Why Use Genealogy Software?
The top performers in our review are Legacy Family Tree, the Gold Award winner; Family Historian, the Silver Award winner; and Family Tree Maker, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 programs.
Genealogy software is a useful tool that navigates, publishes and organizes data about generations of family members. At its most basic, genealogy software can handle thousands of names and facts about the ancestors you have already found. All the programs we reviewed follow a basic pedigree format for entering names in a visually organized way. With the information you enter into the software, 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.
The best genealogy software has these features plus close connections with online genealogy searches, particularly with Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, though MyHeritage databases are gaining in popularity. Any of these features make research faster and easier by combining the abilities of genealogy websites with family tree software. Depending on the kind of genealogy software, you may find extra features such as instruction manuals, genealogy books or memberships to genealogy web searches.
To be the best, these programs must be able to accommodate thousands of individuals, create charts and cite sources. The best of the best allow you to conduct the same work online through genealogy searches as well as within the software. Genealogy software is available for Mac and PC, but the products we selected here focus on PC users. If you're an Apple user, check out our reviews for Mac genealogy software. Many of the programs we found have close associations with genealogy websites, but we based our reviews around traditional software that you download online. To learn more, check out our articles about genealogy software.
Evaluating the Best Genealogy Software
When you add generations of names, images, facts about individuals, sources and other data, genealogy databases grow quickly. It's common to see programs with 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. More and more, internet connectivity is becoming crucial to genealogy. Our Gold Award winner, 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. These features allow you to research quickly, import what you find and attach it to the correct person. In addition to our top pick, MyHeritage is quick at connecting to important genealogy databases, including its own, and pulling the information you need into the family tree creation program.
While it is useful to connect to and search online genealogy databases within the ancestor software, it is even more important to be able to instantly sync and share this information between the database and program. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch are the biggest databases with the most comprehensive records and information on individuals and family connections, including birth, death and immigration records from all over the world. While most programs, such as Family Tree Heritage, let you search these sites 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 three FamilySearch-certified programs, including Ancestral Quest, let you sync and import this information directly from the web search page into your ancestry maker.
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 helps professionals share their sources within the correct guidelines.
Genealogy Software Accuracy
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 software and saved on your desktop. These files can be shared, imported and opened in genealogy programs that are compatible with GEDCOM files, which is all of the programs in our genealogy software review.
We created a GEDCOM file that included information for 68 different individuals, all connected as a family unit. We attempted to open this GEDCOM 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.
Selecting Genealogy Software: Other Considerations
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 charting capabilities for basic publications like ancestor and descendant trees, suitable for personal records or sharing with other researchers.
We were impressed with the simple charts WinFamily generated. The best programs have templates and clean, modern backgrounds to apply to your charts if you want to create heirlooms and gifts for family members. 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 in the chart and report based on what you find most important.
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 lots of information from living relatives who remember events and dates that may not yet be recorded in online databases. Digital voice recorders – such as our top pick, the Sony ICD-UX – 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. Web capabilities allow you to search online genealogy databases without leaving the software.
Legacy Family Tree is one of only three 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.