I am 81. My wife died recently and I have sold my house. I will spend my remaining days visiting family and friends.... So I will have no PC. I will rely on library facilities and friend's PCs. I will carry my GEDCOM database on CD. But most will not have a genealogy application on their PC. Many public facilities will not allow you to install applications because of the complications involved in making entries to their Windows Registry. For the same reason I cannot install the genealogy application on web storage such as Yahoo Briefcase. Is there a way around this, or perhaps a site which has a genealogy application available for all to use?
In fact, the gentleman was well ahead of his time. In the past few months, two or three possible solutions have appeared. Indeed, his last sentence is the one that seems the most prophetic: "…or perhaps a site which has a genealogy application available for all to use?"
Lately, I have been using an online genealogy site that seems to exactly satisfy my correspondent's needs exactly. In fact, I am very impressed with this service. I think that PedigreeSoft.com will appeal to thousands of other genealogists, whether they have their own computers or not. This genealogy application works instantly on Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers with no software installation required. It stores textual data, pictures and all sorts of multimedia files. Your data is always available wherever you are, as long as you can connect to the World Wide Web. It is easy to use and I am quite impressed with its speed.
PedigreeSoft.com is an online genealogy application that helps you manage your family history and genealogical research. It operates in much the same manner as all the other genealogy programs that we have all used for years, such as RootsMagic, Legacy, Personal Ancestral File, Reunion and others. You can enter data, update that data, create reports, import and export GEDCOM files, share data with others, and much more.
At first glance, PedigreeSoft.com appears to be much like other traditional genealogy applications. There is one major difference, however: your data is stored on a web server, not on your own hard drive. That difference creates many, many advantages over traditional genealogy programs, along with a few drawbacks.
PedigreeSoft.com is one of the first Web 2.0 services for genealogists, although certainly not the last one we will see. "Web 2.0" is a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004 that refers to the second generation of Web-based services. The first generation of web sites were static pages or perhaps data derived from databases. Most were "read only" pages or were simple e-commerce sites that sold products, airline tickets, or similar services.
The second generation of web sites, or "Web 2.0" services, are mostly web-based programs that either replace applications that run on a local personal computer or (in some cases) allow functionality that could never exist on a single PC. Examples include: eBay, Wikipedia, del.icio.us, Skype, Flickr, and Writely (now called Google Docs & Spreadsheets). We can now add PedigreeSoft.com to the list of Web 2.0 applications and more genealogy applications will be added to that list in coming months.
I took PedigreeSoft.com for a test drive this week and must say that I am impressed with it. I started by creating a free account and then uploaded a GEDCOM file. Within seconds, I had a fully-populated genealogy database waiting for me to use. I was able to add more individuals to the database, delete or update information on others, create printed reports, export a new GEDCOM file, and more. In short, it operated like most other genealogy programs. It not only handles names, dates and places, but it also supports:
- Lengthy text notes. I am not sure of the maximum size of text notes but it easily stored the 12 pages of notes that I have for one ancestor.
- Full source citations for birth dates, death dates, given names, surname and sex. I was a bit disappointed to find that was the full list, however. You cannot (yet) add source citations for marriages, military service, christenings, bar mitzvahs, and other life events.
- The user can attach pictures, sound files, full motion video files or most any other multimedia file to any individual's record. I attached a link to Google Earth that shows a recent satellite image of what was once my great-grandfather's farm.
- Online searches for individuals on FamilySearch.org and WeRelate.org. When viewing the record of any one individual in your database, click on RESEARCH and then click on either of the links: FamilySearch.org or WeRelate.org. You will then see entries from those services for individuals of the same name as the one you have presently displayed in PedigreeSoft.com.
- An excellent HISTORY page shows every change ever made to any record, including the previous value, the current value, and the user name of the person who made the change. This provides a full audit trail of all changes.
- A Match/Merge Tool that identifies possible duplicate entries in your database. If you decide that the two individuals are one and the same, you can combine the records.
- Printed reports of an individual's details and pedigree charts and family group sheets. These reports can be displayed on-screen or as PDF files that can be saved and printed. That's all: three reports, a major oversight in my opinion. I bet that additional printed reports get added real soon now.
Operating as an online database creates several advantages over traditional programs. Here are some of the major pluses:
- The genealogy data is available anywhere, all the time. The senior gentleman mentioned earlier can use this powerful genealogy program anytime, even if he is using a borrowed computer or a PC at a local public library. I can also use this genealogy application with my Windows computer, Macintosh computer or even a Linux system. I can also use it with my MacBook laptop when traveling, as long as I can access the World Wide Web. In fact, while testing PedigreeSoft.com I edited my genealogy data from my Cingular 8125 web-enabled cell phone. The cell phone did an acceptable job although the tiny screen created a few challenges. I don't think I'll use the cell phone to edit genealogy data on a regular basis but it is nice to know that the capability is there, should it be the only device available on some occasion.
NOTE: Anyone who even thinks of using PedigreeSoft.com from a web-enabled cell phone or PDA should first obtain Opera Mini at http://www.operamini.com. For details, see my earlier article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/06/opera_mini_20.html.
- Because the data is housed on a web server in a professionally-operated data center, computer professionals make backups on a frequent basis. Even though I'll always make my own backup copies, it is reassuring to know that someone else is also making backup copies of my data.
- I already mentioned that there is no software to install but this also means that there are no updates to install. Whenever PedigreeSoft.com issues a new version of the software, the new version is instantly available for everyone to use. Since all software is installed on a web server, anyone who logs on after an upgrade is installed will find themselves automatically using the latest version. Software maintenance by end users is so old fashioned!
