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.