Family history software and apps

This month’s twitterchat was looking at what programs and apps we use to help with our genealogy and family history. Instead of my normal summary, I am just going to mention all the programs and apps and if possible include a video or link to how to use that program or app.

Questions asked were:

  • Which apps and software do you use most for #familyhistory? What’s the latest tool/app you’ve discovered? Strengths/weaknesses.
  • How do you find out the next big things in software/apps? Where do you go for tech support or learning about new software?
  • How do software & apps change the way you research and organise your #familyhistory?
  • Any suggestions for software & apps for writing your stories, creating books or sharing #FamilyHistory?

Comment by Carmel:

Apps can be convenient when sitting waiting for an appointment, some work well for editing photos etc and when visiting family without computer they provide access to the online tree. Downside of some apps they may only have a short lifespan

Comment by Pauleen:

Software for genealogy has certainly changed how we research now compared to even in 2000-2010. I’ve said before that I find the constant tsunami of data makes it challenging to stay on top of everything, record and analyse it and generally be organised.

Comment by Hilary:

I use the WikiTree Sourcer browser extension to help me find the information I need on both free and paid websites

Comment by Lis:

I don’t use many family history apps. In my experience of apps, they often have a more mobile-friendly display, but sometimes lack the functionality of a web version. Sometimes they’re better though!

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Searching, saving and managing your research

Graphics, maps and photos

Connecting with others and sharing stories:

Youtube – lots of research sites also have their own youtube channel

Readers: What software, program and apps do you use relating to family history and genealogy?

Genealogy and history books

A great chat tonight about what books we use as part of our family history research.

What are your favourite genealogy/family history books? Share the names and the focus of the content eg Ireland, Australia, NZ Do you read books about where your ancestors lived? Fact or fiction?

I take Surnames of Ireland by MacLysaght, @Irish_Genealogy‘s book & Brian Mitchell’s Genealogical Atlas of Ireland off my shelf most.

Taming A Plateau .. A History of the Beechmont District #GoldCoastHinterland #Queensland My mother and father met in the Beechmont area, my Dad was teaching, and Mum came home to her family on the mountain for the weekend.

Haven’t been reading much at all from books recently so, this evening I will be looking for good ideas (and either this question is early or my clock is wrong!)

Depends why I am researching – for a biography I will certainly check out books and websites about the area they lived in and why they might have moved there.

I use a book written about my husband’s mother’s family from Cornwall to Southland. It is good for giving who the families are, but the dates are not always accurate – and people are missing.

For my family there are a couple of useful books. Sailors and Settlers. Migration from Nova Scotia to Waipu, Northland. Many of my father’s family in that. And my mother’s features in Guardian of the Valley, the story of Christ Church, Taitā, Lower Hutt.

I just ordered a book on Bruff, Co. Limerick yesterday, where one ancestral family came from. It’s local history but interested to see the names of families, etc.

I have books relevant to my history. Victoria University of Wellington: 1899 – 1999. Away from Home: The Story of Victoria House. The WEL Herstory: Women’s Electoral Lobby in NZ 1975 – 2002. Plus reports and brochures. Plus reports I wrote on history.

I used to read a lot of historical novels … can be useful for getting a flavour of time and place.

I usually find the book I am reading is my current favourite. I know many of the books I read should be used more as reference books however by reading the whole book I think I absorb more FH knowledge and therefore skills.

My favourite genie/FH books relate to the places my ancestors came from, Irish history mid-19th century, the Irish Famine, Immigration/Emigration. You can see my favourite books on my blog at

so many books to choose from. I’ll be posting some photos. The first book Phillimores is probably very predictable. And Grenham’s is a testament to fine scholarship.

Here’s a couple more. The Digging for Diggers is wonderful for researching military ancestors in Australia. And Nick Vine Hall’s book is probably a bit old now but still useful.

These next two are great reference books I picked up 2nd hand. Evidence Explained helps me when I’m citing my sources and the Mechanical Eye is great for photo research in Australia.

The Featherston Chronicles: A Legacy of War has information about my father’s role in the prisoners of war riot at the Camp in Featherston. He was on the roof with a rifle and fired shots at the rushing throng. He testified at the Enquiry.

Farewell my children by Richard Reid is one of my favourites, Oceans of Consolation (Fitzpatrick), Dorfprozelten Teil II has been invaluable for the Bavarian immigrants from that village. Argyll 1730-1850 (McGeachy) Robert Dunne (N Byrne).

I used to read historical novels too. Philippa Gregory is one of my favourites. Which reminds me I have one that is unread sitting somewhere.

Nick Vine Hall was my first FH book.

Made my think how useful the local societies are great for having a range of books to read. Especially local books. Reading the books / references @MargLBailey has been mentioning brought this to mind and made me realise how you can be far from home.

I think photography books are so useful and among my most frequently used books.

I particularly liked Is history fiction by Curthoys and Docker.

Some of my collection of genealogy books here

One of the first FH books I bought was Pauline Litton’s Pitfalls and Possibilities in Family History Research. Have bought so many books since then! Gibson Guides great for English records, Grenham for Irish.

Walter Macken’s books a set during the Irish Famine are evocative.

AND the books I read most are those I download from the Internet Archive, Google Books, etc on clan and family histories. I have quite a few I consult often. Wonderful they are available and free.

I have quite a few of the ‘Tracing your…’ books which I have as Kindle versions. I tend to use as reference mostly. I don’t really get time to read much these days, except at bedtime when I just fall asleep…

May I recommend a #Book for those researching Ontario Ancestors… Genealogy in Ontario 4th Edition by Brenda Dougall Merriman…

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How do you find your next great genealogy/history read? Are you in the process of writing your family history in a book? What format will you use?

In the good old days I found interesting books at conference book stalls and speakers books. Now I read mostly online – not really proper books – sometimes white papers, sometimes blog posts. I usually save them and read later.

I am slowly writing my autobiography. I need to get serious about doing it. I write notes when I think of a topic. I haven’t decided how I will stick it together. I have a lot of material in spreadsheets and documents to use. I need a professional editor.

I listen to podcasts – family history – e.g. the Genealogy Guys and ABC’s Bookshelf and read genealogy mags. That’s usually more than enough suggestions.

Years ago I thought I might like to write about about the experiences of a working woman. Never got over thinking I would like chapter 6 to be called Boys Talk. All about how in a meeting some people do not listen and present others ideas as theirs. Decided that I should get over being so bitter about corporate life and get on doing things I loved doing. Is not doing genealogy so much better?

currently taking a shortcut to writing a family history and using photos with captions to make a #familyhistory photobook

I like the idea of themes with autobiographies unless there is an overarching theme over the decades.

I published my Kunkel family history in hard back. I can’t believe that’s nearly 20 years ago. I have two in drafts that need a lot of updating and editing. My energy levels aren’t what they were, sadly

the Hazel Edwards ones have some good ideas

Not that I have any experience writing books – I think that a good editor can help bring it all together. You have interesting topics. Not sure if anyone has written a history of computing in NZ especially from someone on the ground at the time. Interests me.

This Friday I am helping some people start writing their family stories on a blog.

I have mainly been reading fiction from authors like @NathanDGoodwin and others recommended in the facebook group for genealogical authors

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How do you manage your personal library of digital or hard copy books? Do you mainly purchase your research/reference books or borrow from a library?

Mine are all in my Kindle App in Collections. I also add them to Zotero, which you can do straight from Amazon with one click. I have one folder for the books I’ve bought and another one called ‘Wishlist’ 🙂

If I wanted to start cataloguing all the books I have at home, what would you recommend I use online?

Zotero. There is a Chrome Extension that if you are on the Amazon page for your book you can add all the details with one click. You can add tags/notes and file the entry in multiple folders at once without duplicating it. And its free! And backed up in the cloud! I love it. I use it for my books, but also for all my saved resources eg conference handouts, blogposts. Can file in multiple folders and add tags for easy search/retrieve.

