I’ve been thinking of moving my family’s genealogy website from MyHeritage. The site has a large subscriber base, and lets you build a family tree collaboratively while sharing photos.

Feeling Locked-In

It’s the latter that’s become a sore point. After four years of fee increases, MyHeritage seems to be spending nothing on improving multimedia, beyond an iPhone app. The user interface for managing albums remains klunky. You can’t download a larger album all at once; you have to download its photos individually. The workaround is to copy subsets of photos to a smaller, second album. Similarly, I’ve seen no improvement in video, user administration, or any other content.

In an age with dozens of free social sharing options, how can they survive? I get the impression that MyHeritage and Ancestry.com have succeeded in buying up their closest competitors. They’re primarily genealogy search engines. The website features are mainly there to attract customers to these other services. They feel confident enough that their customers are locked-in to raise prices.

Downloading My Files

To give me the freedom to cancel my subscription, I need to download all family history and photos. There are three sets of files I know of:

  • GEDCOM file (family tree data)
  • Photos associated with each person in the GEDCOM file
  • Photo albums (uploaded by family members)

The GEDCOM file can be downloaded easily from the administrator account (other users won’t even see this option). The photo albums can also be downloaded with a little effort. Most can be downloaded as a single .zip file that bundles up all the images. As noted above, you’ll need to download larger albums in chunks. I copied them in batches of 50-60 photos to “new” albums, then downloaded those smaller albums.

The photos inside the GEDCOM file are the issue. Although there is an option to download the individual photos along with the GEDCOM file, my export didn’t contain them. Perhaps I neglected to checkmark something. If you have the same problem, you’ll need to do a small amount of programming to retrieve them. Open the .ged file and search for lines like this:

2 FILE http://www.myheritageimages.com/D/storage/site999999999/files/99/99/99/999999_xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.JPG

These are the URL’s for each image. The “9” will be a number. The “x” may be a number or letter. Regardless, one way to gather the URL’s into a single file using Linux is:

grep myheritageimages "" | cut -b 8- > myheritage-urls.txt

Then you can download them one at a time, using a utility like wget:

for i in `cat myheritage-urls.txt`; do wget `echo $i | tr -d '\r'`; done

Looking For An Alternative

I’ll admit, it’s tough to find another service that combines all the features I want. As mentioned above, the competition has pretty much disappeared. I can find far better web-based social/photo sharing sites for my family, but they don’t include genealogy features. Conversely, I can find well-reviewed genealogy software, but it’s designed for offline (desktop) use. You can export files to the web, but the data is static. It’s not the same as having a live family tree where others can drop in, add and change details.

After a lot of searching, I’ve purchased a popular web-based genealogy application called The Next Generation of Genealogy Site Building, or “TNG” by its users. It’s designed for the user to manage their own website, and can be installed on any shared hosting service that supports PHP. The software has a long-time developer and an active community forum. It costs 25% of a one-year MyHeritage subscription, and I only have to pay that fee once unless I upgrade.

Will it be enough? For genealogy, I can already tell you that it works well. I was able to import my MyHeritage GEDCOM and photos easily. Site administration is a snap.

The challenge will be adding the content management and multimedia features. TNG can integrate with other CMS applications, but that work is on you. Some users have successfully installed it so that it appears seamlessly within their Wordpress sites. That’s my next goal. If I succeed, I’ll have access to many Wordpress plugins. And I’ll be able to provide my family the experience MyHeritage won’t.