Build a Website


At some point when researching their family history, many people consider how to put their information online. They may want to share with other family members, or to provide cousin bait inviting cousins researching the same family lines to make contact, or to link to their DNA results (again, to invite cousins to make contact), or to benefit from the data matches that some websites offer online. (ƒh interfaces to FindMyPast and MyHeritage for hints, but not to Ancestry, for example; if you want Ancestry hints you must have an Ancestry tree).

Whatever your reason for wanting to put a genealogy website online, there are a number of factors to consider when selecting a solution that suits you. In no particular order:

  • Cost. Some solutions are free, and often easy to use, but typically aren’t as flexible as paid-for solutions.
  • Technical complexity. Do you want something really easy to use, or are you willing to exercise existing technical skills or learn some new ones?
  • Updating. How often will you update and how easy is it to do so?  If you want to keep your online data in sync with your ƒh data, some solutions make that easier than others.
  • Scale. Do you have an enormous project that the free solutions can’t cater for? Or do you have a very modest tree that will ‘fit’ almost everywhere?

You’ll also want to think about:

  • How to protect the privacy of personal data, both for living people and perhaps the recently deceased.
  • What content do you have the right to put online, especially source images downloaded from commercial websites.

Privacy Questions

There are two main approaches to ensuring you do not publish any data that ought to be private.:

  1. As described at Delete Data for Living People, you can create a copy project for Publication that is cleansed of all data that needs to be kept private, and use that Publication Project to populate the website solution you choose. This method ensures you have total control of what is made visible to other people.
  2. If you use one of the free websites, you could upload your complete project Gedcom and rely on the privacy mechanisms of the free website to protect your data.  You are reliant on the free website to implement appropriate controls.

Option 1 is the safest method to adopt, even though it involves slightly more effort.

Copyright and Other Content Questions

The question of what you are and aren’t allowed to put online is a thorny one, but here are some basic guidelines.

  • Copyright doesn’t apply to facts. If Great-Aunt Edna was born in a particular place on a particular date, nobody can stop you publishing that fact.  (Great Aunt Edna’s children might not want you to publicise that she was born somewhat early after her parents’ wedding — or even before it — but that’s a privacy or ethics or family harmony question, not a copyright question.)
  • Family photographs may be copyright. If the person who took the photograph is alive, you need their permission to publish it. If they’re dead, their heirs retain copyright for a period of time after their death that can be a quite complex calculation (in the UK, typically 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the photographer died, but copyright law changed quite often so that isn’t a hard and fast rule; and of course other countries have other laws/periods). If you don’t know who took the photograph, you’re in a grey zone — most likely if it was taken more than 70 years ago (or whatever period applies in the country in which it was taken) you haven’t got a problem — but don’t quote us if it goes to court!
  • Source images are even more complex, and your rights depend on how you acquired an image, not only whether copyright applies. If you’ve downloaded an image from any of the commercial website (Ancestry, Findmypast etc.) and even some of the free ones, you’ve signed up to terms and conditions which typically prohibit you from publishing that image whether it’s in copyright or not. If you’ve acquired the image from a government source (e.g. the UK General Register Office), you may be allowed to publish it under certain conditions, which might include acknowledging where you got the document from, and respecting the privacy of living people. Reproduction of birth, death and marriage certificates details the requirements in England and Wales for BMD certificates, and other countries have equivalent documents.
  • Documents or pieces of text produced by other researchers? You need permission before you reproduce them. You may think Cousin Brian’s description of how your no-good work-shy drunken ancestor avoided dying in a pit disaster is so good you want to share it with the world. Ask him first — he owns the copyright in that exact form of words. You can reword it to be substantially different, but it would be polite to acknowledge him anyway.

The bottom line is:

  • Facts are fine, but…
  • Ask permission to reproduce anything you got from other people (and check where they got it from!).
  • Check the terms and conditions of any website from which you’ve downloaded material you want to publish.
  • Remember to protect the privacy of living people, and to think carefully about publishing any potentially-sensitive material about the recently deceased.

Using a Free Website

This is not only the cheapest, but also the least challenging method. Use the Export Gedcom File Plugin with options selected according to your chosen website service and follow the website’s advice for uploading the Gedcom file. They all offer various ways of handling privacy of data, uploading media images, and restricting access to nominated users, so you should research those to determine what suits you best.

In alphabetical order, the following list summarises popular website services:

  • Ancestry ~ no subscription ~ uploads media individually ~ Age, Address & Note fields are not supported
  • Find My Past ~ no subscription ~ uploads media individually or via zip file ~ Age field is not supported
  • MyHeritage ~ no subscription  ~ uploads media individually
  • RootsWeb WorldConnect ~ uploads media automatically?
  • TribalPages ~ many data fields are not supported
  • ZoomPast ~ novel zooming display ~ uploads media individually ~ Address field is not supported

Hosting Your Own Website

If you decide to host your own website, you will have the most flexible solution but it does involve more technical skills, so may not be the right approach for everyone. You will need to pay (usually annually) for space on a web hosting service provider, and pay annually (or biennially) for a domain name (website name) such as ‘’ to point to your webspace. Most web hosting service providers also sell domain names and will configure them to point to your webspace for you.

A free or paid-for website utility must be used to create the website pages. Most of them require at least a reasonable understanding of computer technology and typically need more time to achieve satisfactory results than the Free Websites above. You will also be responsible for ensuring you don’t publish anything that should be kept private (as per Delete Data for Living People).

Free Website Utilities

The most obvious free utility is the Publish > Create a Website wizard in ƒh. For advice on its usage and the associated Improve Website or CD DVD HTML Plugin, see Create Family Tree CD/DVD or Website Content.

Some free utilities are summarised below, but most are rather dated and may not work well with ƒh V6.

  • GedMill converts Gedcom into static web pages.
  • PhpGedView is donationware that converts Gedcom into dynamic web pages.
  • WordPress has plugins that can convert Gedcom into static web pages, and design other website pages.

Our link page for Website Generators may include other more recent examples.

It is likely that a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) utility will be needed to upload web page files to the website, but there are several good free versions. Alternatively, the FTP Website Manager Plugin is very simple to use.

Paid-for Website Utilities

Some paid for utilities are summarised below.

  • GedSite converts Gedcom into static web pages that must be uploaded to the website. It supports most data fields, and Media files, plus narrative Sentence Templates.
  • The Next Generation (TNG) uploads Gedcom into dynamic web pages. It supports most data fields, Place records, and Media files.

Our link page for Website Generators may include other more recent examples.

The Export Gedcom File Plugin supports GedSite and TNG.

Uploading Your Web Pages

Once you have your domain name and some hosting space, and  have generated your website content; you will need to upload your content so that it’s visible on the Internet.

In ƒh version 5 or above, the simplest solution is the FTP Website Manager plugin.

For earlier versions of ƒh or if you are happy with a more technical solution, you may want to install and use an FTP client such as Filezilla which is free. In either case, you will need some information from your hosting service provider :

  • an FTP Username and Password, which ensures that only authorised people can upload to your website
  • an FTP Host name — most commonly this is the url of your website
  • an FTP folder (where the uploaded files will go — most commonly this is htdocs or blank)





Last update: 29 Jan 2021