Category Archives: Genealogy Software

50 Essential Genealogy Tech Tools

Two weeks ago, I published a couple of “Essential” lists, 50 Essential Books for my Home Genealogy Library and 50 Essential Websites for My Genealogy Research.

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.

  1. $ RootsMagic 7,  Tutorials
  2. $ Family Historian 7, Tutorials
  3. $ Legacy 9, Tutorials
  4. $ Family Tree Maker 2019 – when it is finally released. I currently have the 2014 update.
  5. $ Ancestral Quest 16, Tutorials
  6. $ Heredis 2021 –  Tutorials
  7. $ 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.

15. Jacob Boerema’s Transcript, 
16. $ Champollion 2.0, Tutorial – DearMyrtle Hangout

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
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

31. $ Coggle – an app for mind mapping and collaboration. There is a very limited free version, better for just trying 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. Zotero – tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.  Tutorial
35. 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
36. $ Custodian 4 for Family Historiansdatabase software which helps you to store, index and organize information. This is also on my wish list. There is a trial version.
7. Rename Master – bulk rename your files, Tutorial
8. Bulk Rename Utility – a second utility program to rename files in batches. Tutorial

Group Seven – Source Citations

39. Citation Machine – generates citations in multiple formats. Tutorial
40. Record Seek – easily creates your source citations from the web, Tutorial

Group Eight – Keeping Up with Social Media

41. 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.

42. Calendar Converter
43. Census, U.S. – 1920, 1930, 1940 Enumeration District Finder
44. Cousin Relationship Chart
45. The Inflation Calculator
46. Tombstone Birthday Calculator

Group Ten – File Storage

47. Dropbox
48. Google Docs

Ancestry and FTM – Are You Ready for 31 December?

The word has been out now for a year and time is drawing to a close:

Last December, Ancestry announced that it was ending support for Family Tree Maker, which sent the genealogy world into an immediate frenzy. Yes, Software MacKiev later announced that it had purchased Family Tree Maker and would be updating and selling new versions.

However, the second part of Ancestry’s announcement was that Family Tree Maker-Ancestry syncing, as we know it, full tree to full tree, would END on 31 December 2016.

I have not seen any further information about the abilities of RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker to sync with Ancestry “by the end of the year.” I read the recent newsletter sent out by MacKiev and am not convinced that the new syncing will be up and running by the end of this month. I have seen in print that the full tree sync currently accessible in FTM will NOT end exactly on 31 December, but, on the other hand, I haven’t seen a new “end of life” date for that syncing ability either.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want all my years of hard work to come to an end because I kept my one and only family tree on Ancestry DOT com.

Therefore, if you are one of the people who ONLY have a family tree on Ancestry and have chosen to NOT purchase a software program, you have only a limited time left to reconsider that choice.

Do you realize – if you choose to end your subscription to Ancestry – that you will be given guest status to view the data in your tree, but you will have NO access to any of the images or documents that you have saved in your tree?

If you have a serious amount of work and effort put into your family history research, I would strongly recommend that you purchase Family Tree Maker IMMEDIATELY and do a full sync of your tree to it.

However, you also need to save all the images and documents on your computer so you will have continued access to them. That might be a small job if you only have a few images attached, but for larger trees, you probably need to get busy today to begin the process.

Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would want to make a serious effort to work on his/her family history and not keep control of the work within a software program. I also thought by now most people involved in genealogy and using Ancestry would be aware of the upcoming 31 December 2016 deadline, but apparently there are many out there who aren’t aware of it.

Spread the word to family, friends and especially newbies that they need to save, save, save right now!

Back Up, Back Up and Back Up!

You never know when it might happen.

Before we left on our recent trip, my computer was beginning to act up. It would freeze for no apparent reason and my screen started to display what used to be called “snow” on old TV screens. By the way, my computer was five years old – certainly not new, but not horribly ancient for a home computer.

When we returned and I got back to my desktop, the freezing and snow issues increased with each day. I’d complain to my husband, who would come check out the problems. His take on the situation was that the hard drive was in the midst of dying!

I was not a happy camper since that meant I was restricted to a laptop or iPad. However, I was NOT worried.

I belong to many online genealogically oriented groups and I am amazed to keep reading messages that begin with “I should have known better. . .” or “My computer crashed. . . how do I. . . . ” or “I’ve heard about backing up my computer, but I never got around to it and now. . .”

Now, here I was, faced with the prospect of a hard drive crash. What did I do? I turned off the computer so that if we needed to access it for whatever reason, there might be a chance that it had a bit of life still left in it. Next, my hubby got busy ordering me a new computer. I was most impressed that it was ordered on a Tuesday, promised to arrive before the next Tuesday and it showed up at our door on Friday.

For the last three days, we turned the old computer back on and worked at transferring all my files and programs to the new one. It involved tracking down key codes and licenses and such, but the process moved along quite smoothly. I am happily working away on my new computer this very minute.

BUT – what if my old computer had actually died and it couldn’t be started up one last time? I believe in backing up – on a flash drive, to Dropbox, to an external hard drive and to both Backblaze and IDrive. Maybe I am a bit paranoid, but better safe than sorry!

Thomas MacEntee has written about the 3-2-1 Back Up Plan:

Have at least 3 different back ups, using at least 2 different media and at least 1 back up off site.

I wasn’t the least bit worried about losing one iota of my work. If just one person reading this post decides that now is the time, not later, to begin backing up his/her work, then I have done my job. Don’t delay!

Back Up, Back Up and Back Up!