Recommendations for Genealogy Software
November 3, 2004 12:29 PM   Subscribe

FamilyTreeFilter: I want to start tracking my family tree. I would like to go back as far as I can, at least to the first ancestors to come to the US. I've found that there are a lot of computer programs for this. Does anyone have any recommendations on software for this? Also, any helpful websites/books/etc?
posted by MrAnonymous to Shopping (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well I know this sounds dumb but start with your parents. Figure out where they were born and, if they're still alive, go back to where your grandparents lived and/or were born and died. There are a few useful genealogy sites out there. Some which are not free but are high quality are and the Heritage Quest database. Both have free stuff but a lot more available in subscription databases. Minneapolis Public has Ancestry Plus available in the library and it's really worthwhile -- searchable census data going back to the beginning of the census. The big trick is finding birth dates and death dates and who married whom, maybe where they're buried.

I know nothing about useful software for this but I know there are good tools that give you a family tree type thing to put names and dates in. I've just used Excel. You can just keep a stack of index cards around with names and dates and occupations. Both those sites I mentioned have some "getting started" areas, a lot depends on where your family lived, where you live, how much data and print material there is about them and, of course, when they came into the country. You're really lucky if each generation of family members has distinct names [not four generations of Joseph Thomas West the I, II, III etc] and if someone else has done research already for a family that intersects with your own and put it online. Many people do. I have a few family members on each side that do the real genealogy work, I just know the librarian part of it. Have fun.

Here's a few "getting started" type sites that look like they don't suck: BBC Genealogy section | A ton of Minnesota stuff | MPL resources | MPL databases [if your family's not from Minneapolis, you can look at whatever big library is near you, many libraries have good genealogy pages]
posted by jessamyn at 5:21 PM on November 3, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks a lot...especially for the localized stuff.
posted by MrAnonymous at 5:29 PM on November 3, 2004

Which OS do you run? On the Mac, Reunion is the best genealogy software there is (and, heck, it might be the best on any platform).

Cyndi's List is the first place to look for genealogy links. Tons of great stuff can be found there.
posted by litlnemo at 5:39 PM on November 3, 2004

Some excellent previous MeFi threads on the topic, with many links:


(The short, short version of reading those links: a subscription to is worth its weight in gold. Best genealogy site on the Net, bar none--especially for the zoomable scans of all the census records up to 1930! [Well, except for 1890, which nearly all burned up in a fire in the 1920's. Oh, well.] is good, too, if you need a fall-back site. If your ancestors came to the US between 1892-1924 [or thereabouts], the free Ellis Island Database rocks, though a few names have transcription errors due to poor handwriting and low literacy rates. And I have to plug for Yids, who have some unique problems regarding how our vital records were kept [or rather, not kept] in Europe/Central Asia.)

As for programs, I like Brother's Keeper. I've been using it for a few years--it's shareware--and eventually paid for it. For really pretty charting and visual representations of your data, I import my GEDCOM's into Genelines. Their ancestral fan charts, in particular, are lovely.

Oh, and one more word of advice: whenever possible, get copies of death records. They often have the deceased person's parents' names on them, including maiden names. Very useful.

Best of luck to you! Genealogy research is really addicting and quite a lot of fun.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:43 PM on November 3, 2004 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, Asparagirl. My AskMe searchs were failures. Lots of good info. I really appreciate it.

I'm on PC, litlnemo.
posted by MrAnonymous at 7:02 PM on November 3, 2004

I've been pretty happy using Family Tree Maker (on my PC) during my occasional bursts of genealogical documentation. When I first purchased it some years ago it seemed to be the most flexible at handling things like adoptions, multiple marriages, same sex partnerships, etc., which crop up quickly in a sufficiently broad (and honest) family tree. I'm sure many other tools have caught up if they were not already fully capable of this sort of thing, but I've been happy with FTM, and it is well integrated with the resources of Regular updates have made the software more capable and easier to use. I'll be interested to hear whether other Windows users favor this or a different program.
posted by Songdog at 7:45 PM on November 3, 2004

Frankly, unless you're using a *nix and are thoroughly adept in that environment (in which case you should use LifeLines), you want to get a copy of PAF (Personal Ancestry File) from the run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Seriously. Everyone else takes their cues from them. You can ignore the church-specific stuff. Most serious genealogists still use this program -- even if they keep a copy of FTM or BK in order to use whiz-bang printing templates or to access data CDs (ie: they export the PAF database into the other programs, but keep PAF as their main data archive).

P.S. It's FREE!
posted by RavinDave at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2004

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