How to Make an Online Family Tree
To make an online family tree can be as easy, complex, simple, or detailed as you want. This article explores your options so you can choose the route that's best for you. Some are free, some help you link to others, some family tree software is installed on your PC and some is entirely online.
But you need to know what's possible before you commit!
It is outside the scope of this document to list and review every option, route and software available as there are literally THOUSANDS of options. This article is to help you to decide which route is probably best for you and to point you in the direction of software that will meet your needs.
Building an online family tree should be about fun, not about getting technical (at this point). Choose a system that imports/exports in the GEDCOM format and you can always change your mind and move your files later if you wish!
How to Make an Online Family Tree
Firstly, from the title, we can see that the focus is on building an online family tree. This would therefore imply that it is separate to building one on your PC for your own use and enjoyment.
There is one thing I must say and that is to make sure that whatever you choose has the ability to import and export GEDCOM files. The GEDCOM file format is used for most family tree and genealogy sites and software, although there are various versions as the standard is improved.
Imagine if you spent the next year filling in information onto an online website, or on free software on your PC only to find it all gone, or wishing to move all your data to a better system - and finding out you've either lost the lot, or can't move the data.
Family trees are held in the GEDCOM format, this links all the people together correctly. You can send/receive GEDCOM files with other people who share parts of your tree, you can backup everythhing you have by exporting your files in GEDCOM format - and you can instantly use other software by importing a copy of your GEDCOM file.
I'd expect any reasonable site, system or software to be able to do this, but I thought it important enough that it should be pointed out.
Software or Website?
Probably the first choice you will make is whether you want to use software on your PC, use an established website that has a family tree maker on it, or use a combination of the two. There is another route, which involves you owning a website and creating your own solution from scratch, but I won't cover that here. That is something most people no longer bother to do as there are so many better solutions.
Below are some of your choices for family tree software and family tree website makers:
Gramps: Software on your PC
Gramps is stand alone software that runs on your PC. It holds everything you'd want about people, places, relationships, families. It produces a graphic representation of the active person’s ancestry featuring photos and birth/death dates.
Gramps also produces website files that you can upload to your own domain/website.
Gramps lets you merge two separate people into one - this is useful if you are combinging two databases that contain overlapping people.
The Places feature is particularly strong in this, having separate fields for street, city, latitude, church parish, etc enabling you to group people together by specific location.
Also, the dates feature lets you specify grey areas like "before", "after" etc. Handy when you have somebody who you know was born after a year, or before another.
As your tree grows, you might want to share a portion of it with somebody else - maybe you've discovered your cousin's working on a tree too and you just want to give them the portion of your tree that's relevant. With Gramps you can set a "focus" on one part of your tree and export that (as a GEDCOM) and then simply email that file over to your cousin (who can import it to their tree).
There are quite a few niggles with Gramps and most people find it very hard to learn.
How to make a website: You collect all the information in the programme on your PC, then tthere are various ways to export the information, so you can export the GEDCOM and then use a website software program (e.g. Web Family Tree) to display this online.
- GEDCOM: v5.5 compatibiity for import/export
- Cost: FREE. Gramps is an open source family tree maker
- Source: http://gramps-project.org/
FamilyEcho: Free Online Family Tree
The first one I used, that is good, is called FamilyEcho - this is entirely online and just for you - although you can share it with friends/family.
It's easy to use - you just sign up. It's entirely free too. To get started, you either sign up, using your name as the starting point - then your whole family spans out from you.
I do find the reports a bit frustrating because once they are displayed in "family tree" diagram format they can unexpectedly span several pages. There are settings to fiddle with to change this thought.
This is a great solution if you're using a public computer, say researching in the library, and want to instantly update your tree.
Once registered, you can use your account to keep multiple/different family trees too - and give them a name that is meaningful for you. On the account page once you've logged in you see a list of all the trees to view and under that a clear button labelled "create or import a new family". Very simple and ideal for beginners!
- GEDCOM: FamilyEcho lets you import and export family trees that you want to receive or share too.
- Cost: Free
- Source: http://www.familyecho.com
Website Online Family Tree Builders
Many large online family research websites let you create a free family tree. Perhaps you are already visiting one. The best way to work out which is best for you is to visit the sites and see what others have created. Navigate through a few and see if that's how you want your family tree to look.
We all have different needs and expectations of how the family tree should look online - so it can be a good idea to simply find one you like the look of and join/use that.
