There are a number of online tools vying for genealogists’ business when it comes to family record-keeping. After taking a close look at the various options, I decided sometime last year to use Ancestry.com and the partner desktop application, Family Tree Maker, for maintaining my information. Ancestry.com seemed to offer a great balance between access to records and a clean user interface.

I recently decided to sign up for a “Plus” membership with a different online tool, Geni. While most genealogists look down upon the idea of collaborating with strangers to amass one giant tree where we are all connected, Geni takes the opposite approach, encouraging users to reach out, join trees, merge “profiles,” and work together to keep the trees clean from junk. I had already used Geni to discover more information about certain branches of my tree, such as one family that married into the Kerstmans, descendants of the Hermans and the family that married into my cousins in that branch, and additional vital details about closer relatives. With these clues, I can better search for records through other resources to confirm new data.

Having already built a tree with more than 3,000 relatives — though some are related only by marriage — I would have liked to be able to upload my data directly into Geni through the use of the standard GEDCOM text file format. Geni has disabled this feature for several years due to the massive amount of clean-up work that would be necessary as a result of many users uploading files with 5,000 relatives, 20,000 relatives, or more. The feature would present too many duplicates for the user base to handle, even though there seems to be many dedicated individuals keeping their eyes on public profiles.

Geni Family Tree

Geni Family Tree

I manually entered my ancestors and their direct descendants first. When, through random searches, I’ve found public profiles pertaining to cousins not represented in my core tree, I added the profiles necessary to expand my tree out to the profiles already managed by other Geni users. I’ve sent some requests to merge our common relatives, but as many of these profiles don’t seem to be managed actively, I haven’t seen much response yet.

When I do find compelling information that enhances my extended family tree information, I generally manually add the new information to my family tree on Ancestry.com, but I generally add only what I can confirm with records available to the public, such as census records. My membership with Geni also allows me to export a GEDCOM file from selected public profiles so I can easily import entire branches into my main family tree, but such tools can be dangerous. I’m careful to only do so when I’ve been able to confirm that the profiles on Geni are in fact my relatives, as distant as they might be.

While Geni allows users (profile managers) to apply source records to profiles, it is not nearly as comprehensive as Ancestry.com’s system. I see Geni as a useful tool for connecting with people who may be studying shared family branches and finding some new hints for further research, but the focus on collaboration takes away from the emphasis on record-finding and confirming data.

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