Definitely as you can choose which library or organisation has done the cataloging, books with barcodes can be scanned in via app, great search interface too all free for personal use 2 posts here…

Libib is the app he used for his 3000 books . Delighted with it

I have my books on LibraryThing but fear it’s sadly out of date. I note on GoodReads whether the book I’ve read is my ebook, a library book or on my shelf.

I like to buy ref books. Historical fiction from library or Kindle. Dithering over Advanced Genetic Genealogy though. The library has a copy which I’ve read, but at €50, I’m not sure how much use to have on the shelf when the tech is changing so fast.

I have the Bettinger books but not this one. They are useful for understanding the background and how it helps your FH.

Plus so much is online and with a complicated topic smaller bites of material is sometimes easier.

One of the reasons I like digital is that we used to move lots. We used to have large, heavy solid wooden book cases. One day I donated most of the books to the book sale at the school fete. Since then we share most books and keep a few special favourites.

My books in their location are all on a ssheet. Most are very old. I don’t buy hard-cover now. I’m trying to get rid of them, but it’s hard. I gave my children books (1940s/50s) to my nephew for my g-niece this year. Digital in folders by topic.

I love old children’s books too – Violet Needham and Nina Bawden, Arthur Ransome and of course the ubiquitous Enid Blyton.

I still have all my old children’s books – Enid Blyton, Malcolm Saville, W E Johns, C S Lewis, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis 🙂

I find it easier to read paper books, but I need to downsize. I don’t often borrow from the library. I don’t have time to read them.

I am a crime/police procedural tragic. Authors and books I’ve loved for years: Tara French, Michael Connelly, the Rebus books. Have recently discovered the Louise Penny series about Inspector Gamache. Also an excellent book by @damyantig You Beneath Your Skin.

I read both hard copy and digital books. With the latter I always have them with me, can look up places or words easily. I also find them easier to read an night.

I mainly go for digital books now as I can read them any place anytime. I do like reading old novels so they download for free. Plus I have the bad habit of reading multiple books at a time. I can even leave a book for a year or so and go back to it.

I find Kindle is easier for my bad eyesight now, being backlit and can increase font size. I struggle with normal books these days. Also, I always have access to my entire library wherever I am.

I usually buy hard copy books for reference reading but also love that I can buy digital copies for some. I am a fan of highlighting and adding comments to my reference books

mainly digital nowadays and try to remember to add them to my LibraryThing account other wise I might buy twice or indeed read Historical fiction, my favourite genre twice

I tend to borrow historical fiction from the library, and buy non-fiction (usually hard copies, but Kindle versions if necessary/impatient!)

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Are you an avid reader? What other genre do you favour? Share some authors or titles we can read. Share your favourite reading spot (photo or words) and maybe a pic of your To Be Read pile. Favourite tipple or snack while reading.

Not since I found online genealogy. Reading has almost disappeared from my life. I’m busy trying to solve the next DNA match or find the next record!

golden age detective fic, crime, fantasy. Anything really. TBR pile is largely non-fic, that I haven’t been in the right mood for!

yes, avid reader of historical fiction and lately Australian rural fiction, light stuff but fun. Chocoholic. Digital, digital Local library has BorrowBox and Libby – the genealogy/ family history magazines are all available in Libby

Good reminder to look at the FH mags at the library, thanks Carmel. I have mixed luck finding what I want for books at the library.

These days, when I read, I read for information and, more often than not I hunt down what I want to find online. I haven’t bought an actual book for a while

I used to be more so – used to read about 3 books a week. I love crime, historical mystery stories eg Paul Docherty. fantasy eg Robin Hobbs. Loved the Outlander series.

I read for at least an hour most mornings. It’s usually news or FH news looking for something to share on Caloundra Family History FB page. I often get distracted, say down a scientific DNA paper & have remember to come up for air. I might try a book tomorrow.

