Answers to Geni Skeptics

Over and over again, I see the same questions and negative comments from folks who can’t seem to understand the beauty of the World Family Tree at Geni.com.  So, here are some answers to their issues:

  1. Someone stole my tree and put it on Geni.  You are confusing the different qualities of the word “my.” It can be used as a possessive, as in “that’s my wallet.” But it can also be used as an attribute, as in “red is my favorite color.” You can steal a wallet, but not your favorite color. When you say “my family tree,” it does not mean you own it. It just means that your name appears on the tree. You don’t own the facts on your tree.  You don’t own your mother and father, even if you call them “my mother” or “my father.”  So, no one can “steal” your family tree. Additionally, the law of copyright protects only original works of authorship. The basic facts on a family tree (name and dates and places of birth, marriage, death) are neither original nor authored by you. They are not protected by copyright. This is true even if you did a lot of work or paid a lot of money to compile the information. The bottom line is that anyone is allowed to create a family tree using the data on your family tree. So, get over it. Whoever added the information did you a favor. Now you don’t need to do it yourself.
  2. I found sooooo many mistakes on Geni.  Yes, there are mistakes on Geni, as there are on every family tree. Is your tree publicly available so we can check it to find your mistakes? The beauty of Geni is that you can find and correct the mistakes. Geni’s World Family Tree has 77 million connected profiles.  If only 1% of them have errors, that is still 770,000 mistakes. The fact that you discovered a few of them is no big deal. Did you try to fix them? Often you can just fix the mistakes yourself. Other times you can contact the managers or start a discussion on a profile to address mistakes. By allowing users to fix not only their own mistakes, but the mistakes of other people, the tree on Geni is quickly becoming the most accurate tree ever created. The same principle worked for Wikipedia. Initially, skeptics questioned whether a crowd-sourced encyclopedia could ever compete with and be as reliable as the professionally edited versions. Ten years later, the printed versions are obsolete and no longer being printed. Geni works the same way and with the same effect. After a while, the Geni tree surpasses and supersedes any other version.
  3. I want to be deleted.  No man is an island.  We all are part of the World Family Tree, even if we don’t want to be.  In general, you can’t boss other people around and tell them what to say and do.  Do you also go around to your friends and family and tell them not to talk about you? Do they listen?  So why do you think it is appropriate to do that on Geni?  You have two options: either ignore it if it bothers you, or join Geni and take over the management of your own profile so you can do with it what you want.
  4. I want my family member deleted.  This is a variant of the one above.  You say “I don’t care for myself, but my sister wouldn’t want to be on the Internet.” Please.  Let your sister take care of herself.  You aren’t responsible for her.  And all living people are private on Geni anyway.  Read Geni’s privacy policy.
  5. I want my children deleted.  Another variant of the above.  Why would you want your children deleted?  Do they not exist?  Why deprive them of their ancestry?  The answer is the same as for the previous ones.  You can’t boss people around and tell them who they can and cannot put on the World Family Tree. So just get over it. Besides, all living people are “private” on Geni already. Read Geni’s privacy policy. In most cases, if you ask the manager, they will remove your kids. And Geni policy is to remove them upon request. But someone will add them back in sooner or later, so it’s really pointless.
  6. Geni is dangerous because it will lead to identity theft.  First, there is no such thing as “identity theft.”  You don’t wake up one morning and say “Who am I?  Someone must have stolen my identity!”  What people call “identity theft” is merely garden variety fraud. The most common kind is the use of credit card information, ordinarily stolen in bulk from some merchant or individually by a store clerk.  Neither of these require the use of genealogical data. Another type of “identity theft” is when someone applies for a credit card in your name. This ordinarily is perpetrated by someone you know, someone with access to your mail, who also knows your address and phone number and social security number.  Usually it is someone living in the home.  Again, since the person already knows you and has access to all your information, there is no need to use an online genealogy source to perpetrate this type of fraud.  In the many years I have been following this issue, I have not heard of a single case of “identity theft” (or any crime) involving the use of an online family tree.  Not one.  But I bet you are still worried.  This is not because of any real risk, but of something called narcissistic paranoia.  People imagine that the world thinks they are as important as they feel themselves to be.  But trust me, with 7 billion people in the world, no one really cares about you.  No one is targeting you for fraud. Get over yourself.
  7. On Geni you lose all control of your tree.  Yes. That is what works so well. You collaborate with other people and together you solve problems, fix mistakes, make breakthroughs and build a better tree. Geni is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with millions of people working together at the same time on one single puzzle. If you are a control freak, and can’t work with other people, Geni is not for you. If, when you were in Kindergarten, you got a “Needs Improvement” in Works Well With Others, then Geni is not for you.  But remember, that beautiful little tree that you spruce up and polish and admire is going to simply disappear into oblivion when you are gone.  No one is going to care.  Eventually, someone will put all the data on Geni and no one will ever look at your work again.  No one.  But go on having fun hugging your tree.  You might want to put your private tree on MyHeritage, since that site works well for personal trees.
