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Working with the Big Tree

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The Big Tree (or World Tree) is Geni slang for the largest tree on Geni. New users, and even long-time users, are sometimes unsure about the differences between working in the Big Tree versus working in standalone trees.

This page is intended to be a quick reference. If you don't find your answer here, look at the Geni Help pages or start a project discussion.

Big Tree versus Standalone Trees

Geni Help: How To: See if You are a Member of the World Family Tree

The original purpose of Geni was to create a world tree, connecting everyone on earth.

However, some users found that they like the Geni platform but they didn't like having to get along with their relatives. Geni's current policy (2014) is to allow standalone trees for users who want them.

By default, most users start out on Geni in a standalone tree. The exception is a new user who accepts an invitation to join a tree that is already connected to the Big Tree.

Users get connected to the Big Tree when a profile in their standalone tree is merged with a profile in the Big Tree.

Public versus Private

All trees on Geni, both the Big Tree and all standalone trees, can have public profiles and private profiles.

Geni Help: Chart for Who can View/Edit my Profiles

  • Living people and minors are private by default. You can make members of your Family Group private if you prefer. Only users who are within the Family Group can view private profiles.
  • Deceased people are normally public. Any user can view public profiles.
  • Certain living celebrities can be set to public, by making them Master Profiles (MPs).


Geni Help: Chart for Who can View/Edit my Profiles

Locked Profiles project

  • A PRO user can edit any public profile.
  • A Basic user can edit a public profile if they collaborate with a manager of the profile.
  • Any user can edit profiles in a project if they collaborate on the project ("join the project")
  • Only members of the Family Group can edit a private profile.
  • If a Master Profile is locked, only curators can edit the profile.
  • If a Master Profile has locked fields, only curators can edit those fields.


Geni's normal way of handling duplicates is to merge them.

Geni Help: How to merge your tree

Ask for help with a merge

  • Users can merge any two public profiles in the Big Tree
  • If a merge involves a profile in a standalone tree, the merge will be pending until it is approved by a manager or collaborator in the other tree.
  • Both collaborators and Family Group members can approve a merge for a standalone tree.
  • One way to identify standalone trees is that when you try to merge two profiles, you get a message:

These profiles are in different trees. Caution: Merging these profiles will merge their trees and could require merging other duplicate profiles.


Ask the curators for help with an unusual problem

Curators are volunteers appointed by Geni to help other users. They have some additional user privileges they can use to solve certain routine problems.

Master Profiles

Ask the curators to create a Master Profile

Curators can mark profiles as Master Profiles ("MPs").

  • Curators can lock an MP or lock certain fields in an MP. This helps stabilize documented information and prevents edit wars.
  • In a merge between two profiles, it is always the MP that remains.
  • Two MPs cannot be merged with each other unless one of them is de-mastered.
  • In a search, MPs are always listed first.

Some of the reasons for making MPs include:

  • Quality - the profile is well-documented and stands out as an example of what all profiles should look like
  • Notability - the profile is someone who is notable or famous.
  • Guide to merging - the profile is one of many duplicates that need to be merged.
  • Prevent merging - the profile can be easily confused with another profile. Merging them would mangle the tree.

You can can ask a curator to lock or unlock profiles and fields temporarily, or ask a curator to change locked information. The curator will probably ask you to document your information.

  • Contact the curator directly through a private message.
  • Start a public discussion.

Messages versus Discussions

There are two ways to engage other users when you want to discuss a profile.

  • Send a message to all managers. This has the advantage of engaging the managers of the profile directly. The downside is that many managers have no additional information and no real interest in the profile. Also, the information in the profile might not represent the contributions of any of them (because any PRO user can edit any public profile).
  • Start a discuss from the profile. This has the advantage of engaging the users who are following the profile, many of whom have some interest in it. The possible downside is that the discussion will be public, so any user can see it and participate.


Get with help a zombie

In Geni slang, a zombie is a profile that is marked as living and therefore private, when it should be marked as deceased and potentially public.

  • Any profile for a deceased person must be public unless it is within the family group of another Geni user.

PRO versus Basic

PRO users can add and manage an unlimited number of profiles. Basic users used to be capped at 100 profiles, but can now (2014) add unlimited profiles.

Basic users have certain restrictions on merging and editing profiles.


Collaboration is a tool that has changed over time. In the beginning it was a way for users to give other users the ability to edit profiles they managed. Now, a PRO user can edit any public profile.

Collaboration primarily now benefits Basic users because it extends their ability to edit and merge.

Collaboration also now functions as a reputation system. Someone with many collaborators is widely trusted by the user community. Someone with few collaborators might be new, might be trying to maintain a standalone tree, or might be distrusted by the user community.

Family Groups

Your Family Group extends to your 3rd great grandparents and their descendants. You can also add users to your Family Group.

  • Adding someone to your family group will give that person the ability to view, edit, and merge your private profiles. (Do not accept Family Group requests from anyone you wouldn't want to have access to these permissions on your immediate family.)
  • A GEDCOM export by a member of your family group will include your private profiles.
  • Any user can initiate and accept merge requests for family group members. PRO users can merge a standalone tree if they are in the family group of a member of that tree.
  • If someone is in your family group, they will see your pending merges and data conflicts in their merge center.

Philosophical Differences

There are deep philosophical differences within the Geni community between users who belong to the Big Tree and users who maintain standalone trees.

  • A user in the Big Tree is typically a genealogist who is committed to collaborative genealogy. There is an element of risk, because any PRO user can edit any public profile. In other words, if you disagree with someone the two of you are going to have to work out your differences. Also, it isn't as easy to slip in unproved information and shoddy research. Someone is going to notice eventually and correct your information. In the Big Tree, you benefit from the collective wisdom and collaboration of other users.
  • A user in a standalone tree can have everything their own way, even if it's wrong. Users who want to maintain a standalone tree sometimes encounter hostility and frustration from users who are pursuing Geni's original mission of connecting the world. Users who want to maintain a standalone tree might be happier at Geni's parent company, MyHeritage.

Geni Etiquette

  • Many users consider it rude to set up a merge between a profile in the Big Tree and a profile in a standalone tree, without first checking with the manager to find out whether the manager intends to maintain a standalone tree.
  • Many users consider it rude to create duplicates of profiles that already exist on Geni. New users often make this mistake because they don't understand that Geni works by connecting new profiles to existing profiles. Every duplicate has to be merged and cleaned up. This means that experienced users have to take time to correct the mistakes of novice users.

More Information