Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ray Gurganus' Genealogy Program

There is an ongoing discussion on the EmergingTech mailing list about the "Our Family Tree" genealogy web site at

Ray Gurganus is a web site and database developer who has created his own collaborative genealogy database program, which is similar in functionality to The Next Generation of Genealogy Software, PhpGedView and PedigreeSoft. He describes it as:

"I have put up, and am constantly developing, a collaborative website for sharing genealogy information between researchers. A short list of features includes: 100% free, no ads, storing all branches in one common tree, pedigree charts, descendant charts, discussion posts, Google map integration, duplicate checks, feasibility checks, and so on. I'm aiming to bring genealogy into the 21st century of internet technology, doing many of the things that other systems and databases don't do. A more thorough description is available online at ->View -> Help."

The discussion on the mailing list centered on the look and feel of the web site - how does it look, how does it work, and Ray requested comments on ways to improve the site.

While Ray's site is not as developed as the commercial software mentioned above, it is remarkably complete. Ray has over 80 other people putting their genealogy data into this database.

When you go to Ray's genealogy home page at, you can select from a number of options, including contributed datasets, a search of all data, county lists, etc. If you click on one of the datasets, you can then select a person in that database. Select a person, and the information about that person and his/her family appears. From this screen, you can then click on the "His Pedigree," "Her Pedigree," "Descendants," and other links. There are links for notes, documents, sources, researchers, etc. The locations of family members are color coded.

My comments to Ray (in blue), and his responses (in red), were:

Randy: First, let me compliment you on a LOT of hard work that you have done to get this site set up the way you have done it. I appreciate your fortitude to ask people to critique it and comment on it. While your pages are busy and colorful, they are also well organized and intuitive for an experienced researcher. I could navigate them easily and could move up and down in your families, clicking buttons - I knew what I was going to get (at least after doing it once). The drop-down menus work really well. The highlighting under the mouse is impeccable. I love the functionality of the site.

Ray: Based on other responses, I'm working on toning down the colors... but for other people who might post to the site, they can choose their own colors if they want. So it's not all in my control.

Randy: Something like this would seem ideal for a large family web site with many contributors (which is what you have), or for a regional web site (e.g., all of the families of Beaufort County NC, or all of the guests at a cemetery, etc).

Frankly, if I had any connections to your data families, I would join your project! But I don't, and I want to ask you some questions:

Ray: Don't let that stop you. It's completely open to anyone who would like to use the system, even if not directly related to mine. I figure if you dig back far enough, we're all related. So it doesn't matter. :) Plus, you could recruit your own research partners, and collaborate among yourselves.

Randy: 1) How do you enter data? Can a GEDCOM or other file type be uploaded? Or is data entry all by hand? Can you cut and paste notes, sources or other text information?

Ray: For my own data, I personally prefer re-keying so that I'm completely aware of what is going in, and not just dragging along someone else's junk. But as part of re-keying, copy & paste is fine wherever you like. You get to see the data entry pages once you register, and go to add a person. Without registering, the only thing you can do is to post discussion messages.

I am working on a GEDCOM upload, because I figure that not having this would be a barrier to some people who would join otherwise. The biggest concern with uploading is in creating duplicates of people who are already in the system, and I'm shooting for 0% duplicates. So part of the import process will be the system checking for possible duplicates beforehand, encouraging users to use the duplicate checker afterwards, and me harassing people who create duplicates.

Randy: 2) Can someone start this process with a blank database and add to it? If so, how would one do that on a different web host and domain?

Ray: Not at this time. My main goal is to [have] everyone contributing towards one common tree (even if branches don't yet connect), rather than planting new trees. This also helps in my general administration and adding new features, as it's only one installation. But since anyone can add as-yet unconnected branches, segregated from other branches, and custom colors, it's about the same as starting with a blank database.

If someone wants their own domain name for it, I suppose they could point their domain to my site, and I could direct the domain into their starting page.

Randy: 3) Is there a capability to include extensive notes about a person - like a biography? I didn't see anything like that, but perhaps I didn't look far enough.

Ray: When adding/editing a person's record, there is one big notes field which can contain about 65,000 characters, which should be more than enough for anything you want to put in it. Each person can also have an unlimited number of documents (deed abstracts, censuses, wills, etc.), as I prefer keeping historical records separate from the general free-form notes.

Randy: 4) Is the web site design and functionality all your work?

Ray: Yes... I work as a web & database developer, this is where work spills over into play (and some times in the other direction, where things I do here inspire what I do in my day job).

Randy: 5) Are you going to market this site capability at any time?

Ray: That depends on what you mean by "market". I have done some, and will do more publicity posts to county & surname lists and message boards, posting to lists like this one, and nudging researchers in other correspondence. But no intentions to market as a commercial product. It is and hopefully always will be free.


If you have comments or questions, I'm sure Ray would appreciate hearing from you. There is an email address on his web site.

Frankly, I was floored that someone could do this much good work and be essentially "under the radar" of my genealogy world. Many of us could contribute data to this type of web site and utilize it. To me, the critical issue is being able to upload a GEDCOM file rather than enter all data by hand - I have thousands of people in my databases and really don't want to enter them again.

I think that this is a good example of what the social networking sites like Ancestry Member Trees, FamilySearch's Pedigree Viewer, Geni, WeRelate and FamilyLink may become (well, maybe they already are, but I haven't worked in them enough 0 at least some of them allow GEDCOM uploads).

What do you think? Would you participate in this type of web site?

No comments: