The Genealogist’s Internet

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20. Publishing Your Family History Online

Publishing options

Family trees for the web

Web publishing basics


Uploading your website


Preserving your family history

Help and advice

So far we have been concentrating on using the internet to retrieve information and contact others who share your interests. But you can also take a more active role in publicizing your own interests and publishing the results of your research for others to find.

Two ways of doing this have already been touched upon. You can post a message with details of your surname interests to a suitable mailing list (see Chapter 18). Although your message may be read by only a relatively small number of readers (compared to the total number of people online, at least), it will be archived, providing a permanent record. Also, you can submit your surname interests to the surname lists for the counties your ancestors lived in (Chapter 14). This will be easier for others to find than material in mailing list archives, since many people with ancestors from a county are likely to check the surname list.

Both of these methods are quick and easy, but they have the limitation that they offer quite basic information, which may not be enough for someone else to spot a link with your family, particularly with more common surnames. The alternative is to publish your family history on the web.

Publishing options

There are two main ways of putting your family history online: you can submit your family tree to a pedigree database such as those discussed in Chapter 14, or you can create your own website. In fact, these are not mutually exclusive, and there are good reasons for doing both, as each approach has its merits.

Pedigree databases

There are obvious advantages in submitting your family tree to one of the pedigree databases:

But there are some disadvantages to note:

As long as you check the terms and conditions of any site you use for this purpose, these disadvantages shouldn’t discourage you from submitting your pedigree to a database. They simply mean that you might want to consider having your own website as well.

The main pedigree databases are discussed on p. 230ff.

A personal website

Creating your own website will, of course, be more work, but there are a number of reasons why it can be better than simply uploading your family tree to a database:

The great thing about a personal website is that it is not like publishing your family history in book form: you do not have to do all these things at once. You can start with a small amount of material — a family tree, or even just a single page with your surname interests, perhaps — and add to it as and when you like.

But there are a couple of issues to be aware of if you are going to create your own site:

Both of these issues are tackled later in this chapter.

It is worth pointing out that apart from the major online databases, much of the genealogical material on the web is the result of the efforts of individuals making it available on personal sites. If you have any genealogical information that may be of interest to others, in addition to your personal pedigree, you should consider making it available online.

Document sharing

Both a pedigree database and a personal website enable you to put a navigable family tree online, but if you can do without that facility, there is another possibility: document sharing. There are number of ways, short of setting up your own website, to make electronic documents publicly available online.

Scribd is a document-sharing site at <>. It allows you to upload documents in a wide range of formats and converts them so that they can be viewed on the web. You can choose to make documents completely public or they can be hidden from public view but accessible to individuals to whom you give a special private URL. Scribd has no limit on the amount of material you can upload, though no individual file can be larger than 100MB. A particular benefit of Scribd is that uploaded files are automatically submitted to search engines once the upload is complete.

Figure 20-1 shows an Ancestor Report saved from Family Historian (as an RTF file) and uploaded to Scribd as <>.


Figure 20-1: A report from a family history program uploaded to Scribd

A different approach is to use Dropbox at <>. This is a web-based file hosting service, mainly designed as a way of backing up the files on your own computer and making chosen files available to individuals you wish to share them with. However, since you can upload any type of file and you can choose to make any file public, you can use it in just the same way as Scribd. Unlike Scribd, though, Dropbox does not pay any attention to the format of the file you upload and does not do any conversion, so your files will already need to be in a format which can be handled by a web browser. In fact, if you upload all the files for a complete website, it will function as such, and not just as a collection of individually downloadable files. Dropbox offers 2GB of storage space free of charge, more than enough space for even the largest personal website.

For further information, including basic instructions, see Dick Eastman’s article ‘Publish Your Genealogy Database on the Web with Dropbox’ at <>.

Family trees for the web

Probably the most important thing to put on the web is your family tree. This will make it possible for other genealogists to discover shared interests and ancestors, and get in touch with you.

Whether you are going to submit your family tree to a pedigree database or create your own site, you will need to extract the data from your genealogy database software in a format ready for the web. (If you are not yet using a genealogy database to keep a record of your ancestors and what you have discovered about them, look at ‘Software’ on p. 387.) The alternative would be to type up the data from scratch, which would be both time-consuming and prone to error.


GEDCOM, which stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunication, is a standard file format for exchanging family trees between one computer and another, or one computer program and another. It was developed in the 1980s by the LDS Church as a format for church members submitting their pedigrees. It has subsequently been adopted and supported by all major genealogy software producers to enable users to transfer data into or out of their programs, with the result that it has become the de facto standard for exchanging genealogical data electronically.

The reason you need to know about GEDCOM is that all the pedigree databases expect you to submit your family tree in the form of a GEDCOM file. Also, provided your genealogy software can save your pedigree information in GEDCOM format, there are many programs which can automatically create a set of web pages from that file. On a PC running Windows, GEDCOM files have the file extension .ged.

You do not need to know the technical details of GEDCOM in order to publish your family tree on the web, but Dick Eastman has a straightforward explanation of what GEDCOM is at <>. For the technically inclined, the GEDCOM specification is at <>. Cyndi’s List has a page devoted to GEDCOM resources at <> with links to explanatory material and GEDCOM software.

Whatever genealogy software you are using for your family tree, you should be able to find an option to export data to a GEDCOM file. Typically, this option will be found under Export on the File menu but, if not, the manual or the online help for your program should contain information on GEDCOM export. Unfortunately, there are slight differences in the way that the various programs handle GEDCOM files, so occasionally some of the data does not transfer correctly, but this should not affect the basic pedigree details.

There are also a number of programs which simply convert a GEDCOM file into a set of web pages. These are useful if your genealogy database does not have website creation facilities. The GEDCOM page on Cyndi’s List includes a number of these.

Genealogy databases

Almost all the main genealogy database programs have facilities to create a set of web pages from your family tree data. A notable exception is Family Tree Maker, which has facilities for uploading a tree to but cannot create standalone web pages. If your genealogy database cannot create a website, then you can either use one of the standalone GEDCOM converters or import your data into another genealogy database program which can: the free Standard Edition of Legacy is ideal for this purpose (details on p. 388).

Genealogy databases vary in what they actually produce for a website, but at the very least they will give you:

You should have a choice between an ancestor tree, a descendant tree, or a full pedigree, and there are many options as to which individuals, and what information about them, to include.


Figure 20-2: Web page created by Legacy

By way of example, Figure 20-2 shows a page created by Legacy 7.4. This is a web version of a standard descendancy report. Whereas in a printed pedigree you have to turn manually to other pages, here the highlighted names are links which will take you straight to the entries for or parents, grandparents or children. The small superscript numbers link to descriptions of the sources.

Family websites

Another possibility, halfway between a pedigree database and creating your own website, is to use one of the subscription services which act as online genealogy databases. These differ from the pedigree databases in that they provide more sophisticated facilities, such as sharing material with your family while excluding it from general view. They may also have a facility to enter data directly rather than submitting a GEDCOM file, though it’s unlikely this would be a useful facility for anyone but the casual family historian. Among the sites which provide this sort of facility are:

If you just want to share your family tree with your immediate (known) family, these may provide a better solution than trying to password protect an individual website. But they involve considerable ongoing expense and are less well suited to disseminating your pedigree to the wider world than a pedigree database.

Web publishing basics

If you are just going to upload a GEDCOM file to a pedigree database, you do not need to know anything else about web publishing. But if you are going to create your own website you will need to familiarize yourself with what is involved in the process. While it is increasingly possible to create a website without in-depth technical knowledge, it is still essential to have some understanding of what is involved. There is not space here to deal with the topic in detail, but this and the following sections cover the basics and there are suggested sources of further information at the end of this chapter.

What is a website?

A website is simply a collection of individual files stored on a web server, which is a computer with a permanent, fast connection to the internet and the capacity to deal with lots of requests for web pages from all over the internet. While larger companies have their own dedicated computers to act as web servers, smaller organizations and home users simply get a portion of the file space on the server belonging to their Internet Service Provider or a commercial web hosting company.

When you create a website, you first create all the pages on your own computer, then you upload the files to your space on the web server.

Assuming you already have internet access, what you need in order to create a website is:

If you are going to have photographs or scanned images of documents on your site, you will also need graphics editing software.

One important aspect of web publishing is that it can be done with any computer and a wide range of software. You do not need an especially powerful computer, and you almost certainly have web publishing software on your computer already even if you don’t realize it (see p. 364). You will probably be able to use your browser for uploading pages, though there is dedicated free software which will make the process easier.

The other thing you need for a website is time. Even though basic web publishing is not difficult, you will need to learn how it works and you will want to experiment before unleashing your site on the public. You will also need to give some thought to exactly what material you are going to publish, and how best to organize it so that your visitors can find the information they are looking for — just as you would for a book, in fact. Also, getting a basic set of web pages up and running may be straightforward, but giving your site a more polished look and additional features, if that is your ambition, will require significantly more time and effort.

Web space

In order to have a website, you need to have space on a web server for the files which make up your website. If you have your own internet connection at home, you will almost certainly find that your Internet Service Provider offers this facility at no extra cost. There may, in principle be a limit on space (50MB is typical) but a personal genealogy site is unlikely to be anywhere near as large. It is even quite a respectable amount for a family history society.

If you do not have your own internet connection, or if your ISP does not provide free web space, you have two options. First, you could use a commercial web hosting company. This will require a subscription, but web hosting prices are not very great and you may well not need to pay more than £2 a month. Although you can find extensive lists of web hosting companies (see, for example, the Open Directory’s UK page at <>, it is probably best to rely on recommendations such as those on Hostfinder at <>, or in computer magazines.

Alternatively, you could use a site which offers free web space. The best known of these is Google Sites at <>. This service has the particular merits that new material and changes will immediately be picked up by Google’s search engine, and you can easily integrate other resources provided by Google, such as maps from Google Maps, into your site.

A good home for genealogy sites is RootsWeb with its ‘Freepages’, free unlimited web space. Details will be found at <>. The only significant limitation is that RootsWeb does not let you upload GEDCOM files — they insist you submit them to their WorldConnect site instead (see p. 231). An interesting provider is AncestryHost at <>, which offers free web hosting as long as your site is genealogy-related and you already have your own domain name (see below).

Other companies can be found by searching Yahoo for the phrase ‘free web space’, or consult the Free Webspace directory at <>. Wikipedia’s ‘Comparison of free web hosting services’ article covers a dozen of the main services.

The web address of your site will depend on who is providing your web space and what sort of account you have with them. If you are planning a substantial website with material of general interest rather than simply your own pedigree, or if you are going to set up a site for an organization or genealogy project, it is useful to have a permanent address rather than one that is dependent on your current ISP or web space provider. One possibility is to use ‘redirection service’ such as at <>. This allocates a permanent free web address of the format <>, which redirects people to your actual web space, wherever it currently may be.

But the ideal solution is to register your own domain name, which can then simply point to your website, wherever it happens to be. All commercial and some of the free hosting services allow you use your own domain name. The annual registration will require some modest expenditure, but you should be able to secure a .uk domain name for as little as £3 a year. You will also need to master one or two technical issues, as it will be up to you to ensure that your domain name is correctly set up to point to your current web space, though your web hosting company will be able to supply the necessary information. The process will be easier, though, if you use the same company for both name registration and hosting, and, indeed, you may well get a discount for combining the two.

Nominet is the registration authority for UK domains, and the ‘New to domain names?’ box on the home page at <> has links to basic information. You can’t actually register a domain name directly with Nominet, but need to use a commercial registrar — most web hosting companies also act as domain name registrars.

There are plenty of articles online about setting up a domain, such as Matt Doyle’s ‘How to Set Up Your Own Domain Name’ at <>. There are two articles by Dick Eastman in his newsletters for 25 September and 2 October 2002, archived at <> and <> (though note that some specific company recommendations will be out of date).

What is a web page?

When viewed on a web browser, web pages look like a form of desktop publishing and you might think that you need very complex and expensive software to produce a website. In fact the opposite is true: web pages are in principle very simple. Each page is simply a text file with the text that is to appear on the page along with instructions to the browser on how to display the text. The images that appear on a page are not strictly part of it; they are separate files. The page contains instructions telling the browser where to download them from. (This is why you will sometimes see the individual images being downloaded after the text of a page has already appeared in the browser window.) In a similar way, all the links on a web page are created by including instructions to the browser on what page to load when the user clicks on the links. (You can easily get a general idea of how this all works if you load a web page, ideally a fairly simple one, into your browser and use the View Source option in Firefox or Internet Explorer, on the View menu in both browsers.)

This means that a web page is not a completed and fixed design like the final output of a desktop publishing program on the printed page. It is a set of instructions which the browser carries out. And the reader has a certain amount of control over how the browser does this, telling it whether to load images, what font or colour scheme to use, what size the text should be and, most obviously, controlling the size and shape of the browser window it all has to fit into. The reason for this flexibility is that those who view a web page will be using a wide variety of different computer equipment, with a range of screen sizes and resolutions and no guarantee that particular fonts will be available. Also, readers will be using a range of different web browsers. The web page designer has to create a page that will look good, or at least be readable for all these users.

Figure 20-3 shows the text for a very simple web page. Figure 20-4 shows what this page looks like when displayed in a browser.


Figure 20-3: The text file for a simple web page


Figure 20-4: The page in Figure 20-3 viewed in a browser

In Figure 20-3, the angled brackets mark the ‘tags’ which act as instructions to the browser, so the tag <img…> tells the browser to insert an image at this point. The tags are collectively referred to as ‘markup’, because they instruct the browser what to do with the text in the same way that in traditional publishing an editor marks up a manuscript for typesetting. All the text that is not inside angled brackets appears on the page, but the tags themselves do not. Many of the tags work in pairs, for example the tags <em>…</em> tell the browser to find a way to emphasize the enclosed text, which is usually done with italics. Links to other websites and other pages on your own site are created by putting the tag <a href="site-or-file-name">…</a> round the hotspot, i.e. the text you want the reader to click on, with the web address or file name between the inverted commas (‘a’ stands for ‘Anchor’).

You can get a good idea of how this works by saving a copy of the page shown in Figure 20-4 from <> and then editing it in Notepad or another text editor to see what happens if you move or delete tags. (Do not try it with a word processor!)

The set of tags that can be used to create web pages is specified in a standard called Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). The standard is controlled by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) <> on the basis of extensive consultation with those who have an interest in the technology of the web. HTML has been through several versions since its inception in 1991, and the latest is version 4, which came into use at the beginning of 1998, though a new HTML 5 is nearing final approval and is increasingly supported by browsers.


In order to create your website you will need suitable software, and there is quite a range of possibilities. Which is best depends on what software you have already got, what your website is to contain, and how serious you are about your site. One thing to remember is that no matter what software you use, the output is always a plain text file. It is not a file in a proprietary format belonging to a single manufacturer, which is what makes exchanging files between different word processors so problematic. This means you can use a variety of software programs to edit a single page, or you can collaborate with another family member without worrying whether you both have the same software.

Another important point is that you do not need to buy additional software — you will almost certainly have some web publishing tools installed on your computer already, and if not there are free programs which will provide all the facilities you need.

There are three basic approaches to creating web pages:

The following sections look at the sorts of software that can be used to create web pages.


In the early days of the web there was no special-purpose software designed for creating sites, and commercial software had no facilities for turning material into web pages. The only way to create a site was with a text editor, typing in both the text of a page and the HTML tags. The surprising thing is that, in spite of the many pieces of software that are now able to create web pages, text editors are still in use among professional web authors. The reason is that these give you complete control and do not make decisions for you. The disadvantage, of course, is that you will need to know what the relevant tags are and how to use them. But even if you mainly use another program to create your web pages, a text editor can still be useful. This is particularly the case where you have been using a program that is not designed specifically for web authoring, but has the facility to save files in HTML format as an add-on. All such programs have some failings in their web page output. If you need to correct these, it is easiest to use a text editor.

Although you can use a very basic text editor like the Windows Notepad, you will find it is hard work to create web pages with something so primitive, and it is better to use a more sophisticated editor. Some, like TextPad or NoteTab (downloadable from <> and <> respectively), even though designed as general-purpose text editors, offer a number of features to make web authoring easier. TextPad, for example, allows you to have many documents open at once, and has a comprehensive search and replace function covering all open documents. It has a ‘clip library’ of the main HTML tags — just clicking on an entry in the library adds the tags to your page.

Word processors

All the main word processors have the ability to create web pages. This is particularly useful if you already have material typed up, because you will be able to turn it into web pages very easily — there should be a Save as HTML or Save as Web Pages option on the File menu. But note that this will not create a web page for each page of your word-processed document; it will turn each document into a single web page. Once you have saved a page (and thereby given it a file name) you will be able to make links to it from other pages.

You might think that with this sort of facility there is no real need for other web authoring software but, unfortunately, word processors are not always particularly good at producing web pages that will read well on the wide variety of set-ups internet users have. In particular, they often try to reproduce precisely every nuance of the word-processed document, particularly the page layout, which may have no relevance for a web browser. This can lead to very cumbersome web pages that may display poorly. However, for text-only pages with a straightforward layout, this is a very quick way to get material on to the web.

LibreOffice is a freeware office suite (with word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) available for Windows, Macintosh OS-X and Linux. The word-processing component, Writer, can be used as a web editor with WYSIWYG (‘what you see is what you get’) and text-editing views. If you create a new HTML document from scratch, it produces good web pages, but pages created from existing word-processed documents are less good. Unfortunately, the LibreOffice Writer cannot be downloaded separately, you have to download the whole suite (from <>), which is almost 200MB in size. at <> is more or less the same product.

Dedicated web authoring software

A better all-round option is a piece of dedicated web authoring software. This will provide only the layout facilities that are available in HTML. Many such packages offer both a design/layout mode, which looks like a word processor, and a text editing mode which allows you to work directly with tags. For the last few years, the most highly regarded commercial program has consistently been Adobe Dreamweaver (see Figure 20-5). Microsoft’s Expression Web is also well regarded. Unfortunately, both of these are priced for professional web authors, and it would be difficult to justify the expense for a small personal website, though there are very substantial discounts for educational users.


Figure 20-5: Editing the website for the fourth edition of this book in Dreamweaver CS5

If you are only going to create a fairly simple site, you do not need to pay for a commercial web authoring package, as there are a number of programs which are available for free download, including:

FirstPage is available only for Windows; the other two will also run on Macintosh OS-X and Linux machines.

Trial versions of web authoring packages are frequently to be found on the cover CD-ROMs of computer magazines, and dozens of other shareware packages are available for free downloading. A good place to look is Tucows, which has a wide selection of web authoring software for Windows and Macintosh under ‘HTML editors’ and ‘Visual and WYSIWYG editors’ on the ‘Development & Web Authoring’ pages at <> (that’s three hyphens) and <> respectively.


Figure 20-6: Editing with BlueGriffon

Online software

Some free web space providers, such as Google Sites, have online tools for creating websites directly on the site without having to upload it from your own computer. Obviously, this will not help you convert your family tree for online viewing, but it is a quick way to get a website up and running.

Adobe Acrobat

All the software mentioned so far creates pages in HTML. But, in fact, browsers can cope with files in other formats, either by starting up the relevant application or by using a ‘plug-in’, an add-on component to display a particular file type (see p. 65).

