When you first start out with genealogy, you’re going to need a place to store all of your information. But what is the best way to do that? What is the best genealogy software – by price and usability?
Some of the best genealogy software is made by FamilySearch, Ancestry, and MyHeritage, though there are other applications and programs that may work better in specific circumstances. This article will detail the factors you need to know when choosing the best genealogy software for your situation.
Ready to see which software will be right for you? Let’s do this – and keep reading for all the information you need to know before choosing any genealogy software.
How to Find the Best Overall Genealogy Software
When you’re trying to decide which type of genealogy software is the best overall, there’s going to be a little bit of wiggle room and a whole lot of “it depends.”
So for all intents and purposes, let’s first discuss the factors that need to be considered in regard to software. Then, we’ll tell you our picks and why that is at the very end of this article.
If you’d prefer to skip to our favorite software types, feel free to use the table of contents (up above) to skip ahead. Or, if you’d like to know the reasoning behind our decision, please keep reading. Then you’ll be able to see if there’s a different set of software that would work better for your needs and situation.
Here are the three most important factors in regards to genealogy software.
|Price||Your budget is going to affect what software you can afford – or which you’ll even look at. So we have to consider your budget – and the price of the software.|
|Software type or format||There are 3 main types of genealogy software: 1. mobile apps; 2. web apps; and 3. desktop/downloadable apps.|
|Your goals as a genealogist||Your goals will have a huge impact on what you want your software to do – and that, in turn, should impact your overall buying decision (even if you opt for free).|
In other words, if you’re looking at the best overall genealogy software, there need to be at least three answers – one for each type of software. Then, there may even need to be more answers – to account for the various combinations of the factors. But then we’re doing all sorts of math – and let’s save that for later on (or skip it altogether).
Even so, let’s go into some more detail about each of the three factors.
Price (from free to $200+)
If there are budgeting constraints such that you have exactly $0 to spend on genealogy software, then the answer for the best genealogical software will be a very different answer than if you’ve got several hundred dollars to help your research.
Thankfully, there are a lot of free options – the best of which (and our top free choice) is FamilySearch.org.
If price isn’t a barrier, then the top overall genealogy website-based software choice is Ancestry.com – but that will cost as much as several hundred dollars annually – unless you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
To see why we chose FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com as the best websites, read our article on it here. That article will also tell you how to get access to Ancestry.com (and several other genealogy sites) for free if you’re a member of the Church.
Between FamilySearch and Ancestry, there is a range of genealogical, membership-based websites at various price points. Sites like MyHeritage are growing and great resources – and so they might be a fantastic option for you, too.
Software Type or Format
There are three types of software formats that should be mentioned.
- Mobile apps – most mobile applications aren’t stand-alone but are associated with another software format. For example, FamilySearch’s Memories App is tied into FamilySearch.org’s website-based software. These can be downloaded via the Apple Store or the Play Store, depending on if you have an Apple or Android device.
- Web-based applications or websites – each of the websites uses its own, proprietary software to keep track of family trees on its servers. Then, it makes those trees available via the website. You can download your tree, but you do need internet access and the website to do any editing or research. Examples include FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.
- Desktop applications and downloadable software – If you want to keep your tree on your local hard drive (or wherever you want to store your own data), you’ll need a downloadable style of software. These are non-web-based programs that will not need the internet to edit your documents. However, these programs are also unlikely to provide access to any research documents. Examples include RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree.
Which of the three is right for you? Well, that’s going to depend on how you like to store your family tree.
Desktop apps are programs that you download to your computer to use. There are lots of options out there! However, in order to not complicate the decision-making process, I’ll just talk about the few most popular ones out there.
Most desktop or downloadable formats of software have a basic, free version. Or you can update for more features via the paid version. Desktop apps are good for having a “home base” or master family tree. If you use multiple web-based applications for research, it’s really nice to have that master list. That way, you can use the desktop software’ master family tree to keep track of where you found information, printing reports, making charts, and managing relevant information.
Some programs will also integrate with the web-based software for family history research, though it may come with both a steep learning curve and a loss of full usability on the web-based software’s end. These programs, however, are not capable of independent genealogical research without such integration.
If you prefer keeping tight control of your information or you want a master family tree, then you may want to have some type of downloadable software. However, if you’re willing to use shared trees, pull information from publically available trees made by others, or store your data on a cloud-based storage system, then you may want to consider web-based programs and mobile apps.
Websites and web-based genealogy applications are, by far, the most popular option these days. They’re easier to learn and use. They also give access to research records that make family history research loads easier.
For both Breanne and myself, we love using web-based programs on our computers.
FamilySearch is unique among these sites because it does limit you to a single, shared family tree. Most other web apps also allow you to have your own personal tree. Then, you get to decide how much you want to be visible for others to see. Even so, you can browse family information that’s made public by others – and you get to choose how much of that data you add to your personal family tree. Then, feel free to contact the people who uploaded or changed that information – and you’ve got more resources and research buddies!
And before you stress about identity theft of living people, please know that all web-based genealogy programs have strict privacy rules about what information can be seen or shared in regards to family tree members who are alive.
But what we really love are the mobile apps!
Mobile apps and web-based software are usually a package deal. Since mobile apps are usually not stand-alone software and are tied to web-based programs, you’ll need to decide if you want a mobile-based app. If you do, make sure you consider that when evaluating the various options.
Your Goals as a Genealogist
Finally, your goals as a genealogist are going to have a profound influence on which genealogy software is the right choice for you.
If you prefer keeping tighter control over your family tree – and you want a private tree that’s a researcher’s dream (full of sources and citations), then you’ll probably want a copy of genealogy software that you can download to your desktop computer (or laptop).
Or if you prefer doing lots of research – and to keep that research online (or on cloud-based storage), then you may prefer to use a web-based application.
Important Note: if you’re looking to be professional genealogist, you may need a paid version of a desktop software (as well as your web based choices) to keep track of clients’ files and be able to print charts and reports. If you’re a content, hobbyist level genealogist (like me, Kimberly) you may not need those things. In that case, it’s ok to stick with the free and web-based software options.
Perhaps you’ve got a mix of goals – and you want to mix and match what kind of software.
There’s no wrong answer – there’s just what your goals are and which types of software better support your goals as a genealogist.
A Direct Comparison of the Top Genealogy Software Types by Price and Usability
Ready to compare the top genealogy software types – by price, usability, and format? Let’s do this!
|$24.99/month-$199/6 months (depending on the amount of access you want and budget)||Very user friendly, easy to use with little instruction, visually pleasing interface.||The best record database to search, hints, lots of other users to glean information from, offers DNA, etc.|
|Free||Very user friendly, easy to use with little instruction, visually pleasing interface.||This is great because it is free and has so many good resources. However, with a shared tree you may want to also use other software, too, to track your research and changes to the shared tree. The wiki is an invaluable resource.|
|Ranges from free to $299/year for all-access. No monthly subscription option.||Very user friendly, easy to use with little instruction, visually pleasing interface.||The only web app with a desktop and mobile option, too. Great search features and media storage options|
|From $14.95/month to $179/year – depending on how much access you want.||Very user friendly, easy to use with little instruction, visually pleasing interface.||While you can find other records on this site, its specialty is Brish Isles research.|
|Free to $120/year for the Pro edition||Very user friendly, easy to use with little instruction, visually pleasing interface.||The free edition allows you to build a family tree and invite family members to contribute. Pro allows you to sync up to a shared family tree to get more information.|
|$29.95||The interface looks dated but has great functionality, though there is a good-sized learning curve to learn to use all the features (compared to web apps).||Lots of great features, lots of functionality even with the free version. The paid version has more backup and chart options. This is a popular desktop option used by genealogists.|
|Legacy Family Tree|
|$34.95||A good user interfaces most visibly appealing for a desktop app. The learning curve is steep but better than other desktop apps.||It has great basic features, even more with the paid version.|
|Family Tree Builder|
|Free||A visually appealing interface and icons increase usability.||This can be synced with the MyHeritage web app. Overall functionality increases with a membership to MyHeritage.|
|Family Tree Maker|
|$79.95-$99.95||A visually appealing interface and icons increase usability.||There is no free version available, but it is a great program with lots of features including backup options, photo editing, and maps.|
|$46.50||A visually appealing interface and icons increase usability.||There is a free 30-day trial option available with this software. This is another great choice with features such as strong integration with MyHeritage, website creation, and timelines.|
Want to read more about the above options? Here are some links to each of the respective websites and downloadable software. Some of these are affiliate partner links that will give you a free trial and, in some cases, a discount.
