The Advantages of Working with a One World Tree

Updated Chart February 18, 2017

The idea of a one world tree is to collaborate with other genealogists who are researching the same ancestors and so have just one copy of each person on the tree, rather than each of you having your own separate family trees. My plan is to compare the three online sites that I am using in this post.
WikiTree, FamilySearch, and Geni logos
The advantages of using a one world tree are:

  1. You are not constantly duplicating research that has already been done.
  2. It is online and searchable so distant cousins will find you.
  3. Other descendants of your ancestors may have pictures and documents to share that are already posted.
  4. You will find distant cousins to collaborate with on some of your family lines who may be able to read records you are having trouble with or otherwise work with you to solve questions you have.
  5. When you connect your line into the tree you may find new ancestors that you did not know about before.
  6. You can often figure out immediately how you are related to a new “DNA” cousin.
  7. It is easy to send family members and distant cousins links to the family tree.
  8. After you are dead and gone your research will live on.

The disadvantages of a one world tree can be that:

  1. Other people will change facts and information that you knew were correct.
  2. How can you be sure that another person’s research is reliable?
  3. You need to be sure that living people have their privacy protected.

Personally, I have my family tree on three different one world tree web sites: FamilySearch.org, Geni.com, and WikiTree.com and I like and use them all for different reasons.

WikiTree has really pretty online charts, widgets for your website and shows DNA connections. It is the easiest one to use for sending possible new “DNA” cousins your family tree. GENI has the most intuitive user interface and has the best way to add source information. It is the prettiest of them all, plus it matches records with its partner site MyHeritage.comFamilySearch connects to its own enormous record repository and there is a wonderful third party web site for visualizing your familysearch tree: puzzilla.org.

WikiTree has the best gradated privacy controls plus no one can edit profiles you have added unless you let them in. They also have a photo of the week contest and you can get a regular feed of any activity in surnames you are following.

GENI has a clever system whereby volunteer curators manage famous or contested profiles, this is an excellent solution to the problem of people updating profiles incorrectly. It has record matching with MyHeritage (requires paid membership there to use) which is particularly good on foreign records.

Both WikiTree and GENI have many projects that you can participate in as well.

FamilySearch requires you to log in to see the details on the tree. It has none of these good controls yet, so you may find yourself fixing your tree there regularly. However it has great free record matching to its enormous database and a great wiki which can help you with your research as well as allowing you to contribute.


All of these one world trees have their flaws. You cannot download a GEDCOM from familysearch without additional software (some free and some paid  programs are available) and you cannot upload a GEDCOM to GENI. FamilySearch has only 5 generations up on its relationship showing feature. GENI is not free if you want to get the most out of it and to do that you will want to join MyHeritage as well, for the record matching.

After you have uploaded your GEDCOM, both WikiTree and FamilySearch make you check each person for duplicates before they are added to the tree. The process is more streamlined with WikiTree and involves their volunteers checking it too.

So here is the chart I made comparing the important features of each. I keep this updated [update done 18 Feb 2017]

Feature FamilySearch Geni WikiTree
Upload GEDCOM Yes No but can use SmartCopy Chrome addon Yes
Download GEDCOM With software From profile you manage Yes
Tool to copy profile from another site No Yes, a family group – SmartCopy Yes – a profile – WikiTree-X
Finds Duplicates Automatically When adding new person Yes When adding new person
Finds Record Matches Automatically Yes,listed on person page Yes No
Displays relationship paths Yes but not relationship Yes, prettiest Yes and mutiple pathways!
Shows DNA relationships No Yes with ftDNA Yes
Easy to add sources Yes Best Yes
Free? Yes Yes but more features for paid members Yes
Special Projects?
No Yes Yes
Google finds ancestors No Yes Yes

I think there is something to be said for using them all if, like me, you love family history. Otherwise please pick the one with the features that most suit you and share your family tree, photos, and stories with the world. You may have cousins out there who will be delighted to discover those treasures.

Here is my gg-grandmother’s profile at GENI showing how nicely they do the relationship showing part (anything in blue is clickable on the site):

GeniScreen

[Editor’s Note] Although this post was written a while ago, I have been keeping the features updated. Also I often give a presentation on using a one world tree.]

35 thoughts on “The Advantages of Working with a One World Tree

Click here to add your thoughts at the end of the comments
  1. I do all three, but only did Geni when it first started as free. Don’t need another subscription. I enjoy Wiki, but not as friendly as Family Tree for what I am doing.

