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Publishing Genealogy Data

Intermediate Genealogy:

Who to include

Scams and Tricks

What it is
How you read one
Converting text to GEDCOM


Systematic Research

Publishing your data on the Web

Related Sections:
Main Genealogy Page
Beginning Genealogy
Essays on Genealogy
Biography Questions
Why do it at all?

Other Sections:
Christmas Letters
Peace Corps
Web Design


(I first wrote this, in a slightly different form, on GenForum's "General" page.)

Once you have collected a couple of hundred individuals, you may want to publish your work on the web. This can often lead to other people finding you and offering to swap data. There are several levels of publishing your genealogy data on the Web. I used the levels as section links. They are in order of complexity and cost. You can read the whole page in order, or jump to the section that interests you:

Before you start

First, to do the job right will take some time. I have 4,000 individuals. It takes me four to eight hours to prepare a GEDCOM to upload. I keep a checklist as a Word document, which I print off each time I refresh my data. That way I know what is left to do if the task spreads out over a couple of evenings.

The first task on the list is privatizing. Birth dates, marriage dates and spouse’s names should be private, for living people. Identity theft is a growing concern. Besides, it isn’t anyone’s business who in your family had to get married, or who didn’t bother to get married. Randy Winch will sell you GEDLiving, a shareware program, for $10. It will privatize everyone in a GEDCOM who was born after a specified year. Some Genealogy program will make a privitized copy of your data for publication.

I have two databases on my home computer, Main and Public. I refresh Public about every six months. To do so, I export everyone in Main to a GEDCOM file, run it through GEDLiving, then create Public from the privatized GEDCOM. Web sites that accept GEDCOM files usually allow you to limit access to the living people, but what one person can encrypt another can uncrypt. Besides, if some data about a living person does get public, you'll know it wasn't RootsWeb's fault.

Item two in my checklist is to take out the address and phone numbers of people I used as sources who told me that they didn't want their private information published on the web. I add people to this item on my checklist each time I ask someone if I may cite him/her as a source. Some people want the publicity, some don't.

I save the "Public" database, even after I upload it. When people write to ask me for a GEDCOM for a specific branch of the family tree, I create it from the Public database. I trust them, of course; I just don't trust the person who gets it from the person who gets it from them. And again, if data about living people crops up on the web, you will know it didn't come from your third cousin twice removed if you sent him privatized data.

Now you have your data in a GEDCOM. Now would be an excellent time to back up both Public and Main, and put the backup copies somewhere else; in your desk at work, at a friend's house or in the closet furthest from the computer. If your computer dies, melts or is stolen, you'll have something to fall back on.

Upload a GEDCOM

The easiest way to publish your data is to upload it to a general genealogy site. Here are some places you can upload it. All three let you edit the data by uploading new versions of your GEDCOM. You can delete your account and wipe out your data, too, should the need arise.

RootsWeb's World Connect
They promise never to burn it into a CD or sell it. Ancestry.com bought RootsWeb in 2002 and, so far, has kept it free. They had 523 million entries in July 2008, and are in most people’s genealogy bookmarks. This one is free.

MyTrees / Kindred Konnections
This is a subscription site, but they let people pay for a subscription by transcribing census cards. They will give you a free 30-day membership in return for a GEDCOM.

Upload web pages to a Corporate site

The next level is to create a web page with Family Tree Maker, Family Origins for Windows or another program, then upload it to the corporate site. I’ve never done that myself. I know half the posts on the GenForum FOW page have to do with problems with the web site. If you are interested in this route, GenForum has a forum for each of the eight biggest genealogy programs.

Create your own web site

Leaping to the next level, you probably have interests besides genealogy, and it gives you a certain amount of bragging rights to be able to say "on my web site. . .". Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have some sort of package arrangement. In my area the going rate for unlimited web access, three e-mail addresses and 5 MB’s for a personal web site is $19.95 a month. Shop around; you may be able to find a deal that is half that price.

Gene Stark, at Stark Effect.com will sell you a $20 shareware program called GED2HTML, which will convert your GEDCOM to plain but serviceable HTML. Use the "Public" GEDCOM you made above. You can use the "Build a Web Page" feature of your genealogy program, too. Either way, that takes care of the genealogy part of your web site. If your other passion was, for instance, bass fishing, you’d scan a couple of pictures of your best catch, your boat, and your buddies, then write a short piece about why you like the sport. You might include some tips for beginners. Bass are one example out of thousands. Most people do something other people would find interesting. If you can't think of anything, you might want to look at Web Design Hints, which I wrote for high school and college students. One of the ideas may work for you.

To make the rest of your web page isn’t too hard. If you right- click on a web page you like, you can look at the HTML behind it. Word will convert text and pictures to HTML for you. The technical supporters at your ISP will help you get a utility to use to upload your files to the server. (You can think of a server as bank of hard drives that are connected the Internet that run all night. That way our Australian cousins can look at your data while you are asleep and your machine is turned off.)

Once you have your web page, you can register it with genealogical directories. RootsWeb’s World Connect has a space for you to put your home page URL. Distant cousins generates a lot of hits for me. You can post a "Descendants of" report on the appropriate GenForum surname or county page, using a person for whom you have a hundred or more descendants. Put your URL at the top of the post.

Buy your own domain

Once you have a web site, you can either leave it under your ISP or buy a domain. If you buy one, your web site address won't be
anymore; it will be
www.myname.org like (Ahem) www.tedpack.org.
Buying your own domain helps stoke the fires if you are an egomaniac and raises you a level on the geek scale. It also protects you from your ISP changing names, your ISP changing all their clients’ home page addresses, or your ISP getting bought out by a bigger ISP.

Note that you can do all four things, although having a page on a corporate web site and having your own web site is redundant.

A word of warning

There are some disadvantages of posting your data. Once your research is on the web, people will copy it without giving you credit. It happens and there isn't anything you can do about it. 99% of the people who copy your data will ask permission, and give you full credit. The other one percent won't. If that will ruin your day, don't publish on the web.

You pretty much have to put your e-mail address on a web page, no matter how you publish; otherwise, the fourth cousin who inherited the family Bible from your sixth great grandfather won't be able to contact you. Having your e-mail address on the web means you'll get spam - junk e-mail. Most of it will be get-rich-quick schemes, offers for drugs that don't work, or offers to see young women in various states of undress. You'll have to cope. I set my e-mail screen so I see just the subject (no previews) of each message and delete the obvious spams without reading them. It takes a couple of minutes a day. Again, if that will ruin your life, don't publish.

That's about it. Feel free to write if you have questions.

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This page updated: June 21, 2014