2005-12-30

Online Genealogy Databases

There are a number of online genealogy databases available. These allow users to create or upload existing family tree information so that they can be maintained and searched online.

The main selling point is that the databases provide search capabilities across all genealogy information added by users. If someone else is researching someone who exists in your family tree they can find the information and collaborate with you.

The bigger services also provide the ability to search other information. Things like census data, birth, death and marriage data, etc. By cross referencing this data with information in user submitted family tree it becomes a great resource.

My article on census searching mentioned ancestry.com. This is one of the bigger genealogy database websites around. It’s fairly expensive as they charge for access to pretty much everything but in my opinion its well worth it if you are doing active research. My main interest with Ancestry is access to all non-user submitted data. That is immigration information, census, births, etc. The trees submitted by other users are also useful but there are free services that do similar.

One such free service is Rootsweb. You can use this service to upload a GEDCOM file or create a family tree. You can also search across all trees that users have submitted. Rootsweb are actually part of the Ancestry family and they share the family tree database. According to their website they have over 400 million people in the database.

What I tend to do with regards to my family tree information is keep a detailed database of data locally on my computer. I then go around some of the online databases and create copies of portions of my local database. The information I load for each name in my database is usually only:

  • Full name
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Date of Death
  • Place of Death

So there exists in the online database a simple copy of the essential data, but none of the extra research I’ve put in. I include my contact details so anyone interested in more information can contact me and we can collaborate. This helps prevent the problem of people just using your data and never getting in touch with you with their own information.

By having this information across a few databases it increases the chances of reaching people who are searching for similar names. The services I use so far for this are:

Rootsweb is free. One Great Family is a subscription service. Genes Reunited is free to upload your information but requires subscription to get in touch with others users.

I’ve had the most collaboration success with Genes Reunited. They do a regular email listing ‘hot matches’ of your tree against other users. This indicates names that are potentially the same across other users data. I’ve added many new people to my family tree as a result of getting in touch with other people as a result of these matches. At times I think I’ve reached a dead end in my research on a particular line, some information will come up as a result of a Genes Reunited contact.

Now Genes Reunited is not the greatest for holding all your genealogy information. It pretty much only holds the basic information I provide. So I really only use it for the chance to colloborate and find contacts. It does have a nice user interface for adding and updating your tree though. And it’s all done in HTML.

The fact that Genes Reunited only holds basic information is actually conducive to collaboration. You need to get in touch with other users to find out what they have. You cannot look at another users family tree information without their permission. So this encourages getting in contact. I like this aspect. They claim to have over 49 million people in their database.

One Great Family is a subscription service. You get a seven day trial but you need to provide your credit card number and it automatically bills it after the seven days. They used to provide regular newsletters to users but for some reason these have stopped in the last 12 months. It may be something to be wary of. It’s always nice to see regular updates to sites you subscribe too. One Great Family has been a bit quiet of late.

They take a slightly different approach. Instead of having seperate family trees for each user it is one giant database. Every time someone adds or edits a record the system will search for a matching record. You can choose to indicate they are the same person and it will ‘merge’ the data. into a single record. In this way there is only one copy of the information no matter how many trees that person appears in. It’s like editing a single family tree shared across millions of users with conflict and merge handling built in.

Again, I only use it for basic data. I’ve never had a response to my emails to colloborate with other users with this service. It’s like people start using it and stop updating. Maybe it’s the people who upload their data with the seven day trial then quit. On the positive side I have added whole branches to my tree from information already contained in the database.

Rootsweb is like Genes Reunited in that it holds seperate trees for each user. But they are all sharable. You don’t need permission from the other tree owner to look at their information. This allows you to quickly find information but does tend to discourage collaboration. I have successfully contacted other tree owners and swapped inforamtion though. Note that Rootsweb does not make data on ‘living people’ available to anyone but the tree owner for privacy reasons.

Overall I find online databases very useful. There is no guarantee that the data is correct of course so I flag the information as being suspect and use it to confirm information I already know or provide places to look to confirm that information. Then I add it to my own tree.

Some things to be aware of with online databases:

  • The subscription services will automatically bill your credit card whenever it is due. You may not get notified in advance. It may be difficult to cancel the subscription. Make sure you are aware of the steps required to cancel it.
  • The information may not be accurate or it may be out of date. Contact the original uploader via email to collaborate and get up to date information.
  • By uploading your own data you may find that the service uses it on CDROM’s it sells or for their subscription searches. I don’t mind this personally but some people may not like the idea of others profiting on their work. Hopefully the service is charging for the search and distribution of the data, not the data itself.
  • Backup your data. Keep a local copy. Online web services can disappear overnight.

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