A Good and Free Family Tree Website


by Terry Hogan


I’d like to say that “I found” a new, good, and free family tree website.  But I can’t.  It was pointed out to me. It was pointed out to me by my editor, Norm.  Notwithstanding the above, I checked it and, provided an email address and password. I entered some family history data.  It is a nice system.  It is easy to use. And did I mention that it is FREE?


The system goes by the name Geni.  It can be found at Geni can be used in a number of ways.  First, it is really easy to enter basis information and create a visual family tree that grows in your presence.  The system is easy to use, with intuitively obvious guides to make data entry easy.  For example, prompts for male slots (father, grandfather, etc.) are in blue and female positions are in pink.  Arrows and “balloons” are available to move up and down and laterally to add new generations and to add brothers and sisters.  What is nice about the system is that you are building the tree as you add the data, so that you see the physical structure as you go, greatly reducing the risk of errors.


The system also allows for adding photographs and a substantial amount of additional personal information.  That, I suppose, is both the good and the bad news.  I, by my nature, tend to be both pessimistic and paranoid.  Thus my life is a little bit like pending doom/crisis behind every tree.  But on the other hand, I remember a poster that said, to the effect, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”. 


I don’t claim to have any expertise on computer security systems, but it appears the Geni folks have attempted to build in a fair amount of controls to limit access to the more sensitive information, while letting other members search for “cousins” who might tie into their family trees. Much of the access is controlled by how you set the controls for access to your data.


Geni states that “Only the people in your family tree can log in to your tree and your profile.  Geni will not share your personal information with third parties.  We will not sell your email address or spam you.”


For my own data I put in the system, the only full name of a living person is my own.  I do not provide names of children or grandchildren, nor do I provide photos, addresses, etc. of living persons.  When a living person reference is necessary for the tree, I use a surrogate first name, such as “Unlisted” and provide the surname.  For deceased family members, I provide more details. But such things are a matter of individual choice and degree of risk avoidance one wants to exercise.  Geni does have a privacy section that can be visited that explains the privacy policy and there are “settings” that can be clicked on your family tree site to select privacy control options.


Did I mention this site was FREE?


According to the Geni folks, the system was launched on January 17, 2007.  It has over 20 million profiles on the system and has something in excess of 1.2 million users.  As a user, you can search the Geni data base for other distant cousins and their trees with a fairly conventional and easy search tool.  I suspect it works best by using the first and last name of a distant ancestor.  Unless you have a very uncommon surname, a surname search would probably give you more “hits” that you would care to wade through.


Sooo, you might wonder:  If it is Free, how do they make money?  Or at least, I was curious about that. Of course, I was one who couldn’t figure out how Google was going to make money when that obscure Internet search engine first came out.  According to the nice Geni folks who promptly answered my questions, the Geni revenue model includes selling “physical goods” such as family tree posters, coffee table books and the like.  Geni may also, presumably like Google and others, add “ad placements” to the system.  They may also add “premium services” in the future, but they are quick to note that the basic Geni service will remain free.   


Geni is a creature of many fathers who came from experience with PayPal, Yahoo!, EBay, and other Internet creatures that have influenced many of our lives.  Its birthing costs were met by venture capitalists who undoubtedly saw the “baby boomers” retirement on the horizon and their newly gained free time to backtrack their ancestors.


Actually, I was pretty impressed with the system and the security sounds pretty good, but I’m a poor judge of the actual security capabilities.  You may want to check the system out.  It is hard to beat free.  You can control how much and what type of information you include in your family tree database and you have some control over who has access to the more private information.  After all, the choice of what information you provide is yours.  Mine?  Don’t provide anything you wouldn’t be willing to see on the front page of a newspaper.  Yes, I am paranoid (or perhaps experienced, or both).


Now you have a new free ancestral hunting ground-


Wishing you heroes and not horse thieves.