Review: dynastree

dynastree

[Disclosure: I was contacted by dynastree in September 2009 and was asked to review their product.  I was given a free 14-day premium subscription during which time I was able to try out all aspects of their site.  I have not been compensated monetarily in any way for this review or my work on the dynastree site.   My intention is to give a good review, which does not necessarily mean a favorable review.  In my mind a good review is one in which the subject of the review is fully researched and tested and my opinions are given while at the same time remaining fully transparent as to my involvement with the vendor of the product.]

Being a genealogist, I like trying out new online family tree websites where I can either create a tree from scratch or upload my own GEDCOM file.  I was excited when I was given a chance to try out dynastree for a two-week period being able to use all the bells and whistles involved.

Background

For the sake of background as to my experience with both online and computer-based genealogy applications, for year’s I’ve been a Family Tree Maker user along with the Ancestry family tree function on the Ancestry website.  Recently I’ve been a big fan of RootsMagic 4 due to its simplicity and what I feel is a better job of handling source citation templates than FTM.  I’ve also used many of the major online genealogy sites including MyHeritage, Genoom and Geni.

Accessibility

Overall, I found the dynastree site to be very accessible and user-friendly.  Although my tech knowledge is a bit advanced, I’ve taught computer classes for over 20 years and I can usually tell when a site is designed poorly so as to confuse rather than educate.  Right away it was clear how to set up an account, how to upload my GEDCOM and how to share it with family.

Profile

dynastree does a good job in trying to be a social networking site and not just a place to store your genealogy data.  Users can customize their profiles with a photo, an “about section, contact information and more.  One feature I liked which I haven’t seen in other programs is the ability to export your profile information into a vcard which can be used with email and contact management programs such as Outlook.

Privacy

A major area of concern, especially for new users of online genealogy programs, is how their information will be protected and what will and will not be shared with others.  If you are a Facebook user, you understand how confusing it get once you have different sharing options for friends, etc.

I think dynastree could do a better job of making these privacy settings more obvious.  I had to click on Settings in the upper left corner to find them while intuitively I would have gone to the Profile tab to look for them.

The settings are very flexible and allow you to just let direct blood relatives see your data or variations such as blood relatives at the first cousin level, etc.  My uploaded tree had close to 8,000 people so the first cousin put me at 109 people.  In addition, you can designate  specific family members and whether they can or cannot have access to your data.

Family Tree

I really appreciated the navigation features especially when taxed with a large tree like mine.  Males are shown in blue, females in red.  Another neat feature is deceased members (those for whom you’ve entered a death date) have a black ribbon in the corner of the profile photo.

Clicking on an individual will pull up their individual profile page which the user can complete with additional information including photos and stories.

The Share Family Tree tab allows you to send a link to family and friends inviting them to take a look at your tree.

And Matches, a concept used in various similar sites, looks at your family tree entries and compares them with other dynastree users to see if you share the same ancestors.  Matches are automatic for those who purchase the premium version of dynastree.

Other Features

  • Calendar – I love, love, love the Calendar on the homepage.  I’ve always envied bloggers who had a post each day or week highlighting ancestor birthdays or wedding anniversaries.  It has not been easy for me to gather this info using FTM or other programs.  When I sign in to dynastree, it is right there for me to see!
  • Statistics – this is a new feature (and a premium feature – see below) and I can see stats such as gender distribution, anticipated life average, frequent places of birth.  As I’ve said before, I appreciate looking at my family’s history from different perspectives and dynastree‘s Statistics helps me do that.
  • Source Citations – the biggest complaint I have about dynastree is the inability to cite your sources.  Some data points don’t even have a general “description” field where you could enter the source citation if you had your copy of Evidence Explained and new the proper format.
  • Name Day – a feature not often found but if you are familiar with the concept of a saint’s day or a name’s day, you’ll appreciate it.  dynastree allows you to enter both birth date information and Name Day information.  In Europe it is still common in some countries not to celebrate the date of your birth, but the saint’s feast day of the saint for whom you were named.  Different countries have different customs but I know in Greece, if it is your Name Day, you have to treat everyone who comes to visit, not the other way around!
  • Home Edition – there is a dynastree Home Edition which can be downloaded and installed on your computer.  This will allow you to make changes when not connected to the Internet and then synch them with the online version.  This concept of synching has been a big issue for me and I wish all genealogy programs had an easy way to do this.
  • Premium Servicesdynastree offers a variety of services, some described above, that are only available with the premium subscription.  One such service involves printing reports of your family tree and data to PDF.  I wish there were more flexibility for the basic subscriber in the area of printing.  When you purchase a premium subscription you are given a number of “vouchers” that can be used to print more customized trees.

Conclusion

Overall I had a great experience with dynastree.  I think it is simple and easy to use and this welcoming to the genealogy newcomer yet robust enough to keep the user engaged and excited about tracing their family history.

Serious genealogists would and should have some reservations, but keep in mind that the inability to cite sources is the norm for online programs.  Most don’t offer a way to cite sources and in my opinion, these programs will never attract the more serious genealogist until that happens.

I understand that most vendors fear it would confuse the casual family history enthusiast but perhaps the ability to cite sources – with full format lookup based on Evidence Explained – could be bundled in with a premium subscription.  This would make it worthwhile for those of us who do cite our sources only to see them stripped from the data when importing our GEDCOM files.  And it would not be used by the basic subscriber and thus not cause confusion.  At the very least, data points need to be expanded by having a description field added so source citations can be added if the user so desires.

If you want an easy-to-use genealogy program that is very customizable, has built-in social networking features, allows you to share and exchange data with family, and can help keep you engaged and excited about your family history, check out dynastree.

Serious genealogists should also check out the program and then leave feedback here in the comments or send it on to dynastree.  I think dynastree has the potential to serve all levels of the genealogy community – they seem to have some innovative features not found with other online programs.  Perhaps they can tackle the issue of source citations which would definitely propel the program to the next level.

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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