My Foray into


A week ago Friday night while participating in the GeneaBloggers Blog Talk Radio session I won a 3-month “Pro” subscription to I am quite excited!  When I read the description of the session and learned that Noah Tutak, CEO of the company, would be interviewed, I knew I needed to listen.  I have had a account for a few years, but haven’t used it much.   I love the potential of the shared family tree building approach so knew I needed to revisit the site.  I strongly support collaborative/social genealogy efforts and feel Geni has great potential in this space.

After several days of really using the site, here’s my overall synopsis of what I like about Geni, what frustrates me, and how I think it compares to other platforms that also seek to promote online, collaborative, & social genealogy. I look forward to seeing how my impressions evolve as I use it further.

What I Like about

  • collaborative family tree building – multiple people can easily work together on the same tree
  • easy to use interface — creating & editing profiles is easy with their point & click interface.  Unlike WeRelate and other person wiki-based projects, no knowledge of wikitext is needed. This reduces barriers to use.
  • Their goal of having one World Family Tree and trying to connect as many profiles together as possible. Quite laudable.  Unlike Ancestry Member Trees with their multiplicity,  redundancy can be minimized by merging profiles.
  • Built-in calendar – dates entered into the profiles are turned into notifications to family members of events like birthdays and anniversaries.  I’ve not seen this in other collaborative family tree programs.
  • Daily Digests – sent via email to summarize activity for the day.  a great way to stay informed on who’s doing what
  • Good Search Engine Optimization — results from Geni appear in search engines. I don’t believe this to be the case with Ancestry Member Trees?

What Frustrates Me

  • Editing Others’ Profiles – If I find a profile for which I can contribute information to, I have to request collaboration with the person who manages the tree before I can add to it.  This is seriously hampering my like for when I want to make a substantial contribution, I’d like the flexibility to do it right away.  I can add pieces to the profile, but not family members.  I would prefer an even more open model for collaboration where more edits could be made right away. This feature is a standard in wiki-based collaboration projects and I would like to see it adopted here.  I still haven’t heard back on both of the collaboration requests I made 7 days ago.  🙁
  • Relationship management — when adding a relationship, such as a marriage, to a person, the options on screen lead you through the process rather nicely. However, on the screen to manage a relationship you can only add one relationship and you’re not able to add more.  To add more, you have to go to another part of the profile.  My mother has been married three times — adding her relationships was cumbersome to say the least.
  • Counties not used in Place Names— at least not by default.  I would prefer not to have to enter county names  – especially if I’m entering a city.  That data element can be automatically defined. And some place names have zip codes in them that can’t be erased, while many don’t.  That’s odd.
  • Adding unconnected people — as is the case with Ancestry Member Trees, here you also can’t just add someone initially unless they are connected to an existing person on the tree.  If you don’t wish this to be the case, you have to add them, then remove the relationship.
  • Search Box – should have an option to search the entire site, or search just your tree.  Current set up has you enter a name, then the resulting screen lets you specify options to look at just your tree or the entire site.  Would like to see this moved to appear next to the search box itself in order to reduce a few clicks.  This is a common feature with site searches that use Google Search.
  • Path View – at the top of each profile in your tree is view that shows you how you’re related to the person you are looking at.  This is represented linearly, but there should be an option to view it hierarchically.  It can be hard to understand the steps up and down a tree unless you can represent hierarchy.  My genealogy program, TNG: the Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, does this well.  The Geni team could consider an option to do something similar.
  • Descendancy view – does not include those not biologically related.  I understand the desire to keep it adhered to bloodlines, but it would be nice to have an option to include step-relationships in the Tree View; even if they were color-coded differently.

With a longer list of what frustrates me vs. what I like, you may get the impression i’m dissatisfied – but rest assured that is not the case! I like Geni more than the other wiki and wiki-type user tree sites I’ve come across for the following reasons.  I hope the Geni team considers these thoughts as they continue to make the site better.

