In Which I Say “Geni” And “Crap,” But Not In The Way You Think

In Which I Say “Geni” And “Crap,” But Not In The Way You Think

by Kerry Scott on 17 August 2011

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So, this week, there were some changes at GeniMaybe you heard about them (unless you’re one of the readers who is left over from my HR blog days, which…I mean, I don’t know why you’ve stuck with me so long, but have I told you lately that I love you?  Because I totally do).

Anyway, in case you WERE under a rock or are one of my beloved leftovers, I’ll give you the short version:  There’s this site called Geni.  It’s for online family trees, so you can share them with your living relatives.  I mostly have dead relatives, so sharing isn’t a big thing for me…so I never used Geni.  My understanding, though, is that they had a free version and a paid version, and after years of people adding content to their free accounts, the company is pulling many of the features so that they’re only available to paying customers.  They’re also making it so that paying customers can merge ancestors without permission from free account customers…so some dude can merge his (wrong) info about my great-grandma with my (right) info and totally screw things up.  They didn’t give notice, and they communicated it poorly, and there’s a great big uproar.

I’ve had trouble getting too worked up about this, because I’ve already ranted on how you need to think about what you’re doing when you’re spending hours generating content for a website you don’t own (are you listening, Find A Grave users?), because sooner or later they’re either going to disappear or try to make some (more) money.  It’s totally fine to use “free” sites if you’re okay with the consequences…but know that there WILL be a consequence at some point, because nothing is free.

But there’s no question that this was handled poorly by pretty much any standard.  You can’t do stuff like this without notice, and you can’t have strangers messing with people’s grannies, and you have to have some good reasons for people to try out your service so they can BECOME paying customers.  People will walk.  Of course they will.  I don’t know what they were thinking.

But the part that made my ears perk up was in the response to the riots, which Geni issued today.  In it, they explain that their vision was for a kind of a world family tree all along.  They don’t view trees as individual; they view them as part of their giant world tree.  It’s kind of a genealogical communism thing.  So, all along, people were spending hours and hours contributing content (and very personal content, because info about your granny is not like disposable Facebook update about the new shoes you bought).  This content, according to the company, wasn’t really theirs; it was for Geni, for its Great Big World Tree.

This is why you should never feed anything you really care about to a website you don’t own.  It’s a recipe for anger and heartbreak.

Here’s the thing I really want to know, though:

Am I the only one who gets hives at the thought of a Great Big World Tree?

Because even if somebody had one, I wouldn’t believe in it.  I’d put zero stock in it, no matter which company was putting it out there.  You could tell me that Elizabeth Shown Mills herself personally did the research, and I’d be like, “Bullpucky.”  (Hey, this is a family blog these days, pretty much.)

Anybody who’s been on the internet as a genealogist for more than 20 minutes knows that there’s a whole lot of crap out there.  Even great genealogists have branches that are shaky, that are speculative, that were done before they knew what they were doing.  I have crap in my own tree.  You do too.  There isn’t a force on earth that could keep a Great Big World Tree from being full of misinformation…and there isn’t a force on earth that could convince me otherwise.  Even if it COULD, I wouldn’t care.  I’m a genealogist.  I like doing research.  Seeing a big family tree has nothing to do with the thing I like to do, which is…research.  If you don’t need antihistamines and quarters for the copier, you’re doing it wrong.

Am I alone?  Am I just overly-cynical?  Is a Great Big Family Tree something any of you actually want, or would use, or believe is possible?

DISCLOSURES:  I got a giant t-shirt that says Geni on it for free at RootsTech.  I assume the guy who handed it to me worked for Geni, although it’s possible he could have been some random guy who wanted to subtly suggest that I need to lay off the ice cream or risk being as big as that t-shirt.  He’s probably not wrong.  Also, I DO have some family tree info on Ancestry, where I am a paying customer…but it’s not my primary tree, and I don’t put anything on there that I wouldn’t risk losing to Ancestry if they try to pull something shady later on (not that I expect that, because I actually like Ancestry).  I don’t object to online family trees, or to people contributing stuff to sites.  I do it all the time.  But stuff I really care about, I keep on my own computer, or on sites where I’ve paid to put it there and keep ownership of it…because if you don’t pay, you aren’t going to get a vote, and you risk people pulling stuff like this.  It totally sucks, but that’s just how it works.  In fact, if I had the skills, I would come up with some sort of plugin for blogs that let people put their trees online, so that people could totally own their own site AND get their research out there for sharing and collaboration.  I think that’s where the real business opportunity is.  Why isn’t there some smartiac out there working on that?

