Press Room - Press Release

 June 21, 2000 - Dick Eastman Online

OneGreatFamily.com, Heritage Quest Completes Digitization of Entire U.S. Census, and more!

OneGreatFamily.com
One of the more interesting announcements at the recent National Genealogical Society's annual conference was that of a new service, called OneGreatFamily.com. I had a chance to use it this week for quite a while. This online service is a collaborative database where users pool their knowledge and records to build one huge, shared database. Unlike some of the other online services that accept GEDCOM files and then allow other users to search across the many files, OneGreatFamily.com really has only one database. Everyone contributes to that database although each record is tagged as to who submitted it. This online database can be available to all users or can be kept private, at the discretion of the person who contributed the data.

Quoting from OneGreatFamily.com's Web site:
It is estimated that 105 billion people have lived on the earth. Genealogy is like a jigsaw puzzle with 105 billion pieces. Some pieces have been copied thousands of times. Others are missing or have had an edge torn off. All have been scattered throughout the world. We all hold a few pieces of this puzzle, but none of us knows how to fit them into the big picture or where to connect the pieces that we have. Some of us have organized small teams and have pieced a corner together or part of the border. The problem is that there isn't ONE place for us all to work together to connect all of the pieces. Not until now!

OneGreatFamily.com is the connecting place. It is the first shared worldwide database with the capacity to hold the genealogical information of everyone who has ever lived on the earth. In other words, OneGreatFamily is like the world's largest card table where we can all sit together and find where the pieces fit.


OneGreatFamily.com is headed by Alan Eaton, a person with a lot of technical and genealogical expertise. Eaton spent five years at Novell and later was at LavaStorm, where he was technical lead as the company developed the online version of FamilySearch.org for the LDS church.

OneGreatFamily.com is in a "controlled beta" phase at this time. A controlled beta simply means that the owners of OneGreatFamily.com do not have all features available yet. During this phase the company will also control the number of users accessing their product. Assuming that all goes well, the site will be opened to everyone within a few weeks. When complete, OneGreatFamily will include a collection of tools for families to stay connected through the Internet. This collection includes features such as family news, scrapbook, calendar, personalized greeting cards and more, although many of the tools are not yet operational.

The beta isn't free, however. Beta testers can use the system at a 50% discount from published prices. Once the beta is concluded, there will be two classes of membership: (1.) a paid membership and (2.) a "free track." Details about the free track access have not yet been announced.

During registration I was asked if I wanted to join an existing family group or if I wished to start a new group. If I already knew that someone had contributed data about some of my ancestors, I might have wanted to join that group. However, I was unaware of any existing group that met my interests; so, I elected to start a new group. Users can join multiple groups or start new groups at any time.

I had to enter my credit card number online, but I did notice that the "padlock" in my Web browser was locked at that time, indicating a safe, secure and encrypted form for entering this sensitive information. I know that's safer than giving a credit card number over the telephone or in person.

I did not gain full access immediately. The Web page explained that the Genealogy Browser� software was being released on a first come, first served basis, in limited groups. Apparently the Web owners don't want too many people joining in at once, so that they can monitor and control the growth. A few days later, I returned and found that I had normal access.

After logging on with full access, I was looking at a split screen. On the left there was a "Handprint View" that gives a close-up of the immediate family of any given person in your ancestry. If data is available, you will also see that person's parents, siblings, spouse and children. On the right side of the screen you see the Starfield View, which allows you to see an unlimited number of generations at once. When I say "an unlimited number of generations," I mean that literally; you can display a pedigree chart of as many as 30 or 40 or even more generations at once. Obviously each person in that chart is depicted as a tiny box or "node" in the network. However, you can quickly and easily zoom in and out at will for a closer look at the details on any person. If you click on any "box" in the Starfield view, that person's data is shown on the left in the Handprint view, along with parents, siblings, spouse and children.

These screens are quite difficult to explain fully in this text newsletter. See an example of these screens.

The screens are displayed in an Active-X window. The Active-X component is downloaded as needed and cached in your Web browser. You will experience a delay of 40 to 60 seconds while the Active-X component is downloaded to your computer. Once this download completes, all further response times are almost instantaneous. OneGreatFamily.com will work with Internet Explorer version 4.0 or later or with Netscape 4.6 and newer on Windows 95, 98, NT or Windows 2000. No other software is needed. The company does not yet support Macintosh, UNIX or WebTV at this time although they do hope to add some of those platforms at a later date. The primary constraint is the availability of Active-X for each of those platforms. When a version of Netscape or Internet Explorer for the Macintosh appears with full Active-X compatibility, Mac users will be able to use OneGreatFamily.com. The same is true for other operating systems.

