Having an online family tree can be a great way to connect with cousins, collaborate with others, and share your discoveries. There are different kinds of online trees, each with their plusses and minuses. Let’s take a look at each of them so you can decide which kind of online family tree is right for you.
Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 63
Why Have an Online Family Tree
Having an online family tree makes it easier for cousins to find you. (This is sometimes called “cousin bait.”) They also serve as a handy reference whenever you’re online; you can access it from different computers or even your phone. They can also be invaluable when working through DNA matches.
Keep in mind that depending on what site you use, you don’t have to make your online tree public. Ancestry, for example, gives you three options:
- Public (any registered user can search for and look at your tree, with the exception of living people)
- Private and searchable (meaning that basic data shows up in other people’s searches, but they can’t see full profiles or the whole tree)
- Private and not searchable (none of the info from your tree will show up in searches)
Similarly, MyHeritage allows you to choose whether or not the profiles of deceased people in your tree will show up in the search. Taking your tree out of the search essentially makes it private.
Here are the basic kinds of trees:
Individual Family Tree on Someone’s Site
These types of trees are usually what comes to mind when someone says “online family tree.” These are the trees on Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Findmypast. The trees are separate. You and I can each upload trees, even with the same people, and they aren’t combined.
- Because the trees remain separate, you have control over “your tree”
- It’s easy to link to your tree (you can give a cousin the URL that goes specifically to your tree)
- When attached to a DNA test, it can make it easier to identify matches
- Depending on the site you use and the genealogy software you have, you might be able to sync the online tree with what you have stored on your computer
- Duplication of people. If you upload a tree that has some of the same people in my tree, those people are in the database twice. (This may or may not be a drawback, depending on your perspective.)
Individual Family Tree on Your Own Site
If you are comfortable with technology and are willing to pay for web hosting and a bit of software, you can put your tree on your own website. There are programs such as The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG) that will take the data from your genealogy program and make a website out of it.
- You have the most control over the look and feel of the tree
- You have to be comfortable with technology. Even though you won’t have to do much (if any) coding, you still need to be comfortable with installing programs and tweaking settings as needed.
- You have to pay for the web hosting
- You have to pay for the software that lets you convert your data
Collaborative Family Trees
The trees on Ancestry are all individual trees. However, there are projects where you upload your data that gets combined into one big tree. There is no “your tree” and “my tree.” Three examples of this are the FamilySearch Family Tree, Geni.com, and WikiTree.
- Easiest for collaboration; registered users can change anything in the tree
- Receive notifications when someone changes an entry
- Ideally, there is just one profile per human (great-grandma Ramsey isn’t going to appear multiple times across the database.) (And before you say anything, note that I said, “Ideally.” Yes, there still multiple profiles for the same person.)
- Depending on the site, people can be grouped together in ways other than by family. For example, Geni has projects such as the “‘Adele'” (ship) – European Pioneers to South Australia 1856
- Registered users can change anything in the tree (yes, this is both a pro and a con)
- You can’t point a cousin to just “your tree,” nor can you download just “your tree”
The Right Online Family Tree for the Right Situation
You can mix and match your type of tree as the situation calls for it. I have a combination:
- A public tree on Ancestry (with my “confident” conclusions)
- A few “private and not searchable” trees on Ancestry (for some of my research projects that are definitely “works in progress”)
- A tree on MyHeritage
- Contributions to the FamilySearch Family Tree
As your needs change, so can the type of online family tree that you use.