RootsPersona Plugin

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RootsPersona is a WordPress plugin developed by Ed Thompson of Evidentia Software fame. According to the plugin page, RootsPersona creates one or more pages of family history using data imported from one or more GEDCOM files. It allows an administrator to create pages featuring people or evidence with a variety of panels that can be mixed and matched for optimum customization. Because I tried Ed’s Evidentia software and liked it quite a lot, I’ve also wanted to try this plugin but could just never seem to find the right time to explore it. Today I finally decided to just install it and give it a test drive.

First a quick word about plugins. Plugins can only be installed on self hosted WordPress website and not on WordPress.com websites. What is a self hosted WordPress website exactly and how did I get one?

  • I registered the Out of My Tree Genealogy domain name
  • I pay a small annual hosting fee to iPower, my host company, to host my website (I confess, this is actually websites plural – I love playing around with this stuff!)
  • I installed WordPress myself from the iPower cPanel (this is not difficult – just a couple of clicks)
  • I wanted to have some custom features so I purchased the Canvas theme through WooThemes a number of years ago and customised it to suit my needs. I also redecorate regularly for my own amusement.
  • I have access to almost 40,000 free plugins at WordPress.org that give me all kinds of added functionality for my website
  • I can purchase premium plugins from places like Envato that give me even more added functionality

So, if your genealogy website is on Blogger.com or WordPress.com, the RootsPersona plugin won’t work for you but if you’re thinking of making the switch to a self hosted WordPress website, feel free to reach out to me through any of the ways on my About Page or in the comments below and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Rootspersona Review

I searched the WordPress.org plugin repository for the word ‘genealogy’ and found the RootsPersona plugin. After installing it and activating it, it was not immediately apparent what to do next. The support link in the plugin page from wordpress.org no longer functions but after some poking around on Ed’s websites, I found that he had moved the plugin to it’s own domain (If you read this Ed, you may want to update the link from the plugin page or at least create a 301 redirect for the old page). I was unable to find any step by step documentation so I decided to go through all of the menus in the Admin area of my WordPress dashboard and finally found RootsPersona in the tools menu.

RootsPersona Review

Importing a GEDCOM

Since it was apparent that the first step was importing a GEDCOM, I began by creating one with just one individual, my great-grandfather William Bond, in my RootsMagic program. Having been in the military, he has a lot of interesting events in his timeline but is otherwise a straight forward ancestor so he should make a good example.

RootsMagic GEDCOM Export

I clicked on Upload GEDCOM from the RootsPersona page. I see a warning message:

Please note that GEDCOM processing is the most system taxing processing this plugin performs. The system will be uploading the file AND parsing each person into the database. Many users have reported hitting PHP time limit constraints when processing large files, resulting in a white screen with no status message.

There is a list of PHP settings and I see that I might have an issue with my max input time value but since I’m just uploading one ancestor as a test, I don’t think there will be a problem. One other thing I see is that RootsPersona cannot link persons in different batches so the only way to create a full pedigree would most likely be to upload a large GEDCOM file, something to consider later.

RP-Upload Screen

 

 

I click on upload and my small GEDCOM processes and I’m taken to this screen. Again, the next step is not apparent. I highlight William’s name and click the Add button and I get a message that Page 3704 was created for I117.

 

 

New Pages Created

It seems as though a new page was created for William so I head over to my pages, filter on pages from this month and sort by date. I’m a little nonplussed to see that RootsPersona has taken the liberty of actually publishing the pages it generated rather than leaving them in a draft state. There are three new pages that got created when the plugin was installed: Person Index, Evidence Index and RootsPersona Tree along with a page for William that was created and published when I added him from the previous screen.

RootsPersona Pages

William’s Facts

When I view the page for William, I find that all of his information is there. The facts about his life are displayed, although it seems as though some of my notes were truncated so there is clearly a limit to how long those can be.

William Facts

William’s Ancestors

The Ancestors section displays a three generation pedigree although since only William was uploaded, he is the only person showing on it.

