Seven years ago, OneGreatFamily.com introduced a revolutionary new service: an online genealogy database containing data contributed by users. Best of all, the data was shared by all and instantly updated when any user added or corrected any data within the single database. It was a revolutionary concept at the time.
Subscribers to OneGreatFamily.com accessed the service by first downloading a bit of software into their Windows computers and using it in a manner that was somewhat similar to other genealogy programs of the time, with one major exception: the data was stored in an online database instead of in individual "islands" on users' own hard drives. All the users shared one genealogy database. Any new data added to the centralized database was instantly visible and fully usable by others.
OneGreatFamily.com has continued to grow, and the company has occasionally added new features. You can read my past articles about the company at http://tinyurl.com/yuwykq.
This week OneGreatFamily.com introduced several major new features, perhaps the biggest upgrades ever. I had not looked at the service for a while, so I went back to see what's new. OneGreatFamily.com V.P. Rob Armstrong was kind enough to take me on a "tour" and point out the new features. I must say that I was impressed. The OneGreatFamily.com service has matured into a great product that will please many genealogists.
In practice, OneGreatFamily.com is a cross between a standard genealogy program that runs on a desktop computer and an application that runs in a web browser. In fact, it is an online application. The database resides on a large server farm on the Internet. Users access OneGreatFamily.com via an online connection. However, they don't use a standard browser. Most functions are performed by using small programs that download and run in the user's Windows computer. (There is no Macintosh capability.) Those applications communicate across the Internet to the database. In short, the OneGreatFamily.com programs operate in much the same manner as other genealogy programs (Legacy, RootsMagic, The Master Genealogist, Ancestral Quest, etc.) with one exception: data is not stored on the local hard drive. Instead, it uses a large database on a remote server for data storage. Everyone can read that data, and everyone can write to it, with protections that prevent overwriting someone else's data that I'll explain in a bit.
Upon signing up with OneGreatFamily.com for the first time (you do use a standard web browser for sign-up), you start by downloading a small program called Genealogy Browser. You enter information about yourself and your ancestors into Genealogy Browser. It will also import a GEDCOM file if you wish. At some point, the user decides to add his or her data to the one huge database at OneGreatFamily.com. Then the process gets interesting!
When I saw Genealogy Browser in action last week, Rob Armstrong entered very basic information about three people: himself, his father, and his mother. That's all, only three people. He then merged the data into OneGreatFamily.com, and within a few seconds he was looking at pages and pages of information about more than 1,000 of his ancestors!
To be sure, Rob knew in advance that all the information about his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond were already in the database. He was able to use this as a demo simply because the information he entered about his father and mother was already in the OneGreatFamily.com database, and the software recognized them when Rob merged his newly-entered information into the major database.
This "canned demo" illustrated an ideal scenario, but it also shows what can be accomplished. Most of us will have to first enter more than three people into the database, although perhaps not. It all depends upon how much data about your ancestors has already been entered by others. The OneGreatFamily.com application will accept your new data and then start looking for matches. It will display probable matches to the user and ask, "Is this a match?" The user can accept it or not, as appropriate. After identifying one or two matches, the OneGreatFamily.com application will then connect the user into all known relatives already documented in the central database.
While the example I saw earlier of connecting someone to thousands of ancestors after entering the information of only three people is obviously unusual, it is common for genealogy newcomers to find documented connections to thousands of ancestors after entering information of only eight or ten known ancestors.
Obviously, the more people you can document on your own, the better the odds of matching with data already available on OneGreatFamily.com. Once matched, you will see all the known relations, probably included many that you were not aware of previously. You might find a few new ancestors. Some people may find thousands of new ancestors. As with any other genealogy information obtained online or in books, you always want to verify the information. However, this is a great way to get started or to verify what you already have. OneGreatFamily.com has often connected genealogy newcomers who only have information about a handful of ancestors and then suddenly found themselves with a thousand or more ancestors already defined. .
In the demo that I saw, Rob initially entered data about three people but deliberately left out his own middle name, deliberately misspelled the town where his parents were married, and also left out county names. When his three entries were matched against the master database, he was presented with a series of options of whether or not to accept the various bits of new information. In this example, the master database correctly identified his middle name, corrected the spelling of the town, and also inserted all of the correct county names. Each piece of new information was optional; the user is queried as to whether or not to accept the proposed new data. If you have doubts, you can decline the offer.
Much of the data within OneGreatFamily.com includes source citations although that is not strictly required. Any good genealogist is going to verify the information anyway, whether it is documented or not.
Everything up to this point was done in the Genealogy Browser program. After data entry is complete, the user moves to a different application: Family Dashboard. This is where the fun begins. Family Dashboard provides the ability to "zoom around the family tree," investigates individuals and facts, create reports, and generally check your family tree research.
Family Dashboard is built using widget technology. It is similar to the widgets used in Yahoo, Google, and Windows Vista's so-called "gadgets." Widgets are small sub-programs that a user may elect to make available or not. Widgets can be "dragged-and-dropped" onto the desktop or removed and hidden at any time. Some of the widgets already available today include:
EXCELLENT online maps built on top of Google Maps technology. You can map the locations and the travels of your ancestors in an almost infinite number of ways. You can see migration patterns. You can see the ancestors' locations as recorded in census records and elsewhere. You may be able to see why some of your ancestors met, courted, and married spouses in some nearby towns but not others (for example, perhaps a river or a mountain range blocked easy travel in one direction but not in another).