How It Compares to other Social Genealogy Sites

  • WeRelate — with no WYSIWYG editor, I find WeRelate too cumbersome to enter data into — even though I am quite adept at HTML and Wiki Markup Language — it just is a time issue for me; it’s faster to do WYSIWYG rather than markup language.  Geni’s interface is point, click, enter – much easier to use.
  • AncestryMemberTrees — Ancestry has a huge user base and is highly visible.  The integration with records is undoubtedly an advantage.  The number of multiple records and how bad information gets rapidly duplicated is a limitation.  Geni is seeking to overcome this and for my purposes when I want to share information I like Geni’s approach better because I would only need to do it once — not to multiple people as is the case with Ancestry Member Trees.
  • WikiTrees – editing a profile you find is also not instantaneous – requests have to be made to the person who manages the profile. I also do not like the layout and structure of WikiTree pages and the ads are obtrusively placed  – often in the center of your screen.  Geni’s profiles are well-structured and ads are placed at the bottom of the page.
  • OneGreatFamily – primary goal is to create one large connected family tree.  I haven’t used this site in several years, but it is a complete subscription based service.  Nothing is visible without the subscription. and Ancestry use a fremimum model, where some information is available for free with additional content/features only available by subscription.  Freemium is better in my book.
  • MyHeritage – the site have a focus on sharing genealogy with those you select.  Thus, the openness of data is often restricted.  I’m not as likely to use this one  given its focus on restriction.

What do you think of




Comments (19)

  1. Ginger Smith

    Hi Taneya, great post. I’m glad you had the opportunity to try out. I really enjoyed using it as did my family. However the minute I agreed to let ONE person (whom I did not know) collaborate with me, the tree went to crap. Because they then have allowed 20 other people to collaborate with them and it becomes an absolute nightmare. All these strangers then start deleting the profiles YOU have created. And you and your family members start getting emails saying such. I have pretty much abandoned it until the help desk can unlink this one so called “collaborator.”

  2. taneya (Post author)

    thanks for the feedback Ginger. Good point you raise and I can understand the concern with allowing collaborators. I suspected this would be the hardest of the things I mentioned for Geni to carry out and with your experience that is understandable. Deleting profiles would especially be a problem!!! I wonder if a profile could have a “master curator” of sorts and all request for collaborations should come through them so other collabs can’t keep adding collabs?

  3. Geni Grant

    We’re always adding and tweaking features to make collaboration even easier. Keep an eye out relatively soon for some updates.

    Thanks for the input. We strive to make our tree interface the best there is, so we always love to hear feedback.

    Counties not used in Place Names: If you don’t like what populates in the field, you can always drop down and edit in more detail.

    Undeleting profiles: You can always go to to undelete any profile you manage.

    Unwanted people: You can always block unwanted users from their profile. Also, you can just remove your collaboration status.

  4. taneya (Post author)

    Hi Grant,

    Thanks for reading through the blog post and leaving a comment. I know that you all do work to help make sure we have great experiences on the site. We definitely appreciate that. As for the counties not used in place names, if I could ask for two of my list to be done it would be this and the search box change. Using counties is standard in genealogical research and if the field were auto populated with the county it would help remove one additional step for us. Thank you again!

  5. Chris Whitten

    Hi Taneya,

    Thanks for including in your comparisons. It makes for great feedback.

    Regarding the ads, if you login you won’t see them at all. They’re just there for the anonymous users. That enables the site to be free for everyone.

    Regarding requesting Trusted List access, we’ve been struggling with this. Most people would agree with you when you say “when I want to make a substantial contribution, I’d like the flexibility to do it right away.”

    That immediacy was fundamental to Ward Cunningham’s vision for wiki collaboration when he invented the first wiki-wiki software.

    A few months ago we added a new Privacy Level: Open. It’s now the default for profiles of people born more than 200 years ago. But, it’s still on a minority of profiles.

