Software for your family tree

By request – a blog post about software.

Which to use?

You can, of course, build your tree on a genealogy web site, but they’re not very flexible and are severely limited as to what notes you can add. Plus you’re building it online and it can be slow and frustrating. So if you’re not already doing so, I recommend creating a family tree on your own computer using specialist family tree software. If you are already doing so, please post a comment saying which software you use and why you like it, or dislike it, as I can only comment on the one I use.

There’s plenty of choice for family tree software but I use Reunion and think it’s brilliant. If you’re running Windows on a PC you’re out of luck, though, as Reunion is only produced for Apple Macs. I’m a long time Apple Mac fan as I got my first one in 1985 and have had one at home ever since. When I worked in advertising it was all Apple Macs, but for the last ten years at work I had to use a PC running Windows. I hated it. If you’ve never used a Mac you really don’t know what you’re missing!

I suspect all good family tree software is similar to Reunion, though, in that it will be based on person record cards to which you can add as many details and as many notes as you want, and to which you can embed images such as photos and scans of certificates, OPR pages, and other documents. The person cards link via relationships so you can see at a glance who a person’s parents, spouse and children were. You can print off, or save, all sorts of reports and charts. The find facility in Reunion is great – simply type in a word or phrase and it gives you a list of all the person cards that contain that phrase in any field (which is how I find out what happened on a particular date). It also works out how everyone on your tree is related to you, which is very useful indeed.

I also suspect you get what you pay for so it will be worth it in the long run to buy the best you can afford: none of them are all that expensive anyway. This is, after all, a very important hobby! The Windows software that seem to get the best reviews are Family Historian, Legacy and RootsMagic (though the latter sounds like a hair dye) so if you’re thinking of buying I’d recommend you read some reviews and see if you can get a free trial. FamilyTreeMaker used to be popular but it now comes tied to the Ancestry website, which you may or may not think is an advantage.

It might be a good idea to have several trees

I have separate trees for each of my grandparents’ surnames, plus four more separate trees for all the maternal lines linked to each of my grandparents’ surnames. That way I don’t end up with one tree that is so huge I get lost when using it.

Print off hard copies of your person cards

Even with a programme on your computer, I really recommend printing off record cards for everyone on your tree and filing them, together with copies of related certificates, census extracts, etc., in some kind of orderly manner. Make sure all the notes you’ve added to each person card are printed out along with the basic born, married, died details. Your hard copies could prove a godsend if you ever have a fatal computer crash, but it also means you can sit and browse through your research in comfort, let someone else have a browse through it, and even take a file with you when out and about. And just doing it is very helpful in getting everything in order, including your brain and your memory!

The software will also create charts. Trouble is, once you get beyond a fairly small number of people on your family tree the resulting chart, at a size that is readable, is far too big to print out on an A4 printer so I’ve never bothered.

6 responses to “Software for your family tree

  1. Hi, I didn’t realise there was so much different software out there! I use and find it quite flexible and you can use different trees for different grandparents names etc. You have some really good ideas here and I am just off to print and file record cards for the people in my tree in case of a computer crash. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Judy! Pah, might have known your software would be Apple. Hmph. I feel like the poor relation. Will check out the others though and will watch for comments here from anyone about other options.

  3. Family Tree Maker here, and I adore it. I don’t mind the tie to Ancestry, mostly because I use it quite often. I love it when I get a little green leaf on an ancestor!

    I have never printed off anything (800 people in my tree, boy would that take forever!), but I back up my tree very often. I had a dream once that I lost my laptop and nearly had a heart attack even though I knew I’d been dreaming. Hah. 🙂

  4. Thanks all. Matthew, you’re reminded me I need to do a back-up!

    I think the software Ancestry use is Family Tree Maker, though please correct me, someone, if I’m wrong, I have a tree up on Ancestry, though it’s not as detailed as the one on my computer. I do find that updating my Ancestry tree is a lot more cumbersome than using Reunion, and the other problem is that most Scottish records aren’t available on Ancestry so I can’t easily attach my sources. And Ancestry annoys me at times as the “green leaf” hints it gives me are wrong most of the time!

    I’ve noticed that some people who must have downloaded digital images from ScotlandsPeople have attached the image files to their tree. Very useful if they’re researching the same people as I am, but I’m not sure whether there might be a copyright issue involved.

    It really doesn’t matter what you use, though, as long as you’re happy with it and it nudges you into keeping your research accessible and well ordered!

  5. I use both and RootsMagic (on Windows). I consider Ancestry a research tool and RootsMagic as my “system of record”. However, I haven’t gotten both completely in sync at this time. And yes, finding Scottish records on Ancestry is a problem! I also use a lot, as sometimes there are records in there I don’t find easily on Ancestry (especially census records), and I use ScotlandsPeople, though sparingly as the “per-index” and “per-page” charges scare me off a bit, unless I’m quite certain of my search result.

    • Thanks Matt. Yes, for me Ancestry is a research tool more than anything. I’ve found a lot on it, although their census transcriptions leave something to be desired at times. I’ve tried FindMyPast too but Ancestry seems to work better for me. I too use FamilySearch a lot, to narrow down the field before going onto ScotlandsPeople. On ScotlandsPeople the ease by which you can buy credits and click to see documents means it’s all too easy tog et carried away and spend a lot! But it’s so much cheaper than getting hold of an English certificate.

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