FamNet for Groups

Genealogy is exploding in popularity world wide, with more and more people taking up the search for their ancestors.  Many of these people are teenagers and young adults: no longer is family history the preserve of the aged, people who have retired and now have the time for time-consuming research, and trips to distant libraries.  For a genealogist, these are the best of times[1]. Yet genealogy societies around the world are struggling to remain relevant.   To the new generation of genealogists the web is all-important, and the traditional activities of societies are largely irrelevant. To survive and prosper in this new age genealogy societies must actively exploit the web, not just having a web site but providing valuable content – resources such as family trees and reference databases – on line.   People will join groups if they see value in these resources, increasingly they will stay away if the group has little of value on line.   A web site cannot duplicate the social value of meeting friends at physical meetings, but physical meetings cannot duplicate the value of the information resources and geographical reach of a web site.  Groups need to do both!


Famnet has many features especially designed to appeal to genealogy and family history societies, local history societies, and similar groups. 

1.                Bulk Membership discounts

A group can purchase membership subscriptions for all of its members[2], paying a discounted fee to FamNet that gives their members full (subscriber-level) access to FamNet.  Discounts depend on the group’s size.


This allows the group to advertise as one of its benefits; that members get full access to FamNet.    If a grant has been obtained to pay for FamNet membership, then the group may be able to advertise a “$25 benefit” that actually costs the group very little.

2.                Subscription commissions

A group may elect not to provide bulk membership, but to encourage members to subscribe to FamNet individually through a link to FamNet on their web site.   Naturally the discounts are not as great as above, but FamNet will pay a commission on any subscriptions that result from people following this link.   This may prove a useful revenue source for the group, depending on the level of interest in FamNet from their members


Even greater benefits are realized with a branded FamNet site, where an interest in FamNet may even be converted directly into society membership.

3.                Membership Management and communication

If a group has chosen the bulk membership option, then they will have supplied a member list to FamNet to give these members access to FamNet, and one or more of their members will be their group administrator.  Because there is now a group membership list within FamNet, the group administrator has facilities to: -

a.                   Manage the group’s membership list, either on line or by download/upload of spreadsheets.

b.                  Group members into sub-groups – committee, project teams, etc.  Members can belong to several sub-groups

c.                   Send messages and newsletters to group and subgroup members.

d.                  Create and manage the group’s event calendar.


The group may decide to continue with their existing membership system and web pages, or use the facilities provided by FamNet.   FamNet membership lists could be downloaded and synchronized with the group’s local membership system.


A group’s membership list is confidential between FamNet and the group.  Individual FamNet members may be a member of several groups: a group administrator cannot find out the other memberships of their own members.

4.                Create Digital Resources

A group may pursue a strategy of becoming the center of genealogy expertise and information for their area.  To do this, they need to create databases such as cemetery burial lists, public notices, electoral roles, etc., and then make these available on line, perhaps for a fee, or to their members only.


FamNet provides facilities to make this easy.   Tables (databases) can be easily defined, becoming immediately available to the table owner for update, either on line or via spreadsheet download/upload. Tables may not only contain simple field types – text, number, dates, etc – but can also include images and attachments so that the original forms of documents can be put on line as well as the transcribed index information.


The table owner (usually the person who creates the table) may choose to make their table freely available to all FamNet users, to restrict it to members of a particular group, or to charge a subscription for access to the table.  FamNet will charge a commission or fee for restricted and subscription tables.


These digital resources could become a significant reason to join your group, especially if valuable tables were “members only”.

5.                Site Branding

For larger groups a branded version of FamNet can be delivered, making the site appear as your own genealogy database.   Branding would involve these changes: -

a.                   You would use your own “FamNet URL”, either from a browser or from a link on your own existing web site.

b.                  Visitors to this URL who want to subscribe to “your FamNet” might have to subscribe to your group to do so, especially if you have selected the bulk membership option for your group.   This would directly drive group membership.   Alternatively, if your group have made FamNet an option, then a subscription to FamNet through your URL would earn a commission payment for your group.

c.                   This URL would choose your master page and theme: -

                           i.                  The master page provides a “frame” in which the content is displayed.  Look at a few pages from www.famnet.org.nz: you can see that each page appears with a standardized heading, left-column, and footing.  There could also be a right-column, although this is not currently used.  Your group might define your own master page, with graphics and text to give it a distinctive appearance, and make it appear part of your normal web site.

                         ii.                  A theme defines the colours and fonts that are used.  Currently FamNet uses the default theme, but it is set up so that groups can define their own themes.

d.                  Advertising, if carried, could be different to that carried by the base FamNet site.   You would be responsible for selling advertising and setting up the advertisements, FamNet would charge a commission on the advertising revenue.

e.                   The text of the Introduction tab of the home page can be specific to your site. 

f.                    When trees are submitted to the GDB (genealogy database), they are identified as your trees.   GDB searches can be restricted to just your trees, or be general.  However the GDB itself is a single database, so that (for example) duplicate matching finds duplicates anywhere in the database.

g.                   The facilities general resource databases,  Documents, and Community will default to your resources, documents, and community facilities only, although options will allow users to see all resource databases, documents, and community facilities by choosing appropriate options.

h.                   Languages other than English can be supported.  The group may need to help with translation, and there will be some extra costs associated with this. 

6.                Site Hosting 

Subject to user demand, facilities could be developed so that individual users and groups could develop their own template-based web sites, to be hosted within FamNet.

7.                Ongoing Development

FamNet is rapidly developing, adding new features and improving existing ones every month.  For example, FamNet is currently in discussion with some individuals within the LDS about participating in a program to develop a new genealogy standard, replacing the GEDCOM standard that is now woefully out of date.  When available, FamNet intends to be among the leaders supporting this new standard.  Also, expect liaisons with other sites extending the value of FamNet searches. 


Within FamNet’s own development, expect improvements in facilities for uploading media (scrapbook) items, more functions for viewing tree data (improvements to GDBChart), and ongoing development in response to user feedback.  (Groups are particularly influential in helping to determine development priorities and decide matters of policy).   All these improvements will be available to groups as they are to individual FamNet users, and most will be available within the general subscription without further charges.


With more than five man-years of development so far invested in FamNet and more to come, supporting FamNet is far more cost effective than licensing or developing your own software.

[1] Quote from Curt Witcher, who is the Manager, The Genealogy Centre,  Allen County Public Library. This quote is from his keynote address to the Rootstech conference, February 11th 2011, at Salt Lake City.

[2] Excluding members without email addresses.