Dear Geni: It’s Not Me, It’s You

It’s not you, it’s me.

We’ve all heard that old break-up line. And nobody believes it.

Well, this time, I know it’s me.

It wasn’t perfect, but we were good together.

I joined back in 2007, after what I thought was an extremely cool demonstration of their product at the SCGS Jamboree. The free t-shirts weren’t bad, either.

Note that this was back in the days when ALL accounts were free, and PRO user accounts were just a gleam in Geni’s eye.

I was excited about the possibilities. I had visions of an involved online family, the sharing of stories, photos, discussions, wild discourse…

Didn’t happen.

I’ll admit that I was disappointed, although not entirely surprised. A few family members gave Geni a whirl, but either tired of it, or found its constant emails and reminders of birthdays and anniversaries to be annoying. Those with security clearances had serious privacy concerns, especially when they discovered their personal information popping up in search engines (“public” profiles were the default).

So even though my family didn’t care for, I hung around. Whenever I had time, I added newly-found ancestors, updated profiles, posted photos and discussions, hoping to engage someone…

To date, I have added 8,678 profiles.

8,678 profiles that I might just remove today. If I still can, that is.

Despite being tempted quite a few times, I have not yet signed on to become a Geni Pro user. I was given a free 1-year Geni Pro account at the SCGS Jamboree in June, but to be honest, I simply have not had a chance to give it a try. I didn’t want to “start the clock” until I knew I would have time to give it a fair trial.

The subtle announcement last week on the Geni blog, Geni Pro Just Got a Whole Lot Better, flew completely under my radar. I saw the post title a few times on Twitter, but in my distracted thinking, I took it to mean that Geni Pro just got a whole lot better… which had absolutely nothing to do with me, as a Geni freebie user.

Boy, was I wrong.

You’re don’t love me for who I am.

This morning, I ran into DearMYRTLE’s post, didn’t ask my opinion. (Geni didn’t ask for my opinion, either, but I wouldn’t expect them to.)

Apparently, changes are a-comin’. And not in a good way. At least, not for us feebie freeloaders.

Today, we announce the release of new permissions that are designed to accelerate the growth and improve the quality of the world family tree. Geni Pro subscribers now have full permission to add on to, edit, and merge profiles in the historical parts of the tree. Non-Pros can no longer add new profiles to the historical tree or merge profiles. By making these permissions more consistent, we ensure that anyone who can add a new profile to the historical tree can immediately merge it with any existing duplicates. These changes will benefit all of us as the world family tree continues to get bigger and better.

With this release, there are a few changes to the way search works as well. All users will continue to be able to find their close relatives, profiles they added, and profiles they follow. A Pro subscription is now required to searching through the 110+ million profiles on Geni to find new relatives to add to your tree.

(Emphasis added.)

Unless I upgrade to PRO status, I can now only search among the profiles I’ve added. Why do I need Geni for that? I can already do that on RootsMagic, without leaving my own hard drive. If the point of is collaboration, didn’t they just effectively take that away from me?

And how is this “historical tree” going to be any better than’s old “World Family Tree,” or the one that Susie Enthusiasm posted after copying names and dates from Joe, who copied from Frank, who copied from Mary, who copied from Alice, and so on and so on… ?

For the rest of us (freebies),

View and edit permissions have not changed. You can continue to view your close relatives and the entire historical tree, and you can continue to edit your closer relatives and profiles that you’ve added.

Define “close relative?” Apparently this means that freebie users can only work on or add profiles up to their  3rd great-grandparents.

All users can continue to build a family tree of their close relatives for free, and invite their relatives to view and contribute to that tree.

I don’t need to build a tree of “close relatives.” I’ve been at this for 24 years. And see above for how my family felt about contributing to the Geni tree.

Pros do not have any additional privileges on private profiles.

Well, thank goodness for that. I’d hate to log in one day and find my birth date changed, or my kid put into a different family.

She means more to you than I do.

I’ll admit that some of these PRO users get on my nerves. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a request asking me to merge a profile or telling me that my data is all wrong. Ok, I don’t claim that everything I’ve posted on has been vetted by the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard). Some of the information was “inherited,” meaning that I wound up with it via a stupid GEDCOM merge with someone else’s data, and I haven’t checked it out yet. After all, I don’t have a ton of time to investigate my husband’s uncle’s 3rd-cousin’s wife’s brother. So I apologize if I’ve done your ancestor wrong.

