122 Tools to Plan and Build Your Family Tree

As a group, family historians and genealogists are generally meticulous, detail-oriented, highly organized workers. These aficionados tend to document their activities, recording not only data about their ancestors, but the processes used in collecting and understanding that data.

These family historians enjoy constructing systems to manage their collection and storage efforts. Sometimes those systems turn into sets of instructions, and sometimes they develop into usable database and charting software. In either case, the family historians and genealogists usually pass on their expertise to the interested public, because what they seem to enjoy above all is sharing their experiences with the world and making a personal contribution to history. You’ll find some of their best ideas collected, summarized and listed below. With these 122 simple tools, you too, can join the ranks of the family historians.

  1. Society of Genealogists (UK) – The UK’s Society of Genealogists offers its members a storehouse of searchable web databases containing genealogical information. This professional library is constantly growing, and the newsletter will keep you informed about new acquisitions.

    Society of Genealogists (UK)

    Waldburg Ahnentafel, the family tree of Sigmund Christoph von Waldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg. Courtesy of http://www.ahneninfo.com/de/ahnentafel.htm, illustrator unknown, late 18th century

  2. XY Family Tree – XY Family Tree is an easy-to-use Windows program that can import GEDCOM files and display all your media files in the correct formats. It’s free and portable.
  3. Family Email Hosting – Family Email Hosting has posted some advice on how to build your own family history website, including planning your research, gathering your source material, and choosing your hosting company.
  4. Family Tree Scriptorium – The Family Tree Scriptorium was established in 1983 to design family trees with calligraphy and other traditional techniques, and you can split the services by requesting family research or calligraphy for other purposes.
  5. Family Tree & Me – Family Tree & Me lets you create family trees with photographs, and as you can see the results can be large (the pictured tree is 54″ x 24″ and contains five generations).
  6. Family Tree application – This application was written to work on high-resolution Apple devices. It uses a very simple, stripped-down interface and generates family tree models with mapping capacity.
  7. Family Tree Art – The Family Tree Art site belongs to a professional graphic designer who has produced a wide variety of visual presentations for the family tree, many including photographs.
  8. Family Tree Designs – Family Tree Designs will do the necessary research to produce a history of your family and has expanded to offer tree artwork that can be framed.
  9. Family Tree Magazine – Family Tree Magazine is an online collection of resources to help you compile your family’s history. Its genealogists’ toolkit includes forms, worksheets, tips on research, and links to research materials.
  10. Family Tree Printing – Family Tree Printing will print a chart generated by your genealogy program onto one sheet of paper, and can print onto canvas if so desired.
  11. Family Tree Template – The Family Tree Template site discusses different types of family history charts and how to fill them in, including suggestions about where to find information on your ancestors.

    Family Tree Template

    De Orestis-Galea family tree chart, no author available. Courtesy of Flickr

  12. WordPress family tree plugin – Try this WordPress family tree plugin to display a genealogical reference on a web page, including information for each member of the family (birth dates, mother, father, and so on).
  13. Ancestoring – Ancestoring is a series of posts aimed at training the beginning genealogist, and it carefully describes all the basic steps in family history research. The Toolbox has a number of helpful links.
  14. Blurb – One of the most helpful tools in performing any task is the collective wisdom of experience, and if you’re interested in meeting people who make family trees suitable for publishing, you can find some on Blurb.
  15. MySQL – If you want to learn how to use MySQL to design a database for your family history website, you can find detailed instructions on part of the process here.
  16. RootsMagic – RootsMagic is one of the many genealogy software companies available to help with the technical end of housing and presenting your family’s data. Their latest offering is RootsMagic 6 Essentials.
  17. Genealogy Printers – Genealogy Printers promises to print your family’s history onto a single piece of paper, providing blank charts, completed trees, and intelligent service from a family of genealogists.
  18. Ancestral Quest – Ancestral Quest was one of the first family history programs ever sold, beginning in 1994, and you can download a free Basics version to test-drive the software.
  19. Geneodesign – Geneodesign offers customized illustrations of your family tree in a number of sizes and styles. Each picture is constructed for you personally without using a template.
  20. vitalrec.com – vitalrec.com is a centralized source for locating links to records housed all over the country, showing births, marriages, deaths, and census records. There’s also a page of international links.
  21. GenScriber – If you’re transcribing images of family history documents like census and vital records, the GenScriber viewer lets you see your current image in one window while you type its data into another window below.
  22. Visual.ly – Visual.ly has fresh ideas for presenting all kinds of information, and you can find family tree graphics describing all types of inheritance histories, from the British royals to Norse mythology.
  23. Paper Tree – Paper Tree gives you a complete set of instructions on how to fill in family tree forms, with notes on type of ink required, making notes in pencil, then overwriting and erasing to produce the final result.

