Best software to build your genealogy

When most people hear the words ‘family tree’, they envision a great old tree with many branches and a family member’s photo conveniently placed on each of them. While the term mostly refers to the way individual families branch out, many find it helpful to construct an actual tree on their way to knowing their roots (heh).

To help you visualize even better, there are many examples of genealogy software out there – these programs aren’t just nice to look at, but also make your historical research a whole lot easier. Without further ado, here’s some nice and inexpensive software that will have you feeling even more thrilled about your new hobby.

Genealogy software

Ancestry.com: Ancestry will deliver the goods, but it’ll also drill a hole in your pocket: the monthly plans start from $20 all the way to $45 for overseas research. Thus, this software is best used when you’re sure you won’t slack and will instead dedicate at least a couple of hours a day to work on your family history. Aside from several extensive record bases, Ancestry also boasts the option of allowing you to work on your family tree with relatives across the globe (provided they have an internet connection, that is).

Mocavo: Want to ease your research without burdening your wallet? Mocavo is what all free software should be about: full-featured and not obsessed with making you purchase a premium plan. If you’re a genealogy beginner feeling intimidated by the amount of data you’ll have to scour through, Mocavo will provide a simple-yet-effective interface as well as integration with various important resources such as the U.S. Census. Not to mention, the premium plans cost between $7-9 and offer a free trial, so you might find yourself going pro just for the heck of it, especially since some genealogy software costs several times more while offering decidedly less.

Legacy Family Tree: Legacy ranks among the most popular genealogy suites out there and its latest iteration is full of features. The fact that the latest version has 8.0 in its name proves that the software has been around for a while – unfortunately, its interface hasn’t done the best job of keeping up with the competition, at times looking as dated as the info you’ll be collecting. Still, if you can look past outside appearance, you’ll be treated to a nice genealogy helper that has an extensive research guide and access to all manners of archives. You can choose between the free and premium versions, the former being stripped of some decent features – if you’re serious about research, there’s no reason not to fork over $30 to get access to all the goods.

Brother’s Keeper: A witty name hides a serious piece of software that caters primarily to pros, semi-pros or the truly serious hobbyist. Colorful visuals and a slick interface are replaced with tools that serious researchers need to organize and publish some downright obscure info. Since the software itself doesn’t work with any known archives that you’ll have to get your data from, expect to do a whole lot more manual work than you would using similar software. On the other hand, die-hard researchers won’t shy away from additional labor and there’s also the great customer support to help you with your work. Costing $45, it’s not the cheapest genealogy software, but it serves its purpose well.

How to research your genealogy

When talking hobbies or pastimes, you can’t go much better than researching your genealogy. Your family history should be very important to you – by studying your ancestors and the lives they’ve led, you stand to gain a much better understanding of who you are and why you live the way you do. In fact, clues from the past often help prepare us for the future, and there aren’t many history lessons more important than those involving your family.

Of course, researching any family history can get confusing and convoluted, which is why we’ve assembled some basic outlines to help you on your journey.

The start – researching genealogy close to home

Every journey starts with the first step, and the journey of finding out more about your ancestors is no different. Sure enough, the end result will be a big old family tree featuring (hopefully) generations and generations of families, but you have to start somewhere. To have an easier time researching, work on a family-by-family basis – research one family at a time and slowly fill your tree this way.

To start off, you don’t need to dig deep into dusty tomes and large archives. Instead, focus on stories from your immediate family members and work from there – your parents and grandparents should serve as a good start.

Once you’ve exhausted your closer relatives, feel free to get in touch with some of the more distant ones and ask for info regarding their families – names, birthdates, worthwhile anecdotes and so forth. This will make the initial stages of your research a breeze, but be sure to fill out the family tree in-between all those exciting tales.

Continuing your genealogy research

Once you have enough dates and names, you can focus on outside sources to gather relevant information and find out who your family members really were – this will be especially invaluable when researching families from 50 years ago and older.

The U.S. Census can either act as a great starting point or a way of learning more about your distant relatives and great-grandparents. Either way, you should always keep it within a click’s reach in order to have as complete of a tree as possible.

Your job will be made a lot easier if all or most of your family has hailed from the same state going back centuries. Examples of great genealogy resources in Texas include any one of the Lone Star State’s great universities, the Texas State Library, newspaper archives, military records and so on. Bigger counties also have their own specific resources, reinforcing the aforementioned point – the more spread-out your family history is, the harder it will be to piece the tree together, but don’t get discouraged as the effort will be worth it.