Photo by The Lizard Queen

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Candace Wilmot August 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thanks for saying this. It is exactly what I have been thinking all day today.


Debbie McCoy August 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Great article! You are not alone; a great big world tree gives me hives, too. I totally agree that people need to be careful of these “free” sites. Heck, I don’t even trust the paying sites with my genealogy.


Linda M August 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Nope, you are not the only one who has no interest in a Great Big Family Tree. I made the comment earlier today that the “vision” of one big tree sounds more like a nightmare to me. I have to wonder if anyone working for the companies proposing this concept (and Geni isn’t the only one) has ever done any actual genealogy research. And by genealogy research I mean something more than “pointing and clicking” their way to a large family tree.


Aylarja August 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

No, you’re not overly cynical. Well, at least not in your assertions in this piece. You are absolutely correct that investing in something that costs you nothing will probably cost you heartache in the end. The problem is, personal investment of time and effort seems that it should count for something, that it should equal ownership by proxy, but when stacked up against an insufficient profit margin, it won’t count for much. My perception is that most companies that have entered the genealogy marketplace don’t do it primarily for love of genealogy, but for love of the marketplace, and in pursuit of profit. All of which is good and admirable in my book, but it must be understood for what it is.

One exception would seem to be, since it is underwritten by the LDS church (disclosure: I am not Mormon, even if my hair looks a bit like Mitt Romney’s, so I am a net taker by using familysearch. But I appreciate all of our Mormon friends who do underwrite familysearch through their financial support of the church). As a non-Mormon, however, I would still be cautious about presuming any “ownership” of familysearch data even if I helped create or maintain it in any way.

On the other hand, the idea of one giant world tree does seem intriguing, even though it would be about as unmanageable as a one-world government, and one run largely by volunteer effort. If a method were developed for weighting the validity of research submitted to such a tree, and that measurement was attached to all claims made in the mega-tree, it might nudge some lazy or newbie researchers into higher levels of scholarship to rate a higher score. Or it might collapse like a giant chocolate tree filled with chocolate-eating termites when exposed to the summer heat of Texas. But it would be a spectacle either way.


Kerry Scott August 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm

My (admittedly pretty limited) understanding is that folks who are LDS have an interest in builidng a sort of one-world tree (or at least uncovering the roots of every human they can) for religious reasons. Religious reasons are exempt from my argument, because I strongly believe that other people’s religious beliefs are none of my business. Also, I think it’s nice of them to make all of that stuff available to non-LDS people. They have no obligation to do so.

I am intrigued by the giant chocolate tree with the termites in the Texas heat, because I would totally stand under that tree with a bowl of vanilla ice cream, collect the melting chocolate, pick out the termites, and finally achieve my dream of filling out my giant Geni t-shirt.


Elizabeth P August 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I too love the records that are available via LDS. I even have indexed a bit and would encourage anyone to do so, it’s easy. Their trees are not exempt from errors, my great-great grandfather has been sealed (is that the term?) to a family that are not his ;).


Regina August 17, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head! I’m off now to download all the photos from Geni and make “copies” of certain individuals pages to preserve the information. I’m also going to make copies of all the memorials of family that I have added to Find A Grave. (I didn’t see it the same way that you obviously do until this week. I should have known better!)
Geni is not the only website that has wording for a “world tree”. WikiTree clearly states ” As a community we are creating a single worldwide family tree.” Granted they handle the privacy and merging issues quite differently but it is a stated goal.
I agree that such a “world tree” or single tree is probably a pipe dream. And I’ve not interest in it. My verdict is still out on the whole “collaboration” thing as well.


Kerry Scott August 17, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I have somewhat of a bias in favor of WikiTree, partly because (as you say), they’ve been very upfront about the whole single tree thing, and partly because two people I really like work there, and I’ve heard good things about them. But as I said above, I don’t have much of a need for a tool like this, so I’ve never actually used them.

I wouldn’t necessarily avoid a site that had a Great Big Family Tree as a goal, provide I was clear on the fact that I could opt out of that tree. I’d want to make sure I understood a whole lot about the company and read the Terms of Service carefully before I entered my stuff.

