How To Use The Geni World Family Tree – A Review

When I first encountered Geni.com, I was intrigued by the site’s concept of a collaborative family tree. So I wanted to take a closer look at the Geni World Family Tree.

The Geni.com website was a little tricky to figure out, so this article covers all the questions that I had to go searching elsewhere for answers.

What Is The Geni World Family Tree?

The Geni World Tree is a collaborative family tree that aims to represent all people in the world. The goal is to merge and curate tree profiles added by Geni members into a single tree.

It’s important to understand that you don’t “own” a tree on Geni.com. When you start a family tree on Geni, your first entries are usually not already within the World Tree. These tree profiles are disconnected from the World Tree.

Geni Tree Matches

As you enter your grandparents and prior generations, Geni.com looks for matches to existing profiles in the World Tree. When a Tree Match is suggested, you are asked to review whether the World Tree profile is the same individual that you entered.

Although reviewing an automated Tree Match is a paid feature, free membership allows you to search for profiles that match entries you created. If you find a match, you can proceed to the next step of merging duplicate profiles.

Merging Tree Profiles

Geni’s goal is that there are no duplicate profiles in the World Tree. Any duplicate that you have entered should be merged into a single entry. At this point, the tree that you started on Geni is now part of the World Family Tree. This allows other Geni members to collaborate with you and edit public profiles that you connect to the World Tree.

Where Is The Geni World Family Tree?

When I signed up with Geni, I couldn’t figure out how to see the World Family Tree. I clicked through all the top bar menus in vain. So I ran an internet search for “where is the Geni World Family Tree”.

An old help page said I should see a link at the bottom of my tree. Well, I looked and couldn’t find it. It took a few more minutes searching to find someone mentioning the direct link.

Fast forward to when I was preparing to write this article. I wanted some corporate details about the company behind Geni.com. So, I looked around for the About page. It was down in the footer of the website, which isn’t unusual. And there, nestled in the footer where nobody looks for features, is the link to the World Family Tree.

I mean, come on! Who looks at website footers? But the help page was right: the link is down at the bottom of my tree area. And at the bottom of every other page on the website. So, I’m going to give a better Q&A.

How Do You Find The World Family Tree on Geni.com?

There is a link to Geni’s World Family Tree in the footer of the Geni.com website. You can access the link from every website page.

You don’t have to be a member or be logged in to view the World Family Tree. The access page shows statistics about how many profiles are connected to the World Tree. You can watch this tick upwards – I presume this is real-time.

You can also access the Famous People list from this page.

How Do I Know If I’m Connected To The Geni.com World Tree?

This question also puzzled me when I first uploaded a tree to Geni.com. I couldn’t tell if I was working independently or had magically joined the fabled World Tree. I’m not an idiot, so my conclusion is that Geni.com is not a user-friendly website.

If you haven’t figured it out either, then here’s how to infer that you are connected or not. Yes, I said infer. There’s no specific indicator, as far as I can tell.

To identify if you are connected to the Geni World Family Tree, log in and open the Word Family Tree page. If the statistics box shows you connect with 100+ million people, then you are in the World Family Tree.

Here is my Statistics box after uploading my direct line tree. Geni has only suggested one tree profile that I judged to be incorrect. And the counts in my Statistics box is the same number as the profiles I added. Therefore, I’m not connected to the World Family Tree yet.

Geni and Collaborative Family Trees

Geni is one of several large websites offering collaborative family trees. I’ll discuss others in a later section. But first I want to emphasize how different Geni is to other websites like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.

You own the family trees that you create on the Ancestry and/or MyHeritage websites. You may choose to invite other people to collaborate with you. Their access is controlled by the permission you give them. You may choose to give read-only access or to allow specific people to edit your tree.

Geni.com is completely different. The collaboration is often compared to Wikipedia.

Collaborating on Geni.com

You connect your entries to profiles in the World Tree. If the profiles are public, then all other Geni members can edit most of the details on these profiles. Other members can extend a branch that you created by adding more relationships to public tree profiles.

Geni wants you to collaborate actively with other members by sending invitations to work together within a project. All collaborators have complete access to edit public profiles within a project.

There is a dispute mechanism to resolve disagreement. Volunteer curators are appointed by Geni and can resolve disputes by editing public profiles and locking them to further edits. This means that you could be prevented from editing the profiles that you created.

Does This Sound Like Madness? After All, It’s Your Tree!

If your jaw has dropped to the floor, you may be wondering if I’ve correctly described how Geni operates. Let me show you an excerpt from a support request by a Geni member:

Recently a total stranger edited my tree…I have no idea who she is or why she seems to think she can just jump in and mess with my tree…I don’t care if Geni is supposed to be a “global” tree, my family is MY family, and the thought of someone taking control of my tree information irritates me.

