5 Top Websites for Searchable Family Trees

So you’ve started digging into your family’s past? No doubt you’ve collected names, dates, documents, photos and an ever-growing pile of pedigree charts. Maybe you’ve even bought a genealogy computer program so you can cultivate all this information. But now you’re getting emails from relatives who want to swap research and data. How can you easily share and collaborate with them? And how can you find even more cousins who are just as geeky about research as you are?

You can find all this by planting your family tree online to share with others. There are a surprising number of places to plant, grow and maintain an online tree. And in most cases, it’s free. Used with care, online trees can be the key to uncovering generations of family members. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Ancestry.com <www.ancestry.com>

You probably recognize this huge site as a resource of genealogical records, but you also can build a free family tree here, upload photos and digitized records, and make it public or private. Private trees are still searchable, but the searcher must contact the tree owner through Ancestry.com for permission to view the tree. Unless you specify otherwise, anyone without a death date is designated as “living” and gets a private profile. 

You can upload a GEDCOM (the universal file format for family tree files) from your genealogy software, or enter one ancestor at a time. To add a source citation, click on an event (such as Birth) on a person’s timeline, then scroll down and click Add a New Source Citation. “Shaky leaf” hints on a person’s profile indicate possible matches in other trees or in Ancestry.com records, but to see full details for most hints, you must subscribe to Ancestry.com. You can sync your online tree with Ancestry.com’s Family Tree Maker 2012 software and use the Ancestry mobile app to access your tree on the go.

2. FamilySearch Family Tree <www.familysearch.org>

Formerly open to only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and select others, this free family tree-building site is now available to everyone. The site offers a manual option for entering your data. For now GEDCOMs can’t be uploaded directly to the tree—that’s done under the Genealogies link on the homepage. But the handy Family Tree Reference Manual (Click Help or View Training) says GEDCOM uploading enhancements are planned.

FamilySearch’s goal is to build one family tree and avoid duplicate people, so when you add a person, Family Tree automatically searches to see if he or she is already on the site. If it finds matches, you can choose one or add a new person. Once you’ve added someone, you can’t delete him, but you can change certain details. Family Tree users can edit details about anyone in the tree, but they’re supposed to provide sources.

3. Findmypast <www.findmypast.com> and findmypast UK <www.findmypast.co.uk>

Sister sites findmypast and findmypast UK offer similar versions of the same tree-building software, but the trees on the two sites aren’t integrated. Both sites offer free treebuilding with an easy-to-use interface. Expected upgrades include uploading GEDCOMs, pictures and other media. Findmypast UK, geared to British researchers, offers a few more options, including the ability to print reports.

All trees are private, viewable only by your invitation. If your goal is simply to have your tree online for editing and select sharing, either site will do. Findmypast plans to make trees searchable, although users will be able to opt out beforehand.

4. Geni <www.geni.com>

Like many of the sites here, Geni (owned by MyHeritage) offers free memberships and paid subscriptions. If you plan to search other trees, you’ll need to subscribe. If you’re just looking for a site to build your tree, Geni’s free version offers a robust platform.

You can add unlimited people to a free tree, as well as up to 1GB of media using the site’s intuitive interface for uploading pictures and documents. Other nifty features include the

automatic creation of a timeline for a person in your tree, and easy creation of source citations. In exchange for all the functionality, you’ll have to enter your tree manually—there’s no GEDCOM upload option.

Subscribing to Geni’s Standard ($5 per month) or Pro ($7.95 per month) plan lets you search the site’s 100 million profiles, receive automatic notifications of matches with others’ trees, and increase your digital media storage space.

5. WikiTree <www.wikitree.com>

As you may have deduced from the name, WikiTree also is a wiki-based, collaborative platform

designed to create a single, worldwide family tree. WikiTree is free, but contributors must agree to an honor code that emphasizes accuracy and common courtesy.

You can enter you tree manually, which may be a good option for beginners. Submitting a GEDCOM involves a multistep review process if you have a lot of names in your file, and may require some tweaking to get one imported. Even if you don’t plan to have a GEDCOM imported, though, uploading it and reviewing the provided match report is an easy way to find out if someone else is working on the same families. You can create pages for individual ancestors including photos, a bio and most importantly, sources. Many features in WikiTree may take some time to figure out, but like all the sites on this list, the more time you put into using them, the more you’ll get out of them.

Discover family trees online

Technology today puts the family tree at your fingertips–whether at home, in the library, or anywhere else you have access via smartphone or tablet. But convenience is only one reason to explore online family trees. They are a great way to organize, share and report your research. Searching the trees of others who may be working on your brick-wall ancestors can show you the way to bust down that brick wall, as well as open up new avenues of research.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Instantly uncover new generations of your family tree by tapping into the research others have already done—you could think of online family trees as a shortcut to ancestor answers

  • Connect with fellow family tree researchers who have genealogical details you don’t

  • Discover records relating to your family tree through automated research hints

  • Organize and track your genealogy research

Sign up today for Family Tree University’s new First Steps: Online Family Trees course to get started.

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