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!

Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

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?

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 

GraphicMama-team / Pixabay

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.

StockSnap / Pixabay

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.


manfredsteger / Pixabay


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?

How do you keep a record of your research?

This week #ANZAncestryTime chat looked at Family Tree software and online tree services.

  1. For your main family tree, what software or online tree service do you use and why?
  2. What other software or online tree services do you use or have used for your family tree and why?
  3. What important features or functionality do you look for when choosing a home for your main family tree?
  4. Do you prefer a program that interacts with online services such as FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc?

Some participants have their main tree offline on their home computers, but might have a basic pedigree type tree on online websites. But if they have DNA tested they have a well built tree on the site where they tested as well as a GEDCOM uploaded on other sites where they have also uploaded their raw DNA data.

jplenio / Pixabay

Main online websites for creating and/or uploading trees: Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, WikiTree, Family Tree DNA

Offline family history software: Family Historian, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic,

Allie: Offline I use Family Historian, having tried out a few different ones. I have bits of my tree online, as a back up of sorts and to take advantage of record hints, but they are all private. Also have part of my tree publicly on WikiTree.

Maggie: I use Family Historian, but really only for generating large charts. I should spend a bit more time getting to grips with it.

Allie: Tbh I tend to put my research mainly into documents rather than the software, but it’s useful for quick reference and producing gedcoms. I probably don’t use a tenth of the features.

Pauleen: Ah, another narrative person 🙂

Allie: Definitely! I use a combination of text, timelines and tables depending on what I’m researching, I find it a much clearer way of recording the info as I go and easier to pick up again when I come back. Gedcoms are more of a quick reference tool for me.

Pauleen: Strange as it may seem I really don’t like FH software much except for the basic genealogy descendancy. The software makes me feel boxed in and I prefer narrative and using spreadsheets etc as tools. DNA, on the other hand, necessitates using a tree.

Michelle: I use the Person Notes space in FTM to write a biographical narrative and the Research Notes space for thoughts observations, questions, hypotheses etc Combined with timeline view and task list it keeps me on track even if I have a break from it 🙂

Michelle: It is much easier to find errors and do data cleanup in the offline tree and then I can just push the changes to my online tree. So much better for consistency.

Michelle: I like my offline tree for confidentiality, to keep sensitive information private and to store images/documents that are subject to copyright. I like the online tree for DNA matches, collaboration. I prefer offline tree for ability to group, filter and colour code people, generate reports, find errors and do database cleanup, see linkages between people by location. Lots of power that the online sites don’t have.

ANZ: Sometimes it’s best to stay with what you know. It’s so time consuming to learn a new program entirely I’ve found

Hilary: I am trying to update my file with better sourcing so trying to figure out how best to do it before I add too much not quite there yet

Michelle: It is definitely worth doing. I restarted my tree a couple of times in RootsMagic as I learnt more about how it handled citations and decided I wanted to change how I had set them up.

There was quite a bit of discussion about how to add weblinks to Ancestry so you can extend the story with other sources than those provided by Ancestry.

Dara: I do that occasionally too, though not consistently. Must get better at it !

Sue: I try to research one person at a time and after putting in basics look for newspapers etc and include links straight away before I forget. Do that with library clients as well so they get whole story.

Jennifer: There is so much I need to learn about Ancestry. I don’t spend much time there at the moment mainly due to the dreaded time issues

Sue: Also add Trove article URLs to same place as web links

Jane: I sometimes add links to images of a record from FindMyPast where Ancestry has the record but not the image

Sue: I add those weblinks so anyone checking the profile of person they are researching known I have done lots of research on my own not just relying on Ancestry hints.

Jennifer: I’m using Legacy and their Timelines work well. The early FTM had great time lines. I haven’t used the later versions so unsure

Dara: I started with Legacy, easy to use. Now I use Ancestry as my main ‘tree’, but I don’t usually attach sources. I save them down in my ‘filing system’, which acts as my pedigree chart.

Jane: I do tend to work in Ancestry and sync to Family Tree Maker rather than vice versa. I should take some time to learn to use FTM more proficiently rather than just using it as a syncing and merging tool

Pauleen: One reason for choosing RootsMagic was its online links. However I don’t load my tree from there to Ancestry etc. I don’t load sources found elsewhere into Ancestry, just the ones on their site. I prefer to keep my sources and data separate to my software.

