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Millions of family trees are online—is yours? See what it takes to build your own genealogy Web site.

You’ve heard the Internet called “the information superhighway.” When it comes to your family history, though, is the Web a one-way street or two-way thoroughfare? If you use the Internet to search for ancestral information but not for sharing your own genealogy, you’re missing an opportunity to connect and collaborate with distant cousins (both genetically and geographically) who are chasing the same family lines. One avenue for presenting your pedigree is to build your own family history Web site—which you can do following these basic directions.

 
1. Claim your domain name.

What’s in a name? If it’s the domain name of your family history Web site, careful thought and a little cash.

 
The domain, of course, is the address you type into your browser when you visit a Web site. So if you want your site to be, say, www.mcflyfamily.com, you’ll have to buy that domain—typically, for about $10 per year—assuming it isn’t taken. A quick way to check the availability of your desired domain is to enter it into your browser. If a Web site is operating there, the domain is obviously taken.
 
But if no site exists there, don’t assume the domain is open: Perhaps the owner just hasn’t posted anything yet. To find out, visit a domain registrar such as Go Daddy, says Jim Ericson, vice president of marketing at FamilyLink, the company behind genealogy services including World Vital Records and WebTree.
 
“Search for the domain you want to register. The registrar will let you know if the domain is available and will suggest similar domains if it isn’t,” Ericson says. “Finally, you select and pay for the domain. It’s that easy.”
 
Unless, of course, someone does own the domain you want. In that case, you’d have to negotiate with the owner. But most family historians will be able to find a domain name suitable for their needs—or you might decide it’s not important to you to have your own domain. You may be content to use the URL provided by your hosting service.
 
2. Choose a hosting service.

A host is not optional: You need a place in cyberspace to store your stuff. Essentially, a hosting company rents you space on a Web server so the rest of the world can access your site. Choosing the right host for you depends on several factors: how good your technical skills are, how sophisticated you want your site to be and how much money you want to spend.

 
For most family historians, simple is best—then your site won’t become a project for which you lack the time or interest to manage. You’ll find a helpful buyer’s guide with customer reviews at <www.findmyhosting.com>. As you evaluate and compare services, look at:
 
the amount of space you get
 
security features
 
backup and recovery features
 
upgrade options   
 
On a shoestring budget? You can find free Web space, though you’ll probably have to put up with ads on your site and you might get only a teeny amount of storage space. A free hosting option especially for genealogists is RootsWeb’s Free­pages, which offers unlimited space. You’re being hosted on the Ancestry.com network, so Freepages sites include an Ancestry.com search box at the top of each page and Ancestry.com links at the bottom.
 
3. Post ancestral information.

You can put as much or as little family history information as you want on your site. The key is including details that will help other researchers find you, such as stories, photos, family Bibles, records and, of course, a family tree. “Most family tree software programs have the ability to create hyperlinked, Web-ready HTML files that include a family tree,” Ericson says.

 
For privacy and security, leave out personal information about living people. Salt Lake City-based certified genealogist Margaret Smith recommends you start your tree with the first generation in which family members are deceased. “You don’t want your mother’s maiden name and your birth date on your site,” she says.
 
Mementos can both personalize a site and further your research. “Photos of your grandparents, a picture of the old family homestead and maps showing the area surrounding your ancestral hometown will draw in visitors and keep them on your site long enough to truly take part in what you know about your family,” says Trish Tolley, a genealogist and case manager at ProGenealogists in Salt Lake City. Smith suggests posting any mystery photographs on a special page in case others can identify the people in them.   
 
Remember, you want your site to be a two-way street, so don’t just put information out there for the taking—people should be able to connect with you. Be sure to include your e-mail address (hidden behind an “e-mail me” link or changed slightly—as in “marvinmcfly ATgmailDOTcom”—to avoid e-mail harvesting spam bots). And if your host offers such services, you could add a message board or forum, so others can interact with you or comment on their own findings, Ericson suggests. After all, your family history research will zip along faster when you can ride the information superhighway in both directions.
 
 
Greatest Generation

Some of the most attractive family Web sites we’ve seen are created with The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding <www.lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php>, a $29.99 software program that helps you design and manage your site sans HTML (you’ll need a Web hosting service that supports the PHP scripting language). John Pfost’s new e-book Webmaster’s Guide to TNG 7.0, a $35 download from here, shows you how to make the most of the program.
 
 
 
Ready Made

Want to share your family history online, but don’t want to go the DIY site-building route? Try one of these options:

 
Social Tree Builders

With services such as Geni, GeneTree, SharedTree, WebTree and Ancestry Family Tree, you simply fill in the blanks or upload your family file in GEDCOM format. Visitors to those sites can then view your tree and connect with you.

 
Prefab Family Web Sites

If you want your own site without the technical aspects—and you don’t mind a cookie-cutter approach—turn to MyFamily.com, MyHeritage or TribalPages. Typically, it’s free to get started; you may have to pay an annual fee as your site grows beyond the space limit.

 
Collaborative Online Software

Web-based genealogy programs such as Family Pursuit, AGES-Online and myFamily•ology let you manage your research online and invite others to view and edit information—you control how much access others get.

 
Blogs

The journal-style format of blogs doesn’t mesh well with typical family tree presentation, but a blog can be a great tool for sharing certain kinds of projects; for example, keeping a log of your research discoveries, or transcribing old documents (see an example here). You can set up a free blog through Blogger, TypePad or WordPress.

 
Social Networking Applications

Addicted to Facebook or MySpace? Keep track of your family tree and share it with your friends using the
We’re Related and FamilyBuilder applications.

 

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