Best Family Tree Software & Websites to Share Your Genealogy

If a genealogist falls in the forest—does she make a sound? What are you doing to ensure that your decades of family history research are preserved and passed down so that others can build on your expertise?

photo of a family tree chart

Photo: family tree. Credit: Wikipedia.

For centuries genealogists relied on family tree charts that were carefully prepared on paper, a time-consuming and laborious process. These paper documents were then copied and distributed to other members of the family. Paper tree charts were costly to prepare, and their reproduction and distribution added to the expense.

In more recent times, genealogists have moved on from typewriters and copy machines to the Internet as the mechanism for distributing copies of their ancestry research to interested family members around the globe.

Here are the basic tools you need to share and distribute your family history research online.

Computer-Based Family History Software

There are dozens of family history software programs that genealogists use to organize their research. These programs make it easy to incorporate photographs, research notes and commentary into one family tree that can easily be printed in whole or in part and distributed to others—or simply shared online.

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Three of the leading family history programs are:

With any one of these family tree software programs it is easy to record your information and then, with a few clicks, print out the standard family tree charts or reports you need to communicate your family’s history to the other members of the family.

family history reports

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

These genealogy software programs easily prepare and print out family history reports that name all of the descendants of a designated ancestor up to the present day. Or you can do the process in reverse: start with a person from today and lay out the preceding generations one by one, going back in time through both sides of that person’s family tree.

These printed paper family tree reports can be given to relatives at family gatherings. Alternatively, you can save these genealogy reports electronically as PDF or Word files that can be easily emailed to interested relatives.

Family History Websites

There are a number of good social media sharing websites where genealogists can store, collaborate, share and distribute their family history research. Here are a few of these online sites where you might consider uploading your own family history.

Scribd.com

Genealogists use online sites like Scribd.com as convenient free sites where they can upload, share and preserve their genealogy research findings.

Genealogy Tip: Before using a site like Scribd.com, be sure to set the reporting features on your genealogy software so that your family history report will not include any information about still-living members of the family. Use that edited report when you upload it online. That way the privacy of your living relatives is protected.

family history reports for Edward and Mary Rutledge

Credit: Scribd.com

Scribd.com lets you upload your family history report and present it as an online version of your family history. Online sites like this are easily searched from any computer, smartphone, iPad, or any other device. The Scribd.com report uses the standard genealogical report styles so that this document has a professional, clean look. And, since it is online, every name—in fact every word­—of the report is then searchable online.

Genealogists often find that as they continue their research, or receive feedback from relatives, they discover additional details to add to the family tree. With new family information in hand they might regret having already published and distributed their research as expensive paper documents. That is not a problem with Scribd.com.

With just a few clicks on Scribd.com, genealogists can update their family history reports and have the current, most accurate version of their family history online. Or if you prefer you can designate this updated report as a “2nd Edition” with a new publication date. However you post it, your latest findings will be instantly available to all genealogists and, importantly, preserved online.

Pinterest

There are other online sites that make it easy to present and share your family history.

Pinterest.com is an excellent site for sharing photographs about your family and where they lived.

With Pinterest you can create separately-themed “Boards” that illustrate part of your family’s story. I organize my boards by places where the family has lived or by topics that are important to our story.

Visit Thomas Jay Kemp’s profile on Pinterest.


Credit: Pinterest

I then use the notes field to describe each old family photograph, including the details of why this picture is significant to the family.

Pinterest board showing scenes from Ireland

Credit: Pinterest

Pinterest is a handy way for me to illustrate my family history in an organized way, all shared online. By adding notes, I can update and add more context to these images—sharing them through this Wikipedia-like source of online photographs.

Online Family Trees

As technology has improved, genealogists have moved to the next step and are sharing their family trees online. Genealogists welcome the opportunity to permanently store their information in the “cloud” of online family trees. This protects your family history information from any unexpected loss, such as your home computer suddenly failing, and puts the information securely online where the rising generation can find it. There are many websites where you can post your family tree online: FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, OneGreatFamily.com, Ancestry.com, and other sites.

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Perhaps the most popular is FamilySearch.org.

This free family history site makes it easy to post your family tree online, along with your genealogy data, photographs and reports.

familiy history reports for Kemp ancestors

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp, Scribd.com & FamilySearch

With just a click you can easily bring together your genealogy research reports, along with your old family photos, and link them to your ancestor’s page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

family tree entries for Kemp ancestors

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp & FamilySearch

By putting your genealogy online you make it easy to update, ensuring that your latest research is accurately recorded, permanently online, and easily accessible to you and all of your cousins around the globe 24/7.

By adding digital copies of your old family photos, documents and reports, you are able to share these one-of-a-kind items with your cousins without risking the original copies.

Genealogy Tip: Posting your family tree online is a smart way to share and preserve your family history information, making your research findable by your children, grandchildren and their children. They are expecting to find online information rather than the paper copies genealogists have relied on in the past.

As genealogists we enjoy researching and documenting our family history. These modern tools allow us to quickly share our research with the rest of the family, in paper formats as well as digital copies posted online.

Make every effort to share your family history online. It will make your own genealogy work easier, and future generations will thank you for it.

Make sure the family history records you organize and leave to posterity make a sound.

