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Family tree software: how to choose what's best for you

Family tree software: how to choose the best for you

Choosing the best family tree software can be a bit of a minefield, especially when you start out on your genealogy research and don't really know what to expect from your investment.

There are many family tree programs available and all aim to make it easy to add details of individuals, organise your family relationships, record your sources, add photographs, and print family tree charts.

Some also help you to create websites so that you can share your Irish genealogy research with others.

They also all seem to have their own features and limitations.

How do you know which one is the most suited to your needs?

GEDCOM: Means 'Genealogical Data Communication'. This is a file-sharing system which allows you to automatically move data from one genealogy program to another. You're likely to come across the term when you're doing your research.

All the best family tree software packages support GEDCOM.

Before you rush out and part with your your hard-earned cash on the first family tree program you come across, it's a good idea to be clear on what you want and expect from the package. Below you'll find some issues to consider.

Storage and charts

~ How will you use the information you input to your database?
~ Do you want to produce sophisticated family tree charts, complete with photos?
~ Do you want to store photos, soundbites and video clips?
~ Do you want only to record names, dates and basic information plus print out very simple charts?
~ Do you want your program to allow you to cite your sources and/or make notes to record family tales connected with individuals?

Sharing your data


You're likely to come across the term GEDCOM when you're doing your research

It means 'Genealogical Data Communication'. This is a file-sharing system which allows you to automatically move data from one genealogy program to another.

All the best family tree software packages support GEDCOM.

~ Do you want to share your database with other researchers? (If so, you'll want a program with GEDCOM compatibility.)
~ Do you want to be able to 'marry' other researchers' databases with yours? (ditto)
~ Do you want to create web pages that relatives and researchers can view?
~ Do you want to produce a book of your family's history?
~ Will you want to email pdfs of your tree to relatives and other researchers?


~ What kind of reports would you like to be able to produce?
~ The best family tree software allows you to interrogate your data by generating different types of reports such as pedigree and descendant charts. Some allow you to carry out searches according to your own criteria. For example, you might want to know how many of your ancestors were born in Co. Galway before 1850. Or how many of your ancestors were sailors or grocers.


~ How technical/geeky are you?
~ Are you easily frustrated by programs that are not genuinely intuitive?
~ How long does it usually take you to become comfortable with a new program?
~ Do you relish the challenge of working through each page of the instruction manual to discover all the features of new programs?

Test-run a few family tree software programs 

When trying to find the best genealogy software for you, look for a company that's been trading for a while, offers great support and fixes bugs.

Most of the top manufacturers offer a 30-day free trial period in which you can try out their program. This is an excellent way of finding out if a family history program suits you and will help you pinpoint the features that you want or need and those you can do without. I would certainly recommend doing this to anyone who has not used any family tree software before. Just be sure you don't spend loads of time inputting all your genealogy findings before deciding!

You could also ask around for recommendations. If, for example, you choose a program that a member of your family history group recommends, you might find that person is happy to offer some guidance if you get stuck.

All of the larger genealogy databases also offer their own bespoke online family tree program. Some people like these, despite the obvious downside that once you commit to a particular database and spend hours adding your data, you're kind of trapped to maintaining your subscription to that database. On the other hand, these family history programs are an excellent way for beginners to learn how this type of software works.

Be cautious with genealogy freeware

Print magazines still occasionally have dvds attached to their covers and these nearly always contain some kind of free genealogy software. This is usually a perfectly legitimate way of letting genealogists try out certain features of programs in the hope that they will subsequently upgrade to the full or latest version of the package.

But exercise some caution. There's no such thing as a free lunch and some of these genealogy freeware programs may run spyware ie they record your activities on your computer, or damage your computer (and you'll have no claim against the supplier).

Another thing to watch out for with free or 'demo' programs is that they are often time limited. Be certain this isn't the case before you spend loads of time inputting all your genealogy findings.