Best Free Online Genealogy or 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.

This article reviews web applications and divides them into two sections: collaborative sites and sharing sites. They require a browser and internet connection. If you are interested in stand alone programs, see this review Best Free Genealogy or Family Tree Software.

Several free web applications in this review will do a reasonable job for the novice or advanced genealogist. Read also the Supported Features of these applications and the differences between Collaborative and Sharing Sites at the end of this article.

 

Collaborative Sites

FamilySearch  

A genealogy service completes with immense record holdings of the Church.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
Searches for duplicates, individuals can be easily added from the sources, printable charts, no nagging.
Does not support same sex marriages, cannot directly upload or download a GEDCOM.
Read full review...

WeRelate  

A wiki site similar to Wikipedia with the focus on family research.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Ads)
Search and view entries, check duplicate people, impressive source support, can delete tree, upload and download GEDCOM files, support same sex marriages, adoptive or foster parents.
Supported by ads, no reports but screen prints.
Read full review...

WikiTree  

A collaborative family tree site with several levels of privacy.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Several levels of privacy, gender neutral marriages and parents allowed, duplicate search and merging.
Lack source citations, no provision for adoptive or foster parents, no place list, cannot delete three or individual.
Read full review...

Sharing Sites

Ancestry  

Provides a forum for uploading and entering your information online.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Make your tree public or private, upload and download GEDCOM files, people list view, custom facts, prompts for location, attach photos and documents.
Cannot exclude living people without making the entire file private, searches sometimes cannot find the people in your own file.
Read full review...

RootsWeb WorldConnect  

A read-only searchable site for uploaded GEDCOM files.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free
All trees available to public, upload and download GEDCOM files, provide various views and options.
No uploaded data can be edited, require a genealogy program to maintain and create GEDCOMs for upload.
Read full review...

Supported Features:

The above web applications support these features unless otherwise noted:

  • They support unlimited entry of individuals, birth, marriage, death, burial, and other events together with their associated dates, locations, and source citations.
  • Alternative names can be entered but are not necessarily searched.
  • Marriages are not numerically limited, i.e. multiple spouses (sequential or polygamous).
  • Polygamous relationships are not completely displayed, e.g. only one pair can be viewed at a time.
  • Multiple parents are supported (adopted, foster, or other possibilities). However, only one pair of parents can be displayed at a time.
  • Incest is supported, e.g. a child can be married to one of their parents and/or be both sibling and parent of another sibling. 
  • Same sex marriages and parents are supported by several of the recommended programs.
  • Intersex and transsexual individuals are not supported.
  • They support family group, pedigree, and descendant reports and charts together with the associated foot- or end-notes.
  • They support multimedia attachments but not all support photos in reports.
  • They support import and export of GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) format files.
  • The information is viewable by other members or the site.
  • Some exclude information about living individuals from being publicly available.
  • Do not support the https protocol. Therefore they are far less secure than banks or Department of Defense.

 

Collaborative And Sharing Sites:

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 should not publicly post information about living individuals 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. Either exclude them from the upload or verify that the site purges or otherwise restricts the data to the posting individual.

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 research 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.

Collaborative Sharing
Information is researched and edited by the community at large of the site. Information is display only.
All information is public. All information is publicly viewable.
Sites either do not allow information for living people or restrict it to the posting member. Some sites allow information on living people. Either remove this information before posting or use a site which cleans it up.
Any member could change the family tree which is one reason for keeping frequent offline backups. Only you can change the family tree.
However, any changes made to the tree can be reverted back to the original. Only you can change the family tree.
The ownership of the genealogical data mostly passes to the site. You retain ownership of the genealogical data.
Deletion may be possible but only for unmerged individuals unedited by other members. You can delete your data.
GEDCOM uploads are limited in size due to the necessity of merging individuals with others already in the site. GEDCOM uploads are generally unlimited.

 

Related Products and Links

 

Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Jojo Yee. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

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Comments

Both links provided for Ancestory.com end up at the same page "Support Home" Ancestry is all about subscriptions and they are costly to maintain. Once your subscription runs out, so does your access to the information you've posted. They keep sending "new clues/matches" as they come in but you can't see them. They're just teases to get you to re-subscribe.

You can read about "Guest" accounts at:

Register for a free limited "Guest" account at:

(If you're sending out updates to this section please verify the links take you to the pages you're referencing.)

They really do provide guest accounts. The linked pages were moved and I updated the links accordingly to http://help.ancestry.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/577/kw/guest%20registra.... All of the sites that provide feature limited freeware nag to some extent. Ancestry is no different in that respect. Thanks, Rick

This article was apparently written before FamilySearch Family Tree (FamilySearch.org) was opened in 2012.

FamilySearch Family Tree is a unified tree, intended to include everyone in one tree, freely editable and modified by any FamilySearch registered user, like Wikipedia. The goal is to have one profile per ancestral person that represents the best scholarship available.

Pros
- Anyone can edit any record. You can benefit from work done by relatives and other genealogists.
- Automatically searches records when you enter people. Record hints are visible on the Personal Details page, pedigree view, and descendants view.
- New records added every day. FamilySearch has the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world.
- 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).
- Multimedia attachments. Media can be tagged to show up on multiple individuals.
- Excludes information about living individuals from being publicly available.
- Easy to add people from sources.
- Duplicate finder and merge capability.
- Unlike the free accounts on Ancestry and MyHeritage, it is not feature limited. No nagging to get a paid account, since there are no paid accounts. The only limitation is that some source records are on other websites (like Fold3 or GenealogyBank), and you can't view the image without an account on those websites, or a visit to FamilySearch Family History Center.
- Tablet/phone app available.
- Printable fan charts, pedigree charts, family group sheets.
- Has it's own App Gallery of programs/websites that work with the database, such as chart creation, tree analysis, and interactive maps. Many of them are free.
- Ability to send messages to other users working on the same individuals.
- If you visit a FamilySearch Family History Center, you have free access to records from Ancestry, findmypast, and MyHeritage.

Cons
- Anyone can edit any record. "Your" tree can be messed up by a careless researcher, although changes can generally be undone. Some of the existing records have errors that may be difficult to straighten out.
- No way to share living people. You can enter living people, but no one else can see them.
- May not recognize a duplicate until you add more facts, requiring a merge.
- Cannot directly upload or download a GEDCOM. You have to load the GEDCOM into one of the free programs that syncs with FamilySearch (Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic), then sync to upload. As you sync, you will be asked to resolve any duplicates. This may take a long time, but it prevents duplicates, and you may find some additional information about your ancestors. The programs have easy procedures for downloading and saving information as a GEDCOM.
- Does not support same sex relationships.

Thank you for your comments. I've almost completed reviewing the PC programs.

I'll do the online next and will make a point to review this site.