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Genes Reunited is a sister website of Friends Reunited, a website that helps old school friends trace one another. It's one of the most useful genealogy websites I've come across to date.
Shortly after the birth of my son a little over a year ago, I stumbled across this site via Friends Reunited. My then Father-In-Law had already talked about researching his family tree and with the arrival of my new baby I decided it would be a good idea to trace my roots. With most of my family not on speaking terms I thought the task might prove at least very difficult if not impossible but Genes Reunited made it relatively easy.
I had to pay a subscription fee of 7.50 (currently 9.95) if I wanted to contact other members however I was able to view the site contents and use their family tree maker software for free. On discovering the name of a possible relative I decided to pay the subscription after a few weeks and so my journey began.
Possibly the easiest way to make this review both useful and informative is to mention the various functions the site provides accompanied by a short description of how they work.
First up we have "My Homepage" which is exactly what you would expect from the title. A basic overview of functions you might find helpful along with a shortcut to your tree which is bit pointless as there is a shortcut to it on the taskbar that remains constantly on the left hand side of the screen.
Next you have "Messages" which you can use to send and receive private messages to/from other members. The message centre is logically set out with new messages always appearing at the top of your inbox however if you let your messages pile up it can take a very long time to clear out as you have to delete each message via an individual tick box system.
Then we have your "Account Details" which includes your personal information. An important note if you're considering subscribing to the site is that if you want to keep details of living relatives confidential when allowing other members to view your tree, this is where you have the option of concealing your living relatives by ticking a box. The information contained on this page isn't accessible to other members.
The option "Family Tree" will take you to your family tree. I found the family tree software so good that despite my growing tree I see no reason to pay out for "proper software" and continue to use this free version. I didn't need any help setting up my tree or adding to it as the layout is so simple and easy to use. You appear at the start of your tree automatically and have the options beside your name to add spouse, child, sibling or parents. You simply click on the type of relation you wish to add and enter their details into the boxes. Certain information is required (name, year of birth, place of birth) but if you don't know you can simply type in "unknown" or tick the circa box for year of birth. Every new relative you add will then have the same options for adding relatives as you started with and there is no limit to the amount of partners, siblings or children you can add to each relative. As your tree grows you'll find you can't view all the information at once. When you click on a relative, the screen automatically centres their immediate family onto the screen so you can see at a glance who their relatives are. An extremely useful function for those with large trees is the search box at the top of the screen that allows you to bring up any relative from your tree without having to go back relative by relative.
The next option on the main page is "Shared Trees" and once you've made contact with a few members you'll find this function invaluable too. Although you create your tree on the website, it's kept private unless you choose to reveal it to other members by checking a box against their name in your message centre (click the tab "contacts"). If you find a member on the site who has the same relatives in their tree as you do then you'll be able to view one another's tree and exchange information easily (having opted to allow one another permission). My top tip for taking down information from someone else's tree is to have two windows open at once; one for your tree and one for theirs.
"Search Family Records" is a bit of a pointless function in my opinion. When you click on the link it simply brings up pretty picture boxes with links to the three links that are listed directly below "Search Family Records" in the taskbar.
"Hot Matches" is a brilliant idea. They have some kind of search engine software that matches up the relatives in your family tree with the relatives in everyone else's. Once every two weeks you'll receive an email listing members with common ancestors. They're not always the right people, they might have different places of birth to your ancestors or even have exactly matching details but just be a coincidence but it's a great place to start. From your Hot Matches you can message other members, tell them a little bit about what you know of the relative(s) in question and ask if they think you might share relatives. A lot of the time you'll be disappointed but every now and then a little gem turns up and you suddenly have twenty ancestors to add to your tree thanks to your great aunt's husband's second cousin. You'd be surprised.
Below "Hot Matches" is "Search Records" which is basically a way for you to search the database yourself. Although you are unable to view other people's trees without their permission, you're able to view names, places and dates of births which is enough information for you to decide whether or not you should contact a member and see if you have a match. Although "Hot Matches" does this automatically once a fortnight, sometimes you might not want to wait if you've just added a new ancestor and other times you'll be researching an ancestor that you're not able to add to your tree just yet.
"My Tree Matches" brings up a spreadsheet style page that lists all the surnames in your family tree. Beside each surname you can see how many other people have this name in their tree and how many people have posted on the message boards "trying to find", "History" and "General". Each surname has it's own message boards created automatically by Genes Reunited every time a new surname is added to the site.
