Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Genealogy Websites are Boring!

So said a recent tweeter. My instinctive reaction was that part of the problem was that the designers are trying to cater for the higher proportion than average of genealogists who still use IE6. But on reflection I think this to be unfair.

Is it True?

I made the basic assumption that the comment did not refer to the research aids, such as Ancestry.com, so over the past month I have made a point of looking at many genealogists' own sites. and, regrettably, I think that it is probably fair comment.

Part of the problem is that the sites are presented by genealogists many of whom, I suspect, have little or no experience of designing and coding websites. Many are, therefore forced to use sites such as Rootsweb, rely on their database program, or use a program which converts a GEDCOM into webpages. This is not a criticism, in fact I applaud the efforts made by all who seek to make their work available to others, and I know how hard they try to overcome the problems which they inevitably meet. Indeed I have used a standard template for this blog!

The image above is of my own website; now I am not a designer but can code, so the design is one which I have put together from looking at pages in books or on-screen. I make no pretence about it being of a high standard, but at least I'm happy with it! I have shown this to illustrate that it is not necessary for all pages to look dull. This is true for the many different types of pages which can be added to a site, for example, forums, blogs, tutorials, biographies etc. etc.


However, I suspect that the tweeter was referring to a lack of dynamic pages, and with the best will in the world, here we have a problem; which is that the family genealogy which we may wish to display basically comprises a list of names and other data. No matter what one does with it, it is still a list. The Next Generation of Genealogy Software, based on PHP and SQL overcomes this by using selections of family trees from which one can link to details of each individual.

My personal favourite is the Pedigree style from Legacy where the notes are included on the same page as the tree, which I prefer, although it is not as dynamic as TNG. It also has another problem in that it requires one page per individual, which means it is not really suitable for very large sites, I currently have around some 6000 such pages. I do include a dynamic family tree, made using DftCom2 based on Java, on a separate page of my site.

When it comes to other formats, Descendant, Ancestor, Family Group, Individual, we are down to lists, they may be formatted differently but they are still lists. For very large sites there may be no alternative other than to use one of these options, or TNG. There are a few other programs but the user experience is similar to those mentioned. I understand some university work is being carried out on alternative formatting, but as yet this has not been taken up.

What can we do?

At present, the best solution would seem to be to create a wide selection of attractive pages to complement the lists of genealogy data from which we hope others will contact us, and hence expand our knowledge and/or trees

© Ron Ferguson 2010

Thursday, 3 June 2010

New - Your Family History Magazine

With Nick Barratt, best known as a lead genealogist in the UK's "Who Do You Think You Are", as Editor-in-Chief we would expect the new Your Family History to provide a high standard of content. The question is: does it live up to expectations?

Priced at a reasonable £3.99 (I do hate 1p change!) contains 74 pages, excluding the cover, about 25 pages less than comparable magazines, and is printed on a heavier paper. The presentation is attractive, but what about the content?


After two issues the pattern is beginning to settle. There are twelve pages of advertising, two pages for the content and another two on news items. A feature I have not noticed elsewhere is a page devoted to media reviews and another four reviewing books, CDs and multimedia. Apart from his editorial Nick Barratt has an opinion page, and there is the usual couple of pages for readers to "Ask the Experts".


Your Family History does not seem to be affiliated to any software or service provider, so I would expect the content to be free and impartial in its presentation. I am less than sure that this is always the case. In the first edition there was a two page article on arcalite on-line storage, and in the second a similar article about using My Heritage Family Tree Builder software, accompanied by a free disk. It is not clear as to whether these are advertorials, or not; specifically, it was the article on the latter which made me wonder, as it played down the necessity to pay the premium to get anything remotely useful. In fairness, later in the publication Peter Christian gives a "warts an' all" comparison of the Premium Account with Family Tree Maker. It would be helpful if the publisher would clarify this.

Some six pages in the first two issues have been devoted to beginners which should prove useful to them (although I did again notice emphasis on My Heritage in the second edition). Whilst it is too early to judge, the section on Local Archives detailed those available in south of England counties (Sussex and Kent). Since the publishers are in the north, perhaps we may hope for more balance in the future. The sections on Casebook, Social History, History Mysteries and The People's Archive provide interesting, and useful, social commentary on past lives or events, as well as giving information on the more unusual reference sources.

Finally, The "How To..." articles covered tracing shipwrecks and the aristocracy (I'm rather glad that they got the latter over with early!) and gave ample references for sources available to enable one to follow up leads in one's own research.


I enjoyed reading the first two issues and hope that Your Family History will continue to provide more specialist information, as in the "How To.." articles, in the future. In general it has a nice balance between content for the beginner, the more experienced, and for general interest. As to whether I will take out a subscription, or just purchase when something interests me, I will withhold judgement for a few more issues.


I have no connection with this magazine, nor any other, nor have I any connection with the software mentioned nor the competitors, although I am a voluntary tester for Legacy.

© Ron Ferguson 2010