Social Networking for Your Family Tree
6/24/2011
Genealogists are getting into the social networking trend with the Web 2.0 generation of family history sites.

Social networking Web sites might call to mind cheesy MySpace photos, ostentatiously long lists of Facebook friends, and users' online admissions that scream TMI (too much information).

But genealogists are getting into the social networking trend-except their photos are 100 years old, the lengthy lists name "other researchers tracing my lines," and there's no such thing as TMI.

Nope, it's not your grandmother's Internet anymore. Thanks to Web 2.0-the "second generation" of online technology-you now can interact with other users and add to a site's content, rather than simply view static Web pages. All purport to benefit your research by letting you connect with others tracing your lines, as well as find and store family information. Here's a look at 12 different sites, sorted according to how they'll best fortify your family tree search.

STORE AND SHARE TREES
These sites excel at helping you organize your family tree data and find other researchers interested in your ancestral surnames and places.

  • FamilyLink
    This site from the growing database service World Vital Records most resembles popular social networking destinations such as Facebook. Your FamilyLink profile can include your picture and biography, as well as the surnames and places you're researching. You might also add your skills and experience, such as languages you know and the genealogy software you use. You can make your profile available to everyone or just your network of designated connections, and you can invite friends to join FamilyLink. A family tree-building feature is in the works. Though it's not as graphically slick or capable as some other sites we looked at, its focus on research makes it easy for genealogists to help each other. 
  • Findmypast.com
    Using the free family tree builder, you can create two family trees, each with up to 25,000 names. Either build your tree online, or upload a GEDCOM file. You can include notes and sources, and display your tree in ancestry, descendant and family views. You get a lot of storage space-up to 200MB-to attach photos, documents and film and audio clips. Make your tree accessible only to the family and friends you invite or completely open to the public. Similar to Ancestry.com's options, you'll be able to collaborate with others on your online family tree and automatically search Findmypast.com databases for names in your tree.
  • LivingGenealogy.com
    This free site lets your family create Web pages on ancestors and ancestral hometowns. The site has four parts: 

     

    1. Ancestor Pages may include text and photos. They provide spaces for a person's name and places of birth and death, but curiously, not for dates. You can't upload or download a GEDCOM file.
    2. Place Pages are dedicated to geographic locales, such as your ancestral hometowns or countries. You can tell others where to find records, offer local history and research advice, and add maps and photos.
    3. User Groups can be private (open only to family members who want to collaborate on research) or public (for example, everyone researching ancestors in the same place).
    4. Blogs let you share discoveries.

    Contributions are stamped with the submitter's user name. There's a contact link, but we got an access denied message when we tried to use it. You can share family histories through the "Email this page" link at the bottom of every page. LivingGenealogy.com looks promising if webmasters take care of issues such as lack of dates and GEDCOM support.

  • SharedTree
    Billed as "The Internet's first completely free, completely online family history and genealogy application," SharedTree lives up to the hype. It works much like a standard genealogy program: Enter your family information manually or upload a GEDCOM file (which will retain notes and sources). You also can upload images one by one.

    Like traditional software, SharedTree displays data in individual, family, ancestor and descendant views. Charts show two to nine generations with options including pedigree, table and photo charts, and a descendant circle. Print them yourself or order them.

    You can search all the family trees on name and birth and death dates and places. SharedTree lets you view submitter's e-mail addresses and send messages, but you must first register with the site. You must be related to view someone's genealogy. Unlike most free online genealogy programs, SharedTree is so full-featured it could easily substitute for your regular software. And did I mention it's free? 
  • WeRelate
    Originally a genealogy search engine and wiki, WeRelate has partnered with the genealogy department of Indiana's Allen County Public Library in hopes of becoming "the number one community Web site for genealogy." Its Family Tree Explorer application lets you enter family data or upload a GEDCOM, then it creates a Web page for each person and family in your tree. In addition to names, dates and places, you can add digitized images, narratives and source notes, and you can track your research in logs.