Related Articles about Sharing Your Ancestry:

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Planning Your Genealogy Trip: Summer Vacations for Genealogists

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena gives advice and provides online resources for planning your summer genealogy vacation.

What do you have planned this summer? Taking a vacation? How about a genealogy vacation? While it may be hard to convince the rest of your family that a vacation composed of genealogical research is a good idea, there are trips and tours to satisfy everyone’s interests and budget. Whether you want to focus on just genealogy research or you also want to see the world, there is something for you.

photo of a cruise ship

Photo: cruise ship. Credit: David Ortega.

Heritage Tours

Ever consider traveling to your ancestral home? Whether that’s here in the United States or “across the pond,” there may be a heritage tour that can help you see the sights and take in some family history research.

For example, Genealogy Tours of Scotland run by genealogist Christine Woodcock is an opportunity to do onsite research in Scotland, with assistance from local archivists and researchers. This annual trip includes 10 days of research at ScotlandsPeople Centre, the National Library, and more—as well as time for touring and experiencing the Scotland of your ancestors.

Various heritage tours exist worldwide. To find one in the area of your ancestor’s hometown, try Googling the name of the country and the phrase “heritage tours.” Some travel companies offer several heritage tours including the company Family Tree Tours.

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Going to the Promised Land

OK, maybe Salt Lake City is not “the” Promised Land, but it comes pretty close for family historians. Many genealogists dream of an opportunity to go to Salt Lake City to research in the Family History Library. It can be intimidating to go to a place and do family research when you’ve never been there before. A retreat might be the answer to help you not only navigate your way around the Library and maximize your research time, but also to benefit from the expertise of those who are familiar with the Library and Salt Lake City.

The Salt Lake Christmas Tour, sponsored by Family Roots Publishing, is in its 30th year and features genealogy professionals providing educational lectures and assistance at the Family History Library. This tour attracts a large group and many attendees participate year after year.

Want to go to Salt Lake but still be able to ask someone for help? Consider taking professional genealogist Michael John Neill’s annual Library Research Trip. For a nominal fee you can join Michael at the Family History Library for a week, with an optional morning educational presentation and assistance as you research throughout the day. You can read more about this year’s trip and plan for the 2015 trip at http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2013/10/salt-lake-family-history-library.html.

Genealogy Cruises

Where do you want to sail? A cruise is a great vacation idea—and when you add a vacation destination with a genealogy education you have the perfect get-away.

There are several genealogy cruises that you may want to consider. United States software company Legacy Family Tree’s yearly cruise combines exotic locales with speakers on a variety of topics. This year’s genealogy cruise is unique: it’s a back-to-back cruise opportunity with the first leg of the cruise, two weeks, starting in Japan and making its way to Hong Kong. On the second leg of the tour, you can concentrate on vacationing with stops at ports in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. As of this time, classes and speakers have not been announced but you can read more about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on their website. If you’re unsure about being out to sea for two weeks to a month, then maybe a shorter cruise would be of more interest to you. Legacy announced that in 2015 they will have a one-week Western Caribbean cruise.

Another genealogy software company, Wholly Genes (the makers of The Master Genealogist), has its annual cruise this year in the late Fall. Organized by Heritage Books, this year’s cruise will leave from Los Angeles and visit the Mexican Riviera. You can learn more about the speakers on this cruise by visiting their website. This cruise will feature 17 hours of “genealogy, technology and DNA instruction.” I’ve been on a cruise to the Mexican Rivera in November and it’s a great time to leave the cold and enjoy some Mexican sunshine.

Are you a seasoned cruiser? Looking for more frequent genealogy cruise opportunities? Consider Australian-based Unlock the Past’s cruises. With multiple cruises each year, Unlock the Past and their international team of genealogy professionals has something for everyone. Cruises for the next three years include trips to the British Isles, Australia to the Baltic, and a Transatlantic voyage. If you’re not sold on the benefits of a genealogy cruise, I would suggest their web page 20 Reasons to Join an Unlock the Past History & Genealogy Cruise.

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Planning a Family Research Trip on Your Own

Maybe you like to strike out on your own. You might want to consider putting together your own genealogy trip that combines visiting your ancestral homeland with research opportunities.

How do you start? Make a list of all the travel details you will need to sort out, including transportation to your destination and transportation while you are there, as well as lodging and food. You may want to plan those details on your own with the help of a discount site like Kayak. For genealogy vacation destination ideas, be sure to check out our Genealogy Travel board on Pinterest.

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Next, figure out what family history research can be done while you are there. Identify nearby libraries, archives, and museums and what resources they have. Make sure to exhaust online digitized items that you are able to access from home so as to not waste your time while you are there. Email librarians and archivists with questions about on-site research. You might even consider contacting a local genealogist in the area for a consultation, or to get help navigating repositories while you are there. There is a real benefit from working with someone who knows all of the ins and outs of an area and the repositories.

However you decide to take your next genealogy trip, plan ahead to make the most of what is offered. And most of all plan to have lots of family research fun!

Travel Tip: When I’m taking a genealogy trip I try to pack as light as possible just in case I pick up some books or other research materials along the way. A SmartPhone or Tablet is a must. With this one tool you can take photos, scan images, audio or video record your travels or interviews, refer to your family tree through an app or via a cloud storage site like Dropbox, take notes, refer to research plans, get directions, and surf the Internet.

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