Saturday, June 23, 2007

CGSSD Meeting - Gary Hoffman on "Trees Grow on the Web"

The Computer Genealogy Society of San Diego (CGSSD) meeting was today at UCSD. Wireless access to the UCSD system was provided to those who brought their laptops. I did, so I live-blogged the FTM class and the feature presentation.

The featured program today is "Trees Grow on the Web" by Gary Hoffman - covering online family trees submitted by researchers. I posted the talk synopsis and Gary's biography here.

The presentation covers the future of web-based, integrated genealogy trees, like on, and Some definitions: A "tree" is a lineage-linked genealogy database. Integrated means putting family data from multiple contributors together. The data is stored on a server and you get to it using a web browser. Web 2.0 is defined as web services with user-contributed content - like MySpace and YouTube.

Gary showed the history and architecture of integrated family trees, using graphics from the One Great Family web site .

Starting with, he briefly discussed Ancestry Family Tree (a software program), Online Family Tree (now retired), One World Tree (really a search engine), World Family Tree (FTM uploads) and Personal Family Tree (a true integrated tree).

Gary logged into his account on and then clicked on "My Ancestry." Ancestry says that they provide unlimited storage for these shared family trees. The trees can be private or public. Some private trees can be seen by other subscribers, depending on the owner's preferences. Public trees can be seen by anybody. These trees are not integrated - each tree is separate.

In the member trees, the owner can attach photos to each person using the "People" tab. You can annotate the photos with location, names, etc. Based on the data provided, you can obtain a timeline for a person. Within the timeline, there are links to databases in the collection. The user can merge the information from the Ancestry databases if they choose to.

The reaction from the attendees was "how can you be sure the online data is correct?" Gary's response was that this is no different from corresponding by mail with someone who sends you data or a pedigree chart - you have to prove every fact.

The second site that Gary discussed was the LDS New FamilySearch project. The site has been in beta test, which ended in April. Version 0.9 will roll out to church members by region over 18 months. Version 1.0 will be open to non-LDS members. Version 2.0 will have links to records in the Granite Mountain Record Vault. This will likely be similar to the Ancestry Member Trees - but with links to data on images in the LDS records.

For a slideshow of how the New FamilySearch might work, go to

He said that Ancestral File, and LDS Member Files, data have been brought into the database. But there may be multiple entries for, or conflicting information about, a certain person. When the LDS members work on these files, they will be able to combine information so that there aren't multiple entries for a certain person. The system offers the conflicting data - and someone with authority will be able to decide whether the multiple entries should be combined.

Gary also showed the new family group sheet and pedigree chart formats.

You will eventually be able to add a GEDCOM file to the system - but that may create more duplicate information!

The third web-based integrated database that Gary discussed is Geni - at This is essentially MySpace meets Genealogy, and may be good for introducing genealogy to family members.

Gary did a live demo of the site, using his own account. He has put over 50 people into the database. The tree structure is flexible - you can zoom in or out and the tree structure changes. When you invite a family member into the account, you cannot edit their data once they have taken ownership of it. Geni tells you relationships between you (the owner) and each person in the database. At present, you cannot upload a GEDCOM file - you have to put your family data in manually.

These three sites are different. They are part of the future of genealogy. Gary says that "our resistance is futile..."

Great talk! Fun and informative. This talk only "worked" because Gary had a live wireless internet connection. Thanks, Gary.

UPDATED 6/23, 2 PM: Added some links, edited some lines. It's hard to be perfect while typing and listening and watching simultaneously. I'm not saying I'm perfect when I have time to just type, of course!

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