The benefits of web-based genealogy

Last summer after I decided against using Geni or as primary storage for my genealogical data, I had to figure out what I was going to use. There’s a number of desktop applications, some free or shareware, and some paid. I looked at a couple, and decided against them. They might have been good, but I wanted a web solution so my data would be in the cloud so to speak.

My main reasoning for that was simply for crash protection reasons. Making sure my local hard drive is backed up has always been a pain in the ass, and with every crash I invariably don’t have something backed up. The secondary reason is that I could work on my genealogy from any computer, rather than having to bring my laptop with me, or having to bring data back to a desktop.

I eventually settled on PhpGedView as the software I’d use on the web site. It’s open source, I can fix broken things if I want. I doubt I would ever do a major overhaul, but little changes here and there I can do. PhpGedView is pretty mature, but hasn’t had any major developers pushing new features for a couple of years. Unless someone takes it up, that does mean I’ll probably eventually switch to something else.

I’ve figured out an additional benefit in the last couple of months though: Google Analytics. I’ve used Google Analytics for years to track visitors and pageviews on my blogs. I added a profile for the genealogy site and started tracking there too. I can see the keywords that bring people to the site. I can see what people and families in my tree people are looking at.

The thing is, if you are looking for someone in my tree, you are probably related. That’s not a guarantee, because my tree includes in-laws as well. But I can filter those out.

A couple of examples: Last month, I started seeing a lot of hits on the Troeller branch of the tree from computers in Alaska. I had a good guess as to who they were because I’d entered in that branch just a few weeks earlier. A couple of days later, I got email from them asking if I would give them full access (information about living people is blocked unless the viewer has an account), which I did. They’ve since fleshed out a few of the details I didn’t have for that branch.

Yesterday, I noticed a big spike in traffic to the Nordvall portion of the tree, starting with my great-grandmother’s brother Fritz Arvid Nord (he shortened the name from Nordvall). That traffic is coming from Marysville. I’m willing to bet that whoever is doing the looking is a grandchild or great-grandchild of Fritz’. I’m really hoping they contact me as well, because I don’t actually have a lot of information on Fritz’ kids.

But the thing is, now I know that someone out there is descended from him, and is local. That’s actually a pretty big help.

It also means I really should make a point of calling my grandmother’s cousin in Shoreline to pump her for information. For all I know, she may continue to be in contact with that branch of the family.

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