The first time I logged onto OneGreatFamily.com, the data screens obviously were empty as the system was waiting for me to enter data. Users can either enter data manually, one person at a time, or can upload a GEDCOM file. Since I didn't feel like manually entering the required information of a few thousand people, I first went to my favorite genealogy program and told it to export its data in GEDCOM format. Once that was done, I then instructed OneGreatFamily.com to import the new GEDCOM file.

Within a couple of minutes I was looking at my own information in the Handprint View on the left of the screen. On the right side, I was looking at a Starfield View of my ancestors. I must say that it is quite neat to see a layout of all known ancestors in many generations, compressed into a few square inches of screen space. In the upper right corner, there is a slider bar, labeled "Info." I could move the slider bar back and forth to zoom in and out on the displayed pedigree chart. I could zoom in to the point that I was filling the display with one person, then zoom back out in a second or two to display 53 generations.

When the mouse cursor is held over the Starfield View, the cursor changes to an icon of a human hand. This indicates that you can "drag" information around; that is, press and hold the left mouse button to move the entire field to quickly find the person of interest. Then release the mouse button, move the icon over a person of interest and a pop-up window appears that displays the name of that person along with the date and place of birth and death, if known.

While I have said that the Handprint View is on the left and the Starfield View is on the right, I should also point out that this is simply the default. At any time you can zoom in and out, exchange the two sides, or display only one side as full screen. All of this happens almost instantly, rather than with the usual delays one expects when accessing data on the Web. In this case, the speed is gained through the Active-X component that executes on your PC. Your computer obtains data from the Web site, but the actual displays are created inside your won PC. In most other Web-oriented software, the views are created in the remote Web server and then transferred to your system over the phone lines. If you are using normal dial-up modems, this could create delays. OneGreatFamily.com's system avoids frustrating delays, except for the very first one, when the Active-X component is loaded. Everything after that operates at normal PC speeds.

I clicked on one of my "end of line" ancestors. (An "end of line" ancestor is one where I do not know either of his or her parents.) I defined this as a person of high ancestral interest. In the future, if anyone else enters data into OneGreatFamily.com's database about the same individual, an e-mail will be sent to me. I can then return to the database and look at the newly-submitted data to see if (1.) it is the same person and (2.) if I agree with the new data. If I agree, I can merge the two together; that is, I can tell the database that these two entries are indeed the same person.

OneGreatFamily.com will save notes, biographical data, sources, and even multimedia files. You can upload sound, pictures or even full-motion video clips of a person, if you wish. These files will be available to others. During the product introduction at the recent National Genealogical Society conference, the show's producers showed an example, using a video clip of Donnie Osmond's first appearance on the Andy Williams Show when Osmond was five years old. (Donnie Osmond was in the audience when this demo was being conducted.) The clip appeared to last a couple of minutes and had full motion and full sound, so I assume it was several megabytes in size. The creators of OneGreatFamily.com assured the audience that they had sufficient disk space available to store many thousands of such video clips. The site will initially be configured with 1 terabyte of storage, which will grow larger as the number of users grows.

During my testing I had fun with one feature: Common Ancestors. My ancestry is 50% French-Canadians. Anyone who has spent time researching Quebec ancestry can tell you about individuals who show up multiple times in a person's pedigree chart. I have a number of such examples in my family tree. In fact, several individuals show up five times or more. When I clicked on "Common Ancestors" blue lines appeared all over the Starfield View. Each line connected two or more different "nodes" in the family tree, showing the individuals who appeared in two places or more. Anyone with French-Canadian ancestry will see lots of blue lines! I suspect the same will be true for anyone who has successfully researched families who remained in small villages for many generations.

During this stage of the beta test, OneGreatFaily.com will only allow you to work with your own data. You can enter data or upload a GEDCOM file and then browse around that data. You cannot yet grant other people access to your data, nor can you see data contributed by others. However, this capability is expected within a few weeks, well before the end of the beta test. A number of other features are not yet available.

When fully functional, OneGreatFamily.com will constantly scan its database looking for matches. For instance, I entered information about all my ancestors this week. In the future, someone else will probably enter data about some of the same individuals. OneGreatFamily.com will automatically look for possible matches to see if a newly-entered individual might be the same as a previously-entered person. If a likely match is found, the system sends e-mails to both people who contributed the information. Then those two can work together to see if, indeed, they are both looking at the same individual(s). If so, the two records can be merged together to be one. OneGreatFamily.com's software never merges two people together by itself. Instead, the individuals who contributed the data first must agree and then manually merge the data by clicking on an icon.