Adobe Acrobat is a program that can turn any page designed for printing into a document for the web. It does this not by creating a page in HTML, but by using a proprietary file format (‘PDF’, which stands for ‘portable document format’). A free reader is available, which can be used as a plug-in by any browser, allowing PDF files to be displayed in the browser window when they are encountered. (If you have not already got it installed, the Adobe Acrobat reader can be downloaded free of charge from <>.)

This is not a complete answer to creating a genealogy website — a site consisting solely of PDF files would be very cumbersome, since the files are much larger than plain HTML files and would download slowly. But it is a good way to make existing material that you already have in word-processor files quickly available. It is particularly good for longish documents which people will want to save to disk or print out rather than read on screen. (Web pages do not always print well.) For example, if you want to put online one of the longer reports that your genealogy database can create, turning this into a PDF file would be a good way to do it. This can also be a good solution for putting trees online.

Macintosh OS-X has built-in facilities for creating PDF files, but for Windows you need additional software. You may find that your word processor already has this facility built in — LibreOffice and OpenOffice, for example, (see p. 366) can import a wide range of documents and then save them in PDF format. Otherwise you will need special software for creating PDF files. Adobe’s official program for this is Acrobat X, a commercial product costing almost £300, and you really won’t need a fraction of its facilities. However, you may find older versions in online auctions for much less, and these will be perfectly adequate. But, in any case, there are a number of shareware and freeware programs available which can be used to create PDF files. Though they lack the more sophisticated document management features of Adobe Acrobat itself, they will be perfectly adequate for turning word-processor documents into web pages, or creating PDF files from your genealogy software. You can find a list and downloads at <>. Dick Eastman’s newsletters have had a number of articles on free PDF creation tools in recent years — search the archive from the home page at <> for ‘PDF create’.

Databases and spreadsheets

If you store some of your genealogical information in a spreadsheet or database, there are several ways of putting the data on a website.

First, database and spreadsheet software can create web pages directly (probably via a File | Export menu or a File | Save As menu option). By way of example, Figure 20-7 shows the first few entries from a database of Sussex parish register entries for the surname Christian as a web page exported from Microsoft Excel.


Figure 20-7: A web page exported from Microsoft Excel

If this option is not available, there is a reliable fall-back: plain text. Your database or spreadsheet will undoubtedly have a Save as text function, and all browsers can display plain text files. This will not look as good as the example above, but if someone finds an ancestor in your list, that will be the last thing they will be worried about.

You can even take this text file and embed it in a proper web page. There is a special pair of tags, <pre>… </pre> (for preformatted) which, when put round formatted text like this, will preserve all the line breaks and the multiple spaces, thus maintaining the original format.

Dynamic websites

In an ideal world, all of this would be unnecessary. You would simply upload your genealogy database file to your website and people could use their browser to search it, just as you do on your desktop. But the genealogy databases discussed above all produce static web pages. If you make any changes to your family tree, you will need to recreate the web pages from scratch and upload the whole lot to your site again.

A more satisfactory approach is to have a ‘dynamic’ website. When a visitor clicks on a link within your site, they are not taken to a fixed page, but instead a piece of software called a ‘script’ looks up the relevant data in a database and extracts the appropriate records to create a web page on the fly. This technology is very widely used on the web, especially for large sites with frequent changes of material, and is referred to as a ‘content management system’ or CMS.

For genealogists, the database may be just a plain GEDCOM file or it may be a separate database created from a GEDCOM file, but either way you can easily update the online family tree, simply by uploading a single new file, rather than having to upload perhaps hundreds of revised pages. In a database-driven site, you typically upload all the script files to your website, and then upload the data file for them to work with. You won’t need to design any pages as such, though you will be able to customize them in various ways if you wish.