Dropline Charts showing the generations between you and a particular ancestor
Shared Ancestors. In the demo, Rob selected his own name, then selected Lucille Ball as the person to be compared with. Within seconds, he was told that Lucille was his ninth cousin, once removed. Keep in mind that Rob had not entered any data about Lucille Ball and very little data about his own ancestors. Almost all the data had already been in OneGreatFamily.com's database before he started on the project. He picked Lucille Ball at random and was pleasantly surprised to find he had a very distant relationship. Most everyone has distant relationships with a number of notable people. You may find some notables among your distant cousins on OneGreatFamily.com.
End of Line Widget that shows all of your ancestors who have no data entered about their parents. You can show all of them at once or focus on only one or two. These are the people for whom you need more research to go back more generations.
The Time Capsule is a sort of "What happened on this date in history" application that links dates in your data to historical information stored on Wikipedia. This can be very useful for studying the factors that affected the lives of your ancestors.
All of this is the tip of the iceberg. There are more widgets available today, and new ones are still being developed. All widgets are available to all users of OneGreatFamily.com.
Navigating around your family tree in OneGreatFamily.com is a pleasure. You can "surf" your family tree, using a mouse to "zoom" in and out, up, down, and around the tree. Indeed, it is displayed very much like a tree or some thick brush with branches intertwined everywhere. Cousin marriages and multiple lines of descent from one person or from one couple all present no problems. You can browse through the branches effortlessly.
I do not have the words to properly describe this form of navigation. Instead, I'd suggest you look at the demo at http://onegreatfamily.com/LearnMore. It will provide a visual demonstration that is far better than any words I can write.
Another feature that I think will be very popular is the "Read-only view for non-members." A OneGreatFamily.com customer can create a view of all or some of his family tree and then create a custom URL (web address) that displays the data in a web browser. The customer can then place that URL on a web site or include it in an e-mail message. Anyone who clicks on that URL link will display the information tree specified. You have to be a OneGreatFamily.com customer to create the custom URL, but anyone - customer or not - can later use the URL to see the information.
OneGreatFamily.com handles conflicts about as well as any system I have seen. Any time two or more genealogists collaborate on research, there are bound to be disagreements as to which "fact" is right. OneGreatFamily.com allows all customers to enter all sorts of facts. At first, all customers will see all the claimed facts for any one individual. In cases of disagreement, each person is invited to communicate with the other(s) in a cooperative method. (E-mail addresses are never shown without your permission.) If the two people eventually agree, those two facts are merged together to reflect the newly agreed-upon information. In cases where resolution is impossible, the user may elect to show all facts or to show only the specific facts that he or she selects. In other words, while the database may show three different dates and places for the birth of your great-grandfather along with two different sets of parents, you may elect to see and display only the one date, one location, and one specific set of parents that you wish. If you elect to create a custom URL of your ancestry, only the data you selected will display to those who click on your URL.
While you are using a shared database and do have the benefit of everyone else's research at your fingertips, you are never forced to accept any information that you believe might be incorrect.
Sensitive data, such as children born out of wedlock, can be kept "hidden." You can grant access to the hidden information to selected people while simultaneously hiding it from all other OneGreatFamily.com customers.
The OneGreatFamily.com database supports all sorts of religious database fields, including dates of LDS events, Catholic christenings, Jewish Bar Mitzvahs, and more.
As you might expect, OneGreatFamily.com sends and receives a lot of information over the Internet connection between your computer and the company's servers. A broadband Internet connection is strongly recommended. Company officials told me that a few customers have used it on dial-up connections and that it does work. However, performance on dial-up is very slow.
All in all, OneGreatFamily.com has come a long way since its introduction seven years ago. The company has preserved the benefits of one shared database with thousands of genealogists collaborating together to build one huge family tree, showing how millions of people are related. More recent changes have increased security, protected privacy, added ease of use, and greatly enhanced the user experience.
OneGreatFamily.com has a slogan: "Enjoy your family tree." Indeed, the company has produced a product that helps you do just that.
Some of the company's employees will expand on that a bit by saying, "Enjoy your family tree without all the tedious data entry." I am not sure I agree with that completely as some data entry will still be necessary. OneGreatFamily.com has not yet reached the Utopian concept of "enter your name and click on a button to see all your ancestors back to Adam and Eve." Nobody has provided that service yet. However, I will concede that OneGreatFamily.com is closer to that goal than any other product I have seen to date. The company provides millions of interconnected records in a user-friendly display. It offers documentation that is as good as what the users entered (which often may not be sufficient) and then allows the user to accept or reject any facts in the database. If the user has better information, he or she is invited to share it with everyone else.
In short, OneGreatFamily.com has already accomplished what some other organizations say they will do within a few years.
OneGreatFamily.com costs about $60 a year, or $5.00 a month but paid annually. A seven-day free trial is also available.
This strikes me as an economical price when you consider there is no software to buy, never any need to purchase software upgrades, and no other charges - and the company takes care of all the backups. Your data is always protected via daily backups without any action on your part. Your complete genealogy data is also always available from any Windows computer with an Internet connection, be it your desktop, your laptop, a friend's computer, or a public access computer at the library or at an Internet café. Universal access is a big help for those who travel.
To learn more about this great service, or to sign up now, go to http://www.OneGreatFamily.com.