I periodically receive requests about the software and services I use to research and manage our family tree.
The tools below work for me but may not be right for you. Much depends on what you are trying to accomplish, how much time you are willing to dedicate, and on your level of expertise in genealogy, software, genetics, and computers!
I start by entering names, dates and associated details in Legacy Family Tree (described below) on my laptop, and then periodically import the data from Legacy into TNG (described further below) where it can be viewed on the Internet.
Legacy Family Tree
For day to day management of the family tree, I use Legacy Family Tree.
I like Legacy because it is easy to enter and manage basic information like names, dates, sources and family relationships on my laptop PC. It does not require a connection to the Internet but offers extra features when it is connected.
Legacy stores the FamilySearch ID and the FindAGrave ID of people in your database. This provides one click access from Legacy to the relevant findagrave.com or familysearch pages.
Legacy also provides an easy way to synchronize people with FamilySearch.org. The synchronization feature can be used to automatically upload someone in Legacy to FamilySearch. It is smart enough to let you know if others may have already uploaded that person so you don’t duplicate data. Going the other way, it is possible to easily import data from FamilySearch to Legacy.
Legacy helps you search other genealogy services on the Internet by automatically entering the persons details into the search engine. Over twenty search sites are supported.
Cost: $35 for the “Deluxe” version, including minor updates.
After putting a batch of entries into Legacy Family Tree I use TNG Sitebuilding (TNG) to share my research on the web.
TNG is a software package that does many of the same things as Legacy Family Tree, but instead of being a Windows application on your laptop, TNG is a web-based application running on a server computer permanently attached to the Internet. This means you use a web browser to access it just as you would any other web page. You can use the browser of your choice like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.
One big advantage of using TNG is that your information is automatically indexed by search engines such as Google and Bing. Anyone in the world can instantly find and see the parts of your tree that you make public – it’s not locked up on your home computer. Its on the web!
Another advantage is that your genealogy research does not always have to shared with others via PDF reports. PDF’s and books have their advantages of course, but they do go out of date the minute an error or new information is found. TNG dynamically generates information from the database so content is always current. Instead of sending a PDF to someone, I often send them a link, like this fan chart , or this page about an individual, (which can be saved in PDF). Clicking on the link always provides the latest information.
The caveat (and it is a biggie) is that you must be willing to manage your own website and online database. If you aren’t proficient with computers, or don’t know a bit of HTML, or have never used utilities like FTP, then TNG might not be the best choice unless you are motivated to learn.
Where TNG shines is its ability to beautifully and very quickly display genealogy information including photos and documents in a web browser over the Internet. It is usually much faster than viewing information on a commercial service like Ancestry.com.
While you can type people and sources directly into TNG I find it easier to input the information into Legacy and then periodically import it into TNG. This has the additional advantage of not publishing information until I feel it is ready.
TNG also shines in multimedia management. I don’t generally put photos and documents in Legacy because they cant’ be automatically uploaded to TNG . Once a photo or document is uploaded to TNG it can be easily associated with people, families and sources.
To summarize: I use both Legacy and TNG. I find it much easier to enter data and attach sources and notes in Legacy, and you don’t need an Internet connection. TNG puts your Legacy Family Tree research on the Internet for all to see. With a reasonably good Internet connection TNG is also significantly faster than Legacy when it comes to searching and displaying information. I also prefer the way TNG manages and displays media.
My overall requirements were:
- Supported – Well supported by the developer and surrounded by a strong community of users.
- Free – Free access for online users. Users shouldn’t have to pay for a subscription, or be forced to view ads.
- Google – Indexed by search engines so the information is easy to find.
- Fast – Very fast online performance.
- DBMS – Generate individual pages, trees and reports dynamically using a known database package so the information displayed is always up to date.
- Multimedia – Supports photos, documents, video and audio. Allows linking of media objects to one or more individuals, sources, families, cemeteries, headstones, etc.
- Standards – Supports standard genealogy formats for reports. Imports and exports GEDCOM files. Uses open internet standards, open source applications, web servers and databases.
- Privacy – Details on living individuals should not be displayed to the public. Ability to support requests to “not show any data at all” for an individual making that request.
Cost: $33 for a perpetual license. Includes ongoing minor bug fixes.
I use FamilySearch.org extensively.
FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical information owned by the Mormon Church. It is similar to Ancestry.com in that it is huge, you can search through historical records and keep a copy of your family tree online. Unlike Ancestry.com however, it is free to use. No subscription fees.
The unique thing about keeping your family tree on FamilySearch is that the system proactively tries to merge everyone’s trees together into one big world tree. There are over 1 billion people in the tree so chances are good that some of your ancestors are already here. Even so, I have contributed thousands of new people to this tree and regularly synchronize my information with that contributed by others which is super helpful!
This site is another gem that I use all the time. Gravestone photos contain a wealth of information and you can see what other family members are buried in the same cemetery or city. Some of the entries contain obituary details and other useful information.
This is perhaps the biggest treasure trove of source documents on the Internet. It is expensive to use, but generally worth it to me when I’m on a tear doing research.
Cost: $50 per month with discounts for 6 months or more at a time. Additional charges for “international” databases, newspaper articles, etc. Some libraries offer free access from library computers.
Provides DNA testing, and tools to help you locate individuals that are genetic matches. My blog posts related to this are here https://jhowell.com/wp/tag/dna/
Cost: $79 to $159 depending on the test.
If you use TNG, you will need a hosting provider. Unlike your PC or Laptop, hosting providers have specialized computers housed in secure data centers which are attached to the Internet via very reliable high speed connections. The TNG software runs on the hosted computer.
SimplyHosting.net is one of the few providers recommended by TNG. They are familiar with TNG and have excellent support.
Cost: Approximately $10-$15 per month
The “Genealogue” (genealogy blog) section of my website, including this article was developed with WordPress. WordPress is a web based application so anyone with access to a web browser can read your public content.
Cost: Many hosting providers such as SimplyHosting.net include WordPress in their hosting plans.
If you use TNG you will also need a domain name for your site. (e.g.jhowell.com). Domain names can usually be purchased from hosting providers, but I prefer to use a domain registrar like Hover that is independent of the hosting provider.
Cost: A $15 per year
I have also started experimenting with other tools to preserve information indefinitely such as https://www.arweave.org/ (a blockchain that keeps information “forever”), but it is early days on that.
Click here to see the page on Archibald Campbell archived on Arweave. (Note the strange URL is different from the one on jhowell.com. The Arweave archive tools enable saving one page at a time, and not an entire web site, so if you click on any of the links on the archived page it will load the un-archived URL from jhowell.com if it is available.
The screenshot below shows the meta data on Arweave for the Archibald Campbell page. Note the fee, which is .000148121438 AR tokens. The market price of one AR token on Nov 17, 2021 when this page was saved was $57.86 . The cost to store this page “forever” therefore was less than one cent ( $57.86 x .000148121438 = $0.008 )
Internet Archive / Wayback Machine
The Internet Archive / Wayback Machine is a useful tool to have when you want to see what a webpage looked like in the past. Here is the page on Archibald Campbell from jhowell.com as seen on August 10, 2004. The drawback is that users have no control over when snapshots are taken, and which pages are stored.