Citation & Organization
Help & Support
Genealogy Software Review
Why Use Genealogy Software?
Genealogy software is a useful tool that navigates, organizes and publishes data about generations of family members. All the programs we reviewed follow a basic pedigree format for entering names in a visually organized way. With the information you enter, the program can create charts and reports about statistics and patterns seen throughout your family. As you research, you can attach images and sources to each individual, creating a virtual library of your family history.
We looked at over 16 programs to determine the best Genealogy software. After talking with experts and organizing our own family trees, we found three programs that stood out from the rest: Legacy Family Tree, Family Historian, and Family Tree Maker.
The best of the best genealogy software allows you to conduct the same work online through genealogy searches as well as within the software. Many of the programs we found have close associations with genealogy websites, but we based our reviews around traditional software that requires a CD-ROM or is available to download online.
Genealogy software is available for PC and Mac, and you want to make sure that the software is compatible with your computer and operating system. When determining the best software available, we preferred programs designed to work with multiple operating systems.
Selecting Genealogy Software
Genealogy software's job is to store, organize and chart the family history you have. We ranked software based on features that make the job easier. Before you purchase any genealogy software, it's best to consider what you already know about your family. If you're just beginning to research your family, look for software that connects to online databases. On the other hand, if you already know a significant amount about your family or just want to digitize your records, look for strong reporting and citation options. Below are other aspects to consider as you choose with genealogy software to buy.
Storage & Speed
When you add generations of names, images, facts about individuals, sources and other data, genealogy databases grow quickly. It's common to have thousands of individuals listed. The best genealogy software is speedy and social, with plenty of in-program storage to record important data for each individual family member.
The best programs are more than genealogical databases. They double as research tools. For example, Legacy Family Tree has features that connect you to popular genealogy searches, sync with online tree makers and import any sources you find online. When you're conducting research on hundreds of people at once, speed is important.
According to the professional genealogists we spoke with, web enablement and easy sourcing features are high on the list of priorities. More and more, internet connectivity is becoming crucial to genealogy. These features allow you to research quickly, import what you find and attach it to the correct person.
While most programs, such as Family Tree Heritage, let you search online databases (such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch) from within the program, they are limited in how you can transfer the information into the family tree software. Most of the time you must manually enter this information or copy and paste it into the required fields. However, the FamilySearch-certified programs, including Ancestral Quest, let you sync and import this information directly from the web search page.
Easy sourcing features like auto-formatting allow you to keep correctly formatted citations of all the materials you gather for your database. Correct formatting is important for organizing giant batches of data, and it helps professionals share their sources within the correct guidelines.
Besides verifying the features included with each program, we paid special attention to how accurate each program was when importing GEDCOM files. GEDCOM files are created within most family tree programs and saved on your desktop. These files can be shared, imported and opened in genealogy programs that are compatible with GEDCOM files, which all the programs in our genealogy software are. To test each program’s accuracy, we created a GEDCOM file that included information for 68 different individuals, all connected as a family unit and attempted to open the file with each genealogy program we reviewed. The accuracy score reflects how often the program misread the data and required us to re-enter the correct information into the correct fields. The higher the score, the fewer mistakes the software made.
Some programs, such as Legacy, gave us an error message that some of the fields of the GEDCOM file were not compatible with the fields of its program. It generated a report of which information didn't import properly and allowed us to manually correct or enter this information. However, it automatically populated the information that was successfully imported into the correct data fields.
Listing features allow you to connect various family members to each other correctly. Once you have a large group, other features connect the dots between people. Families don't always follow the nuclear model, so the best genealogy software should make it easy to list multiple and same-sex marriages, divorces, adoptions, step-relationships and more.
Notes and media help your family tree feel more alive, but working with so much information can be overwhelming. When you add details about your family or add images to their profile, you'll need to keep them organized and easily accessible. Many family tree programs provide catalogs for your sources, multimedia and individuals.
All the genealogy software we reviewed can generate charts and reports from the information you gather. Chart creation is more of a side feature for most genealogists, but if you plan to create publications with ancestry software, consider who will see them. Most programs have basic charting capabilities, such as ancestor and descendant trees, which are suitable for personal records or sharing with other researchers.
The best programs have clean, customizable templates that feature modern backgrounds. These are generally suitable for creating heirlooms and gifts for family members. The interfaces on these programs are sleek and have a minimalistic design that help simplify using the software.
In addition to modern designs, some of these programs, including Heredis, allow you to upload your own backgrounds to the charts. This means you can add treasured family photos into the design of anything you create. Even the most basic chart-designing features allow you to adjust the nodes and information based on what you find most important.
Citation & Organization
The more you learn about your family, the more records and sources you'll accumulate. Genealogy requires a dedication to finding and recording proof for the claims, notes and stories about your family history. This proof comes in many forms, such as old newspapers and certificates. Look for genealogy software that helps you manage your sources and create citations to find them later. Even if you're a beginner with no interest in citing your sources, organization features like a to-do list help you keep a tally of what tasks you need to do and the priority level for each. Reunion is one of the programs with a lot of features to help you organize and customize your family tree research the way you want it.
Help & Support
As your family tree grows, you'll likely have questions along the way. The best genealogy software includes easy-to-navigate help sections so you can get answers to your questions quickly. Some of the software we reviewed links to user forums and blogs with information about genealogy or the software itself. As more companies go paperless, so do their support methods and user manuals. Most of the genealogy programs we looked at offer a print or PDF copy of the user manual full of tips, tricks and how-to sections. In addition to our top picks, GEDitCOM II has a wealth of support options, like online tutorials, to provide assistance as you're learning to use the software.
Other Helpful Genealogy Tools
Good software and access to in-depth family history search databases are the basics necessary to create your family tree. But there are other tools that many seasoned genealogists find helpful when collecting information. For example, you can gather a lot of information from living relatives who remember events and dates that may not yet be recorded in online databases. Digital voice recorders let you record grandparents, aunts and uncles sharing dates and important information in a natural and comfortable setting without interruptions, and you can enter it later into your genealogy program.
Another valuable tool is an ink printer. You can print out family trees, descendant charts and heirloom pedigree charts to give as gifts or just so you have a hard copy to save in addition to the digital file. We reviewed the best inkjet printers that are compatible with any family history software. If you prefer to keep your files digitally, consider investing in an external hard drive to back up your family tree files to a place other than your desktop. This helps ensure your files are safe in case your computer is infected with malware or stops working. Your hard work and research will be saved on the external drive so you can continue to work on your family history.
Genealogy Software: Verdict & Recommendations
Our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners all have outstanding features to create family tree charts and reports. They also make creating detailed family profiles easy with customizable data fields so you can focus on details important to you. Our top picks for family history software connect to web searches like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch without leaving the software.
Legacy Family Tree is one of the few genealogy programs we reviewed that is FamilySearch certified. After searching the database, you can import FamilySearch data directly into the program rather than having to copy and paste your research findings one by one.
Family Tree Maker is a well-known ancestry program that has 10 different charts and several background templates that let you create heirloom gifts to give your family. It links with Ancestry.com, which is one of the most comprehensive genealogy databases and especially helpful in searches for European ancestors.
Family Historian accurately imported our test GEDCOM files without any errors, auto-populating data fields and converting information from the creation program into a compatible data file. Family Historian uses an in-app browser to connect to all major genealogy databases.
Genealogy software links you to your past while preserving important information for future generations. In addition to family tree programs, look for digital audio recording equipment to help you capture stories from living relatives before it’s too late, and a good inkjet printer is essential for printing off physical records and heirloom gifts for family members.