When I started FamilyTreeCircles nearly a decade ago, I never imagined it would grow to nearly 100,000 members. It's humbling to be able to provide a resource that has brought so many people together in the common interest.
FamilyTreeCircles has always been a labor of love for me, but with the growing membership, usage, continuing to add new features, and fighting spammers, costs grow as well.
What you may not know about me is that as an entrepreneur, I actually run another web startup. This takes 60-80 hours of my time every week, and I have little left for much else. If you're interested, that's a web publishing platform called Shareist. I think it is a great resource for genealogists.
I would never have been able to even get this far without the patience and support of the people who use FamilyTreeCircles every day, and particularly those who volunteer to help moderate the activity. It's truly a wonderful community. I'd like to not only keep things running, but do even more.
For example, one thing that I've tried to start up several times, but have not been able to do so because of the costs is a periodic newsletter with great genealogy stories and content, as well as featuring fun stuff from FamilyTreeCircles members. But the cost of doing so has been prohibitive. I'd love to be able to do this as well as continue to add more features.
From the start, I promised that FamilyTreeCircles would be a free resource and I have no intentions of going back on that. Over the years, I have received generous offers from people that they would be more than willing to pay for this resource.
In response to that, I've finally added a way to do that, for those with the means to do so, while keeping the service free for the rest.
If you enjoy FamilyTreeCircles and want to see it continue on as a strong and independent genealogy resource, I hope you'll consider contributing even a small amount to its upkeep and further development. If you cannot, no hard feelings here.
Go here: FamilyTreeCircles Patronage
Thank you very much!
FamilyTreeCircles.com has been around for over 7 years now, and has been in a constant state of development.
I'll be the first to admit that most poorly crafted area of FamilyTreeCircles has been the user profile pages. And as I've been making improvements to the platform, I'd also say that it's been the most neglected.
This week I've taken steps to resolve that with an entirely newly designed user profile.
Your Own Home Page
Your user profile on FamilyTreeCircles is now your genealogy homepage. Your own journals and posts are featured prominently in chronological order, newest first. Until now, your own journals were relegated to a list, and reading them was an exercise in clicking around a lot.
Now your homepage is a very easy-to-read list of all your journals. As you post journals, your latest ones appear at the top.
This makes it very easy for other FamilyTreeCircles members, and even people searching the Internet for the information that you write about, to find and read your journals.
That means more people see your journals, which means that your information and your own queries are seen by more people, resulting in a higher chance that you'll connect with distant cousins and researchers looking for the same ancestors.
Here's what the new profile page looks like:
Hey, This Sounds and Looks Like a Blog
Essentially, your FamilyTreeCircles profile page is a blog. Blog comes from the words Web Log. A blog is quite simply a web page containing a log of your writing. Web log...weblog...'blog.
The writing activity that you do posting Journals on FamilyTreeCircles is no different than that of "bloggers" that we hear so much about.
Now in addition to how your journals were seen before in the activity lists, your information is organized like a blog and you get all the benefits of blogging:
- Research: By getting your and your genealogy research out there, people who are researching the same ancestors will find you. You may even break down some brick walls just by posting them for others to find and help you out.
- Sharing: Posting your genealogy information helps others, and many times it comes back
- Connecting: There are countless connections that people make with distant and lost relatives through publishing a blog.
- Community: The genealogy blogging community is a friendly, helpful group of genealogists, professionals and hobbyists alike. By starting a blog of your own
- Fun: Writing can be a fun, creative way to express yourself. Some people even think it's therapeutic.
The good news is that just by signing up for FamilyTreeCircles, you now have a blog.
How cool does that make you?
View your new profile here. Or click on the "Your Home" link in the header.
Here are a few great FamilyTreeCircles profiles to take a look at for inspiration:
- Check out the FAQ page.
- Use the contact us form. This is best for issues like password problems, since you cannot use some of the other options without logging in.
- Send me a private message.
- Drop into the FamilyTreeCircles campfire chat. You can not only chat with me, but with other FamilyTreeCircles members, if they're in there.
- If you have a question that you think someone other than the owner of FamilyTreeCircles can answer, comment on this post. That increases the chances of getting a quick answer AND allows other to benefit from your question.
I've been hard at work on some pretty significant changes here on FamilyTreeCircles, big enough that I want to roll this out a little more carefully than I usually do.
For now, the only noticeable change is the header.
If yours doesn't look like that with the black bar at the top, try holding down the shift key while hitting the reload (or refresh) button on your browser. Or just wait and it'll update eventually.
So what's changing?