Geni Member

And here is one of the replies from someone appointed by Geni as a curator:

If you do not want to work in a collaborative environment, may I suggest our parent company website…On MyHeritage, you can work independently with your own isolated tree.

So, your tree on Geni is not your tree. If you don’t like the ownership model that Geni operates, you have online alternatives. MyHeritage is one, as mentioned by the Geni curator. There is also Ancestry.com and some other websites.

Public And Private Tree Profiles On Geni

All Geni members can edit most details of public profiles, but access is restricted on private profiles. So it’s important to understand why profiles are public or private.

In general, living people are private unless they are deemed by Geni curators to be notable in some way. This allows Geni to offer the “famous relatives” feature: you can compare your own profile to notable living people and see any relationship paths. I’ve got a review of the feature here.

Recently deceased people are also marked as private by default. These are people who died within the last 150 years. If you created their profiles, then you can set them to public. Curators may also change deceased profiles to public if they are asked to do so.

All other profiles are public.

Private Profiles Show Surnames

This is an example of a private profile from Geni’s support page:

Geni obscures the first name of the person but shows the last name. I think this is a bit bonkers. But it’s the same privacy policy as operated by MyHeritage.

Ancestry.org and FamilySearch.org make “private” profiles a lot more private than Geni.com. If you’re uncomfortable with privacy on Geni, you probably shouldn’t add living people to the site.

Free Membership Versus Paid Subscriptions On Geni.com

Free membership on Geni.com allows you to start a family tree and add as many people as you like. You can also upload documents and media to a total limit of 1GB.

Hopefully, Geni will be able to show you “Tree Matches” for one or more people you add. These are existing profiles that may match the individual you have entered.

At this point, you’ll notice that a paid subscription is required to view the details of Tree Matches. This is the main benefit of the Geni Pro subscription, along with some enhanced search capabilities. Pro members also get better customer support.

Free membership does give you Search functionality with filters for names, dates, and locations.

Geni public profiles are also open to free online searching. Use this format in your Google search:

Site:geni.com [person details e.g. name]

Once you’ve found profiles through searching, free membership allows you to merge with these profiles.

Access To MyHeritage Smart Matches And Record Matches

Geni doesn’t have a record archive of its own. However, the parent company MyHeritage has a massive online archive of record collections throughout the world. MyHeritage also hosts millions of independent family trees.

Geni will show you suggested matches to MyHeritage records and family tree profiles. Unfortunately, you also need a separate subscription to MyHeritage to use use the MyHeritage Smart Matches and Record Matches.

MyHeritage operates Geni as a separate company. I think it’s odd that there isn’t a discounted bundle available. However, you can use a free Geni account and purchase a MyHeritage data subscription if that suits your needs.

Geni Free Trial

Geni offers a two week free trial to its paid subscription. That doesn’t extend to cover MyHeritage records, but MyHeritage may also be running a free trial offer. At the time of writing, clicking on a Geni match to MyHeritage brought me to a trial offer there.

If you don’t intend to purchase the paid subscription, remember to cancel before the 14 days. Otherwise you will be charged for a year membership.

How To Search The Geni World Family Tree

The Search box at the top of the Geni web pages lets you enter a first name/last name combo.

Alternatively, you can get to a full-featured Search page via the Research drop-down menu.

The Search page searches the Geni database, and also reaches out to MyHeritage for matches within their record collections and public family trees.

My Poor Experience With Geni.com Search And MyHeritage

I decided to put Geni’s Search page to the test. My search was for my 3rd great grandparent John Collins. That’s a common Irish name, but I provided a birth year and a country (Ireland).

Geni told me that its’ “SuperSearch” had found additional records elsewhere. The link takes me to MyHeritage, but the top MyHeritage results were just about every English speaking country except Ireland!

When I took a closer look at how Geni.com was talking to MyHeritage, I realized why.

Although Geni.com sent the year and place of birth, MyHeritage wasn’t using those details.

So I added in the birth year and location and re-ran the search on MyHeritage.

The first result that MyHeritage provided was reasonable, but it was the wrong John Collins of Ireland. The second and third results were tree-owners with whom I’ve communicated and already established that we are descendants of the same John Collins.

This is a technical glitch, and it’s the kind of disconnect that happens when two separate websites exchange information. But in this case, the two sites are owned by the same company! That’s not good.

My Recommendation

If you’ve signed up to Geni.com to research your family tree, I suggest that you run a few separate searches on MyHeritage. Check that the search filters you provided are being received from Geni.com and used by the MyHeritage search feature.