I asked OneGreatFamily.com to conduct an Internet search for one of my "dead ends." The software warned me that this feature was not yet available but will be within a few weeks. Once activated, the Web site will automatically search Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Genealogy.com, Kindred Konnections, the U.S. National Archives, the Social Security Death Index and also RootsWeb for data about the person I had just highlighted.

OneGreatFamily.com has many more features than what I can describe here. I hope the above "peek" will give you an idea of what it is all about.

I did find a few "abnormalities" when using OneGreatFamily.com. When uploading a GEDCOM file, the screen said "processing GECOM file." Once the GEDCOM upload completed, the status information said that it had uploaded 8000% per cent of my file. The on-screen information referred to the LDS online database as FamilySearch.com while it really is FamilySearch.org. The software also warned me that my screen was set to 800-by-600 pixels and that I should change to 1024-by-768 pixels to gain the best view. However, the warning was false as my screen was already set to 1024-by-768. Such issues are trivial and are to be expected with beta software. I never experienced any crashes or data loss.

There are a few things about OneGreatFamily.com that concern me. First, there is no method of hiding information about living individuals. The company says that the responsibility for protecting a living individual's privacy lies with the person who contributes the data, not with OneGreatFamily.com. While that sounds good in theory, I am not so certain that the company can totally escape responsibility.

Another concern is the quality of data. All of the other online databases of user-contributed information have had quality control problems. Serious genealogists who do their homework properly will only contribute data that has been verified. However, a few people contribute data that is conjecture or copied from inaccurate sources. Several of our present online genealogy databases already have lots of conjecture in them. The future user has no way of telling fact from fiction, other than going out and re-verifying data (which is always strongly recommended in any genealogy effort). I am not surprised that such data appears. However, I have always been frustrated at the difficulty of removing such data.

To their credit, OneGreatFamily.com does seem to have a better system for correcting misinformation than do most of their competitors. The system at OneGreatFamily.com allows and almost forces contributors to work together to resolve differences. I did not have an opportunity to try that system when writing this review.

I do believe that we are seeing a major shift in the way genealogy research is conducted and shared. Until the last few years, the only effective method of sharing your research was to publish a book of your findings. This is an expensive and difficult process for most people. As a result, most genealogy research was not carried on to future generations. Millions of people spent time and money researching family trees, and then the data was lost when the researchers died. In the past two decades the sharing of information has become easier, first by exchanging files in e-mail or on diskette. Then several databases started to appear, first on CD-ROM and then later online. OneGreatFamily.com has taken this effort a bit further by creating one large database and inviting everyone to contribute and then work together to continually update and correct the data contained inside.

Of course, this is not the first such single database to appear. The Ancestral File maintained by the LDS Church is quite similar in concept. However, correcting and updating information in the Ancestral File is difficult, as it was not originally conceived as an online database with easy public access. Corrections and additions are contributed in an offline manner and then processed as batch jobs, not interactively by the submitters. Later online databases have appeared with more streamlined methods, and OneGreatFamily.com simply is the latest iteration of user-friendly genealogy databases. It couples this ease of update with a great user interface that allows for almost instant maneuvers around a display of thousands of individuals.

OneGreatFamily.com has an excellent method of displaying pedigree charts and moving around those charts. It can hold information on millions of individuals from throughout history. It is easy to use, even in its present beta stage. I believe that OneGreatFamily.com is a winner and will become very popular. I also believe that it will spark the appearance of new competitors within a year, competitors that offer the same and even more features. The computer industry is full of such example: one company brings out a good service or product and then a competitor finds a way to improve upon it. The originator then improves the software still more, thereby "leap frogging" over the competitor. On and on it goes, in the best entrepreneurial manner. The big winner is the consumer. OneGreatFamily.com undoubtedly is going to attract competitors.

OneGreatFamily.com has announced the following prices for their paid memberships:
  • One month: $9.95
  • Six months: $49.95
  • One year: $74.95

During the public beta, the six month and twelve month prices are reduced about 50%. The full launch of OneGreatFamily.com is expected to occur in July. The site expects 250,000 unique visitors in its first two months and several million within the first year. View Details!

For more information, or to subscribe, go to: http://www.OneGreatFamily.com

 Source

Dick Eastman is the forum manager of the Genealogy Forum on CompuServe (GO ROOTS) and is the author of YOUR ROOTS: Total Genealogy Planning On Your Computer published by Ziff-Davis Press. He has contributed an article in the CD Information Center about using CD-Recordable for the first time. Dick writes and publishes a free email newsletter, "Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter" every week or so. Back issues can be seen at http://www.ancestry.com. To subscribe to this influential and informative publication about family history and genealogy research resources, visit http://rootscomputing.listbot.com.