November 16th, 2011

5 Important Things to Consider When Building a Genealogy Website

During the course of your genealogical research you will or may have already encountered numerous websites, many of them personal sites constructed by individuals to display their own family history. It’s very easy to be inspired to create your own website displaying your particular research and genealogy, if so there are some important things you’ll want to consider before publishing your information on the internet. There are methods you can use to get a website or webpage up and running quite quickly, but before you fast track your research to the publishing stage, you might wish to read through this post first as these five factors will help your personal genealogy website or page to stand out from the crowd. This will in turn popularize your site with other genealogists so that they are moved to link to it; thus giving your site a higher profile on the net. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this is to make your site unique.

Use Your Creativity to be Unique

There are many existing sites that look alike – these are generic sites where you simply plug in your surname and perhaps change the layout and background colors. In the end however you’re left with a site that contains little more than your family name with not much content and a few meaningless links to the large genealogy sites. Though these websites and pages are generally free, they really do little to promote your family history. It’s well worth taking the time and perhaps spending a dollar or two to create a unique site packed with valuable and usable data – you might even make a few bucks from Google Ads. Easier said than done you might think, perhaps you don’t feel very creative or technically inclined, and this is understandable. The task of choosing fonts, layout styles, and graphics can be intimidating, and the thought of simply copying someone else’s site may be tempting.

Although there is no harm in using other sites to inspire creative ideas, copying another site exactly may infringe copyright laws, which could even lead to legal hassles. More importantly however, is that creating a unique and original site will attract more visitors. Think of your own experiences online, isn’t it always refreshing to come upon a site with a unique look, and even better unique information? What do you normally do when coming across such a site? I know I usually bookmark it so that I can easily visit it frequently. This is the reaction you want to get from visitors to your site, and being unique is one of the main ways to do this.

One of the easiest ways to create a stand-out site is to host unique or rare content. Try to create a niche, and though you may feel that every genealogical topic has been covered, there are really many that haven’t. For instance, suppose your great-great grandfather was a coal miner in Newcastle, England during the late 19th century. In addition to having your family history on your site, you could create a section on the history of mining and perhaps add some records of miners who had lost their lives while working in them, or cemeteries where you might find their gravestones. A little bit of research (well actually a good bit) will be involved, but in the end you will have created a niche where your site could become the “go-to” site for not just genealogists, but for students and other researchers as well. A good example of such a site is that created by Ian Winstanley – The Coal Mining History Resource Center.

Post Key Surname and Include Your Contact Details

If you want your family history to remain private, then a personal website may not be for you. You could create a simple page or site with basic information, but it won’t be much use to other genealogists, and you won’t get much traffic other than from family and friends. If however your purpose is to share your information as well as gather data from other family historians, ensure that you post the major surnames that you are researching. Be as specific with possible with details, so that other genealogists will link their family tree with yours. An online version of your GEDCOM serves this purpose well, as it contains an index of your surnames which other researchers can browse through painlessly.

You will also want to make it easier for other genealogists to contact you, so make sure your contact information is clearly displayed. A simple email address will suffice, but remember to update it if you should ever change it. Some choose to post their mailing address as well, and feel free to do so if you’re comfortable with that, alternatively you may want to consider obtaining a PO box for such correspondence.

Make Your Site Appealing but Not Too Jazzy

The last thing you ant to do is overwhelm your visitors with garish colors or outlandish graphics. Choose your colors wisely, perhaps using the colors of your family coat of arms as a theme. You’ll want the information and content to be the main attraction, so use photographs in appropriate places, and ensure that they are of a size that can be easily viewed, but don’t take up half the page. The more graphics you have on your website, and the more complex they are, the longer a computer takes to load the page. This can be very frustrating for researchers that are hunting down ancestors and have been doing so for some time. Even if you have the information they need, their lack of patience may cause them to close your page before it even opens. If you have lots of photos you want to share, a good option is to host them on Google Picasa or Flickr and provide links to them, or post each picture on a separate page on your own site, and provide links to them from your home page.

Respect the Privacy of Others

It is important to give as much thought to the content and information that you will display on your website as the creative and design aspect of it. Be especially careful not to post information which could be upsetting to someone, as in the cases of divorces or adoptions. It is best not to publish information on living persons unless you have their explicit permission, preferably in writing. Some might consider this a hassle, but it protects the publisher of the website and others who may use any data published on it from legal issues or damaged family relationships. Even when posting information on those who are deceased, be careful when relating family stories that may living persons.

Confirm and Cite Your Sources

This is an extremely important part of publishing a website, especially one that may contain information about other individuals. Whenever you are presenting genealogical facts and figures it is critical that you site your sources. Citing your sources consistently will gain the trust of other researchers, and also allow them to follow up on that data if they choose to. You will also avoid any problems – legal or otherwise, as you will have cited your sources, and they would be responsible for providing the initial data.

As you can see, there are important issues to consider before and during the publication of a website. Knowing so may cause you to lose a little heart, and be tempted to publish a simple webpage with your family tree, but remember; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither does your website need be. Taking your time and building your site slowly, methodically, clearly, creatively and accurately will in the end provide you with a genealogical gem of which you can be proud for years to come!