Jennifer Jones recommended this book a while ago. On my TBR list. Writing True Stories by Patti Miller .

Readers: Maybe you would like to answer the final question and leave a comment on this post.

Writing a research question

An important part of genealogical research is deciding what questions you want answered and where might you find those answers. This was a great choice of topic for #ANZAncestryTime 

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What is the purpose of a research question? Are research questions an important part of your research methodology?

Sorry I can’t make today’s #ANZAncestryTime! Research questions are my favorite topic

Here’s a link to @marksology‘s site The Ancestor Hunt. The March 15, 2021 Bi-Weekly Newsletter includes my guest post, “Crafting an Irresistible Research Question”. /2…

You can find out more about Genealogy and Family History Stack Exchange, a question-and-answer site where I’m one of the mods pro tempore, by taking the tour and reading our help center. /3

Sometimes when we’re reviewing prior research as we’re writing up our questions for the site, we discover we know how to answer the question ourselves. Stack Exchange encourages people to write self-answered questions as a way to share our work. /4

These journals from @GenSocIreland will be of interest to those with #IrishGenealogy. Issues include practical information about working with documents such as Irish Wills, as well as family histories of the diaspora…

When doing the diploma, I found Dianne Snowden gave great help when setting up specific research question rather than just a general one. This has improved my researching skills tremendously

I really should have done that intro subject 😬 #ResearchQuestions are immensely useful & I should endeavour to use them more.

I do rely on research questions when writing my family stories. They create an intention & help me to stay focused. I tend to easily go off track otherwise

The point of a research question is for it to be specific so it can help you to find the answer to a problem. A research question helps you stay focused on a task

Ever since I started Family History at the University of Tasmania I have tried to write a focused and concise research questions as part of my research plan – to focus my research. Have I been successful? NO.

I find using the website research Ties helps me to write research questions as it is set up for this purpose…

Going back over previous research and reexamining evidence very helpful in formulating the next steps – and deciding what question needs to be answered.

I am not good with excel Alex so I need a well structured log ready made for me. Research ties helps me to keep track of my research and since I began using it I tend to use research questions more

A well crafted research question can guide our research to the right record set

Writing out a research question forces you to focus on what you want to know. You can see if it is more than one question. Or maybe you are a little confused and have to relook at your evidence. To me it is focusing on just one question at a time.

Shauna to me question at a time is key, along with focus., Without a research question I would want to tell a person’s entire story in one writing session.

It depends on what you mean by a question. I have questions I want answering all the time. Today’s – what is John Cummings’ date and place of birth? Why is he not in any records until he marries my cousin in 1916?

Relooking at your evidence is a helpful process when researching.

I think research questions help structure your thoughts and identify what you already know and keep you on course as it were. I need to use them more regularly in my research.

I find that if I formulate research questions I am more likely to achieve a successful outcome as I stay focused

I’m currently writing family stories for the April A-Z blogging challenge. A research question for each post stops me rambling on and losing focus of the intention of the post.

I found Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do Overs very useful in this regard. Encouraging us all to go over previous research, slow down and testing theories. I blogged about it here…

Currently going over all my research entering sources first rather than just dates and places so if no source it does not get entered

A much as I promise myself that I will put some source even if it is not perfect I found 2 people yesterday that I have added to try to get to DNA matches & have no idea where I got them from. They are living to so it’s probably not a tree

It is easy to forget where we found things when we forget to record it Fran but we all do it from time to time

Research Qs help narrow scope/time (important for me with any client work). For personal work, I tend to use research Qs when I’m investigating a theory e.g. pattern of 1Cs rather than siblings as wits. Otherwise, generic research Q “what can I learn about X”

It really is helpful. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I just poke, shake, rattle and pull (my own research) randomly to see what shakes out. Sometimes best discoveries are from that or it allows me to frame a more concrete question.

Yes, RQs are an important part of my research methodology. Asking the right question, and making sure the question is answerable, can open up new avenues for #genealogy research.