The next link in the taskbar is to the "Message Boards" which are general message boards for the site. There are six boards to choose from: "General Topics" is where members go to talk about their cats, play games, have a moan or chat to friends. Be warned that the boards are not moderated and can turn very nasty when people start arguing. If you're looking to research your family tree and don't want to join the community and get involved in members' personal lives then best steer clear of this board. Next board is "Success Stories" where members share their success stories about relatives and ancestors they've found thanks to Genes Reunited. It's positive feedback for the site basically. Next is "Trying to Find" where you can locate the board for the surname you're interested in and post a message to see if other people researching that surname have any information that might help you. Then there's the "Tips Board" which has helped me a lot over the time. You can post questions about problems you're having with your research and other members will try to help you - usually really quickly. Unlike the "General Board" you'll find members that use this board are usually very friendly and helpful if not a little aloof sometimes. A lot of members will offer to do look ups for you if they have paid for subscriptions to other sites. Next is "Chat" where people do just that. There are no threads on this board, it's just one long thread that people post to in conversation although to be honest I've not once been able to fathom a conversation out of the gibberish... Finally there's "Records Office" where you can liase with other members who are visiting local records offices. If you intend on visiting a records office then you can offer to do look ups for other members who can't travel to that particular office and vice versa.
After the message boards comes the option "Import/Export Tree". Here you can choose to import a gedcom file containing a family tree you've already started or you can export your tree for use in another piece of family tree software.
Then we have "My Relations" which in my opinion is a completely pointless list of all your relations. I'm not quite sure why anyone would need to view their individual relations and ancestors in one long list but apparantly Genes Reunited felt this option might in some way be useful. If I find a use for this list I'll let you know.
At the bottom of the taskbar is the "Help" section which includes "Tell a Friend" if you want to refer someone to the site, "Help/FAQs" for troubleshooting, "Text Only Site" if you want the graphics to disappear, "Contact Us" in the hope they might bother to respond, "Link to us" if you want to place a link to the site on your own website and "Text too Small?" if you're having trouble reading the site.
That's the taskbar for you and the various options you'll be getting for your 9.95 annual subscription fee. In addition you can access some of the census records via your homepage however there is an additional charge for this. You can look up census pages for free at your local library or you can pay a subscription fee to a records site (I would recommend Ancestry.co.uk for 70 pounds a year) which would be cheaper in the long run. Pay per view through Genes Reunited seems like a good idea at the time but the charges quickly add up.
For the price you're paying I would recommend this site to anyone interested in researching their family tree. I started with about 25 relatives in my tree and now have an amazing 861 relatives and ancestors in there, some of whom date back to the 1500's. My tree has provided me with hours of entertainment through research that's been both challenging and interesting in places. Although I owe a lot of the groundwork to my having to slog through records on Ancestry, it was thanks to Genes Reunited that I came across my early relatives. For some branches of my tree I have come across distant relatives who use Genes Reunited and have shared their parish records research with me. And sharing research is really what Genes Reunited is all about. You don't have to know anything about your ancestors when you start. As long as you know your parents names you'll get somewhere. According to Genes Reunited there are now 95,000,000 relations in the database making them the best place to start.
There's only one bad thing I have to say about Genes Reunited and that's their complete lack of member support. If you email them with a question they often don't bother to reply. They refuse to moderate their message boards to stop members abusing one another and this can prove distressing even if you're not involved. With all the members that use the site and pay subscription fees I'm quite sure they could afford to employ moderators and reply to emails however they choose to protect their profits instead. Bearing in mind that most of the advantages of the site rely on automatic computer programs and other members, all the company are really doing is cashing in on an initial idea. The only update I've seen in the year I've been a member is a new family tree (allegedly improved but to me just different graphics and an altered lay out).
Despite this my advice would be to sign up and hand over your tenner. The site rarely experiences technical problems and if you stay off the general topics board you're unlikely to encounter problems with other members. If tracing your family tree is something you're interested in then I can think of no better place to start.
Excellent review - I've used the site for five years or so and you have highlighted a lot of the good and the bad sides of Genes Reunited.
I definitely agree on the support side - enter into any correspondence of length if you have a problem and it soon becomes clear that none of the people who answer you know anything about computer queries and technical support.