Whether it’s a great-aunt you knew well or a distant relative you’ve never heard of, someone has probably already researched at least one branch of your family tree. Why repeat that work from scratch? Databases of family trees other genealogists have posted online let you quickly review their research so you can harvest family history clues and build on their findings.
Planting trees online
• Contacting others: A major benefit of family tree databases is the opportunity to find other genealogists researching your family. When you locate an “internet cousin” this way, try to contact the person to exchange information and ask questions. If you use information from an online family tree (after verifying the facts with your own research), give proper attribution to the submitter and note where you found the tree. Don’t publish more than short extracts from someone else’s work in print or elsewhere online without getting his or her permission.
Harvesting Family Tree Fruits
Ancestry Member Trees
• Price: It’s free to build a tree, and you can invite others to access your tree for free. A paid subscription, $19.99 per month or $99 for six months for US records, is required to view details of trees in the database, see matching records and attach records from Ancestry.com to your online trees. Note that you can view Ancestry.com’s Public Member Trees and contact submitters for free on Mundia.com, at least while that site is in beta testing.
• Size: 2.1 billion names in Public Trees; 769 million in Private Trees
• Contacting submitters: To contact a Public Tree submitter, you can use Ancestry’s online Messages feature. If the submitter has made an email address publicly viewable, you can send an email from your personal account. Names in Private Trees show up in search results, but you have to contact the submitter through Ancestry.com’s Connection Service to request permission to view the tree.
• Essentials: Register for a free account to create a tree. To create your tree, type in names and other information, upload it from the Family Tree Maker program, or submit a GEDCOM file created with other genealogy software. You can attach photos, sound and digitized records, and invite family members to view your tree and contribute to it. Family Tree Maker can synchronize the family trees on your computer and in online Member Trees. Designate your file as a Public Tree open to all Ancestry.com subscribers, or a Private Tree accessible only to those you invite (names still show up in others’ search results, with a prompt to request permission to view the tree). Ancestry automatically searches its databases for the names in your tree. A waving leaf beside a name in your tree indicates a potential match in historical records or someone else’s tree. You need an Ancestry.com subscription to view matching records and trees.
FamilySearch Family Tree
• Price: free
• Size: 900 million names
• Contacting submitters: This database comes from collections including Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, the International Genealogical Index, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints membership records and ongoing user submissions. You can’t view the original submitters’ names, but you can see who’s made changes and added names since the current FamilySearch Family Tree went online—just select a person’s Details tab and click on an item under Latest Changes. By default, users who edit the Family Tree or add new names are identified only by a code, but they can adjust their FamilySearch Account settings to show their names and contact information.
• Essentials: No sign-in is required to access most of FamilySearch.org, but you must register here to search the Family Tree. FamilySearch’s goal is to create a universal family tree with just one profile for each individual. To help you avoid adding names already in the tree, the Family Tree Wizard asks questions about your ancestors as you enter their details, and then connects them to the Family Tree. Each time you add a new person to your tree, the Family Tree checks for an existing profile of that person. If it finds one, you can link the existing person to your tree. You can add photos, tag faces in them and link them to ancestor profiles. You also can attach stories to people. A new partnership with MyHeritage allows FamilySearch Family Trees to be matched with trees on MyHeritage. The FamilySearch Products page lists genealogy software that can reconcile data between the family file on your computer and your tree in Family Tree. Approved Windows programs include Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic.
• Price: free
• Size: 240 million names
• Contacting submitters: Submitters’ names and contact information aren’t shown here. Instead, a code consists of the submitter’s first initial and last name, plus a number. Submitters’ names and addresses are in old versions of Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File, on CD and DVD at some FamilySearch Centers, but there’s a good chance the contact information is outdated. If you submit your family tree to the Pedigree Resource File, your contact information won’t be with it.
• Essentials: Two files make up FamilySearch Genealogies: Ancestral File has 40 million names in family trees submitted between 1990 and 2000, primarily by LDS Church members, with a great deal of information on Medieval families. It has no source citations and new information isn’t being added. Pedigree Resource File, the successor to Ancestral File, has 200 million names, includes notes and sources, and is still open for submissions. Scroll to the bottom of FamilySearch.org to upload a GEDCOM file.
• Price: $53 per year
• Size: 654 million names
• Contacting submitters: Whether or not you have a paid subscription to this site, you can email submitters from your own account.
• Essentials: This French genealogy database also has trees from elsewhere in Europe and in North America. You can do a simple surname search for free, but you need a subscription to search on a full name and other criteria. Subscribers also can automatically match their own family trees with other family trees, books and indexes.
• Price: Standard subscription, $33.95 a year; Platinum subscription, $31.95 per month or $128.04 per year
• Size: 236 million names
• Contacting submitters: You must be a subscriber to contact a submitter; messages are sent through the site.
• Essentials: Based in England, Genes Reunited’s family trees and records are especially strong for the British Isles. Search results show just a name, a year and place of birth, and the tree’s owner. You need to contact the tree’s owner for permission to see more details, so the process is more cumbersome than with most family tree databases. To see trees you’ve obtained permission to view, select My Contacts from the Messages tab.
• Price: A basic account is free. A Pro account costs $119.40 per year and provides enhanced searching and unlimited media storage.
• Size: 73 million names
• Contacting submitters: You must be a subscriber to contact a submitter and view details in trees.
