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Review – tpstry


Last week, I received an email about a new online genealogy service called tpstry which, I have to say, is somewhat unique in its approach to gathering genealogical information. With the byline “Weaving life into family history,” tpstry takes the concept of a family group sheet – a form with which most genealogists are familiar – and asks that family members add information through a series of online questions.

How It Works

Once you create an account at tpstry – which is free – you should set up a profile and then create your family page and begin entering information about yourself.

You will be prompted to complete a series of questions such as “Who is the father of _________” or “Where was _______ born?”  The process proceeds in this manner and as you answer more and more questions, you can actually view the results as a family tree or even a timeline.

tpstry questions


How many times, as a genealogist or family historian, have you told yourself that you need to call up Aunt Tilly to get information on her children or her parents for your research? Or that you’ll send out blank family group sheets to your cousins and hope they’ll fill them out and get them back?

With tpstry, as long as family members have access to the Internet, they can participate in the project of adding information about the family.  When questions appear, you can type an answer or you can actually ask other family members for help.

In addition, tpstry allows you to create your own questions – which is great since each family is different. I could see this being used to verify certain family stories or events such as, “Did you ever attend the State Fair in Springfield, IL?”

tpstry – Not a Family Tree Site

While it might seem like a family tree website similar to Geni or others, in reality the family tree feature is just a means of displaying the information gathered from the questions.  The real strength of tpstry is the ability to prompt participants with questions that provide valuable family history information.

Some Possible Uses for tpstry

Always one to think “out of the box,” I’ve come up with some ways in which genealogists and family historians can leverage tpstry to expand the genealogy experience:

  • ancestor interview – this could be a fun way to conduct an “interview” of an ancestor and publish it as a booklet or blog post
  • family stories – use the create question feature for this and use open-ended prompts to get family members to enter their memories about specific events
  • interview scripts – if you were conducting an audio or video interview, you could use tpstry to help develop a script of questions to ask your family member being interviewed
  • client collaboration – for professional genealogists, this might be an easy way to have your clients provide the “known” information for your research project

In speaking with the creator of tpstry, Matt Johnson, I get the sense that he and the rest of the tpstry team are very open to exploring all possible ways in which the genealogy community will want to use tpstry.

One possible use is to solicit family health history / genogram information similar to what is currently done at traitwise. In the future, you’ll see more and more emphasis on family health and genealogy and I can see tpstry being used to gather this information.

I’ve also suggested the development of a widget that can be placed in a blog sidebar to entice other family members to join tpstry and provide information. Also, having the ability to embed the resulting family tree and/or timeline in a website would be useful as well.

I also hope that down the road there is an API or collaboration with other genealogy service providers to pull in their information to a family’s tpstry page. One example: let’s say your family was involved with the Boston Molasses Disaster in 1919. Wouldn’t it be great to pull in text and images from a site like GenDisasters as well as have your own family’s recollections be added to the content at GenDisasters?

Privacy Issues

As with any website that collects personal information, users will want to know not only what is done with their own personal account data, but the information entered by family members on the tpstry site. Tpstry is a “permission based” site which means that you, as the creator of the family page, must grant permission to other family members before they have access to the data and can answer questions. The information is never picked up by search engines such as Google and displayed publicly.


So far, I’ve enjoyed using tpstry and I think I may create new family pages for specific branches of my own genealogy research.  I also may try to use it with new clients for gathering the “known information” as part of the research process.

Right now, tpstry is a free service and a premium version – with a monthly subscription price model – is in the works. I’m excited to see what new features will be added and how tpstry can help others with their own genealogy and family history research.

tpstry might be a fun way to involve your family this holiday season to gather information about living relatives as well as ancestors. I suggest you take it for a spin and see what you can “weave.”

Don’t forget to follow tpstry on Twitter and Facebook!

Note: Later today I will be posting an interview with Matt Johnson, creator of tpstry, here at GeneaBloggers – stay tuned to find out more about Matt and his work.

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Disclosure statement: I do not have a material connection with tpstry or its creator, Matt Johnson. To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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