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Family History Collaboration Software Evaluation


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This started out as an assignment from my priesthood quorum leader. He invited me to give a seminar on keeping families united using web-based software.  He knew I was thinking about it as my children moved away from home.  I made a list of features I felt were essential and set out to find the solution. It was not his original instruction to include a family tree, but I assumed that this could be and might as well be part of it. I did not expect the complexity that this added. If we do not require a collaborative family tree, then there are many options for families to share photos, blogs, and communicate on private family websites. Adding the family tree (pedigree chart) and including role based collaboration made it unexpectedly difficult.

I was also aware that the LDS Church's website and other world family trees were experiencing significant growing pains, and that family organizations that were trying to contribute to them were frustrated by the lack of order, excessive time required to correct errors, and inability to prevent further errors. There still appears to be a need for them to maintain there own "space" where they can be confident things are correct and maintain control of changes. Information at and other world tree's might even reference information on family organization websites because it will be trusted. So the list of requirements grew. The software must allow family organizations to:

  • Have their own private space that they control the information on.
    • Roll based permissions could limit changes made to a select group if desired, but anyone should be allowed to comment and propose changes in a publicly viewable forum.
  • GEDCOM import - because no one has time to re-enter thousands of names.
  • Follow/Subscribe is also essential so that interested individuals from around the world can keep track of changes on an individual basis and so that users with an "edit" role can be aware of one anothers changes. 

Aside from "Security" and using something that is reasonably supported, everything else was negotiable.

In short, the ones that seemed best suited were wiki based, particularly mediawiki.  Because of my experience with Drupal, I hoped that this might work, but the modules are just not sufficiently advanced yet.  The mediawiki sites were most functional, although not always the best looking.  The main disadvantage to all of them is that they do not allow private instances.  Therefore, you must upload your gedcom to the big family tree and lose control of it.  Fortunately, one of the most promising,, looks like it will become open source this year.  I am watching this closely.  There is a disadvantage to it, however, in that it is based on an old custom version of mediawiki, and therefore adding other customizations might be difficult.  Currently, you cannot limit edit capability to a select few without shutting out all comments from the outside.  (Not sufficient role based access control).  This could mean significant administration efforts which many family organizations will not be prepared for.  This may be remedied in the future by upgrading werelate to a newer version of mediawiki which has a role based module, but this won't happen without significant effort.

In the meantime, our family organization ( ) has settled on webtrees ( ).  Unfortunately, the only method of getting feedback on changes is through full site based RSS and the developers have no intention of changing this.  This won't work as a tree continues to grow, as most individuals will not be interested in following every change.  Therefore, we continue to encourage the open source version of werelate to develop and try to keep track of other changes in the matrix and new additions.  Webtrees has a great interface though, and is recommended for sharing information, just not collaborating on changes. 

Won't we of necessity eventually graft into a world family tree?  I suppose so, but at the moment, it just takes too long to correct errors in world trees like  Perhaps at some point they will add a "voting" feature or some other method so that changes cannot be made without sufficient approval of interested parties.  I was recently made aware of a situation in which a family member was deleted carelessly and replaced with her twin sister.  It required many, many hours to correct these errors which should simply not be allowed.  Most people are just not willing to spend this kind of time, particularly when there is nothing to prevent similar errors from re-occurring.

Unfortunately, I think I would violate a copyright law if I published the presentation which resulted from my assignment.  I may try to clean it up in the future.

Comments and suggestions on any aspect of this post are welcome.


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Brad Porter commented on Sun, 02/08/2015 - 19:52

This work resulted in a presentation at the Phineas W. Cook Family Organization Annual Meeting which can be found at: