Getting Help on Using FamilyTreeCircles

by Scott_J 4 years ago

  1. Check out the FAQ page.
  2. 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.
  3. Send me a private message.
  4. Drop into the FamilyTreeCircles campfire chat. You can not only chat with me, but with other FamilyTreeCircles members, if they're in there.
  5. 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.

13 comment(s), latest 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Getting ready for some pretty major changes. And a chance at a Sneak Peek...

by Scott_J 4 years ago

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.


11 comment(s), latest 4 years ago

Announcing FamilyTreeCircles Locations

by Scott_J 4 years ago

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.

FamilyTreeCircles Locations

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.

12 comment(s), latest 1 year, 3 months ago

Announcing the Assist! Program

by Scott_J 4 years ago

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!

3 comment(s), latest 4 years ago

New Journal Type: Query

by Scott_J 4 years, 2 months ago

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.

54 comment(s), latest 2 years ago

Policy Reminder: Don't Post Other People's Content Publicly

by Scott_J 4 years, 2 months ago

Please let me remind you that it is wrong to post other people's content on FamilyTreeCircles.

We state this simply in the terms of use

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.

thank you.

57 comment(s), latest 2 years ago

Where Do FamilyTreeCircles Visitors Come From?

by Scott_J 4 years, 2 months ago

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%
Australia 16.5%
The United Kingdom 13%
New Zealand 11.2%
Canada 6.2%
Ireland 1.4%
South Africa 1.1%
India 0.6%
Germany 0.4%
The Philippines 0.4%
France 0.3%
The Netherlands 0.3%
Pakistan 0.2%
Spain 0.1%
Italy 0.1%
Switzerland 0.1%
Malaysia 0.1%
Sweden 0.1%
Brazil 0.1%
Hong Kong 0.1%
Russian Federation 0.1%
Poland 0.1%
Singapore 0.1%
Belgium 0.1%
Denmark 0.1%
Norway 0.1%
Mexico 0.1%
Israel 0.1%
Japan 0.1%
Czech Republic 0.1%
Thailand 0.1%
The United Arab Emirates 0.1%
Indonesia 0.1%
Turkey 0.1%
China 0.1%
Jamaica 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.

63 comment(s), latest 2 years ago

Spam update

by Scott_J 4 years, 3 months ago

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.

76 comment(s), latest 3 years, 4 months ago as Cousin Bait

by Scott_J 4 years, 3 months ago

Note: This was originally posted on the FamilyTreeCircles blog over a year ago. As I'm pulling that content into the new FTC blog, I've been post-dating them. But this one I think is worth reading again, so I'm setting the dates to today.

Catching up on my blog-reading, I came across Randy Seaver's post about "cousin bait".

Here's his overview...

Greta Koehl used the term "Cousin Bait" last month in her post Online Trees about the purpose of posting online family tree data. At least, that was the first use of the term I've seen published - an excellent term! Her point was that putting a family tree online in a database or on a web page may help induce distant cousins, who share your ancestry, into contacting you and perhaps provide more information about the common ancestral families.

While I've also never thought of it as "cousin bait", this is exactly what I had in mind when I created

I've always described the concept as "casting a net" for other family tree researchers to find your posts, and then connect via

And it's true that you can set some very effective bait with some simple posts on

I wish Randy's example produced a result, but alas. Let's take a look at some recent posts and how they rank on Google.

Starting with the most recent journal, William SPINLEY + Emily WILHAM - Auckland 1800s, posted about an hour prior to writing this blog post.

A Google search for [William Spinley] produces a number one search result on Google just an hour after it was posted...

William SPINLEY - Google Search.png

Here's another example of a more popular search result, [white family dna], 17MM results.

The author of this entry about a White family DNA project posted it here on FamilyTreeCircles as well as on Genforum at about the same time.

white family dna - Google Search-1.png

Her FamilyTreeCircles post is #3 on The Genforum post is at #6. While not all posts make it to the first page of Google's results, both are a very effective way of getting some search engine exposure of your genealogy work.

If you're not doing so already, you should consider adding to your toolbox for getting your "cousin bait" out there on the search engine result pages.

75 comment(s), latest 3 years, 1 month ago

New Feature: Private Messages OUTbox

by Scott_J 4 years, 3 months ago

When I built FamilyTreeCircles so many years ago, I had no idea how popular the private messages feature would be.

As of today, there have been over 18,000 messages sent through the private message system. I never would have guessed.

One of the most requested features that I get is for people to be able to see the messages that they have sent to others. Did I contact so-and-so about such-and-such? What did I say? Did she open it?

I'm happy to announce that I have added a new feature allowing you to view your outbox. In it, you can see all the messages you've ever sent.

Where is it? You'll see conspicuous links to your "Inbox" and "Outbox" in your private message area.

Here are a few notes about the new feature:

  • You can view them, but you cannot delete them. (They don't belong to you any more!)
  • You can see if the recipient has opened them
  • You can still see them if the recipient has deleted them.
  • I haven't structured the messages in any sort of "conversational" view.

Like me, you'll probably be a bit surprised at the number of messages that have gone un-opened. Honestly, I was quite disappointed at some of them. But at least now I know, and maybe I'll follow up again with some of them.

Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any questions.

1 comment(s), latest 4 years, 3 months ago