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I notice that some sites give access to Census returns, GRO records (for the UK) etc eg this one has a long list of databases you can search https://www.familyrelatives.com/post_search.php.

Does anyone know how they get the data?

For example, does the GRO lease it to them or offer an open source feed so they can offer it via their sites?

I have a small genealogy product and I'm interested in hosting some of the big data sets (Census, BMD, military records etc) as a service for my users but I don't know how these other sites get it.

Did they purchase it from the government?

Transcribe it themselves?

Get it from an open source API?

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The big data providers license the data sets from the relevant rights-holder e.g. TNA for censuses, ONS for Civil registration indices. They take care to cite the source of what they're displaying (probably a condition of their licence), and typically do their own indexing and imaging. (One notable exception is some of the Civil Registration data provided by Ancestry, which is sourced from FreeBMD and therefore must be provided to anyone whether they have a subscription or not.)

Other providers (like FreeBMD) have crowd-sourced the transcribing of data sets, with the permission of the relevant rights-holder (in FreeBMD's case, this is ONS) and almost certainly subject to restrictions (for example, the FreeBMD transcriptions cannot be commercialised.)

There are no open source feeds or APIs. With the exception of non-profit initiatives, such as FreeBMD in the UK, or Reclaim the Records in the States, or FamilySearch worldwide, genealogical data sets are big business -- if you want to host the data, you need to pay for it and/or fund or crowd-source the transcribing and imaging.

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