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How would you structure an effective research question? Do you record your research questions, evidence and outcomes in a research log?

I really dislike research logs & don’t use them. I record my research question plus evidence & outcomes in my family history program.

I used to use notebooks but I found that I wasn’t able to quickly find where I had found information so an online log is working well so far

Yes Sharn – same. I think what is great about online logs (read blog in my case) is that you can tag stuff and search for it easily.

My rule of thumb is “use what works for you”. The best system is the one you’ll actually use.

well I am always firmly in favour of never reinventing the wheel when someone has already done a marvellous job. I recently discovered Prudence Dwyer’s SMART research goals template on Fuzzy Ink Stationery…

To create a good question you must gather what you already know and how you know it. I will only record a question if I am going somewhere to find the answer

An excellent point Hilary. As the Cheshire cat said to Alice when she asked which road to take “It depends on where you are going”

Unfortunately I don’t record my research question, evidence and outcomes in a research log very often. My blog is the closest I come to that. Here is an example of some recent research but I need to do better – check blog listed below

Hard to describe in a few words. I include points to create borders around or exclude information that you might find. Eg born 1888 means you can pass by years say 1888+-2 years. Or immigrated to Aust in 1895 means suggests the 1901 census is not relevant.

I usually use pen and paper. I don’t keep them once I have answered the question. I record the outcome in my genealogy software. I don’t use a research log & never have. With new resources coming online I think we need to review and go over existing research.

This is how I do it too Shauna. I’m so pleased to hear you don’t use research log either. I did think I was a ‘bad genie’ for not using them

I have only been using a research log since we did that topic Jennifer but I have found it helpful so far for remembering what I have done – sometimes I forget and grab a notebook out of habit

I find it works for me to record it in Legacy in the notes for the person

I use notes in Legacy for DNA information seeing my tree is a DNA matches tree. I have my own sources too like BDM Online and Cemetery Search

I create a structure for blog pages of my ancestral lines – so that helps keep it focused rather than necessarily writing research questions – however for my Colonial American ancestry research I created a summary project page of directions I was taking

A summary project page is a great idea. I always create a structure when beginning a blog post about a family member. Along with the research question it helps to keep it clear and concise

Perhaps I subconsciously do this as I write my profiles. I have certain data I try to find for all of them, then look for extra info if I have time. That list is in my head. Then I add the categories and stickers

I usually have a research aim with two or three questions relating to it, then list of records to use to find the answers

I’ve been wondering WHERE people write their #ResearchQuestions. I think i’d have to have it, in very large letters, on a whiteboard above my desk, for it to keep me honest.

My whiteboard is where I put my research question Brooke. Along with any brain storming I think of that might help to answer the question

I also write the research question in the person’s notes in Legacy and at the top of a blog post and delete it when it’s completed. I find that works really well for me

I like that approach Jennifer. I’ll have to find the equivalent notes place in Family History Maker software.

If I am going to the archives, I will write question on my notes app in ipad, then as I find answers will add to the app

Several apps been released over the last few months for use on @WikiTreers. For Electoral Rolls I use the Ancestry Citer app. The source is same for all except district & year. I keep it loaded on a tab, add link, create source, copy & paste it in the profile.

I agree! I like to break down a research question into small distinct steps. That way you feel like you’re making progress, even if you can’t answer the question fully, or straight away.

SMART works for me: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-sensitive. e.g. What testamentary evidence is available from online sources (incl. library/archive catalogues and newspapers) for person X in country/ies Y between 1852 and 1890.

Approach depends on context. For theory testing usually excel. For personal research, the log is the person profile and allows me to identify specific knowledge gaps. Otherwise, word doc with headings tailored to research q, incl search parameters/criteria

I use @ScrivenerApp as my research planning journal. It is writing software with an integrated outliner, document editor, and index cards.

For research planning and discovering questions to explore, I like to create a timeline and a checklist of sources already gathered. For tough cases, I use a spreadsheet based on this design by Crista Cowan.