What really irks me – and this is not especially relevant to the current post, but I feel the need to express myself while I’m on a rant roll – are the folks who want to merge a profile, and tell me all about their genealogical “credentials” and why they are qualified to make this decision. One guy sent me a many-paragraph laundry list of his genealogical “experience,” which basically boiled down to… he’s merged a lot of profiles at Color me impressed.

Apparently the PROs were tired of people like me not responding to their requests for a merge, so has now given them free reign to merge at will.

Our relationship has become about money, hasn’t it?

Apparently $ = genealogical quality now. By allowing PRO users to merge profiles, with no need to ask or consult, Geni is taking me and my 24 years of research out of the equation, and putting “quality” into the hands of people who pay.

Every company has the right to make a buck. I support that. However, I don’t feel that is making a wise move by taking features away from free accounts. Unless I decide to pay, my data is now relegated to the whim of an unknown PRO user. I don’t like that. Wouldn’t it make more sense to entice me with fabulous PRO features that I will want to pay for, instead of taking away what I’ve already got?

And again, how will this move make Geni’s “historical tree” any more credible than what Susie Enthusiasm posted at

If you don’t love me anymore, just tell me.

Every relationship needs give and take. We can’t make it if you just take.

I was really on-board with for 4 years, and happy to promote their product. But I sense that our relationship is about to change.

It’s not me, Geni. It’s you.

*   *   *

Posts on this topic by other bloggers:

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings, “Geni Pro Just got a Whole Lot Better.” But what about Geni Free?
Tamura Jones, “Geni Changes”
DearMYRTLE, “ didn’t ask my opinion”
Diane Haddad at The Family Tree Insider, Geni Draws Fire For New User Permissions
Amy Coffin at We Tree, “Where Keggers and Social Genealogy Intersect
Thomas MacEntee at GeneaBloggers, GENI – STUCK ON STUPID
Leslie Ann at Ancestors Live Here, Geni. – OH NO YOU DIDN’T!

Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal

Elizabeth is a professional genealogist, writer, and consultant. Likes: long walks in the cemetery, and the smell of old courthouse books. Dislikes: people who copy stuff off the internet without giving credit, and county clerks who can't tell the difference between Eastern and Pacific time zones. Secretly hopes her daughter will one day develop an interest in family history (but no luck so far).

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  1. very well said, Elizabeth! Makes me feel even better about being associated with WikiTree. Free is good. Personal control is even better.

  2. I was never a member of because really how many family trees can a girl maintain, but I feel your pain. Break-ups are never easy.

  3. Great post. I have never been a fan of geni – I find the interface confusing. But the idea that some random person can modify my stuff – um, no. I can document any number of things that are true that are not what “everyone knows.” (And the opposite as well.) I understand geni wants to make a buck, fair enough, but to do so by encouraging poor genealogy isn’t right.

  4. I rarely use because I only a free account. I have never been able to use any of the other features. So I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  5. Hmmm, the hairs on the back of my neck were guiding me true. A cousin of some degree or other, contacted me in regard to a blog post of mine. She and her family were heavy into Geni, and I did a free account so I could “look around”. Dinna like it too much, seemed confusing and a tad out of control. Glad to say I haven’t put much time or energy into Geni.

  6. Thanks for the post and the link to my own.

    We use Geni the same way: as a tool for collaboration and interaction with our own family members.

    I never had an interest in the BIG TREE or all the merging drama it created. It was getting harder and harder for me to stay out of it. Now it appears I have no choice.

  7. I went to my Geni tree and changed all the names, dates, places. Come on and merge my tree. I dare you, double dog dare!! Oh, yeah and I removed all the pictures too!! Thankfully I only had a very small tree.

  8. While I’m absolutely pissed about recent changes at and in general agree with you, I can’t agree with you on one point:

    “I’ll admit that some of these PRO users get on my nerves. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a request asking me to merge a profile or telling me that my data is all wrong.”

    You sound like you’re proud of it. If you don’t have time to investigate your husband’s uncle’s 3rd-cousin’s wife’s brother, then simply merge his profile or just give that profile away to closer relative or simply don’t upload it.
    More than likely this husband’s uncle’s 3rd-cousin’s wife’s brother is someone’s grandfather.

    And what really irks me – and this is not especially relevant to the current post, but I feel the need to express myself while I’m on a rant roll – are the folks who have entered profiles of my close relatives and then simply refuse to answer my merge requests.


  9. Family Tree maker did almost the same thing to me after years of a free web site. I had so much on there then they announced you could not upload certain amount of files. I closed that account and went with Blogger because I want to be in control of what I post and how much and its free!
    I totally know where your coming from because we do a lot of years and hours on our Genealogy trees and are temped by free accounts just to loose them. Hope you have back-ups!

