5 steps to choosing your perfect family history program


25 February 2020
Grow your family tree, add ancestor pictures & stories and keep track of your to-do list - just some of the benefits of using a family history program.

Why do I need a family history program?

Family history software exists for a reason – to help keep our research in an organised, shareable format. If you’re looking for something to help you:

  • Grow your family tree, complete with ancestor pictures & stories
  • Keep track of your documents and sources
  • Get the tools you need to create reports, lists and more

... then it sounds as though you need a family history program! Read on to help you find out how to make the right choice.

Using a family history program will help you create orderly, flexible research – growing a digital archive of your family history that you are in charge of.

Having a decent family history program will also give you the chance to create detailed written reports and extensive customised family tree charts, to interrogate your research to dig deeper into your findings, and to share your family tree with kin near and far, sometimes generating a family website too.

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Which family history program should I use?

If you're not sure which family history program to use, use this 5 step plan to try them out and see which one is the one for you. You can work through the steps below, experimenting with a free or trial version of a program to see how you get on with it.

1. If you have one, import a GEDCOM file, and see how seamless (or not!) this is. If you don't, skip straight to step 2.

2. Start a new family tree from scratch – see how intuitive it is to add people and their facts, to search for details for them (e.g. via some of the major sites, such as Ancestry or FamilySearch).

3. See how easy it is to add notes and sources

4. See how useful and appealing you find the reports and charts

5. Other: if you have another aspect that it important to you (be it DNA, videos, syncing with another) give these a try too.

How do I find the right program for me?

See the Family Tree family history program comparison chart here (and in snapshot version below which is just for illustration purposes) for details of which programs offer free or trial versions, so that you can try before you buy. We’ve also included details of whether the software is suitable for Windows or Mac, whether it has an accompanying app, and summarised some of the unique features.

For our introduction to using a family history program, see the March issue of Family Tree

What points should I consider when choosing a family history program?

Search functions

Many family history programs allow you to search key family history websites or the internet from within the program. Some programs work closely with a specific website or websites. Various levels of ‘automation’ are used by programs too; e.g. some make it very easy to add information from a website to your program; others make it more of a manual process, less automated. Automation is appealing for how rapidly you can work; but a more manual, independent process will encourage you to make more considered decisions when adding information to your program.

Multi-user licences

Multi-user licences and discounts to buy several copies of a program are useful if you wish to encourage family members to use the same software as yourself for more seamless collaborating. In addition, using the same software as your research buddy will enable you to more easily help one another with any user or technical things that come to mind.


Before you decide which program is for you, then it’s well worth taking a look at what sort of help is available if you get stuck. The help can also provide tips and instructions, to give you a better idea of how to use the software. On the comparison chart we’ve included useful links to the help solutions for each program where available.

Bells, whistles & USPs

When you look at the comparison chart, you’ll see that each program has its strengths and unique selling points (USPs). This is why it really is time well spent to dedicate a bit of time to trying out a few family history programs, to see which one is best suited to you. 

For more family history advice, subscribe to Family Tree magazine today and receive your first 3 issues for just £3 (usually £15.75. Stay home, SAVE money and start your family tree with our expert help. Click here to claim this offer.


The Family Tree family history software comparison chart will be updated periodically.

Further programs will be added shortly too.

Family Tree family history program comparison chart last updated 7 February 2020.