As Ol’ Myrt (at least I think it was Ol’ Myrt) said, this is why desktop genealogy software isn’t going away anytime soon.


Greta Koehl August 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Excellent summary of the situation, and your reservations and “Huh?s” are spot on. A few weeks ago I posted a question asking for recommendations on family tree sites (noting that “I am not so much interested in contributing to anything like One World Tree or in the shared research/Wiki editing type of online tree”), and was on the list of sites I thought I might consider down the line. No more. And I’m glad I haven’t invested anything in any of these sites, yet. I love collaborative research with my cousins but hate the idea of our ancestors and our research getting sucked into and mangled in a One World Tree.


GrannyPam August 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Thanks for the clear and concise post, with a little humor, too. I agree. And, I am big enough for that T-shirt, so send it on over. I will wear it to weed the garden, mow the lawn, or while attending bluegrass festivals. No one will know or care about the advertising. Really.


Jill August 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm

The one tree concept isn’t useful for my objectives and, frankly, just skeeves me out a little bit. No offense to the honest, diligent genealogists out there, but I really don’t know how the info will be used by someone, so I don’t intend to make it public.

I do have a blog, but the content intentionally lacks some specifics so that if anyone is interested in knowing more, they have to contact me (or just use it as clues for their own research).


Barb Conner August 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I really enjoyed your article. I can’t fathom a Great Big Family Tree being out there and available to all the people who have mis-information on their trees already. I use Ancestry also…but only for the ‘basics’. The meat of my trees are on my computer at home. That way I can control (somewhat) what is out there from my hard work through the years. I use Family Search to point me in the right direction and then I go find the actual documents myself. That is what it is all about – the research. Thanks for keeping us informed about what is happening in the genealogy world…love your blog!


Brenda August 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Ya, well … my introduction to Geni was notices from them that information I sent by email (privately, I thought) to a new cousin was now part of some fantastic world tree. The new cousin is in a distant country and we do not share a common language. It took me at least two days to navigate the contorted site and try to delete stupid things like my father was my ex-husband and my children were dead; whatever! That was *before* the new change about control … It’s not just about submitting to Geni or other “free” sites, it’s also about sending your research anywhere. WORLD TREE? Pass the ice cream.


George Geder August 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Hello Kerry,

You nailed the sentiment.

When I heard about the misdeeds of the principals at Geni, I decided to take down/back my tree.

NOTE: easier said than done. It took me over an hour to ‘remove’ the people that they ‘allowed me to ‘remove’. I still can’t ‘remove’ ME! In other words, I can leave the service, but I can’t delete me, my wife, my parents, and a couple of Ancestors because, I think, they are connected to someone else’s tree. That sucks! It’s my data and I should be able to do what I want with it.

My original intent was to connect with relatives and share info. I wasn’t into the one great family tree thang…

Peace & Blessings,
“Guided by the Ancestors”


Kerry Scott August 18, 2011 at 6:52 am

You know, I heard something about the whole deletion issue, and if I were a customer, I’d be more disturbed by that than all the rest of the issues combined. To not allow people to remove their identity, and the identity of the people they love? That’s crazy…and completely tone-deaf.

I think it’s clear they’ve misread their genealogy users…but I really don’t think ANY user, genealogist or not, would be cool with that.


Ruy Cardoso August 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Still working on OneMYTree…


Sharon Lunsford August 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm

I feel the same about the idea of a huge tree with everyone in it. The so-called “World Family Tree” has numerous mistakes because it relies on trees uploaded by members rather than on real research. And I love Find A Grave but I know it is, as with any other free site, at risk of being turned into a paid site with no ownership rights for the many volunteers who have contributed.

In response to one of your comments in the “disclosures” section — There is actually a blog plugin to allow TNG (The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding) to work with Wordpress. Trouble is, the latest version of each does not play well with the other. Several people have tried to update the plugin and have given up. I’m anxiously awaiting progress so I can post public family trees on a TNG/Wordpress site and have a private section where my cousins and I can upload family documents. I may have to resort to customizing the two without the plugin, which is painful and so far not totally successful for many people.


Chris Whitten August 18, 2011 at 8:13 am

I’m the creator of, a shared family tree site (thank you for the kind mention, Kerry). I’d like to weigh-in on a few things.

First off, I appreciate the high level of this conversation. Many valid, sophisticated points have made. Wiki collaboration is not for everyone.