The disadvantage of the CMS approach for a personal website is that while it doesn’t make any special demands on the browser, which just gets a perfectly normal web page, it requires special software to have been installed on the web server to make sense of the scripts. The most likely software requirement is for a scripting language called PHP, often used in combination with MySQL databases. This is not something you can simply install in your own web space on your own initiative, but it is provided as standard in a commercial web hosting environment, and is increasingly widespread in the web space from consumer ISPs and free web space. The Free Webspace site has a ‘power search’ at <> which can be used to find hosting services with specific scripting and database facilities.

If PHP is available on the web server hosting your site, there are a number of tools you could look at, but the most successful seems to be The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG), downloadable from <>. I have been using this for my own genealogy site for many years. The data is held in a MySQL database. It comes with a range of reports, along with the facility to design your own, and can link photos and documents to individuals in your tree. In fact, you can have any number of distinct trees, and you can give each registered user access to branches that may not be visible to general visitors. TNG must be purchased — it is not freeware or shareware. Figure 20-8 shows a pedigree display from my genealogy site at <>.



Figure 20-8: A pedigree display from TNG

Another application which is still downloadable, though the website does not seem to have been updated for over two years, is PhpGedView at <>. It has a wide range of charts and the useful ability to create PDF versions of reports. Individual users can be given access to particular areas of a site. A ‘portal’ page allows visitors to keep track of their own particular ancestors on the site. The software is free.

While setting up a dynamic website doesn’t require you to be a programmer, you will need to follow possibly detailed instructions about configuring the software for your own site, and will need to have (or develop) some understanding of how files are stored and made accessible on a website. For that reason, these are probably not appropriate tools for the reluctant or timid computer user.

Uploading your website

Once you have created a set of pages on your own computer, you need to go online and upload them to your web space. The standard way of doing this is to use a program called an FTP client. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, which is a long-established method for transferring files on the internet. There are many free and shareware FTP programs available. The ‘Comparison of FTP client software’ article on Wikipedia is a good place to start. FileZilla from <> is a popular free program and has all the facilities you need.

Web browsers can also be used to transfer files — see the online help in your browser for details of how to do this — and some web hosting sites provide their own browser-based uploading facility. The only problem with this is that in many cases you can only upload one file at a time.


Once you have created and uploaded your web pages, you will need to publicize the existence of your site. One simple way to do this is to put its URL in the signature attached to your email messages. Apart from that, there are a number of possible approaches.

Search engines

Making sure your site is known to the main search engines (see Chapter 19) is probably the most effective way to publicize your website. For Google, you can submit a URL for addition to its index at <>. You can make a submission to Bing at <>. Both Google and Bing have a range of facilities called Webmaster Tools which allow you to submit a site and receive useful information about it — incoming links, or searches which include your site, for example. These tools are at <> and <> respectively. In both cases you will need to register (free) for an account.

Since search engines index pages automatically, they have no way of knowing what the most important aspects of your site and your individual pages are unless you help them by organizing the material on each page. Among the things search engines look for when estimating the relevance of a page to a search done by a user are:

In addition, there is a special tag you can add to a page to provide a brief description of the page and the site. These are <meta> tags, which are placed in the <head> section of the page. They will not be visible to someone viewing your page, but the ‘description’ <meta> tag is used by search engines:

<pre> <meta name="description" content="The last will and testament of Zebediah Poot, died 1687, Wombourn, Staffordshire, England”> >pre>

When a search engine lists this page in the results of a search, it will normally list its title (i.e. the text between the <title> tags) and your description. If there is no description, it will take the first couple of lines of text from the <body> of the page.

Don’t expect submission to a search engine to produce a flood of visitors to your site within hours. It can take quite some time for the search engine to visit a new site and index it, unless of course you are using Google Sites (see above), in which case it will be indexed immediately.

Discussion and forums

A good way to draw immediate attention to a new site is to post a message to appropriate mailing lists and web forums (see Chapter 18), choosing the county lists or forums relevant to the families in your online tree. If there is a discussion group relating to some social group your ancestors belonged to it will be worth posting a message. For example, if you have information on coalmining ancestors on your site, it will be worth posting to the COALMINERS list (see Chapter 9). A message posted to a RootsWeb list will immediately be added to the list archive and you can expect search engines to index it fairly quickly.

