RootsFinder – a New Online Family Tree

RootsFinder.com

One of the semi-finalists at the RootsTech Innovator Showdown this year was RootsFinder, a new online family tree site. As I was busy with my own booth I didn’t get to inquire about this new service at the time. So last week I signed up for a free account and started playing with it.

To be honest, at first I was a bit skeptical. Why does the industry need another online tree website? But I was also intrigued. RootsFinder must have some features they feel are missing from existing products in the market place or they wouldn’t spend the effort to create this one.

Things I like

Here are some of the features I like about the RootsFinder site I have been playing with since RootsTech :

  1. Interface
  2. Views and Reports
  3. Source stars
  4. Leads
  5. Web Clipper
  6. Control

Lets take a quick look at each of these items.

Interface

Onboarding new users is done very well with screen tips to guide you through the interface.

The user interface is clean and very fast. For example, expanding the tree view adds another three generations instantly with no delay. This can take a couple seconds on a site like FamilySearch. Overall it seems intuitive and I like the screen tips that appear when you first use the site to help familiarize you with all the features.

View and Reports

I was surprised at the number of Views and Reports that were already available. I don’t have time to discuss them all here. View include the standard tree view that you would expect as well as a “Ancestors Fan” chart view and an “Ancestors Fractal” view. The Ancestors Fan includes a neat feature that helps you “trace” your line back to the individual you hover your mouse over.

The Ancestors Fractal view seems promising and interesting, but I think I need to play with it some more. I hoped to be able to zoom in and out to different areas of the tree bringing certain segments to the forefront while pushing others to the background. However, it just seems to show the branches of the tree “fade” as they get farther away from the root person.

The other 3 views include “Ancestors and Descendants”, “Descendants List”, and “Descendants Sunburst”. Each of these visualizations can give researchers a fresh perspective on their tree and are more than just fun alternatives.

Reports include traditional pedigree, family groups, and fan charts. It also includes Ahnentafel (a common format seen in genealogy books), Place List, and People Without Parents.

Source Rating

Each person on your tree is given a “rating” using 1-5 stars. This rating indicates how many sources are attached to that person, and gives you an idea of how reliable the information is. I think this is a great feature, especially since I believe the ease of sourcing is one of the big draws to the RootsFinder website.

Leads

Like research suggestions, hints, or “shaky leaf” clues, RootsFinder provides research leads. What makes this unique, however, is RootsFinder finds the leads using their smart matching technology and they come from a variety of sources. Currently their partners include FamilySearch and FindMyPast, but they are planning to add other partners in the near future. This is a great resource, because it brings the best of several sites and services to one location. No need to have a tree on multiple sites just to get hints from their data collection.

Web Clipper

a simple Chrome plugin helps you using anything you find on the web as a source and easily attach it and reference it properly. This allows you to automatically pull in indexed data and metadata about the source. It also can quickly attach the source to multiple people and associate it with multiple facts or conclusions. This take a lot of the tedium out of the important work of documenting your research and gives you more time to enjoy discovering your family. You can see how it works in this YouTube video produced by RootsFinder.

Control

Your tree is private. You can invite other users to view or edit your tree, so you have control over what people can see and change in your tree.

Miscellaneous

There are other features I like too. For example, the Person Profile page has a Timeline view very similar to Ancestry’s. This allows you to visualize the major life events of this individual including immediate family members. I also love how responsive the staff is. A unique feature is “Conversations with RootsFinder,” a kind of chat window that is always available. I had a question about one of the features and Heather responded within just a couple minutes. That is pretty cool and very personal. There are many other features that I haven’t had time to try out yet as well. I look forward to using this site some more.

Needs Improvement

A “Media View” promises to be interested to browse and explore pictures and stories of your ancestors.

A couple things didn’t work so well, and I hope to see improvements. When I first registered I chose to import my tree from FamilySearch. RootsFinder asks you how many generations you want to import. I chose 8 generations. It took nearly 3 hours to finish importing my data! Granted, they are importing all the names, dates, sources, and memories from FamilySearch so I expect to take some time, but 3 hours seemed excessive. Also, the “Media” view seemed like a promising, fun way to browse photos and stories, but it was sluggish at first.

In summary, I am very interested to see where this new site goes. They have taken a very thoughtful approach to designing a website that makes it easy and inviting for someone to start an online tree. The interface is clean and uncluttered and yet modern looking. They seem to have identified some pain points to current software (whether online or desktop-based) and addressed those in their offering.

Have you tried RootsFinder? Please comment and share your experience!

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