    • You may want to revisit Geni to see where things stand now. A lot of the most restrictive changes that they had to make were either done away with entirely or greatly scaled back when MyHeritage bought them. Most Geni users I know who left have returned.

  2. You write: “You cannot download a GEDCOM from familysearch unless you purchase additional software”. Actually, you can use the *free* version of RootsMagic (RootsMagic Essentials) to synchronize between your FamilySearch tree and RootsMagic Essentials, then export the GEDCOM file.

  3. I agree with Drew. The truth is you cannot ‘read’ any GEDCOM without software of some sort, which you can find free online. RootsMagic is excellent, but there are other programs offering a free version.
    I have not used Geni, so I can’t speak about it. I know there are cons or disadvantages to WikiTree and FamilySearch that are not pointed out.
    It is a great article and I intend to check out Geni soon.
    Thank you.

  4. I use Wikitree for the “production” or “gold” version of my tree. My “working” or “developmental” tree is done with Webtrees – free, opensource fork of PHPGedView which allows me to do a lot of “What ifs?” with the data before I finalize and send it off to Wikitree. I use FamilySearch and Geni as well as Ancestry for research. Ancestry is a mess.

  5. Thank you for all the helpful comments. I will be comparing ancestry and myheritage in a future post as well as some of the other places to host your family tree online. So send me suggestions for sites to be included.

    I also corrected the chart as I am told that wikitree does find duplicates when you add a new person, it just never happened with my data which is mainly added via gedcom

  6. I really like the collaboration feature on Geni that allows you to backdoor around the bulk of the non-record paid features, though I think most of us wind up paying for the expanded privileges anyway once we get a taste of how good it all is. I like as well that there are several different plan combinations you can come up with to tailor to your needs and budget. And they do actually have FTDNA integration as well as BillionGraves, so that’s helpful.

    I think the greatest overlooked advantage is that when you do find an error, you can actually do something about it instead of helplessly watching bad info just keep spreading and spreading like on most of the Internet. I absolutely hate those bad FTM-generated trees that just keep spewing and regenerating.

    I don’t like that one manager can delete a profile managed by multiple people or which ts important for connecting larger branches. At the same time, all you have to do is hit the reversion option to undo it, so it’s more annoying than genuinely destructive. It’s not a big enough problem to push me away.

    The lack of adoption support is horrible, however.

  7. I am told that familysearch added record matching this week so I went and checked. Sure enough on the person page record matches show at the top right, great news! I will correct this post

  8. FamilySearch’s automatic “record matching” is only for indexed databases (somewhere less than 15% of what has been uploaded on site) and the indexes for other sites. It is not as comprehensive for individuals in the tree, and not as intuitive, as Ancestry.com’s algorithm — but is in an early phase of development yet. For quite a few of my relatives in FS-FT, the “record matching” does not presently offer fairly obvious Census items.

  9. Pingback: WikiWeek In Review: 23 June 2014 | WikiTree Blog

  10. Pingback: News From The Tree: June 2014 | WikiTree Blog

  11. I read your posting with interest. I too like the idea of an “All in One” tree and use all three of these sites.

    As you noted they all have advantages and disadvantages, but I must say that I have migrated to WIKITREE almost exclusively as of late.
    Why…
    1. I believe in free genealogy, thus Geni is low on my list….Oh, I don’t mind paying for access to records etc, but am not so keen on people charging me for my own work.

    2. I do not like putting a lot of work into a tree and have it modified or deleted by someone who has no documentation for their change, nor the decency to asking questions before deleting entire sections of a tree….This eliminates FAMILY SEARCH which I have decide is a waste of my time….

    3. That leaves WIKITREE, which like all things is not perfect, but it has ease of entry, controls on modifications, interaction between original poster and those wishing to modify, DNA tracking and what seems to be a good group of contributors who are interested in maintaining an accurate “All in One Tree”…….

  12. Great discussion. In a few years I think one of these three will emerge and the one world tree idea will really gain momentum.

    I agree with the prior post that Geni is low on many lists because of the fee. I see it as a two-horse race – though I have not used Geni.

    I have effectively bet on Familysearch (FS) – meaning that’s where I’ve spent my time adding to the effort.

