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I was recently asked to produce pedigree charts for another website I administer. I’d seen pedigrees on many other sites and wondered how they had collected the data and displayed it in such a neat and functional manner.

The Problem

There are two major hurdles you have to negotiate to get your pedigree information on the web. The first is creating the data, listing your dogs and linking their parents. The second is displaying the data you have collected in a usable form in your website. Oh and the last major stumbling block for me, was that it had to be free – I’ve built most of my sites using freely available open source software and I didn’t want to break this precedent for the pedigree software.

My Ideal Solution

The ideal solution to this problem would be an application with frontend software (accessed by the site’s visitors) and backend software (used by the webmaster to create and update dog details). Both front and backends would be accessible by a web interface from any internet connected computer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any software that met these needs. Everything I found was client/server, by that I mean a piece of software installed on your computer (client) and a piece of software installed in your website (server). My first dead end.

Genealogy – for Humans!

I got to looking into pedigree charts in general and found that they are also in human genealogy. Over recent years there has been a huge surge in the popularity of web based genealogy and because of that some excellent open source software has been generated, capable of far more than would ever be required for producing a relatively simple dog pedigree chart. Wikipedia provides a useful list of genealogy software for people interested in taking this route. Arguably the best of these is the excellent PHPGedView used by thousands and entirely free. PHPGedView is the ‘bees knees’ of genealogy software. It is a fairly involved process to install, and I found the interface frustrating and not intuitive (for dog owners). After a few hours I was ready throw the laptop out of the window. Ultimately the problem with human genealogy software is that dogs don’t have husbands and wives and they don’t get married – they aren’t people! Although I’m sure you could tweak PHPGedView to work well for dogs it’s just not worth the effort, although the reports and pedigree charts produced are excellent. My second dead end.

Back to the Dogs

Having wasted some considerable time looking into human genealogy for dogs I decided to go back to the client/server dog pedigree software.

Initially I found a couple of web based script solutions to the problem. Some require a database and others run off a text file. Text files (or flat files) are great; they are fast, portable, simple to backup and use. However, I suspect that there may be performance and corruption problems with flat file based solutions when you start adding lots of dogs. The main one to look at is Alfirin, it’s free to use and there seems to be good support from the developers. So if you don’t want to get into databases then this could well be the solution.

The database solutions all seem to require you to have mysql installed – most hosing providers support this. It’s a relatively simple job to set up the database, but you will have to remember to back it up yourself. The actual software is generally a collection of scripts that provide the search functionality and report outputs. Some charge and are actually pretty expensive, however a free one (and the one I settled on in the end) is Pedigree Point.

Pedigree Point

The instructions provided are easy to follow and I had the whole lot up and running (without any dogs in the database) in about ten minutes. You unpack the software to your computer and make a few changes to the configuration file and then upload to your webserver. There is a script to populate your database with the table and fields required by the software. I added some dummy data manually using PHPmyAdmin (this is software your web host will probably provide for you to administer your mysql databases with). It’s worth pointing out that you have to manually create the mysql database. Some host providers will do this for you, but with most you do it yourself, normally a simple procedure. I ran the provided test scripts and checked out the search page, all was well.

Getting the Data In

I still hoped there would be a nice script and page to allow you to input your dogs’ data, but there wasn’t. As with all the other pedigree systems that I found, you have to create and manage the database on your computer and upload the data to your website. You could do it manually by updating the tables in mysql, but that would only be feasible if your pedigree charts were virtually static. I wouldn’t recommend it.

It seems that all the client pedigree programs I found charged, which is fair enough, people have to make a living. Some were so incredibly out of date and functionally poor that you would have trouble installing them on many modern systems never mind actually using them. However, others were very good. I downloaded three free trial versions from various providers. The best two I found were Pedigree Explorer from Breedmate, $110 and Pedigree Assistant from TenSet, £99 for the personal edition. The demo versions only allow you to add a limited number of dogs, but it’s enough to see which is going to work for you.

In usability terms I found the Pedigree Assistant easier to use, I liked the way you could click to build up the dog’s pedigree in a graphical form. Pedigree Explorer looks more like a database, but as I was using Breedmate’s free webserver software, Pedigree Point, it would make sense to use their client software. Both pieces of software allow you to create printed pedigrees and various reports. If this is the functionality you are after then I suggest you try both to see which you prefer. It did however seem to me I would be paying for a lot of functionally that I would never use – I didn’t want to print pedigrees, I wasn’t managing the database for a whole deerhound club, just a few hundred dogs. All I wanted was a local database that I could build up, so what could I do?

DIY

In a moment of madness I decided I’d build up my own database in Microsft Access. Now I’ve never been keen on databases, particularly Access databases, but I was driven to it by a lack of a suitable alternative. Without going into too much detail you need to create a single table and inner joins to each of the dog’s parents. It’s relatively simple, but time consuming to then produce pedigrees of various depths. I went up to 6 generations. I also created a form to add new dogs and pick its parents. It took me an evening or two to build a functional, but rough and ready database. I built the access table to match the table in the mysql database used by pedigree point. This means that I can add a dog, export the database and import into mysql with the minimum of fuss. It’s not the best solution, but it’s all free and the end result is exactly what I wanted. I had to type in all the dogs from the pedigree charts I’d been given, about 108 dogs, and some very difficult names. It took me a morning to type in and link all the dogs together. However, adding future litters should be relatively simple.

Putting it all together

The site in question is built on Joomla (www.joomla.org). If you are not familiar with Joomla it’s a content management system that is great for building websites. I used the search page in Pedigree Explorer to find each dog’s pedigree and copied its link into a Joomla Wrapper. I then linked each dog’s personal page. I had to tweak the Pedigree Point scripts here and there to get the pedigrees to fit in my web page properly, but it was straight forward and took me about half an hour in total. I also added a link to the search page.

Does it all work?

Well nearly, there are a few bugs that you can turn up if you try hard, I can only get five generations out at the moment, but all in all, I think it looks great. You can visit the site at www.cusidh.co.uk. I’m just glad to have it all working and out of the way. It’s been quite a journey for someone who knew nothing about dog pedigree software!

If you want to suggest alternatives or comment on this approach please do so in the comment box below.

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