My cousin has begun documenting our family tree, and I am going to help her document the data electronically, but we are confused as to which software to use. We both need to be able to access the software online and make changes and updates, so that is a deal breaker. We would also prefer software that allows us to link documents, PDFs, photos, etc. to individual family members in the tree. We took a look at ancestry.com, and my cousin even used it to do some of the research, but the monthly fee seems a little steep. Your article piqued our interest in other alternatives like onegreatfamily.com. Could you point us in the right direction?
Great question! This is an issue that many people and societies are facing today as they work together in collaborative projects. In fact, there are at least a dozen products that will meet your needs, and probably more. However, some of those products will meet your needs better than will others.
Since you specified that you wish to "access the software online and [for both of you] make changes and updates." That eliminates all the programs that install in your Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computers. You cannot use Reunion, Mac FamilyTree, The Master Genealogist, Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, AncestralQuest, Gramps, Branches, or similar programs. Those are great programs for individual use in free-standing computers, but they were never designed to have two or more simultaneous users updating data in different locations.
Luckily, there are a number of online alternatives. First, I would suggest you answer some questions:
How much control do you wish to have over the information stored?
How much control do you wish to have over the presentation of the information?
Do you wish to share the information with others? If so, do you want to share it with everyone or only with selected individuals where you control their access? Do those others get full read/write access or just read-only access?
I suggest you first determine the answers to these questions. Those answers will help you decide which of the following products you wish to use.
I will divide the available services into three categories:
- Contribute to Someone Else's Database
- Own Your Own Database
- A Blended Approach: You Control a Database that Belongs to Someone Else
The following is not a complete list of all available services. A complete list would fill several newsletters! Instead, this is a list of the bigger and better-known services and products.
1. Contribute to Someone Else's Database
First, let's consider the big, online genealogy databases that accept genealogy records from users. I especially like:
Ancestry.com: (Insert disclaimer here: Ancestry.com is a sponsor of this newsletter. However, I have used the online service for years before they became a sponsor, and I have always loved their service.) Ancestry.com is a great service for most of what you described. You can add photographs, scanned documents, and more to your Ancestry.com family tree. Details are available at http://www.ancestry.com/uploadEnhancements. On the downside, you are dependent on Ancestry.com to maintain your data, and you must accept the company's method of displaying your information.
FamilySearch.org: This is the free online service operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a great service, has millions and millions of records, and, of course, free is always a good thing. However, contributing your data essentially means giving it away. Once published, everyone can see your information. That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your preferences. Changing your information on FamilySearch.org is possible, but is not done in "real time." Updates are made periodically; so, you might have to wait for some time, typically several months, for an update. Finally, there is no provision (yet) for you to upload your own pictures, scanned documents, or similar images. In short, FamilySearch.org is a great service, and I use it a lot for searching records. However, I don't think it is a good fit for the requirements you specified.
OneGreatFamily.com: This online service was one of the first to provide a single shared database for all users. It is a great service if you and your cousin wish to work with several thousand more people, all contributing to the one database. Of course, this also means that you have less individual control yourself. OneGreatFamily.com will merge your data into that of others which, again, might or might not be a good thing. Everybody can see your data and collaborate with you to find out why you think your information is correct. OneGreatFamily.com does allow for the uploading of images or scanned documents. OneGreatFamily.com costs $59.95 per year. Details may be found at http://www.onegreatfamily.com
WeRelate.org is a FREE wiki-based service that is quite different from the services already described. WeRelate is a public-service wiki for genealogy, sponsored by the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy in partnership with the Allen County Public Library. While sites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org focus on providing research tools and information to help individuals build their own family trees, WeRelate.org provides a web-based environment to support sharing and collaboration across multiple researchers and family trees, resulting in a single "tree" with one page per individual. Pictures and scanned documents are easy to add and are encouraged. The downside is that you do not control who has access to your information, which may or may not be important to you. Details may be found at http://www.WeRelate.org
Geni.com is an excellent online database that encourages collaboration amongst users. Your information is added to the one huge database. Geni users from around the world work together to build a single, comprehensive family tree. Users can also build a private tree of their close relatives to connect to the shared public tree. The company encourages you to add pictures, scanned documents, and even videos. Geni's basic services are available free of charge, but most of the more valuable features do require payment. Pay services include enhanced research tools as well as keepsake products created from family tree data. You can learn more at http://www.geni.com
MyHeritage.com also creates one shared database. All users contribute to that data. MyHeritage.com is actually a "hybrid" service in that it combines a free-standing program in your computer along with a huge shared online database. The easiest way to contribute data is to download Family Tree Builder, which is free genealogy software for putting together your family tree. You create your data on your computer and then upload it to the shared database by clicking on an icon. As such, it may not meet your needs for a single database that you and your cousin can work on together while researching. However, it does work well for thousands of others with different needs and objectives. You can learn more at http://www.myheritage.com
All of the above assume that you wish to contribute your information to databases owned and controlled by others. Now let's look at the products where YOU own the database, YOU control all access, and YOU control the presentation of the information.
2. Own Your Own Database
The following products are programs that install on a web server you control. In effect, you or someone you designate becomes the webmaster. As such, you control the flow information and also control who has access. You can keep it private or provide access to a group of people you specify or even open it up and make it public to everyone. You remain in control.
There are two methods of creating and maintaining your own database:
- If you are technically competent and are familiar with installing software on Linux web servers, you can do everything yourself.