- Web 2.0 applications lend themselves to multi-user applications. IPedigreeSoft.com does this well although the database owner remains in full control. For instance, you can set up an account on PedigreeSoft.com and then use the program all by yourself in the same manner as you would with The Master Genealogist, RootsMagic, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, Personal Ancestral File, Reunion, or other traditional genealogy applications. Nobody can ever see your data unless you give them access. Conversely, you can also invite others to use the same program and database that you use, even at the same time. You can invite your cousins or other family members to work with you on genealogy research. All of you can enter data into the same database with new information instantly visible to others in the project. The multi-user aspects are great for group research projects. I would hate to work in a multi-person research project without PedigreeSoft.com or some other genealogy application that is designed for simultaneous multi-user access.
I found PedigreeSoft.com to be a snap to use. I went to the web site and created a free PedigreeSoft.com BASIC account. II wasn't even asked to enter a credit card number or my mailing address. All I supplied was my name and e-mail address. I then created my own user name and password.
I discovered that the free account is limited to a maximum of 50 people in the database. Free accounts are also limited to ten megabytes of data storage and may (optionally) share access with only one other person. That's a great way to take a complete "test drive" of the system at no charge but most people will require more capabilities before "getting serious" with PedigreeSoft.com.
Luckily, the fees for more capabilities are rather modest:
PedigreeSoft.com STANDARD costs $19.95 a year and allows for up to 250 individuals in each database with up to five separate databases, up to 100 megabytes of online storage, and the ability to share access with 5 other users.
PedigreeSoft.com DELUXE costs $39.95 a year and allows for up to 5,000 individuals in each database with up to ten separate databases, up to 500 megabytes of online storage, and the ability to share access with 25 other users.
PedigreeSoft.com PROFESSIONAL costs $69.95 a year and allows for unlimited individuals in each database with up to fifty separate databases, up to 5,000 megabytes (5 gigabytes) of online storage, and the ability to share access with 100 other users.
My database of roughly 3,000 people puts me at the PedigreeSoft.com DELUXE level, assuming I have no unusual data storage requirements or want to give access to more than 25 others. The price of about $40 a year strikes me as reasonable for a service that provides online access and automatic software updates at no additional charge as well as backups and all the other services mentioned earlier.
Even though I had too many people in my GEDCOM file for free BASIC level, I decided to attempt the full import anyway. The program imported the first 50 records and then discarded the remaining. Oh well, that's enough to try the program for a while and see what it is like.
I found it interesting that if your GEDCOM file is stored on a web server someplace, PedigreeSoft.com can import that file directly. You simply enter the URL of your file and everything after that is automatic.
I found the user interface to be simple: if you have ever used a computer, you can use PedigreeSoft.com. Genealogy newcomers will feel at home immediately. I could try to describe the user experience at some length but the PedigreeSoft.com web site already has a great "tour" available that gives all the details. I'd suggest that you go to http://www.pedigreesoft.com and click on "Take the Tour."
I was impressed with the speed of operation of PedigreeSoft.com. Unlike old-fashioned web services, PedigreeSoft.com does not "repaint" the complete page every time you click on something. The page generally remains static and only the data elements of interest change. This is typical of Web 2.0 applications and it works well. As a result, the operation of PedigreeSoft.com seems almost as fast as the use of a genealogy program installed on your local hard drive.
Admittedly, I normally use a 5-megabit per second broadband connection. In fact, PedigreeSoft.com also worked well when I used a laptop computer and a Verizon EV-DO wide area wireless Internet connection that usually is a bit slower than normal DSL or cable modem broadband connections. I suspect it will be a bit slow on dial-up connections, however.
One thing that I especially like about PedigreeSoft.com is that your database remains just that: yours and yours alone. Unlike some other online genealogy services, PedigreeSoft.com keeps your data separate from everyone else's data. Your data remains as your personal information; visible only to those people you choose to share with, if any. There is no automatic merge into a master database of any sort.
All in all, I am pleased with PedigreeSoft.com. It is easy to use, performs all the basics and is available anywhere you have an Internet connection. The service has only been available for a few months. Like many new genealogy programs I have reviewed in past years, PedigreeSoft.com is still a bit "bare bones." It lacks box charts, Register-format reports (complete books), wall-sized print-outs, to do lists, "query by example" searches of large databases and many other features found in traditional PC-based genealogy programs. I suspect those features will appear in future months and years as this program gains maturity. However, you should be aware that they are not available today.
Web 2.0 programs may be the wave of the future. Online applications have a lot of appeal, especially when multi-user access is an issue. The multi-user access, automatic software upgrades, automatic backups, and other capabilities of Web 2.0 applications remove a lot of the hassle of installing and maintaining programs on your own personal computer. As more and more genealogy applications move to the web and add more and more features, such applications may attract tens of thousands of users.
Keep an eye on PedigreeSoft.com. I suspect it is going to do well in the marketplace. It is especially attractive to those involved in multi-person research efforts. I suspect the program will also appeal to others who don't want the hassle of installing and maintaining software. As new features are added, this could turn into a very popular genealogy package.
For more information about PedigreeSoft.com, look at http://www.pedigreesoft.com. First click on "Take the Tour." If the program appeals to you, I'd suggest you create a free PedigreeSoft.com BASIC account and use it for a while. What have you got to lose by using a free account?