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So Was I Too Rough on Geni?


In yesterday’s post Geni – Stuck on Stupid I basically did something I do from time to time: got up on my soapbox, went on a rant, a diatribe.  Everyone knows I very often tell it like it “tee eye is” as I call it. My Harper Valley PTA moment I guess. My mom was full of them which I absolutely loved because it taught me that there are times when you just have to stand up and speak your mind. But to also take responsibility for your words.

Was my rant justified? Probably? Was I being fair to Geni? I think so. Was I right? It isn’t about being right.  It is about thinking, evaluating and believe it or not, caring.

Thomas cares? Of course I do.  If I didn’t I would have ignored the entire community conversation and gone on my way with other things.  I do care and I think that there is quite a bit of good for our community that can come about from this current online conversation about Geni and its decision.

I used a lot of relationship analogies in yesterday’s post and they still hold true.  One thing with being in a relationship, that I’ve found at least, is that it should be high on conversation as well as action. When there is a falling out, though it may take time, there should be conversation. And it has been proven that when these things happen, we get introspective.  And that’s what is important – we talk, we examine, we discuss and we go on to forge those ideals which are meaningful and important to us as a community.

So here goes.  I very likely will touch upon these topics over the next few days especially with an Open Thread Thursday post (it was high time to revive that anyway):

  • Given Geni’s goal of a world collaborative family tree (and it is the goal of other vendors as well), is this even desirable or attainable? Does it have value? If you were king or queen of the genealogy world, how would you build such a “definitive” tree?
  • Are we as genealogy bloggers justified in expecting a certain level of engagement with genealogy vendors? Are we looking at this as a courtesy, an entitlement, a right? What value does such engagement have?
  • Genealogy data is very personal, despite the fact that is is just that: facts and many of which are in the public domain.  Should family historians have a sense of ownership for this data? Stewardship? Does this work for or against the collaborative family tree concept?
  • With Geni, where do you think things will be a year from now? Seriously – think about other vendors in the genealogy industry who have done stupid things. What did it take for them to be in “right relationship” with the genealogy community? Was the reputation ever restored or did they move forward with a few dings and dents?

Is the community’s relationship with Geni repairable? To an extent but it will take time. Should we continue to be critical? Yes if critical means solid evaluation of a product or company and reporting to the community especially when a company engages in certain practices. We should hold each and every vendor to the same standard.

Finally, on a more personal level, I want the community to know that despite my harsh words for Geni and even some of their team members like  George Gearhart and Grant Brunner, we are dealing with people and feelings here.  Geni, up until now, has been heavily engaged with the genealogy community and they have a great team of front line workers like Grant and George.  Seriously. I suspect they’ve been given the crap job of selling something that no one wants and the decree came down from the mountain top. I want the community to understand this and know that I’m not always the best example of how to treat a genealogy colleague.  For that I am sorry and apologize. I can empathize with them because for years I was in the same position of selling something that stunk and I had to tolerate the feedback and criticism. So all I’m asking is that when we engage with vendors and others, we try to separate out the “company” from the “people” who unfortunately have to deliver and appear to believe in a bad decision.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

18 thoughts on “So Was I Too Rough on Geni?

  1. Thomas,
    While I have not participated in I have followed the conversation with grear interest. As evidenced by the comments to your previous post, your post was well received by the genealogical community. You summarized the basic issues for the broader community of genealogists and family historians. GENI instituted some policies and practices in ways that were inappropriate for maintaining good customer relations. Judging from the high number of blog posts and comments, the geneablogging community “gets it.” We are a community with high standards… anything less will not be easily passed by. The only question left: does GENI “get it?”

    It didn’t seem to me that an apology was in order (unless it came from GENI). Your post was clearly about company policies and practices, not about any individuals. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thomas – thank you for your passion and honesty. I very much look forward to following this discussion over the coming days. These are obviously important issues for Geni and the genealogy community as a whole. I truly believe that Geni is doing something unique by building a single, shared tree, and I look forward to what the community has to say about our vision.

    If you haven’t seen, I posted an open letter to our community earlier today: I look forward to continuing the conversation.

    Noah Tutak
    CEO, Geni

  3. Personally, I think a vision of a single shared tree is a nightmare. I don’t see how a world collaborative tree will ever be of much value unless all participating genealogists are at the same level of ability and competence (and I mean a very high level).

    Anyone ever try convincing someone who pointed and clicked their way to a family tree that you have actual documentation disproving some branch on that tree? What happens when that person constantly changes the correct information in a profile? My guess is the person with the valid data will get tired of trying and move on to something that isn’t a complete waste of their time and Geni will be left with junk that is about as valuable as the Ancestry One World Tree.

    (BTW, I set up a free account at Geni a long time ago but never actually loaded any information.)

  4. Noah: Building a single, shared tree is not unique to Geni. This is the mission of, which is entirely free for everyone.