Many people use Wikipedia, for example, but very few contribute to it. Very few have the level of interest, the distinct type of generosity, and in particular, the high-degree of patience and trust it requires to contribute what you know with no compensation and no guarantee that it won’t be destroyed by others.

There are many safeguards on wikis, which is why they tend to be positive, upward spiraling spontaneous orders instead of information anarchy. But collaboration is hard. It’s a messy process that can get ugly at times. When is working with other human beings ever easy?

WikiTree is not a typical wiki. On WikiTree you can control what you contribute and decide who to share it with. Every profile has a Trusted List of authorized contributors and a Privacy Level that determines what people outside the Trusted List can see. This enables you to just use it for modern family history and lock-up everything you contribute so that people outside your immediate family can’t see a thing. But we don’t encourage this. We expect contributors who add more than a few generations to abide by our Wiki Genealogist Honor Code and help connect their personal, private family history with the shared, worldwide family tree that we’re growing.

For those worried about losing what they contribute, GEDCOM export does provide some security. You can always download a GEDCOM that includes everything you added to WikiTree, and you can take it elsewhere. Most sites allow GEDCOM import so you can take it elsewhere faily easily. We don’t claim ownership of what you contribute so you can do whatever you want with it.

The above statement could be misleading.

First, GEDCOM enables you to download everything you added to WikiTree, but not everything on WikiTree. You can’t copy the entire site and move it elsewhere. You don’t have even permission to see everything everyone contributed let alone copy it all. You can download everything you have permission to access, but you can’t download everything.

Another misleading aspect: you can keep copyrights on information you contribute to WikiTree, but you do give us a license. We need the license to enable the information to be shared on WikiTree. Giving us the license, however, means that you have to trust the promises we make about how we will use your information. We make a lot of promises about who can access it, who can edit it, who can delete it, who can download it, etc.

This connects with something else that might be misleading. You can download what you’ve contributed to WikiTree with a couple clicks to create a GEDCOM. But you can’t necessarily delete everything you’ve contributed to WikiTree with a couple clicks.

You can in the first 48 hours. We enable you to remove every profile you’ve added for those first two days, with one simple form, as long as you haven’t started merging and sharing them. After the first 48 hours you can still delete any Private profiles you manage, again, assuming you aren’t sharing them. You can also delete all the Public profiles at any time. Just not with the one form. Once you start sharing profiles with others and making information public it becomes intertwined with contributions others have made. You can still delete it, but you have to delete it one piece at a time. We expect you to do this with thought and consideration for how it affects others. Again, according to the Honor Code.

Working on a shared family tree is not for everyone. The genealogists who do it, in my opinion, are not doing it for selfish reasons. Genealogists have already researched their family tree. They already know their roots. They’re contributing because they want to share what they have learned with others.

There are selfish benefits to using WikiTree. See and for a few examples of genealogists who have discovered new information using WikiTree, even though they’ve been researching for many years. But at the end of the day, the most active members of the WikiTree community are doing it for their non-genealogist family members and distant cousins they’ll never meet.


P.S. There are other things I could say, especially about how WikiTree is a private company, and the pros and cons associated with that. But this isn’t the place. If anyone wants to talk about it let me know. Maybe someone would do an interview on their blog on some of these issues.


Kerry Scott August 18, 2011 at 9:34 am

Chris—thanks for this. You’re being up front about what your company does or doesn’t do, so people can make intelligent choices. I think that’s a key variable in this whole thing.

There are other bloggers who are more news-y and better suited for interviews than I am, but if you’d like to do a guest post on this topic, I’d be happy to post it. I think this is an important discussion, and people are listening, so now’s the time. We all need to be better consumers by understanding more about the companies we do business with, and if there’s a silver lining in this whole Geni thing, it’s the fact that we’re discussing this stuff.


George Gearhart August 18, 2011 at 11:01 am


Geni is definitely interested in participating in this sort of discussion, too. I think Thomas may be working on something at geneabloggers, and I feel like an industry-wide discussion about the merits of collaboration and wikis is long overdue.



Kerry Scott August 18, 2011 at 11:21 am

George—you’re welcome to do a guest post too, if you like. Hit me on the “Contact Me” page above if you’re interested.


