Tech Tuesday – UncleGED

Welcome to the first post in a series I call “Tech Tuesday”. In this series I will combine my thirty-plus years of Information Technology experience with genealogy and family history. Subjects will range from software (and perhaps hardware) reviews to how-to tips to full-blown technical tutorials. The first installment in the series is a review of the GEDCOM to HTML conversion software, UncleGED.

As I said in an earlier post, these GEDCOM to web conversion programs seem to have fallen from favor. I was not able to find one that was currently under active development. UncleGED is not an exception, although it has been converted to an open source project on Codeplex and at least one minor bug fix was done this year.

Bottom Line Up Front

I chose to use PHPGedView on my website because I have the expertise to manage my own websites and databases, use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to format my web pages, and do a little PHP programming. If I wasn’t tech savvy enough to do all that, I would have chosen UncleGED. It works and it has lots of options for formatting and choosing your data that you manage with a simple checkbox.

UncleGED At A Glance

Using the Software

Download and Installation

UncleGED can be downloaded from the UncleGED website listed above. It is in a .zip file so you’ll have to extract the files. Most people know how to do that, but in Windows you just right-click on the file name and choose “Extract All”. Done.

Once the files have been extracted you can install on Windows using either the “Setup.exe” file or the “UncleGED.msi” file. Both run basically the same installation process. The installation process is pain-free and ran without incident. You’ll need to choose where to install the file, but going with the default should work for most people.

Running the Program

UncleGED opens in familiar Windows fashion. The interface is tabbed and you can go through each tab in turn, although the default options will give you satisfactory results in most cases.

Project Tab

Project Name: Enter a name for your project here.

Main Page Title: Enter a title for the main page of the web files created by UncleGED.

Main Page Text: You can enter a paragraph or two of descriptive text which will be on the main page of the UncleGED files.

Page StyleUncleGED can create your sites in two ways. The first uses one page per family group and the second creates a separate page for each individual in your GEDCOM. The second option will create a lot of files if you have a large GEDCOM.

In the bad old days that was bad for several reasons: too many files took too much room on your web server, too many files slowed your website down, and too many files made it difficult to maintain your site if you made any kind of modification to the files created by UncleGED. Only the last one is still a consideration as most web hosts allow gigabytes of data storage and the web has speeded up considerably for most of us.

Input: Separate boxes for path and filename, but both are filled in when using the browse button.

Output: The path for the output can be entered using the browse button.

Author Tab

You can choose to enter the author’s name, email address, and home page on this tab. There are also options to add the author’s copyright to all pages and also to set the Table of Contents as the home page for the family tree pages. You can add an RSS feed for the family tree pages. One thing not optional on this tab is entering a root URL for UncleGED pages on your webserver. I would recommend creating a folder under your web server root (on my server the root URL would be something like http://dumond.org/uged).

General Tab

This tab has many options for formatting your pages. You can force all surnames to be in upper case, add a keyword to the Meta tags on the main page for each surname, and add a surname count to the surname index page.

You can choose to privatize or exclude information for living individuals and/or those born after whatever year you choose to set. I privatize my GEDCOM on creation and recommend you do likewise. The reason I do this is that if you leave your GEDCOM file on your webserver data-scrapers could still find personal information on living people even if you don’t display that information on your website. The same is true of GENDEX files.

You can choose to display links to individuals on other pages, to create a statistics page, and whether to create a GENDEX file. You can track when changes are made to your pages and choose whether and how to display the dates of those changes on your web pages.

Cascading Style Sheet Tab

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are a way of keeping your formatting separate from the HTML code on your web pages. You can choose to use no CSS file (hard code the formatting with the HTML) – a seriously outdated way of coding web pages), to use UncleGED’s default CSS file (uged.css), or to copy your custom CSS from another file.

You can also set your background image and banner image on this tab. If you use a custom CSS file this probably won’t be necessary.

Pages Tab

This tab has many options relating to what information is displayed on your pages. You can set numbering for the first family file, set prefix for the names of family files, display a menu at top of each page, display the most recent update date on each family page, and choose whether to display RIN and MRIN numbers.

You can choose to create a “Listing Report”, basically an index of your family pages. Descendant outline pages are optional – you can create descendant outline pages for specific individuals, but neither the help file nor the online documentation tell you how to identify those individuals.

Persons Page: Options allow you to set data labels for all the fields on the person page and labels to be used in describing “inexact” dates such as “about” and “between”. You can set the maximum number of individuals to include on each page and choose whether to include a pedigree chart for each person on the page.

Chronology Page: You can set a cutoff year for the chronology of events page.

Locations Page: You can choose to list locations in reverse order (thus keeping all the locations in a particular country, state, etc… together in the index). You can choose to display event dates on the locations page — thus being able to see quickly when your family were in a particular location.

You can choose to omit estimated locations, treat estimated locations the same as actual locations, or to list estimated locations at the end of the locations index. You can choose whether to print occupations on the location page as events.

Other Optional Pages

  • Index of Individuals
  • Surnames
  • Statistics

Building the Pages

When you’ve entered all the parameters you click the “Build Pages” button on the “Project” tab. Then you have to click the “Start Build” button on a modal pop-up window.

I really like the Location and Chronology pages. The Family pages are okay. There’s a “Marriage/Union Events for …” at the bottom of the family info that I find confusing as it lists the GEDCOM codes followed by “Natural” for every marriage I checked. The Occupations page was kind of funky, but you can choose to have occupations printed on the Locations page as events instead.

