Tuesday 8 July 2014

Family Trees Online: My MyHeritage Website Example

I have long considered whether or not to put my family tree on a public website, for family members as well as others to access. One of the side benefits would be for backup storage. Websites such as Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch Family Tree, Genes Reunited, Geni or any of the other major genealogical repositories offer both access and reasonable security of family tree information. If the owner desires, data can be protected from public view or access can be granted only to selected individuals.

I do actually have my entire family database on a personal site using The Next Generation( TNG) software. I have not spent enough time to get it ready for viewing by others but the task is high on my to-do list. That site will be for family members only.

It did happen that my family tree ended up online by accident, something I wrote about in an article in the April 2014 issue of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. After suffering a loss of files, including my latest family tree data, in a hard drive crash back in 2010, I decided I would look at online storage solutions to protect against loss of valuable genealogical information. I had heard about a system called BackUpMyTree which, when installed on my computer, automatically created a backup of all of my data on a secure site. Among the benefits of using the system were:

·       The program would keep updating the file regularly, even when I was adding to or changing it.
·       My family history would be preserved if my own computer crashed again.
·       Previous versions would also be saved in case my current tree became corrupted or if I accidentally deleted any data.
·       The program would recognize any genealogy software I happened to be using.
·       I could access the tree from anywhere just by signing into the site.
·       Most importantly, it was safe and secure!

MyHeritage acquired BackUpMyTree in late 2011 and my family tree suddenly appeared on the MyHeritage website. All my data was there to view, as profiles of each family member or in a nice, pretty tree with lots of neat symbols. Not by just anyone, of course. I still had to grant access to people before they could see the actual family information.

A big part of MyHeritage is that the system automatically searches all family trees stored on the site and compares information on individuals in the various families. MyHeritage now has billions of records, from sources around the world, in hundreds of different types of databases. All can be searched for matches automatically! They are reported to the tree owners in two ways:

·   Record Matches – These find individuals in dozens of other websites or archives, such as newspapers or censuses.
·   Smart Matches – These match individuals in my family tree with hundreds of millions of profiles of individuals in other trees.

One can store a family tree on the website for free and still get the advantage of these searches. When matches are made a tree owner then can decide whether they will pay to see a particular item.

I recently took advantage of a promotion that MyHeritage offered to get a one year subscription. I updated my family tree by importing a new GEDCOM file and deleting the old family tree so that I would not get confused with which one I was using.

I presently have 2,786 Record Matches, for 1,830 people in 60 collections, with several hundred in each of such databases as Geni, World Family Tree, Find a Grave and the England and Scotland births and christenings from the 16th to 20th centuries. I also have 14,272 Smart Matches on 3,268 other family trees which I need to go look at. Some of them might give me the names of other cousins also researching various branches of the family. Many of the matches are for records I already have sourced, such as censuses and BMD information, but I have checked a few references and found some new information I did not have before.

There are some very obscure collections on MyHeritage – to me anyway – where matches occurred as well. One I had never heard of is called the Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965. This one was for a 1st cousin, twice removed, who had travelled to South America in 1957. He was living in Prineville, Oregon at the time of his trip. There is even a photo of him on the card, along with his birth date, birthplace, parents’ names and occupation. OK, it wasn’t earth-shattering but it was kind of neat!

I believe my data has been well-sourced and properly documented. I currently have over 8,500 individuals in more than 2,600 families in my tree. But it is daunting to think about having to go through the fact-checking exercise again when confronted with, potentially, an enormous number of new records to review. It may be worth it but I don’t expect to be able to do it in just a few days!

Websites such as MyHeritage are places where one might connect with other researchers. Equally important to the search for new information about ancestors is the potential to find other family historians, perhaps remote family members, who are looking at some of the same people. The new age of genealogy is about collaboration – sharing resources, methods and data – and building family trees together.

I recommend people go to MyHeritage, or one of the other sites, and see what online storing and sharing is all about. You might find some new cousins to help you with your family tree. (www.myheritage.com)

Now all I need is the time to go through those thousands of leads provided by MyHeritage to see is there is any information of value.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.