  8. I have a huge tree and don’t want to take the time to put it on Geni. This is a legitimate issue. But here’s the story. What you think of as a large tree is really very small. What do you have, a few thousand profiles? Geni’s World Family Tree has 77 million and is adding more at a rate of 7 million per year. Any personal tree with more than a few thousand profiles most likely is built by importing Gedcom files and adding data that is already on Geni. The problem is that Geni had to disallow importing Gedcom files because it caused too much duplication. But the problem you have is solvable. First, just start your tree again on Geni. Very soon, you will find a match with part of the existing tree. Then you can take advantage of the work that has already been done and not have to re-enter that part of the tree. With any sizable tree, you will find duplicates very quickly. Second, make sure to invite your family members to the tree so that they can assist in re-building it on Geni. This is one of Geni’s strengths, because everyone can work together. Last, ask for help. There are a lot of folks on Geni who love to just help people enter data. Start a discussion or ask a curator for help. Trust me, it is doable. There is some pain involved, but in the end you will be happy you took the time to migrate your data over to the Geni platform so that your tree can be part of the World Family Tree.
  9. There is no quality control on Geni. False. Geni has over 100 Curators whose job it is to help users resolve issues and to clean up messes in the tree. This is another unique feature on Geni that does not exist at any other collaborative tree program.
  10. I don’t want my ex-husband on my tree.  You should have thought of that before you married the jerk.  Seriously, the issue here is that genealogists have traditionally used marriage records to help identify people and discover genealogical data. This has made the marriage itself genealogically significant. So, even if it was just a few bad years for you, genealogists will want to include your marriage on the tree. Practically what this means is that you have to share your tree with your ex. Geni will keep living profiles private from ex-spouses and anyone else you remove from your family group. Some people still hate this. But it’s just something you have to get used to. On Geni, the goal is to have one single tree with everyone, so it doesn’t make sense to have ex-spouses working on separated trees. Especially if there are children from the marriage, it just doesn’t make sense.
  11. I have a problem with how Geni works. We all do. Geni is just a small company with a tiny staff that works very hard to keep the platform running. There are about a thousand pending improvements that we are all clamoring for.  Go to the Geni Help Desk and request an improvement.
  12. There are no sources on Geni. Geni is a place to build your family tree. Geni’s parent company, MyHeritage, competes with Ancestry in offering (for a fee) access to billions of records and other data sets (like US census records). On Geni, you can also pay to access the data on MyHeritage.  When there are record matches with data from MyHeritage, you can attach those records to your profiles on Geni (just as you can if you build your tree on Ancestry).
  13. The trees on Geni have no sources and are just copies of trees found elsewhere.  This may be true for some parts, but many parts of the World Family Tree are very well sourced. It just depends on who is doing the work and how much has been done. There are people who have added many thousands of documents and photos to the tree. (See the Geni Top 10 Lists to see who has done the most.) Bottom line is that the World Family Tree on Geni is only as good as we make it. If you have sources that aren’t on Geni, then go ahead and add them. What are you waiting for?
  14. I can’t figure out how to use Geni. There is a learning curve on Geni and in the beginning it can be steep. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a Curator.  Also search the Geni Wiki and the Knowledge Base at the Help Center.  Trust me, we’ve all been there. Not all of it is intuitive. But the good thing is that Geni is a very flexible tool. Pretty much anything is possible and all problems can get solved.  So be persistent and don’t give up.
  15. How do I stop someone from changing my tree?  If there’s a problem with vandalism, you can report the user from his profile page under the Actions menu, or contact a Curator. But if it’s just that you want absolute control, that’s something that Geni doesn’t allow. Geni is all about collaboration and working together. If you can’t stand the idea of someone adding or changing something on the tree, stay away from Geni. Of course, you’ll be missing out on the most exciting thing to happen to genealogy in the last 100 years, but that’s your choice.
  16. Who can get access to change my profiles?  A good question. Because of the various levels of privacy, there are several ways of getting access. If you are in the “family group” of the manager, that will give you the most access. Under the Actions menu on the manager’s profile page, you can request to add someone to your family group. You can also “collaborate,” which gives you the ability to edit only the public profiles of the other manager. Generally, deceased profiles should be public, and living ones private. Public profiles are searchable on Google, which is a great way for people to find your tree.