Also, while researching, make sure to keep an eye out for name variations for every family member – in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for a person to be referred to by two or even three different first names (usually all variations of the same one), as first-name adherence wasn’t as rigid as it is today. As you go deeper into your research, you won’t have Google’s “Did you mean…” feature, so exercise some creativity – the same goes for nicknames, as it was common for a nickname to replace a first name altogether back in the day.

Best genealogy resources

Researching your genealogy is a fun way to find out more about yourself and your family members young and old and close and distant. Sadly, it’s also quite difficult at times, which is why not a lot of people opt for this kind of research – those that do will usually give up by the time they’ve reached their great-grandparents.

One could say that the best resource you can have for genealogy research is your own family – their stories, newspaper archives, records, diaries and so forth. But past a certain point, you won’t have much to go on without consulting outside resources. There’s no shortage of genealogy resources to choose from in the U.S., which is why you’ll need to know where to look – here are some of the best ones to familiarize yourself with.

Genealogy Resources

  • The U.S. Census: It wouldn’t be a bad idea to start with the Census even before getting in touch with some of your family members. It’s a tremendous tome of information that will make the life of every genealogy researcher easier – data regarding your family that should be readily available includes names, birthdates, places of birth and residence, jobs and more. Sure, it won’t feature actual details from the person’s lives – details that make even the toughest family history research venture worth it – but it’ll cover the basics exceedingly well. The latest census is a good start, although you’ll want to check the older ones as you explore further.
  • Military records: Very useful for accurate info regarding male (and, rarely, female) members of a family, good military records won’t just document those who performed active service but will also include those “on the outskirts”. They might prove most useful for studying family members who lived during a time of war. Florida Genealogy Records is an example of a resource that features both census information and military records, although its usefulness will wane as you reach family members from other states and possibly even countries.
  • Newspaper records: Here is where things get interesting: newspaper records will offer interesting bits and pieces from the day-to-day of your ancestors, including deeds they became known for in their communities. Newspaper records will sometimes also feature dates of birth and death, but you’ll definitely want to explore resources like Florida Cemeteries and Florida Birth and Death Records for a more in-depth look into these.
  • Florida State Archives genealogical guide: If you plan on reaching the 19th century and earlier (which you should), check this website early on to know where to look. Researching genealogy past the 1900s can get messy as the records aren’t nearly as easy to come by – here is where the die-hard hobbyists are separated from those who just want to know a bit more about their ancestors. For a complete tree, it’s likely that you’ll have to scour through most or all of the archives listed here as well as others you find on your own, but nobody said that the job of a Floridian genealogist was easy, right?

How to document your family genealogy

You might have received a somewhat-complete family tree from a relative, close or otherwise. Just looking at the ‘branches’ fills you with intrigue: who are all these people and what are their stories? As nice as the tree might look, there’s just one minor issue – the information on it might not be accurate, and it’s up to you to rectify that.

Separating the men from the myth

If your family already has its own tree assembled by one or more family members, don’t hesitate to take the job of verifying it upon yourself. Chances are, the family members in charge of the tree got their info from other family members, diaries and similar sources of questionable accuracy. While it’s always nice to hear more about your ancestors, word of mouth only does so much.

Start with the relatives on the tree closest to you and work your way up (or down, or sideways). Verify the name, birth and death date, occupation, immigration data and residence of every family member you come across, using established records resources like your state’s library, university archives and so forth.

Afterwards, try and verify the stories and tales pertaining to each individual member, be they mundane or far-fetched. For this, you’ll have to dig deep into various newspaper records (and perhaps military ones) in order to separate fact from fiction. If historical records offer no support for the tales you’ve heard about a family member, chances are that the events in question never transpired. Of course, they might have, but a family tree should be no place for speculation and legends – at the very least, make a note next to every dubious snippet of information stating that no official records back this. It might irk some family members, but others will thank you for clarifying the family genealogy through science and hard research. Speaking of thankfulness…

The future generations

If you’re having trouble finding motivation to document your family tree, it’s worth remembering something important: future generations of your family will want to know about their ancestors every bit as much as you do, and having a well-documented tree will save them quite a bit of effort.

What’s more, the records you have access to right now might not be available twenty years from now, or in a century – all it takes is a fire or a database corruption to destroy the last existing newspaper article or birth record. Thinking this way, you could almost start to feel as if you have a responsibility to create a family tree for the ages, either by updating the current one or creating a new one from scratch.

There’s no reason why you would have to do it all on your own, though: feel free to conscript one or more family members whom show an interest in the past. Working on assembling a large and detailed family tree is a great way to bring relatives together – just make sure that they’re as committed to factual information and verified data as you are!