Words On Wednesday

2015-09-23 Genealogy Research Tool – Facebook for Ancestors

I’ve been attempting to compose a family tree over the past few months, and the research as opened my eyes to a huge expanse of information that is difficult to process. Having played with some ancestry software and explored different options, I’ve come up with some ideas that I feel would greatly behoove family historians.

My Own Research

It occurred to me recently that the oldest living generations of my family will not be alive indefinitely. Eventually, they will be gone, and with them any information that is not recorded or passed down otherwise. Hence, I took it upon myself to begin asking the eldest members of the family about their parents, their grandparents, and any other relatives they had information on.

I searched for a genealogy recording means that would best fit my needs. Ancestry.com is the most obvious and advertised method, but that requires a monthly subscription and friends who use it complain that most of it is propriety and thus difficult to export and share without breaking down and paying the subscription fee. I wanted something that would be free to use, easy to export my findings, and easy to share with my family members who may also be interested in their lineage.

Eventually, I settled on FamilyEcho.com as the best option for my circumstance. The site is free to use, ancestry is easy to share, the user interface is as simple and straightforward as one can expect of genealogy software, and data can be exported in a number of different forms to be tweaked or imported in other platforms. At the time of writing this, I’ve added just shy of 350 family members to my ancestry data.

After polling family members for information, I began using Google to search for names I had been given. Many of these searches turned up results for ancestry.com, but even these results sometimes had relevant information available without paying a subscription fee. Many other sites turned up frequently, including legacy.com, tributes.com, ancientfaces.com, findagrave.com, familysearch.org. It’s amazing what you can find with a simple search for “[name] obituary” plus any relevant details you already know.

A New Tool

In searching for genealogy software, one thing I noticed is that no tools seem to have very good picture support. Many sites, FamilyEcho included, allow users to upload and crop an image to save to a family member, but that seems to be the greatest extent that most allow. What about old family photo albums that have many images of the same people? Why can’t I link all those pictures to the same person?

The thought occurred to me to create a new genealogy software that could be basically described as “Facebook for Ancestors.” One awesome feature of Facebook photos that I find both clever and useful is the ability to tag people in a photograph. “Tagging” someone links their Facebook profile to the picture, allowing someone viewing the picture to visit their profile or viewers of their profile to see that particular picture. This functionality would fit perfectly with photos that have been passed down through generations, in conjunction with a family tree for the “profiles.”

In my mind, users would begin by creating or importing ancestry research as I have with FamilyEcho. The people in this family tree are the equivalent of Facebook profiles, with information on birth, death, marriage, and other relevant fields. Once users have a decent web of family members, they could scan and upload pictures and tag people within the pictures to link their ancestry data.

With a family tree and tagged photos, users could peruse the tree and see all available pictures of a certain ancestor, or they could look through pictures and be able to identify the subjects without relying on crudely scribbled names and dates occasionally recorded on the back. Instead of having distinctly recorded ancestry data of names without faces, and photos of people with no information on who they are, this mesh would let users put faces with names and have a better understanding of who their ancestors were.

Ideally, users would have 3 modes by which to view photos: no details, name only, or full details. In name only and full detail modes, users should be able to click the name of the individual in the photo to see their full genealogical profile within the tree. By clicking the photographed face or an option to “view other photos of this person,” the user would be able to see all uploaded photographs tagged with that individual. Another useful option would be to only include photos that also have another individual in them. You can see all photos of John Doe, or only the photos that include both John Doe and Jane Doe.

No Details
No Details
Name Only
Name Only
Full Details
Full Details

Obviously, building such a collection of people and pictures would be difficult and time consuming. Users would have to take care to scan and catalog pictures, search for and record data for people, and link people to data for every single photo. However, I feel that those who are curious enough about genealogy would be more than willing to put in the time and effort if such a tool existed. With links created, this information could be passed down and shared with other family members for a comprehensive look at the history of a family.


Words: 893 | Characters: 5206 | Sentences: 35 | Average Word per Sentence: 26 | Paragraphs: 13 | Reading Level: College Graduate


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