fhtess65, who writes Writing My Past, shared her “tools of the trade” and asked for those that others used. I decided I needed to add this third “50 Essentials” category so I am sharing it with you today – the essential software and apps that I use, have tried, or, in a few cases, am familiar with, for my research. My tech tools list will be set up a bit differently than the other two lists, as I will group resources into categories. Through the years, I’ve tried out various tech toys, both free and purchased, and at times, I still use more than one in a category for different reasons.
I will put a dollar sign in front of the products that need to be purchased. I’m not including any prices because prices change and it’s always good to look for sales and discount opportunities.
If there is a tutorial (or more than one) available, I will include
Tutorial after the product name with the link embedded. Also, many of these products have zillions of tutorials available. I just chose one or one page of multiple tutorials on the company website.
Group One – Genealogy Database Software
I believe it is absolutely essential to use a database program housed on your own computer as the primary work space. Sharing uploaded trees is a terrific way to collaborate and find new cousins, but there are many dangers in only having an online tree. First, links break or are changed frequently. If your documents and images are not saved on your own computer, when the links don’t work, your item is gone. Websites come and go; databases also disappear when contracts with companies end or when the compiler chooses to take them down. I just don’t get people who say they primarily work in an online tree. With all the years I’ve put into my research, I want to keep control of it on my own computer!
The choice of software is up to each user. I was a longtime Family Tree Maker buff, but became disenchanted with it over time and began looking at other programs. I still haven’t made a final choice and it is possible that my choice will be to use more than one program because of various options they offer.
I purchased each of these a number of years ago, when they were on sale, and have found features I really like in each. RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest, Heredis and Legacy all have basic versions you can try out and use. Family Historian offers a 30 day free trial of the full version. To my knowledge, Family Tree Maker has no free trial.
- $ RootsMagic 7, Tutorials
- $ Family Historian 7, Tutorials
- $ Legacy 9, Tutorials
- $ Family Tree Maker 2019 – when it is finally released. I currently have the 2014 update.
- $ Ancestral Quest 16, Tutorials
- $ Heredis 2021 – Tutorials
- $ Reunion– Mac only, Tutorials
For those who want to host their own family history website:
8. $ TNG – The Next Generation of Genealogy Site Building, This is on my wish list. Tutorials – read only
Group Two – Image Manipulators
Images need to be saved, restored, cropped and who knows what else to make them useful and accessible. It’s particularly important to be able to web clip images that don’t have a “right click and save” option. I purchased Snagit because of options it has for images on my blog.
9. Irfanview – free, used at the Family History Library Tutorial
10. Screen Hunter – free version works well Tutorial
11. PicMonkey – free photo editing Tutorials
12. $ Photoshop – I can only do the very basics. Dave is in charge of more advanced editing. I have never used $ Photoshop Elements, but it is less expensive and others say it has a much easier learning curve.
13. $ Snagit, Tutorials
14. UMarkOnline – watermark your images
Group Three – Transcription Programs
Transcribing old documents is a necessity. I use both a free program and Champollion, which I purchased, because Champollion has the fabulous capability to enhance and clean up old documents.
Group Four – Maps and Timelines
Anyone wanting to use Google Earth’s overlays and more advanced options should check out Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. She has done quite a bit with Google Earth and genelogy.
17. Google Earth, Tutorial (There are tons of them out there.)
18. $ History Lines – creates an ancestral timeline with historical events noted that occurred within the person’s lifetime. I particularly like the Swedish timelines as I have learned so much about that country’s history. Tutorial
19. WhatWasThere – A collaborative effort – upload family photos to mark the way it used to be. Fun site and particularly helpful if a building or street looks way different today than it did back then. Tutorial
20. HistoryPin – similar to WhatWasThere; another fun site, Tutorial
21. TimeToast – create a timeline for a person, family, town or whatever. Tutorial
Group Five – Writing Organization & Story Telling
22. $ Scrivener – organize your thoughts for lengthier stories and projects. A free 30 day trial is offered and it’s 30 days of use, not 30 calendar days, which is great! Tutorials
23. Trello – another thought organizing system using cards. Free version is fine for most people, unless you want more sophisticated collaboration with multiple people. Tutorial
24. Cozi – an organizing app for the family calendar, but easily can be used for family history to keep yourself on track. The free version comes with ads, but there is an ad-free (paid) upgrade available. Tutorial
25. Adobe Spark – free; make images, videos and web stories; easy to use. Tutorial
26. Microsoft Sway – free; similar to Adobe Spark; also easy to use Tutorial
27. $ Microsoft Word – still my favorite tool for just writing, Tutorial
28. $ Evernote – free for one or two devices and basic use; pricing tier for various storage capacities. Some people use Evernote for everything, including their primary note and image storage site, which it is not meant to be. I use it for note taking at conferences and libraries and then transfer those notes to permanent places (like my genealogy software program) when I get home. Tutorials
29. Microsoft One Note is another option similar to Evernote, although I’ve never used it. Tutorial
30. $ Livescribe Smart Pen – This is on my wish list. I’d love to try it out! Tutorial
Group Six – Research Analysis and Logs and Organizational Tools
For comparisons of Evidentia and CLOOZ, I’d suggest the videos and then the trial versions.
32. $ Evidentia – Ed Thompson developed this program to help a researcher analyze where the holes/gaps are to help with future steps in searching. It is NOT MEANT for analyzing every single person in your tree. You’d never have time to do anything else, including eating or sleeping. Also, unless you use source citation templates in your software, this program won’t give you much information. There is a free 14-day trial. Tutorial
33. $ CLOOZ – also a documenting/analyzing program; free trial version available. Tutorials
34. $ Research Ties – This is an online research logging system. You can export your log if and when you end your subscription. Tutorials
35. Zotero – tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. Tutorial
36. Library Thing – Catalogue your book collection online so you don’t have to wonder if you already own that one! This is also a social media site to share with other book lovers. 200 books can be cataloged for free. Otherwise, it is $10 per year for more or $25 for a lifetime membership. Tutorial
37. $ Custodian 4 for Family Historians – database software which helps you to store, index and organize information. This is also on my wish list. There is a trial version.
38. Rename Master – bulk rename your files, Tutorial
39. Bulk Rename Utility – a second utility program to rename files in batches. Tutorial
Group Seven – Source Citations
Group Eight – Keeping Up with Social Media
42. feedly – kind of an electronic file cabinet that keeps track of the blogs you want to follow. I follow over 200, but feedly send me links to only the ones that have new posts since I last read them. Blogs are a great way to keep up with the genealogy news AND to find new cousins. There is a free and paid version. Tutorial
Group Nine – Reference Tools for Historical Data
This last group consists of websites, but they are tools that can assist in your research. Tutorials aren’t needed for these.
43. Calendar Converter
44. Census, U.S. – 1920, 1930, 1940 Enumeration District Finder
45. Cousin Relationship Chart
46. The Inflation Calculator
47. Tombstone Birthday Calculator
48. Weather History
Group Ten – File Storage