Best Free Online Genealogy and Family Tree Applications

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Introduction

Genealogy applications provide a method for recording the subjects of our research, e.g.  their names, relationships, and events of their lives.  Evidence (citations and sources) should be recorded to support the conclusions reached.  They also print the reports and charts to show off the results of our labor.

I looked at several free online genealogy applications which will do a reasonable job for the novice or advanced genealogist.  Unless otherwise noted:

  • They support unlimited entry of name, relationships, birth, marriage, death, burial, and other events together with their associated dates, locations, and source citations.
  • Relationships are not limited, i.e. multiple spouses (consecutive or polygamous) and parents (adopted, foster, or other possibilities).
  • Incestuous relationships are supported.
  • Same sex relationships are supported unless otherwise mentioned.
  • They support multimedia attachments.
  • They support import and export of GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) format files.
  • They exclude information about living individuals from being publicly available.

The free online genealogy sites have an advantage in that you can collaborate or share with others on your family tree research.  However, I don't recommend them as your only method for documenting your research.

You may want to keep data about living individuals for your own use that might be inappropriate for sharing with the public.  Not everyone believes that privacy is dead and they are not willing to get over it.

Sooner or later most researchers would want to produce some sort of report or chart of their research.  These sites have few reports compared to the offline programs.

Finally I strongly suggest making regular backups of your file to your hard drive or to another website in case the company shuts down entirely, begins charging for formerly free services, or institutes a policy that you dislike.

Discussion
Collaborative Sites

WeRelateWeRelate.org is a wiki site similar to Wikipedia with the focus on family research.  Like Wikipedia anyone can search and view the entries, e.g. do not post anything you wouldn't want public.  Also like Wikipedia anyone with an account can make corrections or edits.  Any disputes are resolved by the site moderators.  The overall mission is to create a unified family tree by a collaborative effort.  I highly recommend this site for anyone whose focus is web publishing or collaborative research.  People, places, sources, families, etc. are created as wiki articles.

Duplicate people are checked for when adding. Also you can search for and merge duplicates. 

Sets the standard for name searches.  They sponsor the Variant names project which is a huge improvement on Soundex searches.  Know of a variation on a name--then add it to the moderated list.  Search for people by date, place, parents, and keywords.

Impressive source support.  Attaching photographs and documents is easily done.  Master place list with many places displaying their corresponding Wikipedia articles.  The application prompts for the location once a few characters have been typed.  There is a process to merge duplicate sources and places but it would be more convenient if we could do it directly.

The pedigree view is more  of a bow-tie report with dependents on the left and ancestors on the right.  The birth, death, and combined locations maps are nicely done.  They also provide a timeline view, thumbnail, and details view for everyone in the pedigree view.  Note formatting. Strong image and document support.

Can delete tree (except for articles already edited by others). Email unsubscribe. Living individuals must be removed from any GEDCOM upload.  There is an Edit log for every revision and any registered user can revert back to a previous submission. You can get an email notification for any revision to any article including your own submissions.

You can upload and download GEDCOM files.  The uploads are limited to 5,000 people but you can upload several files.The limit is helpful as there is a cleanup process before the files are forwarded to a moderator for approval, e.g. living people, children older than their parents, children born after mother's death, etc. are all rejected.  Much simpler to make the correction in the source program and reupload to verify that the errors are indeed gone.

Supports same sex, polygamous, and incestouous marriages.  Supports adoptive or foster parents.

Security is not an issue as all information is public.  Hackers could change your family tree which is one reason for keeping frequent offline backups.  However, any changes made to the tree can be reverted back to the original just like Wikipedia articles.

WikiTree is another collaborative family tree site.  I like that that there are several levels of privacy which can be set individually for each person in your tree.  Gender neutral marriages and parents are allowed.  Ancestor Pedigree Chart, Ahnentafel Ancestor List, Family Group View, Descendant List, Wikid Shareable Tree, Family Tree Widgets, and Location Map reports.

There is a duplicate search feature and manual merging of duplicate people.

No source citations for Name, Birth, Marriage, and Death Events.  There is no provision for adoptive or foster parents. Events other than name, birth, marriage, and death must be entered in GEDCOM format.  Sources and Repositories must be entered in GEDCOM format.  Doesn't check for duplicate people on entry.  No place list.  Despite the Wiki reference in the name this site doesn't have the look and feel of Wikipedia like WeRelate does.  Cannot delete either tree or individual.

Security is not an issue as all information is public.  Hackers could change your family tree which is one reason for keeping frequent offline backups.  However, any changes made to the tree can be reverted back to the original just like Wikipedia articles.