- Perhaps the more common method is to have someone else do all the technical “heavy lifting” for you. A number of web hosting services are very willing to install and configure all the software for you. Prices typically run from $5 to $10 per month. If you elect to sign up for such a service, your own technical requirements are minimized.
Once you have chosen one of the above two options for your web server, you need to choose a software program to contain and manage your genealogy data. The programs described below are the leading products for this purpose.
The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (usually referred to as "TNG") is a powerful method to managing and displaying your genealogy data on the Internet, all without generating a single page of static HTML. Instead, your information is stored in MySQL database tables and dynamically displayed in attractive fashion with PHP (a scripting language). TNG allows two, three, or dozens of people to work together, contributing information to a single database. Two or more people can even add information simultaneously. Users can add pictures, scanned documents, even videos. Google Maps can even be added to pages that describe your ancestors. You can also set "sensitive" data to be viewable only by some registered users or to have data viewable by everyone. Anyone (who possesses the appropriate passwords) can access TNG from most any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer as well as from many handheld “smartphones” and tablet computers.
Pages and reports are generated dynamically, so your website is always up-to-date at any moment. It also means that data can be searched, making it easy to find the information you are looking for. You can see a long, long list of available features at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/features.php
If you do not wish to perform the installation, configuration, and maintenance yourself, you can find a list of companies that offer those services at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the list of hosting services).
In short, I suspect TNG will meet your needs well. TNG costs $29.99. You can find a long list of web sites that are built on TNG at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/usersites.php. For more information, go to http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php
PhpGedView is a FREE, collaborative genealogy program that allows you to view and edit your genealogy online. PhpGedView has full editing capabilities and full privacy controls, and it also supports linking to multimedia files such as images and videos. Your latest genealogy information is always available online for others to see. You and your cousin can both enter data, even simultaneously. You can invite others to do the same. You also can invite others to read the data but limit their ability to write new data. You also have the option of making your data public, visible to everyone on the Web. All access remains under your control at all times. You can even set "sensitive" data to be viewable only by some registered users or to have data viewable by everyone.
Pages and reports are generated dynamically, so your website is always up-to-date at any moment. This also allows data to be searched, making it easy to find the information you are looking for. Anyone can access PhpGedView from most any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer as well as from many handheld “smartphones” and tablet computers.
If you do not wish to perform the installation, configuration, and maintenance yourself, you can find a list of companies that offer those services at http://wiki.phpgedview.net/en/index.php?title=Web_hosting
You can learn more about PhpGedView at http://www.phpgedview.net/
WebTrees is a FREE, collaborative genealogy program that allows you to view and edit your genealogy online. WebTrees is a fork, or “spin-off,” from PhpGedView, and its list of features is almost identical:
- site level control - controlling who can view or register on the site, from anyone down to no-one
- the family tree level control. Each tree you have can be configured differently
- user level control. You can vary what each registered user can see; whether they can edit data or not; and if you want them to be able to change configurations themselves
- individual record level control. You can configure webtrees to show only deceased person's data; or everyone; or hide specific individuals; even people who died recently; and much more...
- "fact" level control. This allows you to hide more sensitive facts (such as Social Security Numbers) from everyone except yourself, or any level of access you choose.
- Many combinations of the above
Anyone can access WebTrees from most any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer as well as from many handheld “smartphones” and tablet computers. More information about WebTrees may be found at http://www.webtrees.net/
3. A Blended Approach: You Control a Database that Belongs to Someone Else
One product stands out from the others because of its simplicity in creating and using an online database. It allows you to “have your cake and eat it, too.” That is, it provides heavy-duty access control, personalization, and other advanced features. Yet there is no web hosting service to pay monthly and no software to install. In addition, very little technical expertise is required to get up and running.
FamilyTreeExplorer is a free service provided by findmypast.com. It is a complete software and database package that is under your control. Rather than sharing one huge database amongst all customers, FamilyTreeExplorer gives each customer his or her own, personal database. In use, FamilyTreeExplorer operates in much the same manner as most other genealogy programs of the past twenty years or more. The primary difference is that data and software are stored on a remote server someplace on the Internet, not on the user's local hard drive. The end user may grant read-only access or even read/write access to others, if desired. However, all data remains under the control of the person who first became a FamilyTreeExplorer customer and created the initial account. The features listed on the web site are as follows:
With Family Tree Explorer you can:
- Create 2 separate family trees
- Add photos, images and scans of your records, photos and certificates
- Store 5,000 individuals per family tree
- See full ancestry, descendant and full family views
- Instantly receive enhancements as they happen – never pay for upgrades
- Enjoy fully Windows, Mac OSX and Linux compatibility
- Save your family tree on our secure servers.
- Receive 200 mb media storage for scanned documents, certificates, photos, film and audio clips to be added to your family tree
- Access your latest research from any computer with an internet connection
If you plan to include a lot of film clips with your genealogy data, you may want to check the limitation of 200 megabytes for media storage.
Anyone can access FamilyTreeExplorer from most any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer as well as from many handheld “smartphones” and tablet computers.
You can find more information about FamilyTreeExplorer at http://www.findmypast.co.uk/cms/fte/
Regardless of which product you select, today's technology allows you to work collaboratively with one, two, a dozen, or thousands of other genealogists. With some of the products, access to your data is tightly controlled in whatever manner you wish. Any of the above products will allow you to capture and share genealogy information with your relatives. The amount of technical skill required is minimal if you let someone else perform the hosting. Check the online details of the products that meet your needs and give one a try.