    Paper Tree

    General William Clark’s Family Tree wall chart, no author available. Courtesy of Flickr

  24. House Beautiful – For ideas on designing your family tree, look at House Beautiful’s depiction of the American Design family tree, including its architectural roots. The trend toward industrial family trees is producing exceptionally clever artwork, and this is one example.
  25. GED-inline – GED-inline is a web utility that lets you validate your GEDCOM files, pinpointing any data that’s not conforming. The site respects your privacy by discarding all uploads after analysis.
  26. Family Historian – Family Historian is a well-regarded genealogy software package, for Windows only, and it’s capable of creating charts, CDs and DVDs, and books exploring your family’s history.
  27. DoroTree – DoroTree is highly specialized software constructed by experienced genealogists who needed a product suited to the unique features of Jewish history. Includes a Hebrew data entry feature and Hebrew-Gregorian dates.
  28. Genbox Family History – Genbox Family History lets you turn out charts showing your family history and specially organized reports containing your research. You may try the full version for a month at no charge.
  29. Famtree – Famtree is Windows shareware, and it’s continually improving the basic features of its design by providing GEDCOM imports, user interface enchancements, ability to add half-siblings, and so on.
  30. Cumberland Family Tree – Cumberland Family Tree is multilingual and simple to use, providing automatic name linkage at time of entry and space for multiple marriages. You can even generate an indexed family history.
  31. Roots-Forum – Roots-Forum is a genealogists’ networking site where you can give and receive advice and research tips. Topics include One-Name Studies, Brick Walls, and Missing Links.
  32. Custodian 3 – Custodian 3 databases are designed specifically to accommodate the various types of records likely to be found in genealogical research. Recommended for indexing projects and local histories.
  33. Family Origins – Family Origins is genealogy software for Windows, and it has some very helpful features like specialized record types, multiple relationships tracking, marriage searches, and GEDCOM support.
  34. Back to Roots – If you’re looking for genealogical data from the UK, Back to Roots has an extensive catalogue containing many years’ worth of directories from the British isles.

    Back to Roots

    St Augustine of Canterbury, Upton Lovell: church hall. Courtesy of Basher Eyre, photographed for Geograph Britain and Ireland

  35. Sovereign Ancestry – Sovereign Ancestry is an international firm of historical researchers concentrating on not only family histories but related projects like studies of locales and even individual houses.
  36. RootsMap – The RootsMap company has a very interesting genealogy product called the surname distribution map, which can show you occurrences of any name in Great Britain and Ireland.
  37. My History – My History is a supplier of all items you need to create, record, and display your own family history. They carry many stationery items intended to store and preserve old records.
  38. Heritage Family History – Professional genealogist Celia Heritage (yes, that’s her real name) heads the Heritage Family History reasearch company, and she offers a wealth of information on how to succeed in your own family studies.
  39. RootsChat – RootsChat is a networking resource especially for family historians interested in tracing their British origins. You can ask for help with documents, dating sources, or even balky software.
  40. ROOTS Consulting Services (Scotland) – The goal of ROOTS Consulting Services (Scotland) is to translate the results of your family history research into a travel itinerary so you can plan to visit places of interest or do some on-the-spot delving.
  41. Neil Bromley – Neil Bromley does truly beautiful artwork in the style of medieval illumination, and if you want the best in a custom rendering of your family tree you can do no better.
  42. Family Folios – If your idea of the perfect research tool is someone to do the work, try the FamilyFolios service by professional genealogist Angela Aldam, who produces studies of families in the UK.
  43. Simple Family Tree – Simple Family Tree was created by a programmer who writes free software as a hobby. It supports GEDCOM files, and you can even take a look at the source code.
  44. GenoPro – GenoPro draws family trees for you based on the genealogical information you supply, using the highly detailed genogram format. It includes a Family Wizard to insert an entire family in one process.
  45. Bygones – Bygones is freeware, and it has a Mac version as well as a Windows version. It’s intended for use in keeping digital notes on family history research.

