Tree Play

Tree Play

Constructing a family Web site is a snap with these genealogy-friendly site builders.

One of the first lessons young children have to learn is sharing: Don’t hog all the blocks, do share the cookies. Sharing turns out to be a useful lesson for genealogists, too: Don’t hog all the records resources, do share your finds, and some hitherto unknown distant cousin may return the favor. These days, the Internet makes sharing your family tree easy. Of course, you can upload pedigree files to online databases such as WorldConnect <worldconnect.rootsweb.com> and GenCircles <gencircles.com>, where other researchers can search them along with zillions of other family trees. But you don’t have to limit your sharing to such sites — or give up control over your data. Creating your own Web site — once limited to techno-geeks and those who’d mastered arcane HTML coding — is now almost as easy as sending an e-mail.

If you’ve already invested in a genealogy software program and spent time entering what you know about your ancestors, you’re more than halfway to your own home page. All leading programs let you export GEDCOM files (the universal format for family trees), which you can then use as the basis of your own Web site on a service such as MyFamily.com or My Great Big Family (see box, opposite page). Going that route skirts the question of where to host your Web site. While you can enter your data manually online — handy for beginners — if you have hundreds or thousands of relatives, exporting and uploading a GEDCOM file is the way to go.

Some services have built-in ways to share not only family trees but also actual records, either as transcriptions or scanned images of the originals, in an online “file cabinet.” You also can take advantage of powerful communication tools to create a bulletin board for your family’s researchers, share photos and videos, and play with bells and whistles such as collaborative address books or online calendars for planning family events. My Great Big Family offers live chats, a family reunion organizer and a family recipe cookbook. MyHeritage even touts facial-recognition software it claims automatically can find photos of your family members that others have uploaded, helping identify unknown faces in old family photos. Besides such gizmos, these services generally let you control access to your site and its collaborative features so strangers can’t mess with your trees or post photos.

Most such services create a Web site that “lives” within an umbrella site, so the online address (URL) of your home page might be www.myfamily.com followed by a slash and a hodgepodge of letters and numbers. Similarly, if you use Family Tree Maker software, the site you create by going to its Internet menu and selecting Create a Family Home Page will ultimately be stored on Family Tree Maker’s site. So your home page address might be something like familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/s/m/i/Jane-E-Smith/index.html. Sites hosted by Family Tree Maker, like most ordinary sites you might come across on the Web, aren’t collaborative (meaning they don’t let others post data); you simply post your own data for the world to see.

My Great Big Family combines family trees and interactive features with domain registration and hosting. That means you can come up with your own unique URL — www.smithfamilygenealogy.com, or whatever — and My Great Big Family takes care of registering it with Verisign, the traffic cop of the dot-com universe. (Be aware, however, that most obvious domain names are spoken for, including the 10,000 most common surnames. And yes, www.smithfamilygenealogy.com is taken.) The service also gives you Web space to store your trees and photos. Similarly, MyFamily.com’s “Super Site” option gives you space plus your own domain.

Or you can register your domain yourself (it costs about $9 a year) with one of the many non-genealogy-related registrars. Then you can arrange your own hosting, or take advantage of Web space you may already be entitled to via your Internet provider. Earthlink <www.earthlink.net>, for example, includes up to 80MB of space with its $21.95 per month dial-up accounts. Your home page address would then be along the lines of home.earthlink.net/~janesmith. Some domain services such as MyDomain <www.mydomain.com> offer a sneaky — and free — workaround called “URL forwarding,” so that when someone types www.janesgenealogy.com, it automatically goes to your real, less-cool-looking URL at your Internet provider (or at Family Tree Maker).

Getting your family tree online at your own Web space is a snap if your genealogy program lets you export HTML or has a “save as Web pages” option. In RootsMagic, for instance, you click on Internet> Create a Web site and select the data you want to include. If you’ve added photos to your file, most programs allow you to include these in the exported Web pages. Then you use a simple file-transfer program to “FTP” the resulting files to your Web host; your hosting service or Internet provider can give you detailed instructions and may even supply you with basic FTP software or a Web-based uploading alternative.

However you choose to put your family tree online, you’ll soon discover that Mom was right — it is nice to share.

Building Blocks

These Web site-building and -hosting services can help you get your family home page up in a flash:

Service Name Features Price
Big Tree Project www.bigtreeproject.com Online trees and collaboration Free; no space limit
FamilyBuzz.com www.familybuzz.com Private family pages and files (not specifically designed to host trees), message board, chat, photo sharing, calendar, address book $12/year for 100MB
MyFamily.com www.myfamily.com Private family pages and trees, message board, chat, photo sharing, calendar, address book $29.95/year for 100MB; $109.95/year for 500MB and personal domain
 
Private family pages and trees, message board, Family Tree Builder software, photo sharing, face recognition, calendar, recipes; plans to add medical history and blogs Free basic site; upgrade to Silver ($3o/year), Gold ($75/year) or Platinum ($120/year) plans
My Great Big Family www.mygreatbigfamily.com Private family pages, trees and files; message board; chat; photo sharing; reunions; calendar; clubs; polls; recipes $139.95/year for 250MB or $159.95 for 500MB, both with personal domain
The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding www.lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php Software that runs dynamically online without HTML; requires a host that supports PHP and MySQL $29 (for software only, Web hosting not included)

From the December 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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