What Kind of Online Family Tree Is Right for You?

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 trees, each with their plusses and minuses. Let's take a look at them so you can decide which kind of online family tree is right for you.

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Why Have an Online Family Tree

Having an online family tree makes it easier for cousins to find you. 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, private and searchable (meaning that basic data shows up in other people's searches), and private and not searchable (none of the info from your tree will show up in searches.)

Here are the basic kinds of trees:

Individual 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 together.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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 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. 

Pros:

  • You have the most control over the look and feel of the tree

Cons:

  • 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 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." Two examples of this are the FamilySearch Family Tree and Geni.com

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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 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. 

Should you have a separate online tree or a collaborative one? Here's how to decide. #genealogy #familytrees

26 thoughts on “What Kind of Online Family Tree Is Right for You?

      • WikiTree is really great if you get into the colonial era. I have learned so much from them. Experienced people are happy to help you! Putting the tree on there is hard, so I don’t really have a lot up there, but the information is so much better and more accurate than anywhere else I have found. I use the G2G on certain categories all the time. My real tree is offline with backups at other relatives houses. I use family search for basic online research, ancestry for cousin bait, GEDmatch has come in handy for DNA besides wikitree for brick walls. The active members on wikitree are great for judging reliability of sources and giving you ideas where to look for stuff, like you do! The more places the better!

        • You can send a gedcom file if you choose, or individually enter data, which is what I do. Best feature – you totally control the privacy level!!! 5 levels from totally open to closed except to ‘trusted’ people that you approve.

          The more of us who use WikiTree, the better it gets. Just helped a friend find 217 people with her surname – a great start for finding family connections.

  1. Yes, WikTrree is an important player anymore. I have a tree there that is being combined with a master tree and I help going in and making corrections on my tree and others to make them fit in the universal tree, which is family search’s goal also.

  2. I use Family Tree Maker genealogy program, keeping two individually named forms of my tree. One is NOT connected to Ancestry. It is more complete, such as including all of my sources and notes.
    I copy everyone’s data, more briefly, onto the tree that syncs with Ancestry. It’s a bit of a hassle to enter info twice, but this tree allows me access to Ancestry’s “green leaves” and other resources.
    The reasons I don’t have only an Ancestry tree are: 1. what if Ancestry ever goes out of business?, 2. family historians must maintain Ancestry membership forever in order to have access to their trees.
    The reason for two trees is: I have had terrible glitches occur in the syncing process. Having a tree that doesn’t sync keeps my record free from contamination.
    For awhile my linked tree was private because it doesn’t have all sources listed. Right now it is public because I am sharing information with a newly found cousin in another country. We email to fill in the blanks.

    • I don’t have only an online tree (and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone have their tree in only one place). My “main” tree is maintained via the genealogy program on my computer.

      You can avoid the syncing issues by exporting your tree on Family Tree Maker as a GEDCOM and uploading that to Ancestry. It would save you from entering the info twice. (Saves time and possible typos!)

    • I use Family Tree Maker too. I like it, although the switch to the new/improved was a bit of a hassle. Not on Ancestry at this time.

  3. As far as multiple trees or single trees on multiple sites. Admittedly, I am new to much of the genealogy software, but is it possible to upload to a gedcom or ? file just the new information or person and add it to a pre-existing tree on say ancestry?

  4. I agree with Peggy and Ken, you mustn’t forget about Wikitree. It is my favorite online site now. I spend a great deal of time every day helping to improve and build the site by adding profiles, sourcing records, correcting errors, etc., not only on my entries but anyone else’s that is public. The main goal of Wikitree is to have a One World Tree with everyone listed once. It currently has over 18,000,000 profiles and growing daily by leaps and bounds.

    • I support the idea of shared trees, have accounts on FamilySearch, Wikitree, and Geni. By way of comparison, FamilySearch Family Tree has over 1.2 billion people in their tree, and 4.4 million contributors.

  5. Amy: I keep online trees on Ancestry (main one with most data), MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geneanet (more European centered). With more than 2200 people in my trees and daily additions and changes, keeping the online trees “synced” is a major pain. I would pay for a program that would do this for me. Any suggestions? I currently do not use any home software (multiple homes with multiple computers). Should I? If so, should I keep the data file somewhere like Dropbox? Thank you in advance for any suggestions.

    • RootsMagic will allow you to update Ancestry and FamilySearch. It’s not quite as seamless as the marketing make it sound, but it helps. I feel your pain.

    • Try WikiTree – a free site, you control privacy levels, no ‘syncing’ needed, you control the information, and can set as ‘open’ only to anyone, or ‘closed’ except to those you approve. Intention is one listing for each person (over 18,000,000 so far), with sources. One of the best things that has happened to genealogy and collaboration!

  6. Is it possible to upload the entire FamllyTreeMaker file/folder to a cloud such as One Drive or Dropbox or does it have to be individual family files within FTM? My computer crashed last week, which made me realize the importance of doing something like that. Hopefully, for the last time, my techy son can retrieve my info from my dead computer. . I would love to be able to share GEDCOMS, but the reason I have not is because I sweat bullets wondering if I’m giving away private info.

  7. How about Legacy. That’s what I use on my home computer. I also have a private tree on Tribal pages. I also have memberships with My Heritage and Geni.

  8. I use private trees on Ancestry for research (one for each grandparent family line.) and they are all linked to Family tree maker for off line access. (I travel a lot) I also use Family Search trees for research. I have public limited trees on Ancestry and My Heritage for DNA research. Now I have started transferring well sourced people one at a time to Wikitree. It makes me take the time to review and confirm sources. I also go back and look for new sources on people I researched years ago.

  9. This was a great article, Amy. Have you looked at RootsFinder? We would love your feedback. We’re hoping it will solve a lot of problems like the ones you point out.

  10. I know this is an older post, but I had never heard of The Next Generation ‘do it yourself’ genealogy website. I had just been looking at several programs that was either a timeline, or different kinds of family trees, or maps, etc. But when I checked out everything TNG had on it, I decided THAT was what I’ve been looking for! So I got it. It was an all in one private/public website that ‘I’ could organize. And with all the pre-orgaization I had already done it fit exactly with the way TNG was set up to enter my information, so it was really easy! I was going to upload my GEDCOM for each tree but I am loving just doing it one person or field at a time and watching my family grow!

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