There was a time when it was easy to keep up with your family – they lived down the road, on the block or nearby in the city.
That time passed decades ago, with technological advances in transport and communication, and now families can be strewn across the country, or even the world.
But those same advances in technology and communication that keep families apart can also relieve the relationship deterioration that geographical separation can cause. One of those advances is the genealogy web application Geni.
My father and I had a discussion about our family history and recently decided to collaborate online using this application. I didn’t realize it was anything more than a genealogy service when we signed up.
Geni is a family tree app that allows you to record data about your living relatives and your ancestors going back generations, but also part social network that can keep family members in touch and appraised of each others’ news.
Profiles form most of Geni’s social network capabilities. Much like other networks such as Facebook, you can find typical profile data about the person you’re looking at, though the data tends to be more accurate and personal. Here you can see an individual’s birthdate, location, place of birth, immediate family and email address, as well as statistics such as relatives, in-laws, ancestors and descendants.
The sidebar also contains historical data, such as an individual’s work and education history, and there’s a section for adding personal trivia—want to let everyone know what your favorite movies, hobbies and cuisines are? No? Well, there’s a place to specify this anyway.
There’s also a thumbnail array showing the profiles of your immediate family, with tabs for ancestors or descendants—useful for immediately determining which part of the family the person is in, in case they are too distant for you to remember (either that or you’re just a bad relative!).
Of course, like every social network, there’s the guestbook, which is just like Facebook’s wall.
When you log-in to Geni the first thing you’ll see is the Family News page. Here, you’ll be able to see both news posted by family members and recent changes or additions to the tree, as well as individual profile modifications or image uploads. It’s the hub of recent activity both in your tree and your family’s lives, if they update diligently.
You can select who you receive news from, so if your Geni tree has grown as large as mine, you won’t need to know about the latest tea party your wife’s great-aunt’s-stepchild’s-sister-in-law is holding.
This page is a lifesaver, coupled with the next feature which has done my poor memory a whole lot of service.
I didn’t know when my brother-in-law’s birthday was or which day my uncle and aunt celebrate their anniversary until I started using Geni. Now, I can look like I actually do care. That’s not how it sounds; I usually do, but I forget these things like any good male does. Geni reminds me of the things I should have remembered on my own so I can send off an email or make a phone call to the person in question.
I’m not sure yet whether Geni sends reminders for death anniversaries. For the sake of good taste, I hope not.
The calendar allows you to peruse all the events for the next year. If you’re either incredibly slack or have a really unhealthy relationship with productivity hacks, you can head to your email program and schedule messages to go out for each event, but you better not mess up the scheduling!
This calendar not only tells you when wedding anniversaries occur, but also which substance or valuable metal represents that anniversary. For instance, later this year I’m having a cotton anniversary. Nobody told me about this before.
The calendar has a checkbox for displaying the events of the deceased. Ever wanted to head down to the cemetery and wish your great-grandparents a happy 74th anniversary? How about singing happy birthday to Uncle Ted who met his fate at the aquarium that couldn’t afford to put a lid on the shark tank? This feature is a little creepy to me, but I can see how it might be of interest to some.
I know there’s email, but when you check it each morning, I might send off an email to see how Relative X is going is probably not one of your first thoughts. This feature is useful simply because while you’re inside the Geni application, your focus is on family members and you’re more likely to send that message off.
The recipient of your message will be notified by email so if they haven’t logged in for a year, they’ll still know about it. Whether they read it or not is another story, but at least you can say you tried at the next reunion.
From a purely technical point of view, this kind of feature is a bit redundant, considering the email address of each member is on their profile page. But given the common condition known as email blindness and the context of this app, it’s bound to help you keep family relationships intact at least a little bit more.
Both the family tree and the social network are kept private amongst members of the family, though there is an option to make the family tree and some social network information public.
For me, this defeats the purpose of using the application and offers some privacy concerns. For instance, can you opt-out of the public tree? And if individuals can opt-out, doesn’t this make the public family tree incredibly inaccurate for those doing casual online research? I’m sure there will be interested individuals, and the option will be there for them.
Geni offers features I like and some that I don’t like so much or find particularly relevant, given the purposes I use this service for. But no matter what you’re looking for in the world of collaborative genealogy or family relationship maintenance, Geni can help.
If your relatives live up the road, here’s a tip: face-to-face communication works a lot better.