If you’re one of the millions of people who’ve caught the genealogy bug and are itching to learn more about your family’s past, you’ll want some resources to help you out. After all, the journey requires navigating the multigenerational web of births, marriages, migrations, and milestones that have made you uniquely you.
Luckily, growing interest in genealogy and DNA testing has made it easy for amateur genealogists to uncover deep insights about where they came from. With genealogy and family tree building tools, you can sleuth out your long-ago origins and discover more about who you are and where you came from, all from the comfort of your computer.
Interviewing a grandparent can only take you so far. To truly learn about your family history, you’ll have to go back hundreds of years or more.
Before family tree building tools, genealogy research typically included hours spent digging through government records, archival materials, newspaper clippings, and other resources that are likely hard to track down—or may even be in a different language.
This is where genealogy and family building tools come in. Using vast historical databases and interactive tools, they do all the hard work for you by automatically retrieving even the oldest or most obscure pieces of information that can shed new light on your family’s history.
And with state-of-the-art matching technology, they can even automatically match your family tree with others who share similar ancestors, connecting you to others who have important pieces of the puzzle—and perhaps even share your DNA.
Every family tree building tool is a little different. But hey—every family is a little different too. So finding the right one means making sure it’s features meet your personal needs and ancestral origins. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when shopping for a good genealogy tool.
A large database of historical records
Having access to a large database of historical records is the best way to ensure a successful genealogical search. Most genealogical tools will give you access to some sort of database, but they may differ in size and scope. Some of the larger companies, such as Genes Reunited and OneGreatFamily, give you access to millions of documents, records, and archived information that can instantly and infinitely propel your search forward.
A relevant geographic focus
It’s important to make sure that the tool you choose can serve your ancestors’ geographic location. FindMyPast, for example, is a treasure trove for those with British and Irish ancestry, though it may not be ideal for those whose branches extend into, say, Russia or Asia. Some family tree building tools will have a general focus and draw from databases all around the world, while others are specific to certain countries or continents. It’s important to consider your background and make sure the tool you choose can access the right historical records.
DNA test or compatibility
This isn’t vital, though it may be important if you’ve taken or plan on taking a DNA test. Some companies offer tests and family tree building tools in one. Others may only offer the family tree software, so if you choose one of those and are interested in DNA tests, you may want to check whether you can upload the results from that DNA test company into the site.
Genealogy is an exciting, invigorating, but sometimes frustrating experience. There’s no doubt that when you’re tracking family clues across centuries and continents you’re likely to run into some false-starts or dead-ends. This is why genealogy forums tend to be so active—discussing common obstacles and solutions with other, more experienced genealogists is a great way to improve your family tree. Many sites offer community chats and forums, and it may be worth it to find one with an active community and other helpful resources.
The number of tools available for building a family tree is rapidly growing. That’s good news. If you’re interested in finding out more about your family’s history, you have many options to choose from. The tips above can help you narrow down your search and find the best one for nourishing the branches rather than stunting its growth. Then you’ll be well on your way to the exciting discoveries and connections that come from building your own family tree.
Make sure it supports your heritage (i.e. some are better for British/Welsh heritage, some focus on this or that place, etc)
Access to historical records - cross-referencing with other databases
Chat rooms and community to help you navigate common roadblocks
Matches your family tree with others who have similar branches
Interactive family tree builder
DNA test included? Can it accommodate results from other test companies?