    By naming your ancestral localities in your profile, you can get in touch with other members who've researched in those areas. Since WeRelate is a wiki-meaning anyone can edit pages-it's easy to work with relatives on ancestors' pages. You'll be notified of changes to pages you've edited or added to a watch list.

    Searching for a name in family trees is a multistep process, and since you can't narrow your search by date or place, it's hard to find relevant matches for a common name. You'll want to explore the site by taking the 10-minute tour, and click the Help tab for a good overview.

DELIVER DATA
Basically pedigree databases, these sites have a few social networking enhancements. 

  • Genes Reunited
    Most social networking site founders are probably hoping for a big payoff someday. The creators of Genes Reunited, the largest British genealogy Web site, have already cashed in, selling to the ITV television network for $210 million.

    Genes Reunited has a growing user-contributed pedigree database with 121 million names in 7 million-plus trees. The GEDCOM upload here is more difficult than on similar sites. You can upload only one GEDCOM, and your name as the tree owner must match the tree's root name. On the plus side, you can attach photos to anyone in your file. Genes Reunited provides three ways to search pedigrees: Look for a name, click to view matches to names in your tree, or register your family names to be notified of matches.

    A six-month membership costs about $20. Genes Reunited helps you get in touch with others researching your lines, but you can't collaborate on their trees, download a GEDCOM file or even view much information until you contact the submitter for permission. Still, it's so popular among British genealogists that you can't afford to overlook it if you have ancestry in Great Britain. 
  • NokTree.com
    NokTree.com has a key difference from ordinary pedigree sites: You can add to and edit records from other submitters. This free site keeps track of changes to your data, and if you don't like how someone modified your tree, you can undo their work.

    You can enter family information by typing it in or uploading a GEDCOM file. NokTree.com webmasters gathered most of the site's 2.3 million names with a bot that automatically scours the Internet for GEDCOMs. There's no way to tell where these records came from or who created them-which is troubling. If you and your relatives create trees here, edit your files to add sources. Ironically, NokTree.com's user agreement forbids you to automatically copy data from its own database.

    Advanced search options let you look for a date of birth, death or burial, which you can't do in most online family trees. So if you don't know a female ancestor's maiden name, you might find her by searching on her married name and birth or death date.

BOND WITH FAMILY
You'll find these sites great for sharing photos, ancestral information and family news with your (not necessarily genealogically oriented) relatives. 

  • Amiglia.com
    This site provides free tools for sharing photos, videos and calendars and building rudimentary family trees. You can enter your family information online or upload a GEDCOM file. Either way, the online tree has space for names and dates of birth and death, but not for places, other events, notes or sources, so this site isn't very useful if your aim is to work out the details of your family tree.

    Photos are Amiglia.com's forte, and you get unlimited photo and video storage to create albums for family, friends and even pets. After installing a helper application, you upload multiple photos in a batch, or you can import photos from the photo-sharing site Flickr www.flickr.com. You can give friends and relatives a link to browse your album, invite them to add people and photos, or just select a few photos to e-mail them. Whenever you upload photos, an e-mail message is sent to the people you designate.

    After a 30-day free trial, Amiglia.com costs $49.95 a year. Take advantage of the unlimited storage for photos and videos, and that's a bargain. This site is more for family fun than for research, but it's great if you have a lot of photos to share. 
  • Footnote.com
    Publishing ancestors' names and dates on the Web is easy enough, but what about your source documents and pictures? This service offers an easy way to put those online, too.

    A free basic membership lets you create Story pages focusing on documents and photos. You might upload scanned Bible records and gravestone pictures, and add transcriptions and comments. Or use a Story page to create a grandparent's biography with newspaper clippings, snapshots and letters. It's almost like creating an online scrapbook.

    Footnote indexes members' Story pages, so long-lost relatives researching the same families might find your page. They can view your documents and pictures, add comments and "spotlight" images they'd like to share. As an added bonus, you can access your records from anywhere over the Internet.