Crista’s checklist is cleverly designed to go along with Ancestry’s categories of records (no surprise there). I’ve added other categories to mine, like academic papers and genealogy journals.

There’s a space on the Source Checklist spreadsheet to put the research question at the top. If you have several RQs about the same person or family line, or in the same locality, it’s easy to copy a sheet and keep everything together in the same workbook.

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Tell us how you have used / could use a research question to solve a problem in your family history research?

Well I may submit a brickwall question to the SAG English research group this week but want to be sure that I present the information clearly to them. Their guidelines ask what I know and where I’ve looked so that is a start.

A key part of a research question for me is a timeline. That allows me to see any gaps or inconsistencies. James Henry Trevaskis disappeared in Copperfield, QLD. I have narrowed down to less than 5 year gap. Still haven’t solved that but review every so often.

I have several places where a research question may help usually when father is unknown

Before I formulate my research question. I always create a timeline to help show where I have gaps. I love timelines!

I find that I tend to use research questions more when I have a tough problem to solve like differentiating between two people of the same name. Staying focused and writing everything down helps

For me I need focus. Writing a question down, reviewing what I have, listing possible sources, not repeating work. Am I successful? Not all the time however if I do a weekend full of research I do progress and get more done.

I love the timeline approach. @ScientistSoph ‘s GenShow presentation about negative space emphasised how useful it is.

I’ve used MindMaps for framing some complex challenges like finding ancestry of my 3 x gt gdmother from the Isle of Skye – wrt Viking ancestral lines etc

Currently examining 1898 and 1902 reports of sibling funerals to identify those individuals/families who attended both and using 1901 census to begin building family trees for those men to query relationship to family. Early days but promising

I’ll link to some of my RQs that I posted on Genealogy Stack Exchange. (As my husband’s former boss used to say, “If you don’t cite yourself, who will?”)

I found a card index for probate files on FamilySearch and realized I didn’t know how to use the index properly to find the file. So I worked it out and posted a self-answered question to show others how I solved the problem.

This brilliant QA was written in response to one of my questions on the site about GRO subdistricts. If you need to narrow the geographical area when ordering a certificate for a birth or death in England and Wales, try this clever hack.


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Share where  we can find information about using research questions. What has been your best source of information?

Another post that helps with writing a Family History research question from @familylocket.…

my research questions are not as detailed as some of I have seen. Depends on what the issue is. I prefer to keep things simple, You can use your genealogy software to record them eg by using tags for brick walls and then in the text list what you know

Some blogs and websites with information……

If I have a particularly sticky research question I will use @EvidentiaSoft to analyse the information

We do have to think of those who come after us Margaret. When I think back to some of the old info, totally unsourced that has been handed to me over the years. It’s very frustrating. You want to be helpful to your descendants

That is why I put all my research on WikiTree and FamilySearch – it will be available for everyone after me. I am transferring my mother’s 50 years of work from her unsourced trees to these place adding the sources as I go. I HAVE NO DESCENDANTS.

perhaps the best piece of research I did was with the aid of a mindmap which did show up areas of research I hadn’t investigated in connection with my maternal grandfather. I blogged about it here…

How to Develop a Quality Genealogy Research Question from @FHFanatics. I love the Youtube with Devon & Andrew. To the point, quick and easy to understand.…

I think we all have our own approaches that suit our brains/work styles. Mine is based on college & experience. There’s no “right” way IMHO. Maybe one mentioned today will resonate more than others. Do what works for you. Best advice is “suck it and see”! 🙂


Blog posts

Sue: Conducting your research.

Alex: Canadian research,

We picked this topic to help us think about Research Questions as next week we are doing “Helping Solving Your Brick Walls”. It is one of the popular suggestions for a topic. During the week feel free to write a question & tweet questions.

Not quite sure how it will work. Other chats do this so lets give the topic “Helping Solving Your Brick Walls” a go next week. Regards Fran & the team

Readers: Do you use research questions and how do they help you in your research?