There are various genealogy software products on the market to choose from, along with free options. 

If you own a computer, you’ll likely want to acquire software for storing the genealogy information you find.

Many family historians use word processing and/or database programs such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Excel and other non-genealogy-specific software and are happy doing so. 

That said, dedicated genealogy software products can simplify the process of entering data, making family group sheets to share with family, and writing and storing detailed notes and stories about your ancestors, along with digital copies of photos and documents you’ve uncovered while researching your tree.

Many books, magazine articles and blog posts have been written advising how to select the “right” program. However, only you can determine your needs. 

Many programs are written for Windows PCs, but few are written for Mac. Therefore, the computer or mobile device you have at home will narrow your selection. 

There are cloud-based options available, but they may be less robust. Some may require ongoing subscriptions to access your saved data. 

The more complicated the program, the more time you will need to learn its complexities. Also, there may be features for which you have no need. 

When you first acquire whichever program you choose, plan to spend time studying its features, perhaps watching some YouTube videos that may fully explain them. 

Most companies will have tutorials available on their websites. 

It is not advisable to rely solely on subscription services to store your family tree information. If your subscription ends, you may lose access to all your documentation and the fruits of your many hours of labor.



Your primary consideration should be what you plan to do with your genealogy information. 

Are you just looking for someplace to store names, dates, and events? 

If so, you may need only to create spreadsheets, Word, or Google documents without relying on special genealogy software. 

Do you plan to share your research with others or write a book? Create family web pages? 

Do you want to create poster-sized trees? 

Will you be including audio, video and photo files? 

Do you want your software to interface with the larger search engines, such as Ancestry or FamilySearch, to generate research hints? What kind of interface do you like? Do you prefer to click boxes using your mouse, or do you like to type information into data fields? 

Do you like color-coding your family lines? Do you want to keep track of DNA matches? 

If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wish to submit information to them, you’ll need software that will support the particular fields for documenting church


No matter the software you choose, make sure you backup your work early and often to prevent data loss. You can’t have too many backups!

Though there are many programs out there, this column will focus on those most used. 

You may find others by searching and


Collaborative trees

First, I want to mention the existence of free collaborative online trees. These are family trees that anyone can contribute to. 

These are not recommended as the only means to house all your researched family history. You should keep your own records separately, but these collaborative trees are an excellent place to add information for the benefit of the greater genealogy community or to help you find clues to find your ancestors. 

You may discover info on these sites that will lead you to other living relatives. is one of the best-known and the world’s largest free online collaborative trees, accessible by creating a free account. It is an international nonprofit entity that helps people uncover their family history. 

According to the site, their tree has more than a billion unique profiles. 

Some researchers do not like that other people can edit the tree without providing proper source citations, so if you add facts, you should give the source of information. Many researchers have uploaded photos and documents of their ancestors to this site using the Memories tab. 

FamilySearch also has a messaging system you may use to collaborate with others contributing to the tree. is a 100% free family tree with the goal of “growing an accurate single family tree using DNA and traditional genealogical sources.” The tree has more than 30 million profiles, 9 million of which include DNA test connections. The tree is edited by nearly a million members from around the globe.


Software options

The following software programs are most commonly used by family historians:

RootsMagic Essentials, available on Windows and Mac, is a free program that is great for beginners. RootsMagic also has a software product called Personal Historian geared toward writing the story of your life and others and breaking down the process into manageable bits. There is a trial version available.

Legacy Family Tree, a Windows program, has search engines that automatically look through billions of records from key websites, such as FindMyPast, FamilySearch, MyHeritage,and GenealogyBank, though you may need a subscription to the paid sites it scours in order to view the actual records. Searching FamilySearch is free. Legacy Family Tree is very popular with genealogists and has a free download for its standard edition. It is easy to use, is very powerful and supports color-coding and tags. The Legacy 9.0 Deluxe version is $34.95 and includes a downloadable 301-page pdf manual.

Family Tree Maker 2019, available for Windows and Mac, has a steep learning curve but is a very comprehensive program used by many experienced researchers and professionals. It receives record hints from and, and if you have a tree on Ancestry, this program can sync information between them. 

With an subscription, you may download records directly from Ancestry into the Family Tree Maker 2019 software to keep on your own computer, even if you let your subscription lapse. 

You can add your personal photos and documents to the media folders, and if desired, you can sync them up into the database to share with others who may be researching the same family members. 

Books and comprehensive reports can be created with this software, as well as family tree charts. In addition, this program has color-coding features.

Ancestral Quest, a Windows program, has a basic, free version and a paid version of their software. You can view the difference between them at 

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, found at, helps you research your family history, build your family tree and add photos, historical records, and more. Family Tree Builder interfaces with the MyHeritage subscription site. supports Linux, as well as Windows and Mac, and is a free software project and a community that is “intuitive for hobbyists and feature-complete for professional genealogists.

Next time, we will explore best practices for entering information into your databases. 

Until then, Kinseekers meets at Fairfield Glade on the first Thursday of each month from 1-3 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 481 Snead Dr.

Also, visit the Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center at 95 E. First St., Crossville, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, for access to and resources for solving your family history mysteries.

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