If you find the same technical glitch as I did, then keep running separate searches on both websites.

How Accurate and Reliable Is Geni.com?

Geni.com is a crowd-sourced family tree. Its accuracy is based on two factors: the data entered by members, and the rate of successful curation. I mention rate because the volunteer curators have to keep up with the amount of contested data.

Geni enthusiasts will say that its members tend to be more interested in genealogy research than people who create family trees in Ancestry or MyHeritage. That’s hard to gauge.

I’ll note that I found Geni.com a little cumbersome and more difficult to use than other sites. That might get rid of some of the less motivated family researchers!

Negative Reactions About Accuracy In The Geni World Family Tree

There are plenty of negative comments on genealogy forums about the accuracy and reliability of  Geni.com. These are mostly from people who find inaccurate amendments made to relatives that they themselves added to the site. It’s understandable to have an emotional reaction when there’s a personal connection.

But people are also irritated when they see inaccurate information about their relatives in public family trees on Ancestry.com or MyHeritage. The difference with Geni.com is that there is a moderation feature where you can request a Curator to review and correct the details on a public profile. Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage will not intervene in such cases.

Positive Reactions About AccuracyIn The Geni World Family Tree

Many genealogists have spent years adding meticulously researched and proven tree profiles into Geni.com. I spent a bit of time reading positive accounts by Geni members who clearly know how to evaluate the tree profiles as being of high value. I noticed that many were from the Jewish community, and there seems to be good quality curation amongst Jewish branches.

How Representative Of The World Is Geni.com?

Unfortunately, I can’t evaluate Geni.com against my own tree. It would be very unfair to say all the Tree Matches were incorrect when I only received one.

I was a little surprised not to get connected to the World Family Tree when I uploaded my maternal Irish pedigree. One set of 3rd great-grandparents had eleven children, many of whom out-did their parents in terms of fertility. That line tends to hook the most connections, hints, and people reaching out on Ancestry and MyHeritage.

The other half of my heritage is East African. No, I didn’t expect Geni.com to magic up a family tree from that continent. But it’s a little presumptuous to use a tag line of “World Family Tree” – when we all know that this “World” isn’t really the case, is it.

Geni.com Don’t Help Themselves

And then there’s this guy:

Adam, born in the Garden of Eden. Husband of Eve. Yes, that guy.

Apparently, there are three inconsistencies amongst his facts. I couldn’t resist looking to see what was wrong. One minor problem is that some events occur in the future. But let’s not quibble about timelines when we’re dealing with such a vast scale.

You may also be disappointed that there are no sources provided by the profile manager or curator. And yes, this profile has a curator.

Well, who needs evidence in a crowd-sourced tree?

There are plenty of public family trees on Ancestry that go back to Adam and Eve. They are fodder for remarks on genealogy forums. But enthusiasts for Geni.com point to curation as being a factor that makes it a higher quality site than its rivals.

Uploading Your Family Tree To Geni

If you’re enthusiastic about joining the Geni World Family Tree, then you’ll want to add your own tree to the website. You can use the family tree page to add entries one at a time, which is a little tedious.

If you already have a family tree on another website or in software, you will be able to transfer it to Geni. This is done using a GEDCOM file. We have a full tutorial on uploading your GEDCOM file to Geni.

If you’re not sure how to put your family tree into a GEDCOM file, we have tutorials for several sites:

But before you upload your tree to Geni, you should know that it may be difficult to remove your tree profiles from Geni at a later date. Read on…

Removing A Family Tree From Geni

Are you having second thoughts after uploading your family tree to Geni.com? Unfortunately, reversing your actions may not be straightforward. This largely depends on whether entries in your branch has merged with the World Family Tree.

This article runs through your options for deleting a family tree on Geni.

Who Owns Geni.com?

Geni.com is owned by MyHeritage, which acquired the collaborative family tree website in 2012. Geni is based in California and runs as a separate operation to the Israel-based MyHeritage.

The Geni website was launched in January 2008 with the motto “Everybody’s Related”. Other online genealogy ventures haven’t lasted, but Geni.com was backed by David Oliver Sacks.

David Sacks was the founding Chief Operating Officer of PayPal and would go on to found Yammer. His involvement ensured that Geni.com had impressive investment funding through its initial years.

More Tutorials and Reviews?

We regularly publish new tutorials and reviews on genalogy software and websites.

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7 thoughts on “How To Use The Geni World Family Tree – A Review”

  1. I have been a long-time user of Gen.com and have a pretty extensive tree. I think Geni should find a way to prevent people from getting locked out of the ability to make entries on a profile they have created. Also, there should be a way to remove inaccurate additions that have been provided by other people.

    Reply

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