William Ancestors

William’s Family

There is a Family Group Sheet for William as a child with blank parents, since they were not uploaded.

William Family Group

Source Citations

Finally, there is an Evidence section that shows my sources that appears to be hyperlinked but when I click on one, it tells me that the Evidence page has not yet been created for this source.

William Sources

CSS Scary Stuff

If you already have a self hosted WordPress website and are a little familiar with CSS, read on, but if that all sounds like scary stuff to you, you may want to skip this section.

William’s page seems to have inherited some of the colors and styles from my theme defaults and is more attractive than I was expecting for a page created by a plugin. Often pages created this way look really bad and require a lot of CSS work to format them appropriately. The reddish brown frames around the elements are OK I think and I would be inclined to leave them as they are. I am, however, especially not liking the default blue bands for the headers since I think they look quite garish with my blog colours and I’m just not a big fan of blue anyway. I’m wondering if a little CSS would help so I right click on the screen where the blue band is and go and have a look at the element. I see that it is actually from an image file so fixing this should be as simple as downloading that file and then creating a similarly formatted file with the right color and re-uploading it to the path shown.

Edit Screen

RootsPersona Person EditNext I click on the edit button at the bottom of William’s screen to see what options are available. I can change the privacy settings for William so that only I can see him, only logged in users can see him, make his page public regardless of his living status or accept the default privacy setting which I have yet to find. I see that I can add images, although unfortunately I have no photographs of William to add. Beyond that, there does not appear to be any editing capabilities so if I were to discover more about William, I assume that I would have to upload a new GEDCOM to update his information.

Looking back at the other pages that the plugin published, I see the Evidence Index which is curiously blank and this is probably related to the non-functioning hyperlinks in William’s profile. There must be something further I need to do to populate this page. When I go back to the RootsPersona plugin admin page in the Tools menu, I see that there is a button to ‘add missing evidence pages’. Since I’m not sure yet if I will leave the plugin installed, I’m not going to click on it. My assumption is that it will generate a page for each source and that would be a lot of pages, even with only William’s source citations.

Person Index

RP-Person Index Page

The Person Index page shows William with a link to his Person Page which works.

RootsPersona Tree Page

The RootsPersona Tree page seems to be a note about an update that was made by Ed to control the pages created by a large GEDCOM upload.

The default WordPress themes display all first level pages by default. When importing a GEDCOM file, hundreds of pages can be created, all first level pages. The intent of assigning a Parent Page is to push persona pages down to a second level, allowing an admin to manage the display of those pages. I can not tell you how many new users have skipped the step of assigning the parent page, then emailed me to say that rootspersona has destroyed their site. (Picture a front page with 100 or more entries in the menu bar). rootspersona will now create and assign a Parent Page by default. The parent page is NOT meant for display, as the menu is very large on most sites.

There is a setting in WordPress that can automatically add any new first level pages to the menu. My blog has been around for a very long time, so I’m not sure what the default was with my theme but I do know that I don’t have this option enabled. Still, I can certainly see that if it was enabled, generating hundreds of first level pages could certainly create havoc on a website! Now I see what the RootsPersona page is for and sure enough, when I go back and look at William’s page, it is a child of this default page.

Revisiting the Plugin Page

Going back to the RootsPersona plugin admin page, I think I now understand the rest of the options:

  • Upload GEDCOM: Upload or re-upload a GEDCOM file.
  • Add Uploaded Persons: Review the list of people you have uploaded but not created pages for.
  • Add Evidence Pages: Add missing evidence pages.
  • Review Excluded Persons: Review the people you have previously excluded, and include the ones you select.
  • Validate persona Pages
  • Delete persona pages

Bottom Line

Since Out of My Tree Genealogy is already a fairly big website with a lot of pages and posts, I don’t think I’m going to leave the RootsPersona plugin installed here. If I uploaded my whole GEDCOM with it’s almost 3000 people, that would generate a lot of data and pages in addition to everything that is already on my website and it would probably slow it down. I am thinking though that I might just create another website specifically for my family tree and RootsPersona. That would mean registering another domain name and creating another WordPress website, something that always gets my creative juices flowing. Hmmm. What would be a good domain name for it? If anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment below. I’ve been known to spend hours and days looking up possible domain names!