    Linda: Your nightmare visions are my nightmare visions. Building a single, shared tree is a great challenge. I don’t discount any of the obstacles. We work on them every day at WikiTree, as I’m sure they do at Geni.

    Building a worldwide family tree isn’t easy. We may not succeed. It will certainly never be perfect. But I don’t think most WikiTreers will ever think they’ve wasted their time. We’ve connected thousands of distant cousins and helped break down innumerable brick walls.

  5. Linda: Your right, that is a nightmare. Thankfully I didn’t have too many people on my Geni tree, deleted them and cancelled my subscription. I not only dislike the changes they have made but I also dislike how they responded to the furvor of responses not only to their customers, but to other geneabloggers who responded to their fiasco.

    Chris: Why a single shared tree? I wouldn’t want to share information with someone who has no connection to my family and I wouldn’t want them to merge with any info I have. I was one of the geneabloggers who obtain my Geni subcription for free at Jamboree in June and I hesitated in signing up because I had a feeling that something like this would happen. I should have listed to my instincts. I know that not all companies similar to Geni will conduct their business like Geni but it makes me hesitant to want to subscribe to a collaborative tree, free or not.

  6. What I hope will happen out of all this is that companies generally (whether Geni or any other companies) will go back to the old standard of what a contract is: agreement between a WILLING seller and a WILLING buyer, whether actual cash is exchanged or not. Reserving the “right” to change things without so much as a by-your-leave to those customers who are, in the case of Geni, providing the content from which the company hopes to profit is arrogant in the extreme.

    People need to be able to give informed consent to any agreement they sign, not blindly accede to having conditions changed behind their backs. This and the “shrink-wrap license” were foisted upon us before we knew what was going on — companies pulled a fast one, and both these concepts should have been tested in court before they were allowed to become “precedent.”

    So, fellow genealogists, continue having high standards and holding these companies accountable!

    Noah: Geni is not unique with the ‘world tree’ concept. Not only is WikiTree doing it, but WeRelate is also doing it. Where you got the idea you were unique is beyond me.

  7. Were you too rough on Geni? Absolutely not!! What do I think of a world family tree? To echo what Linda has already said, a total nightmare! I have had instances where I contacted people who had incorrect information posted and, even with proof, they refused to change the incorrect information. I don’t need nor want to deal with that.

    As for Geni, they have made it impossible to remove a tree which someone uploaded himself. Why does Geni now think that the tree belongs to them? If someone uploads a tree, he should be able to delete that tree. Also, someone who uploaded a tree cannot edit those people in his tree which are beyond 3rd great grandparents. So, Geni takes the information that we have spend over 15 years gathering, and makes us pay to remove it before someone else with a Pro account comes along and takes all of our hard work with just a click of the mouse button? How can anyone consider this a good business practice? I don’t. I call it robbery.

  8. Patricia: Why a single shared tree?

    I don’t see it as something genealogists create for themselves. Genealogists have already researched their family tree. They know their roots.

    A shared tree is something that genealogists can give to the rest of the world.

    Almost everyone wants to know where they come from. Everyone has some interest in their family history. But very few have the high degree of motivation and discipline to do the research. Only a few people are real genealogists.

    So, when you contribute your research to WikiTree, I don’t see it as a selfish act. I see it as something you do for others. With every contribution, with every step toward a worldwide family tree, it becomes easier for anyone and everyone to discover their roots.

    There are definitely benefits to participating. Many genealogists — even some dedicated genealogists who have been researching for many years — have reported that WikiTree helped them discover new information and connect with cousins they never knew existed. There are a few examples here: and the press release from yesterday has a few more:

    And although we don’t actively encourage it, WikiTree can be used in a completely selfish way. You could just add a few generations of modern family history and use it to share with your close family members. You can keep everything locked-up behind privacy protections. We have an “Unlisted” privacy level that means even the name isn’t public. And it’s easy to change the privacy level of every profile you’re managing on one form.

    Even participating on this level helps the WikiTree mission, as long as you don’t mind if more distant cousins connect your modern family history with the worldwide tree. Your modern family history would still be locked-up for only those you allow to see it, but it would be seamlessly connected back to deeper, widely-shared ancestry.


  9. I’ve seen references to We Relate, Wikitree, Our Family Tree, and Appletree. I’ve bookmarked them for further study, but frankly, after the experience with, I’m leery of trusting another family tree site.

  10. I’m a Geni “member” who hasn’t a clue how to get in touch with anybody at Geni. Has anybody given Geni a good chewing-out about that? What and why are they hiding — while also telling me to “feel free” to ask Grant Brunner, whom they call their “community outreach” guy, any question I like, but without telling me how to reach him? And is it true there’s only one “community outreach” guy to handle all outside contact for a website that wants to string the world’s billions together? Come to think of it, I’d be running away from that too — but doesn’t Geni have to open a gate somewhere and let in the voices of their paying customers? Have others found the gate I can’t find?

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