The family tree is one of the core tools used in family history and where you put your tree determines how successful you are in tracing your family history.
There are many alternatives and trying to decide between them can be pretty confusing. Here are my tips to help you decide.
What do you want to achieve with your family tree?
This should be the key factor influencing your decision about where to put your tree. A family tree serves many purposes and what is important to one person may not be important to another.
A family tree helps you document key pieces of information about your family history. You may just want to document it for yourself, or you may want to share it with others.
Your family tree also helps you analyse information, determine whether the information is correct and discover new information. A family tree can illustrate gaps in your research, highlight priorities for research and help you identify errors or inconsistencies.
What are the alternatives?
- store your family tree on paper
- store it on your computer
- store it online, or
- store it in an archive or library.
The main benefit of storing your family tree on paper or on your computer is that it is under your control. You control what the tree looks like, how it is stored, who gets access to it and who might be able to change it.
If you store it on your computer using family history software you have slightly less control over the format of your tree, but gain many additional benefits. The software provides tools to help you document your family history (not just your tree), organise vast amounts of data, analyse the data and display it in a wide variety of formats. Some software programs also offer backup services and help services.
If you store your family tree online, you can access it wherever you have access to a computer and the internet. This can be very useful if you are researching in a library or archive.
One option for online storage is to put your family tree on a website managed by an organisation that has large databases of research materials, such as Ancestry, Findmypast, FamilySearch or MyHeritage. Having a tree on their site helps you search their databases, because they have links between the trees and their databases.
They also offer tools to help your build your tree faster. For example, your tree may receive hints to sources you should examine, or you may be allowed to attach a copy of a source extract and citation to a person in your tree.
If you have had your DNA tested, putting your tree on the website of the testing company gives you access to tools which help you analyse your DNA matches and use that information to build your tree further. If the DNA testing company is also an organisation with large databases of research materials, then the benefits of placing your tree there are increased.
There are other online alternatives that do not have databases of research materials. The benefits of these alternatives vary. Wikitree, for example, allows you to contribute to a single online family tree. You have less control over the tree than in the other alternatives, but you do gain access to a wide range of tools to help you with analysing information.
So, what’s the answer?
To get the best outcome, I believe that it is better to have a combination of offline and online storage. That’s the thing. They aren’t really alternatives. None of the options is better than the others. Your decision should primarily depend on what you want to achieve by placing your family tree somewhere.
However, you also need to factor in how much time you are willing to commit to maintain your trees. There is no point putting your tree in five different places if you only have time to keep one of them up to date.
Where do I place my tree? I keep my master copy on my own computer using family history software. I have a large tree on Ancestry and a smaller tree on MyHeritage because this helps me analyse my DNA matches and search their databases. I have extracts of my trees on my own websites because it helps me connect with relatives and other researchers. If I can spare the time, I also contribute to the collaborative trees on FamilySearch and Wikitree.