Lynn Palermo August 18, 2011 at 8:44 am

Like you Kerry, I had no business with Geni, and especially no interest in OneWorldTree. I’ve seen the disasters of that on Ancestry. The mere mention of it just gets my blood boiling. They prey on the new genealogists who are just learning, and before you know it they are so messed up they don’t know whether they are coming or going. (I know because I was there once).This whole kumbaya of One World Tree is ‘crap’ if I may quote you. The race to have the largest world tree as a business move to gain the most genealogy subscribers is fatally flawed. The sooner we preach quality vs. quantity the better off we will all be.
P.S. Kerry you always keep me laughing!


Susan Tiner August 18, 2011 at 10:38 am

I am glad I didn’t waste any time with Geni!

That whole last paragraph of your post is really good, not at all parenthetical. I think it deserves a larger font size :-).


Kerry Scott August 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

I like seeing who reads the small print. In fact, I’m guessing that not reading the small print is part of what lead to this whole dramafest.


Dee August 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

I publish my family tree online at Rootsweb, and although that service is free, I do pay the parent company, Ancestry, a tidy annual sum for use of its databases. I also get posts-its on individual records there, and frequently have really cool email conversations with the people who leave them, so we collaborate on common family members.

Howver, I have not, and do not contemplate having any interest in the foreseeable future, ever contributed to a humongous, let’s-all-add-anything-we-want family tree.

I know intellectually that if we go back far enough, we are all related, but I don’t need to see the mechanics of that played out in one large, wholly undocumentable online pedigree.

Sorry for the Geni users, but you are so right. Even if a site says it’s free, you gotta pay to play.


Chris Whitten August 18, 2011 at 11:27 am

Hey Dee, why does a shared tree have to be “wholly undocumentable”?

Wikipedia has managed to develop a fairly rigorous standard for sourcing information. WikiTree didn’t start out doing enough to encourage proper sourcing, but we’ve been working hard on that with Thomas MacEntee and others. Our Sources and Footnotes sections have been steadily improving.


Dee August 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

How will you guarantee that everyone who adds to that tree has accurate information?


Chris Whitten August 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Hi Dee,

Absolutely no guarantee! :-)

But, as with any genealogy, if they include sources you don’t need to take what’s written on faith.

On a wiki page you can fix incorrect information. You can add sources that other people have left out. Mistakes will be made and erroneous information will be added. But it’s all carefully tracked so you can see who added what and when. Overall, this tends to encourage a positive collaborative environment where the information gets better (and more carefully sourced) over time. The good tends to drive out the bad.

That’s not all by magic and it’s not all easy, of course. Edit wars develop. Your cousin might insist on tracing your lineage one way and won’t listen to reason. On WikiTree this is where your lineage would fork. The ancestry can go one way for him and another way for you. The ideal is always that you guys work out your differences, eventually, but we know that’s just an ideal.



Jill August 18, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Just sayin’–

Copied & pasted from Wikitree

Eve Chavvah First Woman
Born [date unknown] in Eden, Rockingham, North Carolina, United States


Chris Whitten August 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Jill, there’s lots of junk on WikiTree.

We made a decision to allow the people who contribute information to control it.

We don’t just allow anyone to delete or merge the entries that you contributed.

Yes, this allows trash to pile up. It’s a real problem. I can appreciate why the folks at Geni were driven to make some radical changes.

Our solution at WikiTree is to let the good float to the top and let the bad become irrelevant. This profile of Eve might stay in the system, but it doesn’t need to connect with your family tree.



Jo Graham August 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

No, you’re not being overly cynical – my Granny deserves better than being copied and pasted into someone’s tree in error, and then copied and pasted erroneously for all eternity (thank you, Ancestry, from whence I have removed my tree). The copy and pasters deserve to have their own Grannies – properly sourced ones – if only they would go and look :-)


Elizabeth P August 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Totally spot on. I learned my lesson years ago, FTM used to have a way you could upload your tree to the internet. I imagined great, I find all my long lost cousins and we could have a hugfest. So I put my little sprout of a tree up on the internet, one branch was based on records I found in a DAR Lineage book without being checked for accuracy. Well my tree along with it’s inaccuracies ended up on a world family tree cd a year later. They were selling my tree!
Oh and not one cousin contacted me. Hopefully no one is using my geni-crap from my early days.

I have to admit though I like find-a-grave. If I am in a cemetery I have no issue passing on a random act of kindness. You are correct though I don’t expect to retain ownership of anything I put up there.


