Of any site here, this one from the growing database service World Vital Records <worldvitalrecords.com> most resembles popular social networking destinations such as Facebook. So far, 11,000 users from more than 1,700 cities have signed on.
Your FamilyLink profile can include your picture and biography, ancestral surnames and places, and extras such as languages you know and the genealogy software you use. Make your profile viewable to all or just your network of designated connections. You can invite friends to join Family Link, too. Click the Connect tab to browse public profiles.
Under the Tree section, you can upload your GEDCOM and use the site’s Family Tree Viewer to see up to 12 generations of ancestors in several formats. Add biographical details, photos and images, too. Click the Surnames or Places tabs to look for others’ surnames and places that match the ones in your tree.
Though it’s not quite as graphically slick as some other sites we looked at, its focus on research makes it easy for genealogists to find and help each other.
One of several sites with British census records and vital-records indexes, FindMyPast.com has integrated the online family tree software of its recent acquisition, PedigreeSoft. Using the site’s 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 can automatically search FindMyPast.com databases for names in your tree, and you’l soon be able to collaborate with others on your tree. You do need to pay to see FindMyPast.com records, either individually or by subscription ($30 to $180).
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.
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.
User groups can be private (open only to people you specify) or public (for example, everyone researching ancestors in the same place).
Blogs let you share discoveries. Contributions are stamped with the submitter’s user name. If you’re logged in, click Contact to e-mail the author. You can share family histories through the “Email this page” link that’s at the bottom of every page.
LivingGenealogy.com looks promising if webmasters take care of issues such as lack of dates and GEDCOM support. Keep an eye on this site once it emerges from beta.
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 retains notes and sources). You also can upload images one by one.
Just like traditional genealogy 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 which contain 180,000 unique individuals on name and birth and death dates and places. SharedTree lets you view submitters’ e-mail addresses and send messages after you register with the site. In other users’ trees, you can see details on deceased people and those older than 100, but you must be invited to see living people. 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?
You can upload a GEDCOM file or use WeRelate’s Family Tree Explorer application to enter family data into your tree. Then the site creates a Web page for each person and family in your tree. In addition to names, dates and places, you can add digitized photos and documents, narratives and source notes, and you can track your research in logs.
By naming 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.
I found WeRelate difficult to navigate. In particular, searching for a name in family trees is a multistep process: Click the Connect tab, type in first and last names, select the WeRelate radio button and “Person (and Family)” from the pull-down menu, and hit Search. Since you can’t narrow your search by date or place, it’s hard to find relevant matches for a common name.
WeRelate’s search engine, which scours more than 6 million genealogy Web pages, as well as its own wilds about library catalog items, is easier click the Web tab and enter a name, place or keyword.
You’ll want to explore die site by taking the 10-minute tour, and click the Help tab for a good overview. With a little patience, WeRelate can be a useful tool for you and your relatives to collaborate on research.
Basically pedigree databases, these sites have a few social networking enhancements.
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.
In addition to British census records, civil-registration indexes and other collections, Genes Reunited has a growing user-contributed pedigree database with 125 million names in 7 million-plus trees. The GEDCOM upload here is a bit more difficult than on similar sites. You can upload only one GEDCOM file, and for best results, your name as die tree owner must match the tree’s root name. A subsequent GEDCOM upload replaces die first one. Dates and places of birth and death transfer well, but other events and sources may get garbled or left out. 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 (you can add a town or county), click to view matches to names in your tree, or register your family names to be notified of matches (including those from the site’s census records).
A six-month membership costs about $15, and you must buy credits to view the census records and civil-registration indexes. 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. While it compares unfavorably with free pedigree databases such as WorldConnect, Genes Reunited is so popular among British genealogists that you can’t afford to overlook its family tree file if you have ancestry in Great Britain.
NokTree.com has a key difference from ordinary pedigree sites: You can add to and edit records from outer 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 his or her work.