    Bygones

    Sleepy Hollow Cowboys And Cowgirls. Courtesy of Pete Newman, 1936, Flickr

  46. Brigham Young University – Mormons are very interested in genealogy, and that’s why Brigham Young University has an entire department devoted to family history studies. The website offers a number of online resources.
  47. Lifelines – Lifelines uses GEDCOM as its data storage format, and to start using Lifelines you simply export your existing GEDCOM files, then import and start scripting a wide variety of reports.
  48. Hypertext Indented Narrative – Hypertext Indented Narrative is a web adaptation of the original Burke’s Peerage pedigree format, which provides a means of inserting hyperlinks into an individually drawn, freeform family tree chart.
  49. All-Things-Family-Reunion – All-Things-Family-Reunion is a website that grew out of many years of planning family events, and one of the dimensions of the work turned out to be producing family trees in the word art style.
  50. Modern Software Experience – The site owner, Tamura Jones, is an expert on genealogy software, and much of the knowledge collected on Modern Software Experience will help you navigate the different programs discussed.
  51. Genea-Musings – Genea-Musings is the product of avid researcher Randy Seaver, and a typical web post might walk the reader through a flexible series of steps with the goal of teaching a particular family history research technique.
  52. GenDetective – GenDetective is a data analysis program that examines your existing family history data to discover what’s missing, then generates lists of the specific missing pieces needed to complete your work.
  53. WinGeno – WinGeno is a free downloadable program that lets you diagram your family’s history in the form of a genogram. It’s available in the English amd German languages.
  54. Ultimate Family Tree – Ultimate Family Tree (UFT) is an old FoxPro-based artifact in the world of genealogical software, but it still works and has an active, passionate group of users that will be glad to offer software assistance.
  55. Behold – Behold is a Windows program that shows all your data, according to your selections, in the aptly named Everything Report. Behold will import your GEDCOM files and find any errors.
  56. Geves – Geves is genealogy software for Windows that lets you input your historical data and output family trees in different styles. It’s capable of using GEDCOM files and displaying media.

    Geves

    Family tree of the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on the thrones of Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal & Bulgaria, updated. Courtesy of JMvanDijk, 31 July 2012

