Saturday, August 7, 2021

Should You Rely on a Website to Perpetuate Your Family History?


There are many pros and cons of posting family trees online--and many choices of where to post. Family Search, Ancestry, My Heritage, Geni, WikiTree, FindMyPast, and more. Parts of my family tree are on all of these sites, because I want to share with other researchers and I hope to connect with cousins worldwide. 

Such sites reach many thousands of people who otherwise would not know of my ancestors, and enable folks to connect with me when we discover ancestors in common. These sites are and will remain an important part of my everyday genealogy activities.

Library or storage?

Yet Cousin Russ and Dear Myrtle make a very good point in their recent video. (You can view it here.) These genealogy websites are more like libraries than storage facilities. The safest place to "store" family trees and family history is at home, even if we want to have trees on various websites. They demonstrate ways to have online trees without personal photos, if that's what you want to do. 

Any website can, of course, change its terms and conditions at any time. The recent change by Ancestry is a wake-up call to understand the terms and conditions when deciding about sharing all or part of our genealogy materials online. In fact, as Dr. Leah Larkin, "the DNA Geek," points out, all of the genealogy websites have some terms and conditions that affect user-submitted content like photos. Caveat emptor.

Plan for your trees and materials

Most of us have more than just a tree. This is the time to consider what will happen to our genealogy materials, research and photos, in the distant future when we join our ancestors.

My trees will remain on the many websites where I've planted them. However, I'm deleting nearly all personal photos, except perhaps those of ancestors who are long, long gone. But I'm also giving passwords to my genealogy heirs so in the future, they are able to access trees and decide whether to leave them online, add to them, or delete them.

Please consider who will have access to your online trees, your physical photos, and original documents in your possession. Even if you have no obvious heirs, there are still ways to keep your family's history alive for future researchers. Physical materials need good homes, not always in the family but in appropriate institutions that will preserve and study them. 

For the sake of future generations, I encourage you not to rely only on a website (or even two) to perpetuate your family's history. Start now to make a plan!


  1. Excellent advice and suggestions. I forever cringe when I hear someone tell me there one and only family tree is on a subscription site or even free on FamilySearch. We never know what the future holds and I prefer to keep control in my genealogy software. Sharing is great, but should never be the only home for our genealogy research.

    1. TY for reading and commenting. You are correct, we never know what the future holds and we need to have a plan for our own genealogy.

  2. Very good advice, Marian!

  3. I too agree with you - online trees have their uses, but the best place for your genealogy work is on your computer (and backed up regularly). As a genealogy tutor at the library where I work, whenever possible, I encourage people to start using software (some just can't handle it or don't have a computer, so I have to let it be). I know that even my blog can disappear, so I have all the posts saved as .rtf files as well, so while they mayn't look as pretty, at least the information is there for future generations to read. At some point, I will likely print it all out and bind it somehow.