Magda August 22, 2011 at 7:18 pm

On same line of thought with Jo & Elizabeth ! I thank my stars now that I never found the time to upload my family trees to Rootswebs ! However , hard copies that I printed out for relatives ended up on the web with errors that makes me cringe .

I do have TNG@ for my work now but have decided not to publish online yet .

Brave , Brave Kerry ! Thanks for speaking out on this hot topic !


Janet August 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Years ago, I was utterly committed to a genealogy program (which I shall not name). My commitment was because you could keep you information online, and not share it with anyone. In my paranoia about losing all my work, it was like the answer to all my fears. Then–i got notice that I had a website! And my Family Tree was on it! and I should keep adding to it so I could make contact with relatives. If I got a notice, it sure didn’t penetrate. I am all for sharing family trees, but I don’t because my line is almost gone and entries are for 2nd cousins on down, many who I haven’t met. I don’t believe in posting without permission.
Same story. Same lesson. :(


Caron August 22, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I had a similar situation with my sharing a GEDCOM with my aunt. She uploaded it to a website tree and the following year I found my work for sale on the family tree CD.

My cousin very kindly signed me up for Geni, with the tree I gave her. I have a free account there by virtue of her kindness. The only thing I use it for is the birthday and anniversary reminders. I do not add to it.


Philip Weiss August 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I like the idea of a commonly edited big tree. How Geni does it is another story. It sounds like wikitree might be more up my alley. (I signed up for Geni based on the recommendations of a girlfriend.)

But I did want to add that there is an option for collaboration where you own the site. I run PhpGedView on my own site. It’s doesn’t have the slick user friendly interface like Geni and Ancestry and the like, and a person really needs a friend with some computer skills to set it up and manage, but it’s worked well for my purposes.


Brad Patrick August 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Thanks for the comments. I am always, ALWAYS, astonished at the unmitigated hubris of people who believe they are right to the point of excluding all other possibilities. The ESM mention was perfect in this regard – genealogy doesn’t lend itself to binary conclusions. Can we say more probable than not? Can we say beyond a reasonable doubt? Maybe, but can we say “to the exclusion of all other conclusions?” Nope. Not me. Hopefully not you either.


Elizabeth Shown Mills August 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Right on, Brad! “Case closed” are words never to be spoken in genealogy!


Jim Gill August 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I was interested in the passing elbow jab you gave to FindAGrave. Do you have concerns about this website or its owners? I think a little explanation would be in order. I’m a relatively new volunteer photographer for FireAGrave. But I don’t do it for the website or its owners. I do it for the people who live too far away from their loved ones’ last resting places. Do it so they can have a picture to remember their ancestors by.


Kerry Scott August 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I’ve blogged about Find a Grave here, and on free sites on the internet in general here.

I don’t have any beef at all with Find a Grave; I use it and like it, and I appreciate the work people do to keep it going. My concern is that whenever you have a site where the entire value is generated by volunteers/people working for free, you have a potential problem. The site becomes more valuable the more people add to it. At some point, it either becomes too big to manage and it goes away, or it gets sold (or monitized some other way). Then all of those people who spent hours and hours making it valuable feel screwed, because they didn’t get paid for it, and they don’t own it anymore (and really, they never owned it…but they felt like they did).

Find a Grave stands out in my mind because some of the volunteers there seem to feel an extraordinary sense of mission and/or ownership of the work they do…more than any other site I know in the genealogy world. I see people fighting over who “owns” a photo or a virtual memorial, and I wonder what’s going to happen if some big company buys the site (or, alternately, the site disappears because it’s too expensive or unwieldy). If you don’t own the site, you don’t have control over what you’re submitting. Period.

I definitely encourage people to continue to volunteering for sites like Find a Grave, but I hope that they do so knowing that they don’t get to decide what’s going to happen to it. It could be sold, and some or all of that data could be behind a pay wall tomorrow. That’s what often happens to “free” sites (if they’re lucky…it’s even worse when they just plain disappear).


Margaret E August 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

“I’m a genealogist. I like doing research. Seeing a big family tree has nothing to do with the thing I like to do, which is…research. If you don’t need antihistamines and quarters for the copier, you’re doing it wrong.”

Yeah! When I read or hear people saying ” I have 14,000″ names in my family tree!” I think “But what do you know about those names? They are JUST names. What were their lives like? What did they do?” I like doin’ the digging! I don’t care if I don’t have umpteen generations on my tree. I’d rather have all the good dirt on my ancestors!! And the fun of finding it!