I've completely redesigned the user profile page. My goal is to make your user profile the hub of your activity, a much nicer home for you here on FamilyTreeCircles. The default view will be a full view of all your journals, formatted much like a blog. That way, anyone who follows your every post can easily see what you've been writing. If you organize your posts into categories, that will be much more visible. And your Assist! locations and surnames will be featured prominently as well.
In fact, it's going to be a lot like having your own blog, which is where I am headed with this.
And speaking of following, I'll be reintroducing he concept of "follow"ing. By following someone, you will be able to keep track of their new stuff.
When's it coming?
I'm still testing it out, but if you would like a sneak peek, just comment here on this post and I'll turn it on for you.
I'll probably grow impatient and make it available in the next few days, but I'd love to get some feedback first.
Again, just comment below if you'd like to try it out and give me some feedback.
Unless you are brand new to FamilyTreeCircles, you should recall that a few weeks ago we launched the phase 1 of the new FamilyTreeCircles Assist! program.
Phase 1 was geared toward getting members to volunteer to assist other researchers in their physical location, helping with local activities like cemetery visits or local document requests. Without volunteers, the program would be useless, of course!
The response far exceeded my expectations and as of today, we've got hundreds of locations volunteered for. And that number is growing every day.
Of course, we need several thousand to get good coverage, but I'm encouraged by the response. I'm counting on members like you to adopt a location.
And today, I'm pleased to announce we've launched major new functionality that brings along with it the other half of the Assist! program, requesting assistance.
The new feature is called FamilyTreeCircles Locations, which is a massive database of just about every location in the world. In this section of the website, you can drill through continents, countries, and states down to counties, cities, and towns -- even cemeteries!
At any location, you can either volunteer to assist with that location or you can request assistance. In each location, with help from volunteers, we will also build a rich resource and repository of genealogy information.
See it here: FamilyTreeCircles Locations
As a volunteer, you may choose to assist someone with a local lookup or photography, or help in editing the information on the page for that location. Further, as we build on this functionality, it will allow you to better filter the content on FamilyTreeCircles related to your interests.
As a requester, you can post a query that's assigned to a specific location. This query is like any other FamilyTreeCircles query, except it is also listed in the location where volunteers for that location will be sure to see it, increasing the chances that you'll find someone to help.
This is a big day for FamilyTreeCircles as it greatly expands on our goal of connecting genealogy researchers who can help each other in their family tree search.
I hope you'll be able to particpate as both a volunteer and a requestor.
See it here: FamilyTreeCircles Locations
As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments below.
I'm getting some great feedback from people who are digging into their own countries that there are some strange regions and cities, or some less than great naming conventions. I knew this going in and will be developing methods to fix these going forward on a case by case basis. Please understand that there are more than 7.9 million locations in the database and this one guy can't possibly go through even a small fraction of them. As you do find problems with the data, please do let me know. That's the first step in identifying the right process to get these things fixed.
We're finally recovering from the debilitating snowstorm here in the Northeast United States. We had many massive limbs and even a few trees drop in our garden and on our cars. And we were counted as lucky because we only lost power for several hours. There are some neighbors who are still without power 5 days later. We helped out however we could, providing helping hands to clear debris and bring buckets of water.
This brings to mind the outpouring of responses that I received from the survey I emailed about a last week about whether I should create a volunteer local genealogy lookup service.
Frankly, I'm overwhelmed by the response. As of right now, there have been
898 910 replies, most of which are filled with thoughtful comments and feedback. I've been reading each and every one of them. I wish I could reply to them all.
Here are just a few of the many hundreds of responses I got in the survey:
"It is so nice when people that live in an area are willing to help out. Most of us cannot travel to these locations to do the research ourselves and it is so important to those of us that are trying to build our family trees. It is so aggravating when so many websites claim to be 'free' then ask for a credit card number to give you the needed information. Thank you for what you are doing with this website. I've only just discovered it recently."
"I think it is a very good idea and we should all work together to uncover these hidden or missing info."
"I would love to participate in a service like this. I have never volunteered, but I am great at photographing gravestones or going to a place of records to find info for someone."
What about privacy?
By far, the biggest concern expressed was privacy and interacting with strangers. I'm happy to say that on FamilyTreeCircles we've had that problem pretty well handled for many years now thanks to a messaging system that has now had more than 22,000 private messages sent through it without exposing email addresses or other personal information.
Announcing the Assist! Program
So today I'm pleased to introduce the formation of the FamilyTreeCircles Assist! Program, a free service that will connect volunteers who would like to help out with local assistance at town halls and cemeteries, and to provide access to the vast amounts (or even small bits) of knowledge that they have collected.