The included background image and banner are extremely tacky, but a little CSS knowledge would go a long way towards making the pages produced by UncleGED look extremely nice and integrate them into your overall website. Once again, if I were just a little technically inclined I would have chosen UncleGED as my GEDCOM to web conversion program.

Family Tree Solution – PHPGedView

I tested three GEDCOM to web conversion programs today: UncleGED, Oxy-Gen, and PHPGedView. Although none is in active development, they all worked as advertised. After testing and checking out the generated web pages, I decided to implement the most technically challenging of the three: PHPGedView.

That said, since my hosting provider allows the use of the Softaculous script installer installing PHPGedView didn’t exactly strain my tech chops. I had a sub domain set up, the program installed and running, and my GEDCOM file uploaded in about fifteen minutes.

There is much left to be done to thoroughly integrate the family trees part of my site with the WordPress part, but for now you can access the family trees by clicking “Family Trees” on the top menu. You will have to use your back arrow on the browser if you want to return to the main site, however. That will be fixed, but it will take some coding.

I took notes as I was testing the GEDCOM conversion programs and I will write thorough review/how-to articles on each of them soon. I plan on starting a regular “Tech Tuesday” feature for the blog beginning tomorrow. Over the next month expect to see reviews of each of the three programs I tested followed by a feature comparison of the three programs.

I had to change the theme again because none of the SiteGround themes nor any of the iThemes Builder themes currently installed on my site would recognize my new main navigation menu. This was critical because I had to use a custom link to link to the family trees. I don’t have time to mess with these themes, since I plan to replace them with a custom theme I design and develop myself anyway. So I just loaded up the 2014 theme from WordPress.

Giving Up on RootsPersona

I spent most of the day today trying to get RootsPersona to work correctly. For some reason it only created pages for 20 – 250 people in the file. (It appeared to import them all, it just didn’t create the pages.) Since there are 1177 records in the GEDCOM that is not a satisfactory solution. I was only using RootsPersona because it was fast and easy and was planning to come up with a solution that matched my site’s structure and styling as part of this ongoing “re-envisioning” of An American Family. If it isn’t going to be fast or easy, I will have to come up with something else.

I’m looking at a few programs for converting GEDCOM files to HTML or PHP web pages. Some of them I’ve used in the past, some I haven’t. Most of them are no longer being supported by their authors. So many genealogy applications either include exporting HTML files or synchronizing your data with commercial sites on the web that GEDCOM to web conversion appears to be mostly a thing of the past. I keep my family tree synchronized with Ancestry.com to make searches easier and as another layer of backup, but my tree isn’t shared publicly there. I’ve had my data shared on An American Family for over fifteen years and this is where I intend to keep it. I just want to modernize the site. Which means I have to get my data out of Family Tree Maker and into HTML or PHP files. I’ll be playing with my chosen conversion programs tonight and into tomorrow (this is “Genealogy Week” at my house). I hope to have my family tree information somewhat integrated into the site by tomorrow night.

Tomorrow I will post the details of my search for the best GEDCOM to web conversion program for my needs and skill set. I’ll include my testing process and what I liked and didn’t like about each program I’m testing. I may or may not include sample output pages from programs that don’t get the nod.

An American Family – Re-envisioned

A few months ago I moved An American Family to a new web hosting provider (SiteGround) and set up a quick and dirty WordPress family tree using the RootsPersona plug-in. Unfortunately, when I tried to update the family tree using a new GEDCOM file this afternoon, RootsPersona didn’t properly delete the old records (I had removed about 80 records from my family tree that I used when my primary software was The Master Genealogist — “fake” people I used for reporting on the US census.) The “fake people” don’t work in Family Tree Maker, my new primary software, so I deleted them from my tree. I also cleaned up my source citations and did some other housekeeping over the last couple of months. I wanted a clean start, so I uninstalled RootsPersona. It was supposed to delete all of its records from the database, but when I reinstalled it and uploaded the new GEDCOM file, the old census people records and sources were still there. Not good.

So I destroyed my WordPress install — deleting both files and database. I reinstalled WordPress and have started from scratch. Right now I’m running the “siteground-wp63″ theme from SiteGround, but intend to replace that with a theme of my design soon. The current theme has nothing to do with genealogy, but anyone who knows me could tell you why I chose it. (Hint: Crazy Cat Lady.) At this very minute I am waiting on SiteGround tech support to help me resolve a security issue with one of the plug-ins I use. Something in the site configuration doesn’t allow it to run. It ran before the blow out, so it is something that came in with the new installation. I have the same problem on some of my other WordPress sites on SiteGround, so I want to get that fixed. I was ignoring it before, but right only one of my sites is working with InfiniteWP — a program designed to manage multiple WordPress sites. If only one site works with it I might as well not bother and I really love the program. *sigh*

SiteGround technical support has been awesome since I opened my account so I expect an answer shortly. Then hopefully I can fix the other sites as well.

After I get this issue resolved I need to install my other favorite plug-ins and then re-install RootsPersona and upload a new GEDCOM. When that is done I will begin adding the family stories and photos from the old An American Family site. I will be blogging the site’s redesign as I go through this process. I intend this to primarily be a genealogy-driven site, but I hope that building a genealogy website is something that interests other genealogists and family historians.