  57. FamilyPursuit – FamilyPursuit offers a chance to collaborate with other community members online in building an online family tree according to the wiki principle. You can also start a tree just for your family.
  58. Family Crossings – Family Crossings is a do-it-yourself family website service that lets you post and share your family’s history only with other members of your family, as opposed to sharing on Facebook.
  59. The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding – The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (TNG) lets you store and manage your genealogical data in MySQL tables in your website. Instead of HTML pages, you display the data directly using PHP.
  60. Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine – Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine is a highly recommended community and networking tool to find family history resources, meet other researchers, and ask genealogical questions.
  61. Scottish Genealogy Research Tool 5.01 – Interested in learning about your Scottish roots? Try the Scottish Genealogy Research Tool 5.01, a freeware download that walks you through genealogical web searches, which you can save.
  62. MyFamily.com – MyFamily.com is another site that hosts the family profile pages you create for yourself and your relatives, letting you build family groups online and upload your historical documents.
  63. Familyrelatives – Familyrelatives is a family history website that lets you pay to search its genealogical databases and store your family tree information using an interactive history builder.
  64. Hereditree – Hereditree not only displays your family tree in a visual format but bases its navigation capacity on that design, so you can see and edit your tree’s data while you’re in tree view.
  65. Family for Elgg 1.7 – Family for Elgg 1.7 is a family history widget that displays family relationships attached to the user, based on existing profile information. Licensing is GNU General Public.
  66. Gramps – Gramps is free genealogical research software open to the community (think SourceForge), and it’s written in Python. Gramps has data analysis widgets for the dashboard and an interactive map.
  67. Second Site – If you’ve been storing your family history data in a The Master Genealogist (TMG) database, then Second Site will use it to create HTML pages you can post on your own website.

    Second Site

    Illustration by David Henry Friston for Carmilla, in The Dark Blue, reproduced in Best Ghost Stories, ed. Bleiler. Courtesy of Haunted Images: The Illustrating of Le Fanu at jslefanu.com, February 1872

  68. Family History Hosting – If you’re a researcher rather than a website builder, Family History Hosting provides a simple construction option that comes with technical assistance and the capacity to add enhanced features.
  69. Penn State DuBois – Penn State DuBois hosts an FTP page from which you can obtain many GEDCOM utilities, including a pedigree printer, relationships analyzer, and wall chart generator.
  70. Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group – Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group pools the intense concentration and organizational ability of the area’s inhabitants and applies them to family history research, and the members love to help other researchers.
  71. Wakefield Family History Sharing – Wakefield Family History Sharing is ordered around the central idea of amassing and sharing genealogical data for one location, in this case Wakefield (UK). Imagine the entire world’s family history described by such sites, and you’ll see the goal.
  72. Dynastree – Dynastree is a free family tree builder you can download to generate your own family history chart, and there’s a URL available for display of what you’ve created.
  73. ProGenealogists – ProGenealogists is a genealogical research firm that will construct an entire family history for you or fill in a gap in your existing work that you just can’t finish on your own.
  74. Ahnenblatt – Ahnenblatt is free Windows software that you can download from the maker. It creates detailed family trees and reports based on your family history data.
  75. Heritage Consulting – Heritage Consulting provides professional research services on genealogy and related fields like estate research for probate attorneys. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company has access to the famous Family History Library.
  76. USGenNet – USGenNet Barrel of Genealogy Links is a very lengthy web page that contains nothing but helpful links to aid the family historian, including surname and location lists.
  77. Myblood-line – Myblood-line works for both Windows and Mac, and its built-in search tool lets you look through all your data storage (families, media, timelines) at the same time to locate your search term.
  78. GenealogyWise – GenealogyWise was developed by the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, and it hosts a thriving community of family history researchers. Newest group announcement is the Society for One-Place Studies.
  79. Trace Your Dutch Roots – If you have Dutch ancestry, as many Americans in the New York City area do, Trace Your Dutch Roots is an essential tool for learning about genealogical resources covering the Netherlands.

    Trace Your Dutch Roots

    The Blind, Pieter van der Heyden, published by Hieronymus Cock. Courtesy of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, circa 1540-1570

