I know you’re thinking, why hasn’t Phil written about that genealogy stuff in two weeks? So I give you this to sate your desire.
Last spring, when I first started poking around this, Sharon recommended I take a look at Geni. It has a nice and easy graphical user interface. Just click on add node, fill in a few details, and you can start building a family tree.
I plugged in a bunch of people from Hathaways of America to get used to what it can and can’t do. It’s designed to be super easy to use.
What’s the major feature for Geni? Collaboration. Geni is constantly attempting to match the data I entered with thousands of other users. If a profile closely matches what someone else entered for one of their ancestors, Geni proposes a merge. If both users agree, the two users trees will share a profile for a single historical person, and their trees will be connected. Anything the other user enters affects my tree. The connected trees are no longer separate trees. They are one family tree.
I only had to enter the Hathaways up to my third great grandfather, Abner Hathaway. He’d already been entered by someone else, Geni proposed the merge, and now I share a family tree with the person who entered Abner.
This is very powerful. If someone else is able to document something for one of my ancestors, I don’t have to. I don’t even have to copy their information. It’s already there.
Geni has a number of these connected trees. Most of their users are connected to what they call
The Big Tree. This has allowed me to find and chat with relatives that I didn’t know I had. The fellow who had also entered Abner Hathaway is Chad Bouldin. Abner is his wife’s fourth great uncle. I’ve found a 4th cousin in Sweden, and my grandfather’s cousin.
Geni has a fair number of celebrity profile entered. Because Geni has a big tree, I can tell you how I am related to a number of them. One of the Hathaway wives was descended from English royalty, so there’s a lot of documented connections. Through that, I can tell you that I am Eminem’s 22nd cousin, twice removed. That’s if people have the connections correct.
Which brings me to the first of a large number of problems with Geni, and ultimately why I don’t use it except to find these connections. The first is that there’s lots of bad and speculative information there. If I want to draw up my own family tree based on a family legend that grandpa Patrick (not my real grandfather) was Elvis’ illegitimate brother, I can do that. When you do it on Geni, everyone is now affected. And there are lots of people who insist on putting in very bad and incorrect information. Kings who were the sons of giants in mythology, for instance. I am not the 44th great grandson (it says 50th great grandson now) of Jesus Christ. But since a gnostic gospel says Christ fathered so-and-so, and there’s a large contingent of biblical and mythological literalists on Geni, there’s no changing it.
The second big problem is with data entry. There’s lots of events in a person’s life that genealogists care about and want to record. My great grandfather Johan Oman came to the U.S. in 1909. There’s no good way to record immigration in Geni. Birth, death, baptism, marriage and burial (and their locations) are the pieces of data that Geni records well. As for relationships, it records parent-child and husband-wife relationships. Geni cannot record adoptions.
A third major fail is with recording sources. Ancestry.com is the king of handling sources for genealogy. Geni lets a user upload documents and associate which facts are documented in each. But the user interface is clunky and weird and it’s difficult to share sources.
The fourth major lack is with data portability. I can only import data the first time I sign up. Afterward, it has to be entered manually. The export options are awful. Export of data is fairly complete. But Geni limits the set of profiles I can export. I can do ancestors, descendants, blood relatives, and
forest. There’s no option to export data for all people I’ve entered. If I enter the wife of a second cousin, that person is not a blood relative, ancestor, descendant or even a blood relative. I can’t export it easily. The forest option allows this, but that exports everyone I’m connected to, and that’s a 50 Mb file containing 100,000 people that is too large for most genealogy programs. And you have to pay for that export too.
I realized most of this in June, but I’d already entered a fair amount of information. I was locked in to some degree. But problems #2 and #4 got to be annoying enough that in August I decided I would make something else my primary genealogy data storage. Geni is still useful for connecting up with other trees. Very very useful. But not a good base to store everything I want to know.