MyHeritage: Free Software
MyHeritage.com is a new community site for keeping in touch with family and friends. It includes photo sharing with face recognition technology, online family trees, family event calendars, a genealogy search engine and free genealogy software.
Other features of MyHeritage include a "smart match" where it helps you to make the connection, let the software spot where other people on the site share an ancestor with you - helping you grow your family tree without any effort; add photos to people's profiles.
Online Family Tree: Set your privacy settings, who who can see what - and you can instantly upload and update your tree on the MyHeritage website.
Tip: I'd avoid installing their toolbar as part of the installation as they tend to get in the way when I am doing other things.
- GEDCOM: Import/export possible.
- Cost: FREE
- Source: http://www.myheritage.com/page/free-online-family-tree
Family Tree Maker Software, by Ancestry.com
One of the biggest online sites for famiy tree research is ancestry.com (and .co.uk) - they have written and sell the number 1 selling family tree software, called Family Tree Maker. Whether you are starting out with just yourself as the sole person listed, or if you've built or inherited a 10,000 person tree, this is considered to be the best software around.
When you buy this software you're buying into a huge investment in making the software perfect. As the most popular software, there are thousands of satisfied users and continual upgrades and improvements as new needs are identified. You get a free subscription to Ancestry when you buy the software, but there's plenty of free resources on their site to not need to continue subscribing. The software doesn't stop working after your trial.
Making your family tree is no longer about storing names, dates and places. There are other benefits it can bring.
Once you've built your family tree using the software you can press a button and upload it to the Ancestry site. Once it's there the software can keep an eye out on everybody else's trees all the time and if it spots a potential match it'll let you know!
There's a great timeline feature that helps you get everything in perspective - if you view a timeline of somebody's life events it is blended with other family members’ life events—and historical events. You can quickly spot where somebody got married just as somebody else in the family had died, or where there was a cluster of babies being born. Usually you have to work this out for yourself, e.g. when you add a marriage you might wonder if the grandparents were there; with the timeline you can see if they might have been.
When you select an individual you can easily see everything and everybody else that is around at the same time, giving you a sense of "the family" and not just a name and a date. This software really brings it alive for you, keeping you interested and motivated - even excited!
- GEDCOM: Yes, import and export
- Cost:$40-$80 or so
- Source: http://www.familytreemaker.com/
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Self Hosting Your Online Family Tree
If you wish to have your own website and manage and run your own family tree website, then one way to do this is to use Wordpress. There are a selection of free plugins available too.
If you buy your domain name with a host that has a "one click install" of Wordpress, then add in a plugin (I use rootspersona), you can upload your GEDCOM and have your family tree online very quickly. There are other plugins that enable you to enter your data from scratch directly on your website too.
Alternatively, you could use an open source (free) programme like phpGedView to display your family tree (http://wiki.phpgedview.net/en/index.php/Main_Page)
Running your own website is a lot more work outset, but once you've got it set up it's yours and you can do what you like with the space. There is, of course, the cost of hosting each year, but you would have the power to sell advertising space if you wanted to cover your costs.
You would need:
- A domain name/hosting
- Install the Wordpress.org software
- Install your plugins
- Some time to set it all up
The difference by doing it this way is that you are running your own website, which you could turn into a niche family site, or a niche one family name - it's up to you. You might want to have a site about another hobby, or business, and just have your familyy tree as a part of that site. WIth your own website/domain it's up to you.
- GEDCOM: Import/export depending which plugins you use
- COST: Annual Hosting Cost
- Source: Any hosting provider, I use Bluehost as they're reliable and worldwide.
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I've seen a lot of people use free websites for their family tree. These can give you the flexibility to do what you want in the space and create a whole website of your family tree, research and other associated snippets and mini projects.
It's free - but there can be some limitations as to how much access you have to the server, if, for example, you wanted to upload a program to display your GEDCOM files.
For many people, they want a website where they can just talk about their family and research, with perhaps a link out to a genealogy site where their site is being run.
People who go down this route will usually be interested in a lot more than just their family - and will extend the site to information about history that interested them during their research, or handy lists, etc. Like a big online notebook of additional information!
My advice would be to either accept the limitations and niggles of something free for now, before deciding what you want once you've more experience, or, just biting the bullet and going with the best selling family tree software right from the start.
I hope this has helped somebody to see what's out there, now you've just got to crack on and make a choice and start putting your family and research online!