  10. Thanks for this. I only had a small tree (parents, siblings, kids, grandkids) and I just deleted everyone except myself (couldn’t figure out how to do that).

  11. Wow!

    My Geni account has been somewhat dormant for quite some time. Likewise, I couldn’t get my family to buy in (the free version).

    Sooo… if there’s no value in it for me or my family, I might as well take my tree down and go home.

  12. @Anonymous #2 – Of course I understand that my husband’s uncle’s 3rd-cousin’s wife’s brother is quite possibly an important ancestor to another user. And I am never proud of bad genealogy, mine or anyone else’s. When I’m asked to merge an ancestor that I know little about, I typically do it, and let the merger have at it. I did not mean to imply that I’m never willing to cooperate. However… I do get annoyed by people who approach me from the I-know-more-than-you-do-because-I’m-a-PRO-user (or a curator) perspective (I let those requests linger). I’m sorry, but just because a person shelled out the cash to use a web site doesn’t make him/her a more competent genealogist. If your ancestor is dangling in my tree, you are most welcome to his/her profile (and if you’re a PRO user, you won’t have to ask).

    And perhaps I am misunderstanding here… but how does my (or anyone’s) refusal to merge a profile cause problems in your (or anyone else’s) tree?

    For that matter, haven’t we all seen tons of “Susie Enthusiasm” trees propagating WRONG information about OUR families all over the internet? Does it bother you? Of course. Do you contact every Susie and argue with her about it? Maybe. And Susie may or may not decide to change what she’s posted. It’s her CHOICE. You don’t get to hack her tree and make the changes yourself without asking. That’s my point.

    Like @Amy Coffin, I didn’t sign up with Geni for the merge drama or the giant family tree. There was no such thing when I joined, and I had no idea that it was on the horizon. Based on the comments I’ve read on Geni’s and other’s blogs, it was a shock to everybody. Initially, I thought Geni would be more like all over again, except with a better interface and cooler features. Not so.

    @Anonymous #1 – Thanks for the laugh. I think you’ve discovered genea-revenge! 😉

    Everyone else, thank you for your comments and support. Please know that it is NOT my intention to undercut and their product here. If you are into the pay-to-play model, and you want to be part of the giant world tree, then please go for it. I just feel a bit betrayed by the recent turn of events, especially being hit from left field with no warning whatsoever. I don’t like surprises.

    (I also feel sorry for the “non-PRO” users who were using as their main database. Ouch.)

    I get the “world family tree” concept. It’s admirable. And it’s been tried before. I just don’t think Geni is going about in it the right way. In the immortal words of Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

    Question: Are genealogists inherently control freaks? I may feel another blog post coming on…

  13. Elizabeth,you said it all – and very well. I have never been an advocate of the “giant family tree merge your data with my data concept.” But that’s me. I enjoy the stories behind the people, and those usually result from document digging, not compiling names. Thank you for writing this post.

  14. Well said, Elizabeth! I would like to know how people are deleting folks from their tree. I tried to delete my entire tree by canceling my account, but was told that wasn’t an option. So I thought I would just go in and delete everyone except me … can’t do that either, apparently. Any hints?

  15. Well said, Elizabeth, and I could not agree with you more! I have the same questions as Jenny. How does one delete a tree on there? Anyone know?

  16. I just closed my account. It was not that hard. Go to your account, by clicking your photo – upper right. Account settings. Last is Close Account. It works. 😉

  17. Thanks, Bill, but I was asking for someone else and he tried to close his account and it said that he had to switch the ownership of the profiles that he had added to someone else before closing the account. He later closed it but it did not remove any of the people on his tree and it did switch the management of those people to someone else. So closing your account does not delete your tree. The information is still there for Pro users to take.

  18. I’m with Jennie and Debbie, I need to know how to delete the profiles I control (in a free account), so then I can delete my account. I don’t want to leave the info out there. I sent a question to Geni, but I don’t expect them to answer. They probably only answer if you pay.

  19. Thanks for your analysis: great job!

  20. My relationship with lasted just two very frustrating days. A Google search showed there was a name on there i was interested in. But you have to join to be able to see it. I joined.

    But you have to upload a tree to join properly. I did. But you have to identify tyourself on your tree. And Geni. com insisted that I was my g-g-g-g- grandfather, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

    Deleted the whole thing and started from scratch. It then told me that I was my wife’s third cousin once removed. Ask for help. But you have to be a pro member at $9.95 a month to get help.

    I gave up.


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