Darrin Lythgoe has created genealogy software that you can upload and install on a Web server. You then upload your genealogy information in GEDCOM format to the same Web server, along with any pictures you wish to use. You can also enter data manually, if you prefer. Unlike most genealogy Web pages, the information is not stored as normal HTML files. Instead, it is stored in a database on the Web server, and pages are dynamically generated "on the fly" when a viewer visits your Web site. Your genealogy information is stored in MySQL database tables and dynamically displayed in attractive fashion with PHP (a scripting language). Darrin calls his software "The Next Generation."
Using a true database for storage and dynamically generating Web pages as needed has numerous advantages over static Web pages:
• Generating pages as needed saves a lot of disk space on your web site. There are no HTML pages to store, and you don't even need to keep the GEDCOM file on your site. Most Web hosting services charge for the amount of disk space used; so, this can be important to anyone with a lot of genealogy information to share.
• Using a database instead of the GEDCOM file makes the information more easily searchable. Visitors to your Web site may search by last name, first name, Soundex, metaphones (an enhanced Soundex), birth year, and several other options without wading through enormous lists of surnames or individuals. Visitors to your site are using true database searches instead of the more limited searches available with search engines.
• Pedigree and descendancy charts are capable of showing an indefinite number of generations.
• Multi-language support. When multiple languages are present, visitors have the ability to change the language for all core pages. The Web pages are automatically generated when the visitor asks for information; you do not need to upload separate HTML pages in advance for each language.
Of course, to use this software you must have a Web server that supports PHP and MySQL. PHP is a hypertext preprocessor, which is a server-side, HTML-embedded scripting language used to create dynamic Web pages. MySQL is the world's most popular open source database and is typically found on Linux servers although Windows, Macintosh, and other versions are also available.
If you have genealogy pages hosted on RootsWeb, Genealogy.com, Tripod, GeoCities, Angelfire, or any of the other free Web hosting services, you probably will not have access to PHP or MySQL and, therefore, will not be able to use The Next Generation. However, many commercial hosting services that charge $5 to $20 a month for their services will give you access to PHP and MySQL. You can find a hundred or so such hosting services by using any search engine.
You do not need to be a PHP and MySQL expert. However, if you have never heard of these terms before, you probably need to do some reading before installing this software. You will need only a basic understanding of these technologies; you do not need to be a guru.
The Next Generation (or TNG) runs on most any normal Web server, including Windows, Linux, UNIX, and Macintosh. In fact, you can even run it on your home computer for test purposes, assuming you have already installed PHP and MySQL (Home computers normally do not have these free programs installed when purchased.). There is no limit to the number of names that can be in the program's database. At least one TNG one user stores about 1,250,000 names in TNG's database. If your database is a few hundred thousand names or more, you may need a rather fast processor and a lot of memory in the server. If your database is less than 100,000 names, you probably do not have to worry about processor speed or memory size.
Version 4 of The Next Generation has added many new features, including:
• Relationship Chart: See a graphical representation of the relationship between any two related individuals.
• Timeline: Graph and compare the lifespans of an unlimited number of individuals and save it as long as your window stays open.
• Improved Admin Interface: Allows easier access to all data categories and tracks updates with admin change log.
• Expanded user information, plus let visitors register for their own user account.
• RSS newsreader page (see my "Blogs Explained" in last week's newsletter for info about RSS files)
• Branches: Label different sections of your family tree and associate user permissions.
• Surname Prefixes: Choose to manage and sort surnames independently of any prefix (i.e., "van", "de", etc.).
TNG is available in a variety of languages. The public and administrative display messages have been translated into Danish, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Swedish, German and Spanish, and the public messages have also been translated into Finnish.
The source code for TNG is also included. Actually, all PHP scripts are merely text files, so the code is easily accessible. You may make any changes you'd like although any modifications you make obviously will not be supported by the author.
One item that really impresses me is the manner in which the display pages may be customized to have the "look and feel" that you wish. I looked at quite a few sites built with The Next Generation and found that most of them did not resemble any other sites built with the same software. To see what I mean, look at several of the sites listed at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/usersites.php. In addition, Darrin Lythgoe’s own Web site contains his genealogy information and his wife’s, all generated by "The Next Generation." You can see that at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/.
You can also see two demos: one shows how TNG pages look before any customizations are made. The other shows the administrative interface of The Next Generation, including the Setup & Configuration, the Data Import, and all other administrative functions. Both are available at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/demo.php. You will note that the administrative interface is really easy to use.
I would suggest that you spend some time using the program as a normal user, both on the demo site (search for a last name of Smith) as well as on some of the sites listed in http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/usersites.php. You will quickly learn that the sites have the look and feel of searching databases on the big sites, such as FamilySearch.org, NewEnglandAncestors.org, and MyFamily.com.
The Next Generation costs $27 (US). Once purchased, you download the software, unzip it on your own PC, customize the installation parameters to match your Web server’s requirements, and then upload the result to your Web server. Assuming that the PHP software and MySQL database are already functional on your Web server, you upload the GEDCOM file and import the data into TNG. You also can manually enter your data although I suspect that GEDCOM import will be the preferred method for most people.
This program is a winner! It allows you to share your genealogy information online in a manner that matches what you want. It does not look like a "cookie cutter report" as created by so many other genealogy programs. The Next Generation is easily customizable in ways that I have not seen in desktop programs that create simple HTML pages that you upload to a Web server. TNG is a bit more challenging technically than an off-the-shelf genealogy program, but you may find this to be a very worthwhile difference. You do not need to be a software developer to install and use TNG although you should be comfortable with configuring software and with uploading files via FTP to a Web server.
For more information about The Next Generation server-based genealogy software, to look at some example sites, or to purchase the software, go to http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php