Caron August 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm

One newly discovered “cousin” was proud to share her Ancestry tree with me…13,000 names and counting. I found little documentation and several errors including a set of twins that she merged into one person. When I gave her the detailed information, her response was “oh, well…”

My tree is in my stand alone PC system. I will share pieces of it with family, but I don’t believe anything they give me until I check things out myself.


Dan Hoffman August 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I liked this posting very much. I do not have contact with a whole culture of genealogy or genealogists as some persons do. So, I learn from this blog’s critical discussion about issues that I might miss. This discussion is an example. I especially agree with Margaret E.’s comment about huge trees. Big is not automatically good and just stringing out name after name means little if there is no understanding of actual concrete human lives and their interactions. I have about 600 names. That seems enough to keep me busy for a long time . . . even though I do like the excitement of discovering a new branch.


Elizabeth Shown Mills August 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Kerry, “Bullpucky” is just about what my brother said when he signed up for Geni, created a tree that had us descending from William Wallace, and Lil Sis reminded him that no one had proved the parents of our Wallace immigrant of the RW-era. Of course, my brother had diligently “verified” the line back to the Great WW. He had checked the Ancestry trees and found at least 8 that all agreed.

As for Geni and its fantastic mergers, one terribly patient Geni employee of a couple of years back did try very hard to help me understand that there was no problem with a woman born in the 1830s giving birth to a man who fought in the Revolution. As I said to Brad above, the case is never closed in genealogy, but this is one case I have pretty serious doubts about. :)


Aylarja August 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Sounds like your brother needs to spend some time with a book called, “Evidence!” by Elizabeth Shown — oh, wait. He what? Well, my brother’s an accountant, and I guess that hasn’t made me a financial wiz either… :)


Diane-The-Nut August 19, 2011 at 8:43 am

I’ve had an uneasy feeling about Geni from the get-go. I know the people in a certain part of an extended branch of my family tree and they have no interest in research… “close enough” is there middle name. While Geni seems family Facebook-ish to me it isn’t working as genealogy. Do appreciate the birthday reminders;)


Leslie Ann August 19, 2011 at 11:25 am

I have been a faithful basic/ non-Pro user of Geni for about year. Although I was/am peeved about the sudden changes they made, I have not fallen completely out of love with them.

I was invited to Geni by a 4th cousin who found me through my blog. When I went over there and signed up I was informed right there on the spot that their goal was for one “Big tree”, no pussy footin’ around.

If Mr. or Ms. Q public doesn’t want to share “their hard work” or collaborate with other folks, why did they join? I can’t believe someone would put their “hard work” online without having it on their hard drive, or an online storage site – then there should be less risk of “loss”.

Geni is a great TOOL to aide in your research. No one should EXPECT everything in a family tree to be accurate, at the same token, no one should EXPECT NOTHING to be accurate.

Nobody is perfect. There will be errors, and there are the wonderful VOLUNTEER curators there to help you.

There is plenty of documentation on Geni and there are genealogy specialists who are members . I like the big tree because, again, it is a TOOL. It’s fun to see what famous person you might be related to and how. Checking out those famous profiles has also helped me discover facts about ancestors that I never knew, and prompted me to fix errors. I NEVER suggest a fix without documentation.

Right now I am involved in a Geni project to help fix errors and document an Allen family. This is INVALUABLE! People coming together to sort out fact from fiction!

I am not happy with the recent changes they have made and I have ranted about it in my own blog, but I feel I have to note the positive to people who aren’t familiar with the WHOLE Geni experience.

And you are right Kerri, we need to think about what we are doing.
(I feel another blog post coming on ;-)


Jeni September 13, 2011 at 10:08 am


I post things online so I have a layout for double checking and backing up my own data. I do not share my research with others because others don’t live up to the standards I have for my work. I refuse to post anything that isn’t relatively documented, and I refuse to accept information from people who dont document. There are huge differences between hobbyists and professionals.

Hobbyists tend to be less adament about their documentation. All they want to know is where they come from. The biggest problem I have personally with sites like Geni is that they have very little in the way of privacy settings. I don’t want everyone being able to search my name or my tree. I actually had someone stalking me through Geni for a while, and harassing me about my genealogy research that I told him from the beginning I was not interested in sharing.