You can enter family information by typing it in or uploading a GEDCOM file. Before accepting your GEDCOM, NokTree.com goes through a cumbersome process that rejects records without both first and last names. Sources and notes are included when you enter family information manually, but not when you upload 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. Ironically, NokTree.com’s user agreement forbids you to automatically copy data from its own database.
Advanced search options let you look for an exact date of birth, death or burial, which you can’t do in most online family trees. If you don’t know a female ancestor’s maiden name, you might find her by searching on her given name and birth date.
NokTree.com’s lack of GEDCOM sources is troubling. If you create trees here, edit your files to add sources.
You’ll find these sites great for sharing photos, ancestral information and family news with relatives as well as other researchers.
This site provides 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 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.
The branches of Amiglia.com’s family tree expand and contract as you maneuver your mouse over it. Click on a person to jump to his profile. It’s pretty cool, but more flashy than practical.
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 photos in a batch, or you can import them from the photo-sharing site Flickr <flickr.com>. You can give others a link to browse your album, invite them to add people and photos, or just select a few photos to e-mail them.
Once you’ve tagged your photos with titles, dates, names, places and themes, you can search your album and albums you have access to on any of these criteria. You can’t search all photos or people.
After a 365-day free trial, Amiglia.com costs $49.95 a yean Take advantage of the unlimited photo and video storage, 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.
Publishing ancestors’ names and dates on the Web is easy enough, but what about your source documents and pictures? This service offers a way to put those online, too, along with notes about them.
Once you sign up for a free basic membership, you can upload images to your Footnote home page and annotate them by highlighting a portion of the document and typing a comment. You also can create Story Pages by uploading, for example, scanned newspaper clippings, snapshots and letters, then adding a story about your grandfather. It’s almost like creating an online scrapbook.
Everything is summarized in your profile. Footnote indexes annotations and story pages, so long-lost relatives researching the same families might find your page. Nonsubscribers can’t yet view annotated documents you got from Footnote databases, but you can get around that by adding the document to a Story Page and using the share feature to invite people to view it. Footnote spokesperson Justin Schroepfer says webmasters plan to make annotated Footnote images shareable with anyone.
Footnote focuses on historical documents; Schroepfer says the company has no immediate plans to add a tree builder or GEDCOM support. Of course, the company hopes you’ll subscribe and use Footnote’s resources 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. It’s a terrific way to share images with family and connect with other researchers.
The founders of eBay and Yahoo! Groups created graphically superb Geni with a stronger focus on networking than on genealogy, but they’ve added researcher-friendly features. 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 get an e-mailed invite to add their relatives. The system accommodates dates and places of birth and death, but not baptisms, burials and other genealogical events.
Geni spokeswoman JoAnne Rockower says you should be able to upload a GEDCOM soon. You already can export a GEDCOM file, but it includes only names and relationships.
Like Amiglia.com, Geni lets you upload photos in a batch. Then you match them with family members and add captions. (This operates slowly on a dial-up connection.) You can set privacy levels for people you invite to view your family information, and exclude it from public searches. It’s easy to navigate through your tree by clicking on the gray arrows, and you can customize how it displays. You can search Geni trees for a name, but not for a place or time period, so it’s hard to find relevant matches for common names Other features include a calendar, timeline automatically populated with birthdays, and birthday reminders. You can get help with the site from a new users’ wiki <wiki.geni.com>. It’s all free, but Geni may eventually charge for some services. The site’s growing fast: Users added more than 5 million names in the six months after it launched in January 2007.
If you’re looking for a social networking site that helps you organize your research, store photos, connect with family and other researchers, and share data, take a look at these. If you don’t need a do-it-all tool, 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 users have uploaded more than a million images with searchable descriptions.
When you upload a GEDCOM, you can opt to make your tree accessible to all Ancestry.com members and add it to One-WorldTree, a search tool that integrates users’ information with Ancestry.com databases. The site automatically searches its census and other records for names in your tree; a shaky leaf icon indicates a potential match. Creating a Member Tree is free, but you need a $155.40-per-year subscription to view OneWorldTree search results and most records that leaf teases you with.