  80. AncestorSync – AncestorSync is a data synchronization program that lets you share the same database on multiple computers, meaning you’ll have different data entry sources putting information into the same table.
  81. Adam: The GEDCOM Family Tree Builder – Adam: The GEDCOM Family Tree Builder, from genealogist and programmer Tim Forsythe’s toolbox, is a free web service that lets you build your family tree online and port it as a zip file.
  82. National Institute for Genealogical Studies – The National Institute for Genealogical Studies will teach you how to research your family’s history using online courses, both standalone offerings and longer programs including certificate courses.
  83. Heredis – Genealogy software maker Heredis has put a lot of thought into making the data storage process easy, and its unified Family group view for entering data is a real time-saver.
  84. GedStar Pro for Android – GedStar Pro for Android lets you see all your genealogical information on your Android device, using a Windows utility to move the data off your PC and an Android app to import.
  85. Treelines – With Treelines, you can build an illustrated family history on the web, creating each page as a single story. That sounds simple enough, but the evocative power of the technique becomes apparent when you read some of the existing submissions.
  86. American Ancestors – American Ancestors belongs to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and you’re invited to use their online databases or ask them for assistance in your family history research.
  87. Ages! – Ages! lets you create a family tree beginning with the person window, for entering a single family member, then moving on to connect all those individual components.
  88. Family ChArtist – Family ChArtist lets you design and print your famliy chart online in a matter of minutes by uploading a GEDCOM file and choosing layout options.
  89. Progeny Genealogy – Progeny Genealogy offers a suite of genealogy charting programs, including standard box charts as well as timelines, maps, and even charts to display your family’s history in three dimensions on a two-dimensional page.
  90. Filiopietism Prism – In a post on Filiopietism Prism, John D. Tew explores genealogical uses for old financial records, describing the conversion of documents that now occupy 12 linear feet into a digital history of his family’s activities.

    Filiopietism Prism

    An engraving entitled “Music Hall and Exposition Buildings” from Cincinnati Illustrated by Kenny, D. J. Courtesy of Robert Clarke & Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, publishers, 1879

  91. GeneWeb – GeneWeb is a genealogy program from Europe, with an English language option. It includes a consanguinity calculator, list of correct titles for nobility, and space for family events.
  92. Ancestris – Ancestris is free open source code written in Java, meaning it works with Windows, Mac, or Linux. It prefers the GEDCOM 5.5 standard. Some of the available views are tree, chronological, table, and geographic, so you have a number of ways to see your data.
  93. Genealogy of Automobile Companies – If you want ideas about how to construct a visual portrait of your family’s evolution over time, examine this graphically designed family tree created to describe the American automobile industry.
  94. RootDig.com – Michael John Neill’s RootDig.com provides a list of downloadable webinars that discuss topics like Civil War pension records, federal land descriptions, and 1940 census indices.
  95. German Roots – German Roots is an excellent first stop for any family history researcher with German ancestors. It’s the most complete English-language collection of German records you can find.
  96. Researching Your Family Tree – Researching Your Family Tree is a helpful web tutorial for beginning genealogists, providing clear, simple instructions on how to perform basic web research like reviewing vital records.
  97. Linkpendium – Linkpendium has a handy list of genealogy resources by state and by surname. There’s also a special search feature that lets you check all the available name data at the same time, in one query.
  98. One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse – One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse offers an outstanding collection of what may be all the American vital records currently available online, including immigration lists and links to genetic information.
  99. Gerard Aflague – Gerard Aflague will produce a four-generation family tree to your specifications, printed on poster stock or as a banner, and promises a two-to-three day turnaround.
  100. Can Genealogy – Can Genealogy by Dave Obee is an online guidebook to Canadian genealogy resources, including information on the Acadians, Loyalists, and Metis or First Nations. Alternately, you can browse the regional links.
  101. AncestryDNA – AncestryDNA will provide a combined genetic analysis and family history profile that describes your chromosomal inheritance in terms of ethnicity, and if you read the blogs of people who subscribed to the service, you’ll see how surprising the results can be.

