Monday, June 23, 2014

Is Your Family Tree Safe Online?

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking: “what if your favorite genealogy website went offline?”. This is a very plausible event given that websites are often entities of companies and are susceptible victims of corporate take-overs, mergers or budget cutting. And in the case of smaller, private websites? Well, perhaps the website owner simply walks away from their website, or, what is a reality, passes away. Those websites will not continue on forever. Usually after one year, the web hosting company (the company which the website owner rents space from) will simply shuts the website down. The “offline” concern came to light for hundreds of thousands of people this month (June 2014) when, and its family of websites such as, and the user controlled hosting site Rootsweb, went offline due to a distributed denial-of-service or simply known as a “DDoS” to those tech nerds out there (here’s a link to what DDoS is - Click Here (via  While, in all of its corporate might, dispatched its technicians to fix the problem, damage was already done, especially with folks such as myself would are skeptical of putting all of your eggs in one nest of your family tree. With over a week having lapsed since the attack on Ancestry, many aspects of its service are still not available, including Rootsweb remaining completely in accessible. With Rootsweb offline, so are the countless pages of CanadaGenWeb Project and a few of my own favorite “trees” (see My Favorite Online Genealogy Databases). There are some users of the service suggesting that data was lost however it may be still too early to determine the long term lost to Ancestry and its data. Will it happen again?

But apart from web attacks and web virus outbreaks, how safe is your favorite genealogy website or web source in terms of the folks behind the website? itself has gone through number changes to its administration and even ownership. It’s become a billion dollar operation, powered by people so far removed from the grass-roots of genealogy that they have no interest in your local genealogy group or your family tree database unless it means something to the bottom line. This situation has people, such as myself, concerned about the future of in particularly. has already pulled the pin on and that website’s free hosting which will come to an end in September 2014. Rootsweb is very similar in its service… mainly that it offers “free” hosting for genealogy or history based webpage. And we all know that “free” doesn't translate well to a revenue document for a corporation.

Sure, the internet can be a great method of getting your research out to others but be cautious, don’t use it as your primary means for storage and record keeping. It is an ugly truth, in fact, I know of several researchers that use their website as their primary means of record keeping. One researcher enters all of his data into an online database which is stored and offered on his website. To make matters worse, this system does not allow full extraction of the data and what information that can be extracted from his database, it is not compatible with other database program such Microsoft Excel or Access. Another researcher spends countless hours updating a local history website but this work is at the mercy of should they decide to discontinue Rootsweb. Then there is the whole argument of ownership of the material once it is upload to websites such Ancestry or Rootsweb! Another route would be to create your own website to avoid being at the mercy of big corporations. Annual cost is approx. $100 for domain name registration and hosting. Then you would need to design and upload content which could be an additional cost if you not able to do it yourself due to lack of knowledge or understanding of website development. But even this route is not without its limits; perhaps you become sick or pass-away, who would continue to maintain or pay from your website? What about backing up your online files since even web hosting companies can fold up and disappear!

 In the end, nothing beats the old medium of the printed word. Having your data printed up and pushed out to local libraries and archives is the best option for the longevity of your research. There are many companies (most of which are online themselves) that offer low-cost self-publishing. In some cases, all you need to do is upload a single file to their website, choose the format of print and cover, and viola!... a freshly printer book, of which you are the author of, arrives in a few short weeks. To add to this, in Canada, you can request ISBN numbers for free and have your book catalogued in national libraries! Just the other day I found a genealogy book on local families at a used book shop. The book was printed in 1974 and offered plenty of great data. Now, where will your online website be in 40 years?