- Ancestry.com – click here to go to their site
- FamilySearch.org – access it here
- MyHeritage – click here to get a free 14-day trial
- FindMyPast – use this link here to get a free 14-day trial
- Roots Magic – click here for their features page
- Legacy Family Tree – click here to compare paid and free versions
- Free Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage – click here to download and see options
- Family Tree Maker – click here to compare the 2019 version with previous editions
- Family Historian – click here to see the current feature list
Don’t forget – if you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, go through FamilySearch to get access to our four favorite genealogy sites for free – through the Church’s partner program.
The Best Free Genealogy Software
If your budget demands free, that’s awesome. We’ve all been in that boat at some point – and there is a clear winner in the “it’s got to be free genealogy software!” department.
FamilySearch.org is the clear and definite winner of free, online software options. That will give you free access to a shared family tree and millions of records to further your genealogical research.
Then, add in the free desktop software options (Breanne says to go with either RootsMagic Essential or Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition) and you’ll be in great shape.
In either case, you can start with the free options. Both RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree have great functionality, usability, and features even on the free versions. Then, as time and budget allow, you can upgrade that desktop software to the paid versions for more features and functionality.
Even so, let’s make a table so you can check out the options.
|Free Genealogy Software||Notes|
|FamilySearch.org||Web app, unlimited access for all the site has to offer for free, shared tree, many records to search, research helps and wiki access.|
|MyHeritage.com||The free version is still awesome, though it’s limited to a max of 250 individuals in a family tree.|
|Family Tree Builder||There is a premium upgrade for more features.|
|RootsMagic Essentials||The free version gives you everything you need to build your own basic family tree. The paid version gives you direct backup to various locations, support, database tools, calendars, increased and easier searchability, and more report options.|
|Legacy Family Tree |
|The free version lets you build family trees, birthday reminders, basic reports, and more. The paid version unlocks more reports, historical timelines, and the ability to record DNA findings.|
|GRAMPS||This free, open-source software was created by genealogist volunteers. There is a good-sized learning curve to use it, though.|
So if you need free genealogy software, start with FamilySearch.org – and then add in the free versions of RootsMagic and/or Legacy Family Tree (standard edition).
From there, you may also want to use MyHeritage.com – with free access. However, if you want to unlock a free 14-day trial of their whole platform, use our partner link (click here to go to their site). That link should give you a discount on a subscription, too, if you choose to go that route.
Genealogy Software Usability with Other Programs
Ready to see how some of the different software programs interact? Let’s do a table to see which programs can interact with others – and which ones can’t.
|Software||Ancestry.com||FamilySearch.org||MyHeritage.com||Find My Past.com|
|FamilySearch.org||Yes (with LDS access)||N/A||No*||No*|
|Legacy Family Tree||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Family Tree Builder||No||No||Yes||No|
|Family Tree Maker||Yes||Yes||No||No|
Why the asterisk after a no in the FamilySearch.org row? Well, that’s due to the fact that, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church has a free partner program with those sites.
The Church gives members access to those programs. We aren’t sure if the Church pays your membership dues or exactly how it happens, but that’s okay. It’s been around since 2014 and we think it’s here to stay. For more information on this partner program, read the appropriate section of this post.
In any case, these programs won’t integrate – but you can still use all of them separately and export info from one to import into some of the others. It’ll just depend on the order in which you do things.
The Best Genealogy Websites
While no website has everything, the best overall website for genealogy is Ancestry.com. However, if you need to stick to free options, then the best overall genealogy website is FamilySearch.org.
Keep in mind that no one site has everything, for the best research experience you have to use a variety of them, each has their own specialty.
For more information on the top four websites – and why we picked Ancestry and FamilySearch as the best overall and free options, read our explanation on it here. Don’t worry – there are lots of cool tables and data in that post, too!
