Thursday, 12 June 2014

Online Trees. Why have one? My Experience

Why do I need to put my tree online?

I am not going to answer this question but hope that by the time you get to the end of this post you will know whether or not you want to do  this and your reason for doing so.

Where can I share my family trees with others?

There are a number of sites where you can upload information about your family I may not have included all of them here but these are the one I have used and I want to discuss my experiences with using these sites.

With almost all of these sites I have uploaded a GEDCOM file, I am going to assume you know what this is, if not I suggest you do a search as this is a standard term.
The only one where I have not used this method is Family Search, but I believe there is a facility to do this. Randy Seaver has at least 2 posts on this at his blog .

The software I use on my computer uses a GEDCOM file as standard. I have a facility which allows me to create only a part of my tree and to privatize living individuals and those who have recently passed. 
If you are unable to do this, and you want to remove individuals from your file before you upload anything you may find this link useful

Help with uploading from the database on your computer can often be found on forums e.g

Alternatively genealogy user groups or blogs can have help pages or discussion of how to do this from a specific program. Try for Family Tree Maker or for Ancestral Quest.

How do I choose which site I am going to use?
To be sure that you have chosen the best site for your tree you need to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Why am I putting my tree online?
  2. Who are my audience?
  3. How much do I want to pay to keep my information on the website?
  4. Does the website have records I want to access?
  5. Can any records on the website be added to my tree?
Most of us put up our tree in order to connect with others researching the same family. 
We may also use it as a backup to the tree on our computer.
Who do you want to see the tree or even add or edit the tree close family or just you?
If you chose a website that charges a fee can you access your records if your subscription expires?
Some websites have records that can be added to the tree to support your conclusions. 
Does  the website have records that cover the areas where you are researching?
If privacy is an issue then be sure to read the contract terms.
I would always recommend reading the terms and conditions before you upload anything.

Are all websites the same?

So you have decided you want to create an online tree and you know what you want from the website.  
What you are willing to pay? 
Do you want a free site or a free trial? 

What do the sites I have used offer and how do they differ?
 This link will take you to a brief comparison of the sites as I see it . 
(apologies if things have changed or I have misinterpreted anything) 

Recently I have used Ancestry as a back up tree, my main tree, which I have as a work in progress, so have kept it as private. 
This means that anyone who thinks we may have a connection needs to contact me via the messaging service. 
Most of the websites work along similar lines if they allow for collaboration and you will need a subscription if you want to initiate the conversation.

Genes Reunited was bought by brightsolid who own Find My Past this means the site has changed. It may not be the best option if your research does not extend to the UK but there are also sites for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

WikiTree is set up to build a single collaborative tree and actively encourages you to merge individuals to connect families. If you have a profile for an individual it cannot be merged unless you allow, by giving trusted status to the other profile manager. This video explains the merging process .
For US researchers who want to collaborate this is a good choice and you can choose your level of privacy for each individual in your tree. You can share trusted status with others researching individuals you share, but they can only edit those individuals you want them to, not your entire tree.

Whatever you choose to do remember this. 
Your living family will not know you are looking for them unless you tell them.
Go make those cousin connections you may get a nice surprise.

For further reviews please have a look at this website which also has links to other sites I may have missed.

Please leave your comments as we may all have different experiences of the same website and it may help others decide what is the best option for them.
If you are a new researcher many of the websites offer good advice as to where to start and free software to help get you started. 


  1. I would advise against relying on a online tree as a sole backup. Any website that you do not personally own could be withdrawn.

    For example Ancestry announced last week that with be discontinued on the 5 September 2014. Randy Seaver of GeneatMusings reports that users are unhappy that there is no easy to use migration tool (

    Being able to retrieve all of your data, including the structure of its presentation (links, style and functions on a website), is vital. Sadly, GEDCOM does not even begin to cover that.

  2. I would advise against relying on any online trees as backup. Any website that you do not personally own may be withdrawn.

    For example, last week Ancestry annouced that will be discontinued on 5 September 2014. Randy Seaver of GeneaMusings reports that there is no adequate transfer method (

    Whether you can retrieve all of your data AND the structure of its presentation (links, style, and interactive functions for a website) is vital if you are to easily recover from the withdrawal of a web service.

    1. All the important stuff is backed up in several places and I would wholeheartedly agree that you should not have an online tree as your only backup.

  3. Good point and nice blog piece, Claire! Miss you, but will see you in October!

  4. Nice review for researchers who may want to use the net for their family trees. Lots to think about.

  5. I want to make connections and sharing my data online enables me to do just that.

    My tree, which is self hosted, has brought me so many valuable connections. The advantage is that I maintain control of the data but my information is out there as 'cousin bait'.

  6. Hilary, good advice about not putting all your genealogy on one spot ! Deciding which one is the best is a hard choice with the constant changes. I love the community atmosphere and the viewing utilities of WikiTree so I made my choice.

    p.s. like the link to the spreasheet of them all (-:

  7. I can never read too much on people's thoughts on public, online trees. Here's my take:

    I am a HUGH believer in having ONE public tree -- and this from a person who does one place studies. I use because it's what my father used and I was used to helping him with data entry. I simply don't care if people attach things from my tree to their trees; it's what collaboration is all about. I have not yet been able to understand the people who refer to this as "stealing." I don't own my ancestors. Even my parents are not solely mine. They are children, parents to others, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents to other people. I monitor my recent member activity and if someone does use something, I may contact them to learn more about their connection. I've gained so much from the public collaboration, including 1) about a brick wall who was adopted by a woman on a train ride to St Louis, 2) one of my ancestors hid Gen. Jubal Early after the Civil War so he could escape to Texas, 3) one of my ancestors murdered his three children, 4) a breakthrough that got my sister-in-law's family back to England in 1453...I could go on and on!

    I'm not a fan of one-tree websites, such as or GENI, where anyone can edit the people on "my" part of the tree.

    It also took me awhile to buy-in to the concept that I needed a software application. I've designed websites for 20+ years and thought there was no reason could not make all of its FTM features available online. But I finally broke down and bought it because I needed the custom filtering/reporting capabilities. I still work on and synch to FTM.

    Boy, that was a mouthful!

  8. I wish more family historians would use Rootsweb's free WorldConnect trees, where 'new' relatives can contact you easily. Because your tree on WorldConnect is not behind a 'pay wall', a Google search will find the names in your tree, and anyone can contact you without having to join or subscribe to anything. Your email address is displayed in an encrypted (no-spam) format. Nobody can download your tree unless you allow them to do so. I agree with CeCe Moore (My Tangled Vine) who says that many researchers with well-documented family trees do not put them on Ancestry, but they do put them on Rootsweb's WorldConnect.

    1. I have found my blog to be great for connecting with people who are searching for their ancestors, who also happen to be mine. I can't tell you the number of random comments that come in from people who are simply thrilled to find someone who is also interested in the same families they are. I have made a more concerted effort to write about brick walls and getting stuck than I did before.


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