Put Your Family Tree Online

What do you need to get your family tree or family history online? The answer, like most tech and web related things is, it depends.

What kind of presentation do you want, graphical or text only? The old books we research are text based and full of abbreviations that we must learn and that’s great for packing a lot of facts into the smallest area possible but it’s only good information for genealogists. If you only plan on having your work viewed by fellow enthusiasts only then plain text with or without abbreviations could be the way to go in which case, no special code or software is required. Even html is not really a requirement as a browser will output plain text but most people would like something a bit more visually appealing to show friends and relatives. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and our old pictures are priceless. If you want to share them on the same page as the related text, then html, at least, is needed. There are wysiwyg editors that do a decent job of creating html code and that may be all you need. (wysiwyg=what you see is what you get)

What kind of tools do you want or need? What are you using now?

There are full blown, web based, family tree maker type programs that have analytical tools to help you verify your data just like the desktop programs. Just because it’s web based doesn’t necessarily mean it was designed strictly for making websites. Web or browser based programs are often made as such for compatibility reasons. Instead of building different versions of software for different operating systems like windows/mac/linux, one version can be made that simply runs in a browser. These programs can also be installed locally if you set up a local server environment. Setting them up on a remote host allows you to work from any computer. This was really the forerunner to today’s cloud based programs. All the big software names are moving towards cloud based programs so you don’t have to install them on your computer. This solves a lot of compatibility issues, helps prevent pirated software and removes the packaging and distribution aspects. Lets’ get back to putting your gen work on the web.

Here are your options in general.

Plain Text

  • static
  • no formatting or code knowledge (technically it can be somewhat formatted, basically you can line things up and even draw tables using plus signs, pipes and dashes)
  • time consuming

html

  • static,
  • formatted with sizes, colors, tables, links, images. Either hand coded or wysiwyg
  • you can also find nice html templates
  • time consuming – highly time consuming

gedcom to html converters

  • converts your gedcom to html web pages
  • some are better than others but all are quick
  • most are outdated so you might need win98 to run them

family tree software

  • gedcom import/upload and manipulate,
  • full blown family tree software applications

But wait, there’s more.
CMS (content management systems), wordpress, joomla, drupal etc.

  • offer a lot of features for general online publishing
  • modules, gadgets and widgets that will do most anything you can imagine
  • allow you to connect with others via social features
  • offer awesome presentation due to the 1000s of themes created by some very talented designers
  • There are a few integrations of family tree software into a CMS which give you the best of both worlds

I’ve tried many of the above solutions so I’ll give a run down here of my findings but I won’t go into text solutions any further as there’s not much to say. For html you basically have the choice of hand coding, wysiwyg and templates. Hand coding offers the most control. Wysiwyg editors can sometimes produce bad code (frontpage) which makes your pages look different on different browsers. Templates can offer a nice head start and can be used to hand code further or in a wysiwyg editor. For getting these html pages to display nicely on different size devices also requires css which is styling code. It allows you to tag page elements with IDs or classes and then specify how those are to display depending on screen size. Complete css frameworks have been written in an effort to reduce the amount of mathematical calculations required for this though some of them have a steep learning curve and/or require special programs to compile the code so it get’s into borderline programming.

Gedcom to html converters take your gedcom data and convert it for displaying on the web. Some do a pretty good job but I only know of one (gigatrees)that includes css for mobile friendly pages and javascript for interaction/animation. It does require some web dev abilities to make it all work when it comes to images.

Family tree software: There’s not all that many out there for actually building your tree online and none that I know of that will double as a desktop program unless you set up a local hosting environment which is a bit technical but very doable. There’s three that are worth mentioning and there’s a few more but they’re outdated and pose a security risk.

  • Webtrees which is a fork to the no longer developed phpgedview. Webtrees is a very robust and mature program and is open source which means it’s free and also means support not included and like most open source software is by means of a forum. The lead developer is active on the forum.
  • TNG (The Next Generation of genealogy sitebuilding) is also very robust and while it’s not open source it is affordable at $32.99 and has forums for discussion and support but the developer will give support directly via email.
  • HuMoGen is relatively new to the scene and is open source and while it doesn’t have some of the features the webtrees and tng have it does have one that they’re lacking which is the ability to create non tree webpages and a menu for them. It still needs a bit of polishing in my opinion but has potential, especially with the page feature.
  • Gigatrees is sort of a SAAS, software as a service and a free service and the details were mentioned above.

Well aside from CMSs, I’ve only mentioned three pieces of software and a saas here and unfortunately that’s all there is out there that isn’t out of date but hopefully someone will enlighten me to some alternatives that don’t have the styling and functionality left over from the 90s. On that note, most genealogical data is usually presented in tables as data tables have been a fairly standard item for decades but things are things are changing. There’s a whole profession out there who’s job is to present information to us in a more visually ergonomic way. They’re called UI or UX designers. User Interface or User eXperience and their job is to make things visually appealing and have a natural flow to them. It makes computer life easier on our eyes and brains and is the subject of many studies and college courses. Genealogical software is just starting to awaken to this and to the fact that more than half of all web surfers are surfing with a portable device rather than a desktop computer. Tables don’t fit well into this new paradigm for the most part but like most things, it can be done. With enough thought, data can be presented in a way that’s not a stressful exercise of our eyes or brain.