Oh, and if you want to know which site surprised us – and became a close contender? It’s MyHeritage – it’s really cool. So makes sure you read about that one in our post linked above, too.
12 Best Free Genealogy Websites
Ready to get some more free, web-based help? These are 12 of the best free genealogy websites we’ve found.
- FamilySearch-great comprehensive site for research, contributing to a shared tree, and preserving memories
- MyHeritage.com-offers basic features for building a tree and searching (if you want to see the records you do have to pay), and preserving memories
- Geni-free to build a tree and then pay to connect to the shared tree and get more information
- Cyndi’s List-the best site for learning about resources available by country, record type, etc.
- Heritage Quest Online – you’ll have to access this site through your local library
- WikiTree-free shared family tree
- FindAGrave-find your relative’s burial site and maybe even a photo of their headstone
- BillionGraves-another virtual cemetery site
- US GenWeb– check out local resources organized by state
- World GenWeb-check out resources available throughout the world
- Chronicling America free newspaper resources available through the Library of Congree
- GENUKI-find local resources for your British Isles research
- Ellis Island-find relatives who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island
Want even more free websites to add to your bookmarks or your list of references? We’ve got a far more complete list of free genealogy websites and resources on this post here. So go ahead and bookmark this post – and then you’ll be able to find a ton of free resources!
Best Genealogy Apps (Mobile Apps)
Finally, let’s get into the best genealogy software for mobile devices – also known as mobile apps.
- Family Tree from Family Search – this easily syncs with the web-based pages and applications. It’s a mobile view of all you can see on FamilySearch – including family trees and research!
- Memories from FamilySearch – this app also easily syncs with the web applications and FamilySearch site. This lets you store voice recordings, stories, pictures, and more. It’s a fun, easy way to record important moments – for free.
- MyHeritage – this app easily syncs with the website and applications. It lets you store memories, stories, and tons more via the app. It’s worth downloading and using, especially if you have the subscription already!
- Ancestry – easily syncs with the website and related applications. This lets you look at almost everything that you could see on the website – including trees, sources, and new research. It’s awesome.
- Ancestry DNA – if you’ve done a DNA test through Ancestry, there’s a secondary app to see your DNA results. This app lets you see other relatives who’ve taken the DNA test – including how you’re likely to be related.
- RootsMagic – this syncs with the desktop app through Dropbox, though it’s not as easy to sync without Dropbox. Syncing through Dropbox will require the paid version of the desktop software, though.
- Families from Legacy Family Tree – this requires having the Families Sync program to keep your Legacy Family Tree desktop app up-to-date.
Which apps do we have and use?
Personally, I have and use both of the FamilySearch apps, both of the Ancestry apps, and the MyHeritage app after Breanne told me how cool it was. I still need to do more on that – but it looks really cool. There’s a colorize old photos option that’s really neat.
Personally, I haven’t tried the RootsMagic or the Families from Legacy Family Tree apps. Mostly because I don’t have any desktop software – I’m an online kind of gal.
Oh, and if you have the Ancestry DNA app, too? Take a peek – go see if we’re related.
Our Top Picks for Genealogy Software, Sites, and Apps
Now that we’ve talked about all of the options for genealogy software, it’s time to tell you our picks.
In our opinion, the best free (overall) software option is FamilySearch.org – hands down. It’s got online software and two robust, awesome mobile apps. It’s worth getting in addition to any other software you end up choosing. And don’t forget to download both of FamilySearch’s mobile apps!
However, the best overall (paid) genealogy software option is Ancestry.com, followed by a close second MyHeritage.com. Ancestry has far more records to search, but MyHeritage has mindblowing features (especially SuperSearch, which lets you get search results in multiple languages) and media storage options make it an amazing option. For either of these two options that you get, make sure you download their mobile apps, too.
So if you can, get all three: FamilySearch, Ancestry, and MyHeritage. It’s worth having them all for different reasons. And there’s not a ton of overlap, so you’ll end up using the functionality of all three – especially once you become a geeky genealogy pal like us!
Then, if you absolutely want a desktop-style software, get RootsMagic or Families from Legacy Family Tree – unless you’ve got MyHeritage. If you’ve got MyHeritage, then get their desktop software.