• Essentials: Now owned by MyHeritage, Geni focuses on helping family members collaborate on building an online family tree. Geni’s World Family Tree (not to be confused with Genealogy.com’s World Family Tree) uses MyHeritage’s matching technology to find your relatives in other trees on Geni, and to find historical records pertaining to your relatives. You’ll need a MyHeritage subscription to view most matching records.
• Price: free, but a Premium membership may require a fee once beta testing concludes
• Size: 2.1 billion names (the site claims 5.3 billion, but that number includes living people, who come up in searches as “private”)
• Contacting submitters: To identify the submitter, click on a name in family or pedigree view. Then under More, select View Profile to see who posted each item. Click on a name, then on Contact to send a message through the website. Or, if the person provided an email address, contact him or her directly.
• Essentials: Ancestry.com created Mundia in 2009. You have to log in with an Ancestry.com user name and password, but you don’t need to be a paying member to search. Mundia has all Ancestry.com’s Public Member Trees. You can set up a tree and add photos of the people in it. Changes made to a tree on Mundia are reflected in the tree on Ancestry.com and vice versa. Just as with Ancestry Member Trees, a shaky leaf on a person’s profile indicates a possible match in Ancestry.com’s data collection. You need an Ancestry.com subscription to access most of the records. You can invite relatives to access your tree for free, and let them edit it.
• Price: It’s free to build an online family tree. A subscription is required to view others’ information and costs $20 per month or $120 per year. You get one month of free access when you upload a GEDCOM file or build a family tree with at least 15 families and 60 people.
• Size: 307 million names
• Contacting submitters: Only subscribers can view a submitter’s email address.
• Essentials: Your online tree can include photos, and you can invite family members to view it even if you’re a free member. Searching and viewing matches could use improvement: You can’t narrow a search by place, and the pedigree view is unconventional and confusing.
• Price: A family tree with up to 250 names and 250 MB of storage is free. Up to 2,500 names and 500 MB of storage costs $6.25 per month. Unlimited names and storage costs $9.95 per month. You must have a paid subscription to view details in another person’s tree. To access most historical records on the site, you need a MyHeritage Data Subscription ($76.20 a year) or credits (5,600 credits valid for 180 days cost $39.95).
• Size: 1.5 billion names
• Contacting submitters: The names of submitters (“site managers”) are shown for everyone. Just click on the link beside a person’s profile to contact the site manager through the site. To go to your email inbox, click on the envelope on the upper right part of any screen.
• Essentials: You can submit your family tree here in one of three ways: Type in names, upload your file using the free Family Tree Builder software for Windows, or use another program and upload a GEDCOM file. Family Tree Builder automatically syncs your online and desktop trees. You can include pictures and videos, and make your tree public or limit access to members you invite. You also can allow others to edit your tree. MyHeritage’s Smart Matching and Record Matching looks for matches between profiles in your tree and the other trees and historical records on MyHeritage—and now, in trees and records on FamilySearch.org.
• Price: free
• Size: 720 million names
• Contacting submitters: A submitter’s email address is displayed as an image to ward off spambots. If you have a tree here, to update your email address so people can contact you about it, log on to RootsWeb and click on My Account at the top of the page. If a tree’s database ID begins with a colon, it was originally submitted through Ancestry.com. These submitters aren’t associated with RootsWeb member accounts, so their contact information can’t be updated.
• Essentials: The WorldConnect Project looks plain and doesn’t accommodate pictures, but it’s large, easy to use and offers multiple search options. It’s also free, making it one of the most useful online family tree databases. When Ancestry.com acquired RootsWeb in 2003, it combined its Ancestry World Tree with RootsWeb’s WorldConnect Project. Data contributed to either site was also added to the other one, so they had the same names. Ancestry.com no longer offers the Ancestry World Tree (Member Trees replaced it), but data that was contributed to it is still in the WorldConnect Project.
• Price: It’s free to create a family website with up to 10 MB of space, and to search other family sites. Fees start at $24 per year to find connections in other trees and to add more than 50 photos on your family site.
• Size: 115 million names
• Contacting submitters: You can contact a site administrator through Tribal Pages.
• Essentials: It’s easy to create an online family tree here, generate charts and share photos. To set up a family website, either upload a GEDCOM file or type in names. You can optionally make your site private. Visitors to your site can view your photos as a slideshow.
2,916: Ancestry Member Trees (2.1 billion in Public Member Trees; 769 million in Private Member Trees)
2,147: Mundia (Ancestry.com)
900: FamilySearch Family Tree
720: RootsWeb WorldConnect Project
242: OneGreatFamily.com (242 million before merging, 190 million after merging)
240: FamilySearch Genealogies (40 million in Ancestral File and 200 million in Pedigree Resource File)
236: Genes Reunited
183: Genealogy.com’s World Family Tree
115: Tribal Pages
33: GenDex Network
29: DISBYT (Swedish)
200: Mocavo Plus
11: GEDBAS (German)
6: Family Tree of the Jewish People
.6: Evangeline’s Cousins
.2: Heredis (French)
unknown: GenCircles Global Tree
• Spotting errors in family trees
• Evaluating online sources
• Family website services
• Mining pedigree databases
• Analyzing ancestral evidence
• Symptoms of sick family trees
• Ancestry.com Search Secrets on-demand webinar
• Making the Most of FamilySearch.org on-demand webinar
• Build a Family Website Independent Study Course