Sharing Sites

Ancestry.comAncestry.com provides  a forum for uploading and entering your information online.  You have a choice of making your tree public or private.  Individuals in private trees appear in searches but all details are hidden from the searcher until you grant access.  This is not a collaborative site, e.g. others have read only access to your data and the ability to attach notes.  You can upload and download GEDCOM files.  People list view. Custom facts. Prompts for location. Can attach photographs and documents. Relationship calculator.

Cannot exclude living people without making the entire file private--of course one could upload two files and make the living people file private while making the deceased file public.  No duplicate finder or manual merge ability.  No bookmarks.

Search sometimes cannot find the people in your own file.

Free Ancestry Guest Registration is available at Overview of Guest registration.

If your tree is public then unauthorized access is not an issue.  Ancestry.com does not use https security so if your tree is private it will be more vulnerable to unauthorized access than say the Department of Defense.  If a hacker makes changes to your tree then delete the tree and upload from your backup.

RootsWeb WorldConnect is a read only searchable site for uploaded GEDCOM files.  None of the uploaded data can be edited.  All trees are available to the public.  This is not a collaborative site, e.g. others have read only access to your data and the ability to attach notes but cannot edit.  You can upload and download GEDCOM files.

The site provides Individual, Descendancy, Register, Pedigree, and Ahnentafel views.

Display Options, Living Person Options, GEDCOM Download Options, and Owner Information are selected on upload of the GEDCOM file.  Display allows a title, how surnames are highlighted, how many levels of ancestry or descendency are viewable, a link to your homepage, and a title and footer for the pages. 

Living person options provide a choice between showing people as "Living Surname" with no details or completely suppressed in the display.  WorldConnect defaults to treating people born after the latest publicly available US Census and no death information as living.  You can choose an earlier date for this cutoff.  You can also choose to treat deceased children of living people as living and anyone deceased after the cutoff year as living.

GEDCOM download options are whether to allow download of the complete GEDCOM (with living suppressed), a partial download limited to so many generations, or none at all.

WorldConnect displays advertising next to your data as well as ads for Ancestry.com, the owners of RootsWeb.  Any GEDCOMS uploaded here will also be searchable and viewable on Ancestry.com.

Unauthorized access is not an issue as trees are public.  RootsWeb does not use https security.  If a hacker makes changes to your tree then delete the tree and upload from your backup.

Related Products and Links
Quick Selection Guide - Collaborative Sites

WeRelate
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Is a web service or web application
Checks for duplicate people. Master place list. Impressive source support. Search by date, place, parents, etc. Note formatting. Strong image and document support. Edit log. Can delete tree (except for people already edited by others). Email unsubscribe. Living individuals must be removed from any upload or update. Timeline view. Pedigree report. Hosts the Variant Names Project which allows the editing of a list of variations for names--a huge improvement over soundex.
GEDCOM upload is limited to 5,000 names. However, once you go through the review process you'll appreciate the limit. It is easier to upload, cleanup and review several small GEDCOM files than one humongous one.
http://www.werelate.org
Unrestricted freeware
Internet browser
WikiTree
4
 
Is a web service or web application
Collaborative tree. Several levels of privacy set by individual. Gender neutral marriages and parents. Finds duplicate people. Allows manual merges of people. Ancestor Pedigree Chart, Ahnentafel Ancestor List, Family Group View, Descendant List, Wikid Shareable Tree, Family Tree Widgets, and Location Map.
No multiple parents, e.g. no adoptive or foster parents. Doesn't check for duplicate people on entry. Events other than name, birth, marriage, and death must be entered in GEDCOM format. Sources and Repositories must be entered in GEDCOM format. No sources for Name, Birth, Marriage, and Death Events. No place list.
http://www.wikitree.com
Unrestricted freeware
Internet Browser

Quick Selection Guide - Sharing Sites

Ancestry.com
4
 
Is a web service or web application
People list view. Custom facts. Prompts for location. Can attach photographs and documents. Relationship calculator. Upload and download GEDCOM files.
Cannot exclude living people without making the entire file private. Search cannot always find an individual who exists in your family tree. No duplicate finder or manual merge ability. No bookmarks of people or families. No collaborative editing of tree.
http://trees.ancestry.com
Feature limited freeware
Internet browser
RootsWeb WorldConnect
3
 
Is a web service or web application
Upload and download GEDCOM files. Can customize other users GEDCOM download capabilities of your file by levels of pedigree or can make entire GEDCOM accessible to others. Automatically excludes living individuals born after latest available US Census but an earlier cutoff can be chosen. Also can exclude deceased people born after the cutoff year. Descendancy, Register, Pedigree, and Ahnentafel reports are available. Unlimited people, names, relationships, places, sources, and citations.
No edits of any kind except for adding post its. The only method to update is to replace the existing GEDCOM with an updated file. Advertising.
http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/
Unrestricted freeware
Internet Browser

Requires a genealogy program to maintain the data and create GEDCOMs for upload to this site.

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