    If you ever have more comments or questions on WikiTree I’d love to hear them. I’m chris at


  6. Mike Gibson

    These sites are great, but I have a fundamental problem with these “one tree” projects. They’re just not realistic in their goal. I think folks have this idea that the collaboration will create some sort of “Wikipedia effect” where the data becomes better and better as more and more people contribute. The problem is that more and more people aren’t going to contribute to individual pages. The vast majority of the information will be submitted by a single person and never looked at again. Add to that the problem that most hobby genealogists aren’t properly recording sources, so you can’t even verify the information on these sites. There are too many poor hobby genealogists that mess up the data and make it useless.

    If someone could create a “one tree” project that requires that sources be checked by a neutral third party or something along those lines so that I when I get data off the site, I know I can trust it, then these trees would be great. I just don’t feel like reentering all my data into some new system again and again. I have research to do.

  7. taneya (Post author)

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for letting me know that upon login the ads are removed; that makes a huge difference! I like the Open Privacy Level option and will be sure to further explore the site. Thanks again.

  8. taneya (Post author)

    Hi Mike,

    I certainly understand your concerns. These types of sites do require some input from us all if they are going to excel and become successful. I agree that most people aren’t going to contribute – even on Wikipedia there are far many more viewers than contributors. However, I do think these sites have a place in our realm of genealogy research if they are easy enough to use. Not even Wikipedia is all that friendly as you have to use WikiSyntax and it’s not WYSIWYG. My personal opinion is that as an active contributor, I’d rather see what hobby genealogists have to add, even if they aren’t always adequately sourced, as it is a way to engage and interact. Wikis allow the opportunity to *watch* pages you edit, so it’s also a good idea to follow changes to a page even after you make edits. Also, we have a responsibility to always check data no matter where the source, even if it is so called “reputable,” so I want the opportunity to review all kinds of contributions. At the least it can be a starting point and keep me engaged and interacting with others. Thanks for the comments!

  9. Chris Whitten

    Mike does make very good points.

    Still, I think unrealistic goals are the best kind. Ten years ago, people said that the mission of Wikipedia was totally unrealistic. When I was creating WikiAnswers, people told me that nobody would answer other people’s questions for free. Now free Q&A sites are taken for granted.

    That doesn’t mean than WikiTree and all the other current attempts might not fail. But I believe there will be a single worldwide family tree someday.

    On WikiTree, one thing that keeps people coming back is that they get e-mail updates when any profile on their Watchlist is edited. And there are the e-mail requests to join Trusted Lists, of course. Those don’t solve the problem, but they do help, and we’ll figure out better solutions as we go.

    As for the sources, that is indeed problem on WikiTree. We’re working on solutions, though I don’t think that requiring verification is the way to go. Things like this were tried in the early days of Wikipedia and had to be abandoned. It’s too stifling. Like Taneya says, immediacy is important for collaboration.


  10. Mike Gibson

    @Chris Whitten

    Thanks for your pragmatic approach to the problem. I too would love to see a “one tree” project succeed but have seen too many failures over the years to be too optimistic. They all seem to suffer from the same problems. In the beginning of these projects, there are a lot of enthusiastic contributors contributing information. But after a while the problem of reconciling trees becomes overwhelming for people. It’s by far the most important part of a “one tree” project, but it seems that very little time is ever spent on it. Folks are generally interested in doing research on their own lines, not fixing up someone else’s.

    Perhaps folks need to have some external motivation for doing the work. Take a look at, a new Q/A site that is doing fantastic. It’s full of quality answers from educated people. Why? Because good answers get “reputation”. It’s like a game for people. The more questions you answer, the more reputation you get. And you can use reputation to get others to answer your really tough questions.

    Perhaps something like this would be helpful for a “one tree” site. Spend some time cleaning up the data, and you get “points” which you can then use as an offering to encourage others to do lookups for you or help clean up your own information.

    Somebody should build that site. That would be awesome.

  11. Chris Whitten

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Mike. Reconciling trees is a lot of work and it’s not fun.

    It’s a real problem on WikiTree already. Creating lots of junk is easy because of gedcom imports. Cleaning up the junk isn’t easy, especially when the person who created it isn’t interested in helping clean it up.

