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Family Tree Online

There are numerous resources available for those looking to explore a family tree online.

A family three online makes it convenient for all members to enjoy. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
A family three online makes it convenient for all members to enjoy.

Family Tree Online

Creating a family tree online is one of the newest Web-based services for the amateur genealogist or family historian. According to an August 2006 Pew Internet survey, 25 percent of Internet users use the Web to search for information on their ancestors and other family members.

Previously, programs such as the Generations Networks Family Tree Maker featured access to proprietary online databases while the compiled family tree data itself remained on the researcher's computer. Web-based family tree programs place the compiled family tree online as well, providing an easier way to share the information with other family members and enlist their assistance in furthering ongoing research.

Family Tree Web Sites

Some of the most popular family tree online programs include:

  • MyHeritage
  • Family Echo
  • Family Tree Guide
  • TribalPages
  • MyFamily


All of these programs support the Genealogy Data Communications (GEDCOM) protocol for genealogical databases, allowing back-and-forth information exchange between various genealogy programs. Family Echo also allows data to be imported and exported in its proprietary FamilyScript format.

Family Tree Online Privacy Issues

Family tree online programs allow users to create Web pages of both living and deceased relatives, including personal information and photographs. Most programs allow some level of privacy with the information, including:

  • MyHeritages Family Pages can be either public or private.
  • Family Echo is designed for the information to be shared only with other family members.
  • Family Tree Guide requires log-in access to display living relatives and offers the option to share or hide information on them. Family members can download a portion of the database in their own GEDCOM file.
  • TribalPages offers several levels of suppression for living relative information.
  • MyFamily makes its Web sites private but allows the site administrator to create a public portal page and lets files and photographs be shared outside the family through e-mail.

Building a Family Tree Online

Data may be entered manually or through an uploaded data file. MyFamily, a product of the Generations Network, works with Family Tree Maker, while users of MyHeritage can download Family Tree Builder from its site for free and enter their information into it to be uploaded later.

Once entered, the information can be displayed in a number of formats. Family Tree Guide offers both individual pages and group sheets, as well as pedigree charts in one of four formats showing as many generations as the viewer desires. TribalPages displays multi-generational charts of ancestors and descendants, and allows users to graphically display the line of descent between any two family members. Along with MyHeritage and MyFamily, it also offers a calendar of family birthdays and other events.

Each program allows the user to enter photographs and match them to family members. MyHeritage allows users to search for look-alikes within families, around the globe or among its celebrity collection. Family Tree Guide lets users match one photo to multiple family members or one family member to multiple photos. TribalPages allows photos to be incorporated into albums and slideshows, while MyFamily takes it a step further, letting family members record narratives for their slideshows and allowing photos to be used on calendars, mugs and other paraphernalia.

Bundled Resources

All family tree online programs mentioned here allow the user to search within their own uploaded family tree, but some also allow searches outside of it. MyHeritage lets users search any public family trees uploaded to it with its built-in search engine as well as its database of celebrity photographs. TribalPages lets users search any of its family tree databases and the Social Security Death Master File, while MyFamily lets users search the databases of its sister Web site, Ancestry.com.

Unique Web Site Features

Each family tree Web site has its own special capabilities to distinguish it from its competitors. Some notable features include:

  • MyHeritage has its celebrity photo database.
  • FamilyEcho has its proprietary script.
  • Family Tree Guide lets users create records for cemeteries where deceased family members are buried and include information found on their head stones.
  • TribalPages displays entered birth and death locations on maps, graphically showing where ancestors came from and went.
  • MyFamily stands out for backing up new information immediately, with a complete backup made every day and stored in an off-site location once a week.

Family Tree Online Fees

Most Web programs offer their basic services for free, with fees added for special services. Some family tree sites have limitations to how much data can be entered and charge as follows:

  • MyHeritage limits the number of names and amount of storage space in its free Basic plan, increases the limits for its Premium plan and eliminates limits for its PremiumPlus plan.
  • FamilyEcho is completely free, but limits how many names can be on a family tree, requiring users to create a new tree when that limit is reached.
  • Family Tree Guide charges users only for the ability to modify their home page with HTML code, but does not offer any form of HTML technical support.
  • TribalPages does not charge a fee for family Web pages.
  • MyFamily limits users only on how much data they may upload each month, with paying Essentials members allowed to upload more than non-paying Basic members.

Other Family Tree Online Resources

While there are a number of companies fronting Web sites for family trees, there are many more Web sites to assist in genealogical research. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) Family Search is an online resource of its Family History Centers and main genealogy library in Salt Lake City, along with tips and tutorials on how to conduct family tree research.

The other major online resource is the Generations Network's Ancestry.com, billed as having the largest collection of historical records, including U.S. Census records, the Social Security Death Index, state birth, marriage and death records and draft registration cards. Ancestry.com also has sister sites for Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Ancestry.com is a fee-based site, but 14-day free trials are available with the purchase of Family Tree Maker and through partner sites like FamilyHistory.com and Genealogy.org. Many public libraries also offer free access to it along with their collected hard-copy genealogical records. The Generations Network also owns Genealogy.com, an online collection of local and family histories and RootsWeb.com, an online community and forum for professional and amateur genealogists.

In addition to these Web sites, there are many sites focused on a particular area of genealogy. Many of these specialized sites can be accessed through the index at Cyndis List, which also offers advice on many aspects of genealogical research. These resources, coupled with library and other records, help anyone build a family tree online.

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