    PROS
    + Everyone uses FS; not everyone uses Wikitree
    + It is truly global; I think they have a much better shot at South American people and records in the tree, for example, than Wikitree, because people are already coming to the site
    + They have an army of volunteers improving the tree. Roughly half of the changes I see are made by someone with an FS username.
    + They have a strong start. My colonial ancestors and their children are often in the tree already

    CONS
    – The interface is a clunky
    – Pre-1650 names are almost impossible to merge since there are often hundreds of duplicates. FS told me they may fix the worst ones manually.
    – People change things (though this must happen on Wikitree as well)
    – Okay – dangerous ground here. As I understand it, the Mormon Church is interested in baptizing (some? many? all?) deceased people. I’m not religious and it doesn’t bother me if the church wants to baptize my deceased relatives. But a good friend is Jewish, and he would never use FS Family Tree unless there was an iron clad guarantee by the church that they won’t baptize deceased Jewish people (which may be tough to enforce). It is a very sore spot with him, since there have been forced conversions, etc in Jewish history. So some people may stay away because of the religious affiliation.

    In any case, I’d like to see FS – eventually – have some kind of moderator for older records.

  13. Rich, nice layout of the pros and cons of FamilySearch. Have you tried puzzilla which works with your FS data? I think it is another pro

    But I also find the lack of moderating a major flaw at FS and I get tired of fixing things

    Dennis, GENI does not require a paid membership although you can do more if you have one. GENI has more Norwegians than the other two and I also like the related to display and the way Sources are done.

    Wikitree has tremendous advantages for DNA and the best privacy and profile controls

    So fine to pick the one that suits you. I think there is room for three different world trees for a long time to come still.

  14. Great information here. I must say that My Heritage / Geni relationship is fuzzy. I purchased My Heritage “PremiumPlus” plan ($231.00 for year subscription) and can’t see any benefit from it on Geni.com.

    The info given indicates that if you have a PremiumPlus Plan on My Heritage, you have one on Geni.com. There is also no way (I can find) to get your family tree info on Geni except to enter every person individually. I have over a thousand people in my tree – who has that much time on their hands? Aren’t these sites supposed to make things easier?

    After purchasing my PremiumPlus membership/subscription on My Heritage, I received an email from FTDNA that I have a new test kit coming to me for ANOTHER DNA test with FTDNA through My Heritage. I assumed that the DNA comparison feature on My Heritage would allow you to upload your already processed DNA info from FTDNA. This seems wasteful since I doubt my DNA has changed much from a few months ago when it was originally tested.

    I got as much info from their forums as I could before ordering, but unfortunately most of their posts are from 2011-2012.

    If you have any information on how to clear up the relationship between My Heritage and Geni.com, I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Currently if you are a pro GENI member and click on one of the record matching items, you get offered a one year data membership for $75

    • I too purchased a membership to either Geni or My Heritage (I forgot which but I think Geni to gain access to MH records) and just became very confused. Now I am at my entry limit with MH so I can’t add any people that they suggest for my tree without paying another fee. I thought the fee I paid was going to be beneficial to expanding my tree started on Geni but honestly I can’t make heads or tails out of what is going on with either tree now (I exported the Geni to MH).

      I just sadly gave up.

      • Aimee –
        It is confusing but they are not the same membership. It sounds like you purchased the GENI one and are trying to add people to your MyHeritage (MH) tree. The MH tree is limited in the number of people you can add without a pro membership.

        So my advice is to just use GENI and learn to collaborate with your distant cousins. Occasionally export your tree as a GEDcom to use in a software program on your computer.

        And sadly the pro GENI membership does NOT give you access to the MH records without paying an additional fee.

  15. I will look into the membership and report back. I also have been wondering when I could get a membership to both. This may take some time.

    As to the DNA, test someone else like a parent or a cousin to get more information

    • There is no plan currently for a combined membership.

      I have been trying to explain to my friend at myHeritage that there is an interest for GENI members to be able to add the source documents from MyHeritage which has extensive European collections

      As to adding one by one to GENI, you may find that most of your family past your g-grandparents is already there. Plus there are volunteers who will help you with adding family. I sent my ex husbands tree to one such person and he added them all. Wow. So contact me kittymcooper at gmail if interested.

  16. I’ve tried to use WikiTree but find it confusing. While I am a bit more used to FS/FT, I hate people changing my family info – connecting the wrong people – and then trying to fix it. I gave up on it. I use private Ancestry trees to try out relationships, and only share them with cousins I know who are responsible and understand the term “a work in progress.” 😉

    As a retiree, I just cannot justify another subscription – especially to something that is not useful for my Irish research anyway.

    Great post, Kitty! Thanks for the overview. I’m sticking with what I have.

  17. Hi Kathleen!
    Thanks for reading so many posts, hope to see you sometime soon.

    I am doing a presentation at Rootstech about using the advantages of using one world tree. So I would really like to know what you find confusing about WikiTree. Can you email me more details? Or post them here.