Hilary: I prefer a standalone desktop program as less risk of introducing errors. My software has good matching capability which is one of the reasons I like it

Jane: Sometimes it gets to the point where the additional trees at places like GEDmatch etc. are best taken down and a new more up-to-date GEDcom uploaded from your main tree

Hilary: I love @WikiTreers as it allows a narrative and photographs to be added that I have control over so is main place for my online tree I can also add links to blogposts

Jennifer: I keep saying that I must check out wikitree. Time always seems to get in the way, but I’m putting it at the top of that ever growing list

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Fran: Yes the online trees are great if you are sharing / collaborating with family in distant places.

Fran: Ancestry has got us more entwined with trees and DNA as we get more matches.

Sue: I only put public tree on Ancestry when I was doing DNA, prior to that, kept on my computer and rellies could request charts etc especially as they had helped with data at family reunions

Sue: Where is everyone else? on Ancestry, also where I have DNA tested lots of rellies, great hints, ability to add sources and weblinks as well as add to a timeline. Great support help area

Allie: Ease of use. I like software that is easy to navigate and fairly intuitive/WYSIWYG. I’m not going to be using it much for anything other than producing gedcoms & recording sources, so lots of extras like reports, charts and maps aren’t that important to me.

Maggie: I look for ease of use, good search facility, reporting features. Plus good support from company.

Jennifer: I was drawn to Legacy because of their sources capability. It took me ages to get my head around how to use it. When I was almost about to give up I figured it out and know that I made the right choice for me.

Margaret: I was talking about merging FamilySearch entries within the Legacy FamilySearch box as against going to the website and doing it. Merge in Legacy is easy.

Pauleen: Confidentiality, compatibility with online databases and especially flexibility in relationships. Same sex marriages, pre-marriage childbirth, divorce and separation are part of many families

ANZ: I tried out the My Heritage app recently and liked it. I use family search and Ancestry apps regularly

Fran: I also use Family Tree Maker with it linked to Ancestry and Family Search. It’s linked to various persons DNA i manage. Plus I save Ancestry sources I find – good when I do not have time to source immediately. Risky however better than not saving them at all.

Jane: I used to use Legacy years ago and really liked using it but in recent times I have switched to Family Tree Maker because of the way it syncs with Ancestry. My Ancestry tree has a very broad base with lots of DNA matches connected

Fran: Moved back to Reunion when the app came out. Like having everything on my ipad when I go away. Before I used to duplicate all the sources on Evernote with digital images so needed the paid version. Evernote had a big price increase so it cemented the change.

Maggie: Use Heredis for some of its reporting features, plus Family Historian for when I want to print large family trees. Use online private unsearchable trees on Ancestry for figuring out DNA matches. Plan to put a basic tree up on Findmypast.

ScottishPerson / Pixabay

ANZ: I found Legacy really difficult for a while. While in lockdown I decided to learn it properly instead of just trying to wing it. I love it now that I know what I’m doing

Jane: Main tree on Ancestry synced with Family Tree Maker on laptop. Smaller direct line tree in a few other places e.g., FindMyPast, MyHeritage …

Sue: I have main tree on Ancestry but basic trees for DNA mainly on MyHeritage, Family Search, FTDNA. Often just pedigree trees then as match made, add to the tree

Margaret: A lot of my work is added to @wikitree. I spend a lot of time correcting entries on FamilySearch. So I have trees there as part of the global trees

Jennifer: I have a basic outline of my tree online at @Ancestry and @FamilySearch mainly for the hints and as cousin bait. I do it because I know I should, not really because I want to

Margaret: I use Legacy for all my many trees offline. It syncs to FamilySearch. I load Gedcoms elsewhere. I contribute to my nephew’s research tree on Ancestry (back that up to my computer)

Sandra: I use RootsMagic for my offline tree because it’s simple and easy to use and reasonably priced. I have 2 trees on Ancestry, one is for DNA matches and one for general research.

Hilary: I have my own database that can’t be altered by others on my computer but find collaborative sites good for cousin connections

Fran: for my main tree I use Reunion on my Mac. It suits my lazy sourcing, images collections, transcripts and more. It is not connected to any online service so is a secure as my computer

Pauleen: When so many people had my tree online I defaulted and made mine public on Ancestry. I find it useful as a reference and as a way for people to see how my DNA links. I use RootsMagic offline which can sync with Ancestry.

Sue: I used to have The Master Genealogist but since it is not updated I moved it all to both Ancestry (Online) and Legacy (on my laptop) I add to the one on Ancestry more than Legacy

Readers: How do you keep a record of your research? Do you have it online or solely offline?