    One way around this is to ignore the junk. Our goal is to have one world tree, but that doesn’t mean that every duplicate profile needs to be merged. If a junky profile is uploaded and ignored it doesn’t have to do much harm. Perhaps we can work on ways to make sure these profiles don’t come up in public searches.

    We can also work on making it easier to clean up trash than create it. This is actually meant to be a fundamental element of wikis.

    We are making some advances on merging profiles. We haven’t thrown up obstacles to importing gedcoms yet but it may come to this. Maybe if a gedcom doesn’t contain sources it would only import a few generations.

    By the way, one thing in the hopper at WikiTree is a “thank you points” system. We hadn’t planned on making it a currency so much as just a way of showing appreciation (and showing who has earned the appreciation of others in the community). We also track and display contribution counts so there’s a little “WikiTreer Pride” there.

  12. Mike Gibson

    Folks seem to get some odd satisfaction from things like “WikiTreer Pride”, which is fine by me. Whatever motivates people to do the right thing is a good thing. My thought on the currency aspect would be that we all need others to do lookups for us. If I could do a bunch of work locally that would get someone else to help me out in a far off land, that would be worth something to me.

    Also, perhaps limiting genealogy wikis to just trees isn’t the right way to go about it. I find that outside of the big records (census, etc.), there are lots of a smaller records scattered around the internet. If the wiki wasn’t just about trees, but also about genealogy data in general, I think that would help. Something like a easy to use collaborative genealogy database. Your ability to search would be based on the contributions you make to the system. Or don’t even require contributions to do searches. Just make it open like wikipedia and rely on good will to grow the system. I think if it were easy enough to use, then folks would get onboard.

  13. taneya (Post author)

    Mike & Chris – great discussion points! I’m at work right now so can’t reply, but will try to do so later 🙂

  14. Philip Weiss

    I use Geni pretty extensively and love the collaborative aspects.

    However, using sources on it is a pain in the ass, even with their latest improvements. And exporting data is awful. The way Geni slices trees on data export is not helpful at all. I have lots of other nit-picky issues too.

    Still all in all it’s a great service just not suitable to be my primary organizing tool.

  15. Regina

    Taneya, great post! And great follow-up on comments.

    I use Geni and have tried WikiTree. I completely agree with Ginger Smith regarding collaboration. I have received several requests on Geni to collaborate with people I don’t know. I have enough trouble with the people I invited to Geni (ie, my relatives) changing the tree that collaboration seems like a nightmare waiting to happen. Not everyone is as competent a researcher as we would like and I already spend enough time cleaning up the mess I made on my own before I knew better.

    I’m not against collaboration, I just don’t see the point right now of opening up my research to just anyone to make changes. One day when I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll accept the collaboration requests and see where that gets me. Maybe I’ll be thrilled and maybe I won’t, but I won’t know until I try. =^)

  16. Chris Whitten

    Taneya, I agree that it’s been a great discussion. Thanks for providing the forum for it.

    Mike, FWIW, you can create a collaborative page about anything on WikiTree.

    This is currently an under-used ability, though. We now have over a million profiles of people (connected on trees) but the number of free-space profiles is in the thousands.

    Mike, if you ever have more thoughts or ideas, feel free to e-mail me personally. I’m chris at


  17. taneya (Post author)

    Hi Regina,

    Yes, there is trepidation with opening up your tree to others. 🙂 I’d wager though that this is a fundamental difference between sites that are completely open like WeRelate and sites that allow some level of privacy, like Geni & WikiTrees. I honestly would prefer to be ALL open for I don’t view any of these platforms as being “enough” as my working software for my tree & research. For that I use TNG as I mentioned in my post. Sounds like you have a great attitude though of continuing to keep an open mind.

  18. taneya (Post author)

    Hi Philip,

    Thx for the comments. Yes, I agree that sources could use some work on the Geni site. I’ve actually not tried the export yet, so I’ll have to experiment with that. And yes, as I replied to Regina – it’s not something I’d use as my primary software, but it’s a good supplement for collaboration with others.

  19. taneya (Post author)

    @chris and @mike – i just can’t keep up with you two! 🙂

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