There are thousands of individuals who are willing and able to perform lookups and document requests at local town halls or take pictures at local cemeteries on behalf of those without the means to travel to those locations.
Further, we have all obtained at least a small bit of knowledge that very few others have, like local knowledge of libraries, town halls, and other resources, information about the surnames that we're researching, and other rare books and information.
Therefore, there is not only a need for people to get help locally, but there exists a huge need for people to simply help out online in very specific areas of expertise.
We just need a way to make ourselves available to those who are in need of that knowledge.
By identifying yourself as someone who can help out in a specific location, or as someone who is knowlegable in certain surnames or areas of interest, you can help provide information to people seeking help in those areas.
And even if you cannot provide local lookups or you don't get specific requests from people, you can share your knowledge by helping us edit our location and surname information pages.
This Won't Be Easy. I Need Your Help...
This whole project hinges on our ability to get good coverage with a large number of volunteers. The first step is building up this strong network of people who are willing to make their knowledge and assistance available to others.
So I'm asking you to go to our Assist! page and identify the locations, surnames, and other areas in which you may help out.
To do so, go here: Assist! program registration
We'll follow up with how people will be able to get in touch for assistance.
Thank you for your participation. If you have any questions, please feel free to post comments.
p.s. This is not a major commitment on your part. We will ensure that people do not get overwhelmed with requests. How much assistance you give and effort you expend will always be entirely up to you.
Again, simply register your areas of knowlege here: Assist!
FamilyTreeCircles is growing and in an effort to better organize the large volume of journals that get posted here, I've added a new Journal type: Query.
Queries are simply a request for information on a particular ancestor or family. These get posted all the time in both the existing regular journals and questions, so I thought it would be worthwhile to try to get them separated out into their own types.
You'll notice them as the highly recognizable magenta-colored posts.
I've also made the Journal Type field available in the journal edit page, so you can change the types of your own journals if you'd like.
I'll be actively changing journal types as people get used to the new classifications.
This is another small step toward making it easier to scan through the growing list of journals at FamilyTreeCircles. Questions and the new Query types are posts that are specifically looking for help, and hopefully this will ensure that they get seen and hopefully get answered.
Please let me remind you that it is wrong to post other people's content on FamilyTreeCircles.
8. You will not post any copyrighted material on this website.
But maybe this isn't clear enough, so let me explain a bit further.
If someone has a website or a webpage posted somewhere on the Internet, the information they post there (unless they copied it from somewhere else) is theirs. You are not allowed to copy it and post it elsewhere without their permission.
I am not an intellectual property or trademark attorney, so I won't get into the legalities of this, but as the owner of this site, I will remove content that I believe has copied someone else's property. This can and will be just a judgement call by me.
Genealogy data gets copied around all the time, so I'm not talking specifically about names, dates, etc. I am talking about written prose, and larger collections of information that someone else has created.
As a general rule, if you find yourself copying and pasting large amounts of information from another website to post it on FamilyTreeCircles, and you don't have the permission from the original author, it is probably wrong. Please don't.
If you have any questions about specific cases, please just ask.
A lot of people ask me questions like...
"I'm from the UK, is FamilyTreeCircles a U.S. site?"
"I see a lot of talk from people in Australia. Do any Americans use FamilyTreeCircles?"
And the list goes on and on...
Here's a breakdown of the top visitors by country in the 2011 calendar year, and a graph of the top several.
The United States 45.2%
The United Kingdom 13%
New Zealand 11.2%
South Africa 1.1%
The Philippines 0.4%
The Netherlands 0.3%
Hong Kong 0.1%
Russian Federation 0.1%
Czech Republic 0.1%
The United Arab Emirates 0.1%
As you can pretty clearly see, it a pretty diverse group of English-speaking nations represented here, with strong representation from Australia/New Zealand as well as the UK.
This is a quick update to the spam situation that I'm wrestling with here on FamilyTreeCircles.
As mentioned a few days ago in this post, Spam Spam Spam Spam, I put in some checks to prevent blatant spam from getting posted to FamilyTreeCircles.
In just 4 days, 535 messages that appear to be spam were put into the manual review queue.
I've reviewed all of them (fun, fun) and only one well-meaning, legitimate user was negatively impacted. His posts have been approved. The rest deleted (that part really was fun).
I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the results so far. I will be refining the algorithms to reduce the false positives going forward.
Here's to a spam-free FamilyTreeCircles.