If you’d like a site like this one
Firstly, I should say you need very little technical knowledge, and none that can’t readily be acquired, to have a site similar to this.
The software available for keeping your tree on your website, and for putting trees online, gets better and better, with more and more functionality, and less need for technical knowledge, while the price for hosting sites continues to come down. It’s possible that some of the things I write here will be a little out-of-date by the time you are reading them.
This site uses a combination of WordPress and TNG software.
The Next Generation (TNG)
If you use desktop software you may have noticed an option to create webpages. I have tried this. The Legacy option creates thousands of pages, with loads of code that will take forever to upload to a website, unless you have a small tree, and I think other software does similar.
If you make changes to your tree you will need to go through the process again. My first website was made in this way – it was painful. I don’t recommend it! I still use Legacy, but I export a GEDCOM file and then import it to TNG. Even with over 27000 people it only takes a few minutes. In addition, the resulting website offers far more options in how the data is viewed, with all the ancestor and descendants charts, viewing how people are related, etc.
There is generally a major TNG update every 18 months or so. You don’t have to buy them all, occasionally you may need to update as underlying code requirements change, but mostly the updates are to add features and there is no need to. So far I have always chosen to, to get the new features.
Some users of TNG make mods to add or alter things. Often these mods are made available to all, and I use a number. I will try to add notes about what and why in the future. I have also written a few of my own, though mine are very ‘noddy’ ones.
Again, if you use TNG but my site has something you like but your site doesn’t have just ask and I will try to remember what I have added or what setting I have used and point you in the right direction!
Although data can be entered straight into TNG I prefer to store it using ‘normal’ desktop genealogy software. One important reason to me for not just using TNG is that I want to be able to view and update my tree offline. It may sound cumbersome to have to update my tree from Legacy, but actually it usually takes just a few seconds of effort, and a few minutes elapse time.
I currently use Legacy (Deluxe – i.e. paid for version) for this, but am planning moving to Family Historian soon. If you haven’t heard of these, you probably have heard of Family Tree Maker. Legacy and Family Historian (FH) are similar, and there are others, e.g. RootsMagic.
Some swear by one or another, I wouldn’t like to say which is best, I think it is best to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses, consider the features that are important to you. Comparing Legacy and FH there are definitely things I prefer in each. As a quick summary I would say that Legacy is more feature-rich but also more buggy. FH generally does things better, but there aren’t as many short cuts. Legacy is in many ways simpler to use, but less flexible; e.g. you can very easily create a search but with only up to 3 options; in FH there is more of a learning curve but then you can create more complex searches.
One feature I particularly like in Legacy is the ‘to do’ system – although there are improvements I would like to see and it is disappointing that this hasn’t improve for years, even an annoying bug has not been fixed. FH has no proper ‘to do’ system. I have thought of using a spreadsheet instead but it is difficult to display well on my notepad computer, and I use my ‘to dos’ when on holiday or visiting archives. When I switch to FH I intend to use Legacy alongside for the ‘to dos’. This will create some more work, e.g. periodically adding new people to Legacy, but will at times make things simpler, e.g. since I will be able to have both open at once I will be able to copy info. from or to ‘to dos’ without having to open and shut a series of windows.
Family Historian definitely offers better tree views, and wonderful options for creating custom trees. I initially bought a copy for creating custom trees, but although I still want to add some in many cases I think using flow diagram software will be easier. (e.g. I have transcribed a couple of wills with many beneficiaries, including some names which occur several times amongst close relations; a custom tree will let me show clearly the beneficiaries, plus I can show those who weren’t, and the reason – maybe a black border around those who had died, a different border around those had emigrated and son on).
Flow diagram software
Changing to Family Historian
You may be wondering why I plan changing to FH. There are two main reasons, which may well not apply to you, but just in case you are interested:
- Shared events
Although both Legacy and FH allow for shared events, I way in which they can be applied to groups in FH is more flexible. I am doing a One-Name Study and want to be able to add a shared events to those who are part of this study, and to those who are in different branches. I can easily do this in FH, I can’t in Legacy. In a similar way I will probably also add shared events to those with particular surnames to give links to pages about the given family on my website (or possibly elsewhere).
Old Style or New Style dates can lead to confusion. Where is the ‘small print’ which says which is being used? The wrong guess or assumption can lead to date creep and confusion. Hence my preference is for double dating. Many (most?) professional historians seem to prefer NS dates. Yet Legacy only allows for double dating back to 1582/3. It used to take a couple of minutes to edit a GEDCOM but now I have more dates prior to this it is more of a chore – so I often don’t do it and dates on my tree are potentially misleading.
Using FH I can find ways around the things I prefer in Legacy without too much effort, but using Legacy I can’t find a quick way of keeping the above up-to-date.
The non-tree pages
For non-tree pages (such as this one) I use WordPress.
When I started using TNG, not that long ago, although it allowed for ‘article’ pages it wasn’t very user friendly as far as creating them was concerned. Although this has now improved (i.e. you get options a bit like in a word document for formatting content and adding images etc), it lack the great flexibility which WordPress offers in terms of posts and of menus and many other options. As my interest is more in my family history and not just the bare bones of a family tree to have these additional options is very useful to me.
The WordPress page undersells the options – ‘you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app’ (my emphasis). Actually you can easily use it to create a website incorporating one (or more) blogs – it’s not either / or. WordPress was originally software for blogging, now it is also great (very simple to use) for static websites. My intention is that my site is mainly a static site, with blogs drawing attentions to new research, discoveries etc. However, I am (at the time of writing) very bad at getting around to blogging!
There are other ‘content management systems’ (CMSs) available, and most web hosts will have software included in your package which allows a one click install of a number.
WordPress is probably simplest to use of the most widely used CMSs, all will make it simple to enter content without knowing any programming languages.
There are thousands of themes you can use with WordPress, many free, some you can pay for. I currently use Weaver II – an old version of Weaver, but plan updating to Weaver Xtreme soon.
I use lots of plugins. I intend to write about those I find most useful in the future, but if you want to know how I’m doing something just ask. Most of those I use, though, are to help me manage the site rather than do anything that will be obvious to you as a user.
Using TNG and WordPress together
I use the two (TNG and WordPress) alongside each other, rather than ‘properly’ integrated. I have made the two look integrated by tweaking the CSS. I you don’t know any CSS and have better things to do than learning some, then you have a couple of options. The footers were more alike – then the one on the WP pages changed when there was a theme update! Getting them back to looking alike is on my ‘to do’ list – but pretty low down. More important, I do hope to get the main menus to stay the same automatically. I currently use a simple but non-automatic method, and rarely remember, an automatic method would be a bit technical and I need to get my mind around what is needed.
Integration: you can run TNG from within WordPress, using a plugin. (As mentioned in the TNG FAQs). This was not an option when I started using TNG and I haven’t really explored it. I do know that on sites I have seen using this the ancestor charts display badly (as they do on some just TNG sites, if the page is fixed width), but there are pros e.g. a consistent menu from page to page and (I think) an integrated login, if that matters to you. (Both TNG and WordPress have options for restricting access to certain people – you may want or need to do this, e.g. if you want to share information about living people, or due to copyright restrictions).
Similar looking: if you don’t want to use the plugin or play with the CSS, I would suggest using a similar colour scheme and may the same header image to reassure users they are on the same site.
If you decide to have your own website you will need some webspace to put it in. You could host it yourself, but for nearly everyone that is not a practical option and you will use a web host.
I use cloud above and am very happy with the service they provide.