    AncestryDNA

    Chromosomes with stain. Courtesy of Flickr

  102. Family ChartMasters – Family ChartMasters is the result of a passionate genealogist asking a talented computer programmer for organizational assistance with a family history presentation. The website walks you through the process of designing your own chart.
  103. Forensic Genealogy – Forensic Genealogy explains how to analyze photographs and databases in conjunction with DNA profiles to identify and track down your family history. For example, you’ll learn how to determine whether photos were taken on the same roll of film.
  104. Find My Past – Find My Past holds a large collection of genealogical records drawn from Australasia (that is, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands).
  105. Civil Rights Documentation Project – Many Southerners’ lives were redefined by the civil rights struggle, and one of the best sources for information on people involved in that critical intersection of American and personal history is the Civil Rights Documentation Project.
  106. Small-leaved Shamrock – Other specialized genealogy research links for those with Irish or Catholic ancestors can be found on the Small-leaved Shamrock site, which also hosts links for records relating to people connected to Schuylkill County (Pennsylvania), railroads, and coal mines.
  107. Genealogica Grafica – Genealogica Grafica is downloadable shareware that provides multiple output methods for the family history information contained in your GEDCOM files, including text, charts, and web pages.
  108. Zotero – Zotero is a specialized research tool that analyzes web page content and copies/saves the subject matter, so you can store what you find in web searches by simply clicking when you want to add content to your database.
  109. The In-Depth Genealogist – Free magazine The In-Depth Genealogist offers news, tips, tricks, and other genealogy-related material for the benefit of its readers. Current topics include research using divorce records and bad news concerning the 1890 U.S. Federal Census.
  110. Family History with the LineageKeeper – Family History with the LineageKeeper has posted a set of instructions on Preparing for Family Interviews, beginning with the principle “Start with what you know, then move outward in your research.”
  111. Lucidchart – Lucidchart lets you create a family tree chart online using their interactive templates, and you can even collaborate in real time with other members of your family.
  112. Clan Henderson Society – The Scots take exceptional pride in descent, and once you discover which clan you belong to, you’ll have a home for life. If you’re a Henderson, you can learn all about your roots from the Clan Henderson Society.

    Clan Henderson Society

    A romantic depiction of Highland Chiefs in the Stewart and Gordon tartans. Coloured engraving after J. Logan by R. Havell. Courtesy of J. Logan, The Scottish Gael, 1831, uploaded 17 January 2012

  113. Trace Indian Ancestry – If some of your forebears belonged to Native American tribes, the U.S. Department of the Interior has created a Trace Indian Ancestry webpage to serve as a gateway to their records.
  114. NativeWeb – NativeWeb keeps many pages filled with categorized links to help you research genealogy by ethnicity (American Indian, First Native, African-American) and location (state and hometown).
  115. DNAeXplained – DNAeXplained offers a wealth of commonsense advice on how DNA analysis can (and cannot) help you expand your genealogical research, and one of the best examples of this explanatory technique can be read in a post called “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.”
  116. Brother’s Keeper – Brother’s Keeper is genealogy software written for Windows, with database tables to hold your information and output options including charts and reports. Sample output is posted on the site.
  117. Relativity Explorer – Relativity Explorer is a Windows tool that lets you navigate effortlessly through a graphic display of your genealogy information based on a text list of your family members.
  118. The Genealogy Timeline – The Genealogy Timeline is software that was developed by a Florida family of genealogists to merge their family history with larger historical events (local, state, and national history).
  119. Genota and Genota Forms – Genota and Genota Forms are two programs designed to organize your family history research material, in whatever form it appears, in such a way that you can locate where you found any given piece of information.
  120. MudCreek Software – MudCreek Software has a number of utilities designed to work with your data files or other genealogy software. One example is the GENMatcher, which searches your data for duplicates.
  121. GenSmarts – GenSmarts is software that can analyze your existing genealogical data, log the gaps, and create a to-do list telling you what you need in order to complete your family history.
  122. Ancestral Author – Ancestral Author for Windows can generate hyperlinked PDFs containing your family history information drawn from GEDCOM files, text input, images, and other digitized sources. Output appears in NEHGS report format.

    Ancestral Author

    Gisborne Court at Peterhouse, Cambridge. Courtesy of Roger Kidd, photographed for Geograph Britain and Ireland

  123. Clooz – Clooz by Ancestral Systems is a genealogical data management program capable of organizing all your sources and displaying all interlinked information for any single entry in a unified Composite View.

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