Your Member Tree home page summarizes your photos, records and stories. The Ancestry Press service lets you create printable charts and reports, or design gifts you can purchase. With a storytelling feature, you can record an oral history over the phone and save it to your tree. Others you invite can edit your tree and add photos and stories. You control access by designating each person as a guest, contributor or editor. For instance, only the owner and editors can view notes.
This is a first-rate system for organizing your family history online and making it a group project. But if you’re not up to building a whole tree, click Ancestry Community to create a profile with your basic information and research interests. You’l be part of Ancestry.com’s Member Directory.
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, 180 million names in family trees, and more than 100 million uploaded photos.
You still can use the facial recognition tool to find your famous twin or see which parent a child resembles more. It may one day be able to match your picture of Great-grandma to one an unknown cousin uploaded. But more immediately useful is the easy system for typing information into a family tree. Or you can download the free Family Tree Builder, a full-featured genealogy program. I wasn’t able to upload my GEDCOM file to MyHeritage, but I imported it into Family Tree Builder and used it to post my tree. You can have multiple trees and upload pictures, and make them public or limit access. It’s free with a Basic plan that allows up to 1,000 names, 15 users and 250MB of storage. (Sites might be removed after 30 days with no activity.) Paid plans range from Silver ($2.95 a month) to Platinum ($9.95).
Click the Genealogy tab, then Genealogy Center to search public family trees by name and year range (webmasters are enhancing search functionality). You should be able to search photo captions and comments by clicking the Community tab and then Media Center, but it didn’t work for me.
Click the Research tab to use MyHeritage’s genealogy search engine (it 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 family information and working with relatives around the world. Now genealogists are eager to see what MyHeritage does with recently acquired Pearl Street Software, creator of the GenCircles pedigree database and Family Tree Legends software and records collection. At press time, those products were free at <www.familytreelegends.com/downloads>.
Zooof: The Family Network
<www.zooof.com> Genealogy social networking sites usually focus on one country. Not Zooof, a free Dutch site you can view in 35 languages.
Most users build 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.
At press time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS) familiar FamilySearch <www.familysearch.org> site was slowly (achingly so, you might even say) unrolling an overhaul that includes spiffy social networking features.
Genealogists have always been fans of the site’s large searchable databases, including the Ancestral File of GEDCOMs containing millions of names, and the International Genealogical Index. On the revamped site, after discovering ancestral information in those databases, you’ll be able to build an online family tree with the Pedigree Viewer and link scanned images of source documents to facts in the file. (Visit FamilySearch Labs <www.familysearchlabs.org> to get a sneak peek at the Viewer.) Other users can help by adding to your tree.
Eventually, FamilySearch also may incorporate the LifeBrowser, a multimedia scrapbook concept under development at FamilySearch Labs.
10. Let me tell you all the details of my family’s history. My 65th-great-grandfather was born in 43 BC. He had a happy childhood …
9. I’m filthy rich and I’ll pay if you can show I’m related to British royalty.
8. Everyone tells me I’m crazy.
7. Contact me if you have an Ancestry.com subscription and will look up my Great-uncle Elmer Flooflam in the 1920 census. And Cram Gertie’s marriage record. And while you’re at it…
6. Leggy blonde seeks distinguished gentleman for moonlit cemetery strolls and romantic library rendezvous.
5. My brick wall is my great-grandmother, who was a Cherokee princess.
4. Researching the Smith family from all over the United States. Please contact me with any information.
3. HI IM BETTY NEW HERE & SOOOO EXITED START MY GENEOLOGY
2. My bad habits include indiscriminate ancestor acquisition, leaving microfilm in the reader and clipping my fingernails in the middle of your genealogy lecture.
1. I come from a long line of serial killers.
From the January 2008 Family Tree Magazine