As of right now, I use Tribal Pages (despite not liking their format very much) because they allow me to keep the privacy settings that I want while backing up my work. I would prefer a site where I don’t have to deal with people searching my information at all, while still being able to view what’s missing and what I need to look for, and backing up the work I have done for myself and clients.



james gross September 10, 2011 at 8:36 pm

i accidently bumped into your site. I have a few comments in regard to geni and ancestry as well as the usage of these sites for creating and locating relevant family trees.

thoughts about geni:
it is one of several virtual resources for sharing trees. Ancestry and rootsweb are 2 others that come to mind.

Choice of online sites for genealogy collaboration: varies. I would point out that the current choices among collaborative genealogy sites is/are gradually improving. You have to admit that what is available today is a lot better than what was available years ago.

Goal of contacting fellow researchers: still a bit challenging as some people are on geni, some are on ancestry, etc.

accuracy of data: varies.

issues with geni: default tree setting is now private and it is difficult to explain to users how to mod their settings. gedcom update does not exist. initial gedcom upload is disabled. users either type all info in by hand or skip using geni. Bad news for users like me who want to update their tree data with newly located names via a gedcom update.

conclusion: be aware of what data you are uploading. Be aware that your data may remain on these sites even after you stop the membership.
Think about placing a copy of your tree on an independent website that can accept a gedcom update. I use which offers a free account. they accept unlimited gedcom updates.
If possible, make sure you look at several sites like geni and ancestry if you want to check on currently published genealogy trees.


Jeni September 13, 2011 at 10:11 am


My biggest pet peeve with people who call themselves genealogists are those who don’t pay attention to their information (IE: Those who claim their g-g-g grandmother had a child before they were born) and those who don’t document their information properly. It doesn’t matter if you “think” you know where you come from if you cannot prove it. Sites like Geni allow for anyone to tap into your work through merging, whether they document things or not and frankly, Im not going to spend my time digging up document after document for other people for free…



james gross November 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

kerry- in case you missed it, geni just increased the cost of membership for unlimited trees (no gedcom updates allowed) from 5 to 12 e/m.


Louis Kessler March 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Here are 5 WordPress plugins to incorporate genealogical information into your blog:

Included is the TNG plugin mentioned by Sharon Lunsford in an earlier comment.


Bendee July 4, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I agree with you. This site sucks. Seriously? Why do we have to pay for a social networking site per month? Lame. I spent almost an hour making my family tree on the Basic plan, then I went to the search engine to look up people with the same last name as mine’s but I ended up finding out that I couldn’t even view their profiles unless my account is upgraded. I hope Facebook makes their own site that will rival this one that’s free to use and safe with no additional cost when you sign up.


Roderick Brentnall October 16, 2013 at 4:32 am

I don’t care for Wikitree personally as I never upload to any so-called free sites. One thing to remember about the Internet and the free word is that none of it is free. They may say it is but that is rarely true. I also agree with a lot of the genealogists in this thread about doing your own research because in the final analysis anyone can upload a tree but how much is accurate is more of the question. I don’t upload my tree because I don’t want my hard word contaminated with the copy and pasted material that is so common with online trees.


Madone March 3, 2014 at 12:52 am

I added content a few years ago and just went in & did a google search and here popped up my name and ALL OF MY LIVING RELATIVES NAMES. Even though I have it set up to NOT publicize any of that.

Someone went in and found my profile on there and put two and two together and then went on Facebook, publishing my address and then sent me threatening emails.

I went in tonight to delete my tree and it won’t let you. Even though some of the information is wrong, it only allows you the option to:

1) “donate the profiles I manage to the Geni community. This will enable active Geni users to edit and merge these profiles to maintain the accuracy of the “GENI TREE”.

2) Transfer the profiles I manage to another user. He or she will manage the privacy and receive requests for these profiles.

If I can’t delete the error I have made or even tree that I manage, why would I allow someone who I don’t know from the man in the moon to take over? It is insanity! I am sure if you sing up for their “Geni Pro” you could possibly go in and delete your tree but they store your credit card info to charge it after your 2 weeks is up. Again, if I can’t even get into my tree why would I give someone my credit card number to hold on to for later use? Sounds fishy to me..


Kerry Scott March 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Hoooooly cow. I would be very, very unhappy if I were you. Have you already contacted Geni to find out what went wrong?


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