkt de ondoorgrondelijke website van het CBG” kan vinden?!
    Dankje, Joan

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