    Of course, Footnote hopes you'll become a subscriber and use its historical documents-which include Revolutionary War and Confederate pension files-on your pages. Subscriptions cost $7.95 per month or $59.95 per year, or you can pay $1.95 to view a document image. The Story pages are a terrific way to share documents and photos with family and get in touch with other researchers. 
  • Geni
    The founders of eBay and Yahoo! Groups created Geni with a stronger focus on networking than on serious genealogy. Start by entering your information, such as education, occupation and biography. Then add details on your parents and other relatives (living or dead), and those people receive an e-mail to add their relatives.

    The system accommodates dates and places of birth and death, but not baptism, burial and other genealogical events. You can export a GEDCOM file, but it includes only names and relationships. GEDCOM uploading was added in summer 2008. Like Amiglia.com, Geni lets you upload photos in a batch. Then you match them with family members and add captions. Only people in your tree and those you invite can see your profile and photos.

    It's easy to navigate through your family tree by clicking on the gray arrows. You can search the trees for a name, but not for a place or time period, so it's hard to find relevant matches for common names (Geni members can exclude their profiles from public searches). Other features include a family calendar, birthday reminders and messaging. It's all free, but Geni may eventually charge for some services.

MULTI-TASK YOUR TREE
If you're looking for a social networking site that helps you organize your research, upload photos, connect with family and other researchers, and share data, take a look at these. If you're not looking for a do-it-all site, you may find the options overwhelming.

  • Ancestry.com Member Trees
    Known for its vast collection of online databases, Ancestry.com also lets you build a family tree and connect with relatives online. Type in information, or just upload a GEDCOM file (all facts transfer properly). You can add photos and documents, too, with searchable descriptions.

    When you upload a GEDCOM, you can choose to make your tree accessible to all Ancestry.com members and add it to OneWorldTree, a search tool that integrates users' information with Ancestry.com databases. Ancestry.com automatically searches its census records and other sources for the names in your tree; a shaky leaf icon indicates a potential match. You can create a Member Tree for free, but you need a $155.40-per-year subscription to view OneWorldTree search results and most records that leaf teases you with. You can invite others to edit your tree and add photos and stories. Control their access by designating each person as a guest, contributor or editor.

    This is a first-rate system for organizing your family history online and making it a group project with relatives. But if you're not up to building a full-out tree, you can click Ancestry Community to create just a member profile with your basic information and research interests. You'll be part of Ancestry.com's searchable Member Directory. 
  • MyHeritage
    This Israeli startup debuted in 2005 with a celebrity look-alike photo search that attracted millions of Web surfers. Today, with support for 12 languages, MyHeritage has 17 million members worldwide, 180 million names in family trees, and more than 100 million uploaded photos.

    You still can use the facial recognition software to see which parent a child most resembles. More immediately useful, though, is the user-friendly system for typing in your family information. Or you can download the free Family Tree Builder, a full-featured genealogy program. You can have multiple trees and upload pictures, and make everything public or accessible only to those you invite. It's free with a Basic plan that allows up to 1,000 names, 15 users and 250MB of storage. Paid plans range from Silver ($2.95 a month) to Platinum ($9.95).

    Click on the Genealogy tab, then Genealogy Center to search public family trees by name and year range. Click the Research tab to use MyHeritage's free genealogy search engine that scours more than 1,150 databases, message boards and Web sites for a surname plus spelling variations. You must subscribe to fee-based sites, such as Ancestry.com, to see matches from those databases. MyHeritage is an excellent site for organizing your family information and collaborating with relatives around the world. 
  • Zooof: The Family Network
    Genealogy social networking sites usually focus on one country. Not Zooof, a free Dutch site you can view in up to 35 languages.

    Most users build their family trees online. Simple, colorful screens and cool graphics make Zooof appealing. In fact, some history teachers have their students use it for family history assignments. You can upload a GEDCOM file, but Zooof is a bit finicky. Your name must be in the file, everyone must have both first and last names and no one's gender can be unknown. Even after I took care of all that, Zooof still rejected my file. Look for improvements in GEDCOM handling by the time you read this.

    Once your file goes online, you can invite others to access your tree. A family management system lets you control who's allowed to work on profiles of deceased and inactive relatives. And you can post messages in a family mailbox. If you're exchanging family information with overseas relatives, Zoof could be an ideal way to overcome the language barrier.