  17. Geni has all this fantasy stuff, Adam & Eve, Odin, Zeus, even God Almighty, and I don’t want my tree connected to such things.  Part of collaborating is allowing other folks to do their thing. Sometimes it strikes us as bizarre. But seriously, who cares? Most of us have plenty of trouble dealing with just the past few hundred years. If others want to make believe and work on fantasy trees from thousands of years ago, just ignore them and leave them alone. With over three million users connected to the World Family Tree, there are going to be more than a few crackpots. But you have to take the good with the bad. Working with others in the parts of the tree you care about is the main thing.
  18. The Geni tree is completely unreliable. Again, it depends where you look and who is doing the work. In the area I focus on, Austrian and Czech Jewry, the tree is incredibly accurate and reliable and includes tens of thousands of sources and documents added by dozens of users who work nearly every day to improve the tree. If you think you are the world’s expert on some part of the tree, and you haven’t put your work on Geni, then you only have yourself to blame. Geni is not the place to find the answers to your genealogical problems (although it often does have them), but rather it is the place for you to share your answers with others. Geni works because the best way to conduct any type of scientific research is to make your hypotheses public and allow others to check your work. Geni makes this possible like no other platform. See my earlier post On Certainty in Genealogy.  So, bottom line, either roll up your sleeves and get to work, or just be quiet and keep it to yourself.  There’s plenty of work still to be done and nobody likes the guy who just sits on the sidelines with his arms crossed criticizing all the other people who are actually doing the work.
  19. I’ve used another site and it’s better.  It’s pretty clear you have no idea what you are talking about. Those of us on Geni also use all of the other sites. We wouldn’t be on Geni if there was something better. There’s simply no comparison with the competition. The other collaborative trees are much, much smaller. Remember, the World Family Tree on Geni has over 77 million profiles and over 3 million connected users.  The World Family Tree is growing at a rate of 7 million profiles per year. And Geni also has millions of as yet unconnected trees added by millions of users. By comparison, WikiTree has just 7,395,539 profiles from 169,417 members. WeRelate has just 2,548,000 profiles. FamilySearch (operated by the Mormons) just started its collaborative tree, and it’s not certain how large it is, but it will be tough for them to catch up. The Mormons are industrious, but Geni already has an incredibly comprehensive Mormon family tree. (According to the Geni Forest Density Calculator, there are over 125,000 profiles within just seven steps of Brigham Young.) OneGreatFamily claims to have a big tree as large as or larger than the one on Geni, but I don’t know of anyone who uses it. It is not publicly searchable on Google as far as I can tell, which makes it a bit useless. Bottom line is that Geni has a big advantage over its competitors in terms of the size and number of users, which makes it really the only place worth putting your tree.
  20. I am a serious professional genealogist and people like me don’t use Geni.  Wrong. There are plenty of fabulous genealogists using Geni, including many professional genealogists. But you know better. You logged in one time in 2007, didn’t add any of your family, made a couple of searches and didn’t find the data you were seeking, and never came back. You don’t believe in sharing genealogy for free because, after all, that’s how you make your living. You have never tried to work with a client by using Geni to collaborate with him on his tree. You found a mistake on Geni and therefore decided the whole thing is worthless. (See #2 above.) You didn’t bother to try to fix the mistake because you’d rather criticize Geni than actually do genealogy. You think you are the greatest genealogist in the world, but you have no clue because you have never worked on a collaborative site like Geni and seen how other genealogists work. There are folks on Geni who do more serious genealogical work before breakfast each morning than you do in an entire week. But you wouldn’t know that, because you are too old-fashioned to try something new. You like to badmouth Geni to others because it threatens you and your livelihood. You are right to be afraid.
  21. Geni is a for-profit company and I won’t give my information to them so they can make money off of me. Geni is a small company with a handful of employees, now owned by MyHeritage. It makes enough money from subscriptions to keep itself going, but not much more. Your own contribution is negligible among the millions and millions of profiles on Geni.  So don’t worry about anyone making tons of money off your work. If you are under the illusion that your contribution to the World Family Tree is that valuable, see the comment about “narcissistic paranoia” above (#6) and just focus on the narcissism part, or better yet, look up “delusions of grandeur“.
  22. Geni might go out of business and then all my work will be lost. Your work will be lost anyway. Trust me, as soon as you’re gone, that tree on your hard drive will never be looked at again. That private website you pay for? Gone within months. Only if you publish is there some hope of your work outlasting you. An online tree is an easy place for most people to publish their work. Geni’s World Family Tree is a unique asset that will certainly continue to grow and have some non-negative value to whichever genealogy company owns it. Of all the trees being built today, it has the greatest chance of being maintained far in the future. You can also eliminate any short-term risk of data loss by exporting Gedcom backups from Geni. The real risk is in refusing to share or publish your data. What would you have to show for all your work if your home were to burn down? Have you ever considered that?

Disclaimer:  The views expressed above are my own and are not necessarily the views of Geni or its parent company MyHeritage.

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