  • Installation 100 %
  • GEDCOM upload 100 %
  • Maintenance 70 %
  • Useability 80 %
Summary

Overall, I'm really, really impressed with the RootsPersona plugin. The formatting of the pages it creates is pretty impressive and they look really professional. The back end Admin panel in the Tools menu is simple to use and uploading a GEDCOM couldn't be easier. I like the fact that you can choose what people pages you want to create since I have quite a lot of extended families amongst my ancestors in my database, either because I was working my way around a brick wall, or because I just got caught up with a particular family and ended up travelling down a few rabbit holes. (I'm sure no other genealogists know anything about rabbit holes? Yeah right.) Probably I would not want to display everyone in my database on a family tree website.

I'm a little disappointed that there doesn't seem to be a way to upload partial GEDCOMs and link up the people later. That would be a great feature for a future upgrade Ed, even perhaps as a paid premium feature - I'd be happy to pay for it! And as I said earlier, I was a little taken aback that the plugin actually published the pages that it created during installation but I can understand that this probably makes it easier for someone who has a default theme installed with automatic menu generation who isn't that familiar with WordPress.

88% Awesome

Barbara J Starmans is a social historian, freelance writer and obsessed genealogist living in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada and has been doing genealogical research for the past 35 years. She is a graduate of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto, Canada with professional learning certificates in General Methodology and in English Records and recently become an instructor for them with an intermediate course on Social History.

Discussion6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the great, detailed review. I am considering running rootspersona on a sub-domain of my site, something like ancestry.philayres.com. Maybe, instead of getting a whole new domain, you could just run it on a sub-domain for free.

    All the best,
    Phil Ayres

  2. Setting up my very first genealogy archive on WordPress.org, I am struggling to select a plugin for my Gedcom data. I see you have used TNG (is it WO compatible?) and also praise RootsPersona. Would you recommend one above the other (or a different one) for a very non-techie novice who needs the simplest and cheapest solution to displaying their family history. Thanks, Lesley

    • I did use TNG for many years and found it fantastic. Unfortunately, I had issues with my web host reporting cross-scripting errors that they said related to TNG. I contacted Darrin Lythgoe who is the author of TNG and he assured me that there were no issues with the TNG software, but since I did not have the time right then to deal with my host, I uninstalled TNG to get them off my back. I’ve since switched hosting providers for a number of reasons so I may revisit TNG at some point. Certainly, my old hosting company was incompetent at best and I’m far more inclined to believe Darrin than them. The early editions of TNG were somewhat difficult to install and get up and running but the last few releases I used were awesomely simple and Darrin provides excellent support. He also has a deal with a hosting company that will do the install for you, should you find it intimidating.

      With RootsPersona, I only really test-drove it, rather than actually using it for any length of time. For a plugin, I found it quite good but it wasn’t as fully featured as TNG.

      The other option, if you are just looking for a public facing family tree, is to use your genealogy program to generate webpages. I use RootsMagic and their interface can create a website in a matter of minutes. You can host the webpages it creates either on the RootsMagic servers or on your own host. I’ve tried both approaches in testing and it works wonderfully with little effort. RootsMagic has a video tutorial on how to do this. I believe some of the other software programs also have this feature but I don’t recall off hand which they are.

      You can always link to any external website from a menu option in WordPress so there is no need for your solution to be WP compatible. This is what I did when I ran TNG.

      Good luck and do stop by and let me know what you choose. I’d love to hear about your experience.

  3. Just a quick note to state that the Rootspersona plugin does not appear to work if you update your PHP on your website. I have to call support to remove the plugin as it wasn’t compatible with PHP 7 which my host suggested I upgrade to. Hopefully there will be updates to Rootspersona but in the meantime I’ll need to source something else.

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