Announcing Beechroots, An Online Genealogy Tool
It’s tough to believe, but over the last three years my father, Mark Hagenbuch, and I have written and shared over 160 articles on Hagenbuch.org. In that sense, the website has been successful at creating a digital record of our family.
However, from the very beginning of our collaboration, we noticed the site had an underlying problem. While written articles are an excellent way to share research, stories, and photographs, they are inadequate for organizing family member records.
Ask most people what they think genealogy is about, and they will almost certainly mention something about family trees. Unfortunately, Hagenbuch.org has not been an ideal platform for creating and exploring these.
With this in mind, we began work on a new, online genealogy tool called Beechroots. Today, we are happy to share it with you, and you may visit it at beechroots.com. Beechroots is not meant to replace Hagenbuch.org. Instead, it is designed to augment this site and make searching for records much easier. Yes, it does family trees too!
Before starting to build Beechroots, my father and I examined a number of existing applications. Ancestry.com was one of these, since we frequently use it for researching family documents. Nevertheless, we had several concerns about Ancestry’s family trees feature. First, users must keep paying for Ancestry’s service in order to have ongoing access to their data. If we ever decided to stop using Ancestry, we would need to quickly download all our data or risk losing it.
Second, each user works to build their own family tree. On the face of it, this wouldn’t appear to be an issue. Yet, considering that all of us are on the same family tree, this strategy makes less sense. It often results in one person with multiple records containing conflicting or incorrect information.
After months of brainstorming, we began to imagine a system that was open and collaborative like Wikipedia, but was built around family trees. Here, every unique person, place, or event would get its own record. Users would work together to edit these, so there would be less chance of duplicates. Although unlike Wikipedia, we wanted the platform to accept pages for any person, no matter how ordinary a life he or she lived. (Wikipedia only allows pages to be created for notable people.)
The result of this process was Beechroots.com, which we are now sharing with you, our family and friends. At first glance, Beechroots is a tool where you can search for information about ancestors. If you signup for an account, you add information too, including people, places, events, and photos.
Every page on the site encourages collaboration, enabling other users to discuss the accuracy of information and make edits. Like Wikipedia, sources can be linked to and cited. All edits are saved in order to keep a record of what was changed and who changed it. This, along with other key metrics, factor into building a reputation score for every user.
What makes Beechroots truly powerful, however, is the way it allows people to be linked to one another, as well as to events, places, and photos. It is through this that the site can quickly generate family trees and display the relationships between family members. Future articles on Hagenbuch.org will use the trees on Beechroots to better exhibit the connections within families.
We have already entered over 700 people into Beechroots, most of which came from my father’s aging, paper records. In this way, the site has already become an invaluable tool for digitizing information and making it searchable. It has also enabled us to collaborate on fixing and updating old records.
Beechroots is a work in progress, and there is still much left to do. Not only must we enter thousands of family members into the system, we also need to build additional features and improve usability. As a result, we look forward to seeing you try out the site and begin contributing to it!
To get started, look and see if you are already entered into Beechroots. You can do this by visiting beechroots.com and searching for your name in the bar at the top of the page. Once found, you can scroll to the bottom of your page and claim it from the person who created it. This will give you the ability to manage your record, set it as your profile, and make it private, if you wish. If you can’t find yourself on the site, you can signup for a free account and begin adding your information to Beechroots.
My father and I are happy to share Beechroots with our Hagenbuch family, but we also encourage anyone interested in genealogy to give it a try. Our goal is to give everyone the chance to find and connect with their ancestors, whether they are on the Hagenbuch family tree or another.