Cyndi’s List

Another useful approach is to submit details of your site to Cyndi’s List using the online form at <>. This may or may not get your site a listing on the relevant category page on Cyndi’s List, but it will still have undoubted benefits. First, all submissions to this page are included in the Cyndi’s List mailing list (details of which are at <>), which goes out to a large number of subscribers. This, in turn, will get a link to your site into the RootsWeb archive at <>, and your site will be permanently listed in the ‘What’s New’ pages on Cyndi’s List at <>. As mentioned above, the RootsWeb message should be discovered by search engines without much delay, and the link to your site should be followed automatically.

Requesting links

You can request other people to link to your pages, but you need to be realistic about expecting links from other personal sites. People will generally do this only if there is some connection in subject matter between your site and theirs, and if you are prepared to create a link to their site in return. Do not expect major institutions like The National Archives or the SoG to link to a site with purely personal material, just because you have made a link to theirs.

To be honest, if your site contains only personal pedigree information, it is not really worth bothering to request links from other personal sites, as this will probably not bring any significant number of visitors, certainly compared to the other options discussed so far. However, if your site has material relating to a particular subject, it will be well worth alerting the maintainers of specialist websites relating to that subject, such as those discussed in Chapters 8–11.

If you have transcriptions of original source material of broader interest than extracts for individual surnames you should contact Genuki, who aim to provide links to all UK source material online.

Preserving your family history

While the web is seen as a way of publishing your family history, in one important respect it is not like publishing it in print. A printed family history donated to a genealogy library will be preserved for ever, while your account with your web space provider is doomed to expire when you do, unless you can persuade your heirs otherwise.

But since a website is just a collection of files, there is no reason why all the information cannot be preserved, even if not online. If you copy all the files that constitute your site onto writeable CDs, these can be sent to relatives and deposited in archives just like printed material. The advantage of distributing your material in this way is that people do not need special software — a particular word processor or the same genealogy database as you — in order to view the files, and everyone with a computer has access to a web browser. HTML is a universal, non-proprietary standard which uses plain-text files, and is therefore much more future-proof than the file formats used by most current software.

Note that you won’t be able to do this if your site is dynamic, as you won’t be able run the relevant software from a CD.

The problem of the long-term preservation of genealogy websites is discussed in Chapter 22.

Help and advice

While you should be able to get help from your ISP or other web host for problems relating to uploading, you are unlikely to be able to get any help from them with the business of creating your website, though they may have online tutorial material. However, there are countless sources of information online about creating a website., for example, has an extensive set of articles about web design, and the ‘Web Design Basics’ page at <> covers all the topics that the new web author needs to know about.

If you are looking for material specifically aimed at genealogists, there are three main places to look. Genealogy Web Creations at <> has a comprehensive set of pages devoted to all aspects of website design for family historians. Dick Eastman’s newsletter (see p. 382) has had many articles about creating a website for your genealogy over the last few years, and it is well worth browsing or searching the archive from the home page at <>. Finally, there are dedicated discussion groups. British-Genealogy has a ‘Web pages design’ forum at <>, which is a good place to look for recommendations and help with problems.

In print

If you want a tutorial in print, a search on any online bookshop for ‘HTML’ or ‘web publishing’ will list the hundreds of general books on the subject, though it’s probably best to browse in a physical bookshop to make sure you choose a book at the right technical level. As far as I know, there are only three books devoted specifically to publishing genealogical information on the web:

All of these, unfortunately, are now significantly out of date, though this will be much more of an issue with any specific software recommendations than with the general procedure of creating a website, which remains the same. Note that the plausible sounding Creating Family Web Sites for Dummies by Janine C. Warner (John Wiley and Sons, 2005) is not aimed at genealogists and does not cover putting family trees online.

Next chapter: 21 The World of Family History