    Think of a one world tree as a way to collaborate with others who have the same ancestors and perhaps a place to keep a second copy of your tree that you are willing to share.

    I also plan a post soon on using WikiTree for its DNA features.

  18. I will be reading lots of your posts. Thank you for helping all of us who are new to DNA. I have a started a tree on Geni, Wiki, and Family Search but I use 99% of the time Ancestry.com and have DNA on there. I discovered GEDmatch because someone on there posted about it under one of my relatives, which is how I found you! I have so many questions. My tree on Ancestry is a mess! When I first started out many years ago I just wanted to find out more about my mom’s family and find out who her dad’s family was. He would never tell her. He left home to never return. Then I got into it and did it for “fun”. I didn’t care if everything was accurate or “proven”. But when famous ancestors started turning up and many of them, I decided I REALLY want to know if I am related. So now the “proven” part is very important to me. I am so excited to learn the ins and outs of DNA but wow, I am not young any more so what a challenge. LOL Thank you again for all of this. 🙂

    • You are most welcome. I started blogging to keep track of my own research and what I had learned. It is very useful to me to go back and read my posts and use the links I saved in them.

      Helping appears to be in my DNA … Lots of ministers in my Dad’s family and my Mom’s dad was a doctor.

      Have you looked at the methodology at DNAadoption? That may help you track down who your Dad really was.

      As to slavery, many years ago I read a wonderful book by somebody Ball called “Slaves in the Family” – I highly recommend it. This fellow went through his plantation ancestors records and tracked down many of the descendants of those slaves, giving them their ancestry as he knew it.

  19. Curious is you are still keeping the One World Tree chart above updated?

    I absolutely love the idea of a One Worid Tree. I have only used Wikitree. Most of my work is in Ancestry. I need to update Wikitree with what I’ve done at Ancestry.

    I keep my Ancestry tree public. It is a working tree for me. If I use unsourced info from someone else’s tree, I know I risk getting “bad” info. But, I do so with the full understanding I’m taking a risk. I manage 6 AncestryDNA tests. The risks I’ve taken have paid off many times by allowing me to find connections to some of my 1500+ DNA matches. I even solved a 135 year old family mystery. I just hope if someone else decides to use my unsourced family tree information that they too know they are taking a risk. Risks can produce great benefits, but sometimes they are painful lesson learners, i.e., having to delete a lot of people off your tree that aren’t truly related to you.

    I began using genetic genealogy in January. I wish I was learning everything about it and the available tools quicker. But, I enjoy the learning process and am driven to find more ancestors. Doing genealogy proves that every life matters. Without just one life, I wouldn’t be typing this right now.

    My next hurdle is to learn how best to use DNA to find the parents of my 4x great grandfather. He appears to have had only one daughter. She had 10 children. There are many family trees with my 4x great grandfather, but he is a dead end on everyone’s tree that is public.

    A bit of rambling of different thoughts in this one post. Sorry!

    Thank you SO much for sharing what you know and learn with all of us novices!

  20. Doretta –
    I do keep this up-to-date BUT I have not tried the new related feature at familysearch yet so that needs adding

    Keep up the good work. Get as many descendants of that 4th grandad to test as you can, the older the better, build spreadsheets for them looking for the triangulations then seeing if any of those match other folk pointing the way to his family,that requires uploading to GEDmatch of course. Perhaps use genomemate (again I have not tried it yet!)

  21. An additional advantage of Wikitree that I particularly appreciate compared to the others is the way it is formatted to encourage us to go beyond names, dates and sources and develop a biography for the person. It is admittedly done inconsistently with many profiles just being gedcoms that have been imported and never cleaned up — but that should get better with time. I find writing up the biography helps to ‘process’ the information and see inconsistencies, and I really enjoy seeing the person’s ‘story’ begin to emerge. It begins to give a ‘soul’ to what otherwise just ends up being a data point. It also allows highlighting special things about that person. I don’t know the others as well — I think they can accommodate some commenting like that, but in Wikitree, it is more up front and center. What do you think?

    • Dear cousin Tom –
      I love that you are working on your family at WIKItree and are pushing to get me to clean up our FATLAND family. For those of us who have DNA tested, wikitree has the most features.
      But I would like to point out that GENI also has a nice biography section scroll down the page to see it for our common ancestor Ole Fatland: http://www.geni.com/people/Ole-Fatland/4592857

  22. As an adopted child, I am interested in finding my maternal ancestors. Had my DNA done, and no luck in that. Any suggestions for a rank beginner? Thank you.

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