Hints and Tips

20 Brilliant Genealogy Tools To Try This Year

Our recent talk on Excel for Genealogy prompted an interesting debate in the Society’s staff room about the tools we use for family history. We decided to open this up on Twitter, asking what tools our members and other genealogists use for their research. The answers ranged from the humble pencil to state-of-the-art note-taking apps, along with family tree software.

Click below to read through our top twenty list and let us know if we missed anything! 

1. ORA (Online Repository Assistant)

This is claimed to be “the genealogy tool that Windows users need to know about”. Comprising a browser extension /Windows program, genealogists can use ORA to capture source information from websites, or to mark records at an index level with ticks, crosses and other useful symbols. Ideal if you want to be able to see which records you've already viewed and discounted.

2. Pencils

This is a classic choice - but essential. Most archives prefer users bring a pencil rather than a pen. It’s always good to have such old-school items on hand in case the WIFI fails or something goes wrong with your tech when you are researching away from home. Scribbling out draft trees is often necessary when trying to work out connections. Some people like to use coloured pencils to code their work, and you can get colour pencil erasers too!

3. GedScape 

This was suggested as a useful tool for extracting sections/subsets of GEDCOM trees. GedScape is software that lets you view, manipulate, convert and extract text data from GEDCOM files (CSV, for import to Excel), for Windows-based computers. Its features include the creation of charts, indexes, tables, plus ancestor and descendant reports. A GEDCOM is a file type used by most family tree database software packages. These can be imported / exported into many popular genealogy record sites too, like Ancestry and Find My Past.

4. Zotero 

Zotero describes itself as, “Your Personal Research Assistant”. A free, open-source tool, Zotero can help you collect, organize, annotate, cite, and share your family history research. From collating website sources to containing individual record sources, depending on how you choose to use it. Many genealogists said Zotero was their preferred tool for reference management.

5. LaTEX 

LaTeX is a document preparation system that includes features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. It is the de facto standard for the communication and publication of scientific documents. LaTEX packages were proposed as useful for “nice writeups”. Another bonus is that is it free.

6. Notion 

Notion is an advanced note taking and project management tool, and it has a free version. One of it's most useful features is that you can cross-reference notes and choose to display information in different formats, from Kaban Boards to Tables. This site was recommended by a Twitter user, “to help me keep track of what I'm researching”.

7. Evidentia

One family historian tweeted, “people doing #DNA research may want to look at Evidentia software. . . an evidence manager for #genealogy.  It guides you in extracting data from sources and produces reports about the progress of your research.” Eviidentia can help you organize all your sources in one place, assign evidence to multiple people/ events, and squeeze more information from your sources.

8. Scrivener App (and its companion Scapple)

Scrivener is beloved by writers in general, including those writing up their family histories. One user wrote, “I love having document editor, index cards, and an outliner all in one place. Scapple is good for mind-mapping and brainstorming. Scapple drawings can be saved inside Scrivener projects.”

Scrivener claims to be "the go-to app for writers of all kinds, used every day by best-selling novelists, screenwriters, non-fiction writers, students, academics, lawyers, journalists, translators and more. Scrivener won't tell you how to write—it simply provides everything you need to start writing and keep writing". It is available for MacOS, Windows and iOS. 

9. Libre Office

Recommended by one Tweeter who told us, "My life is recorded in spreadsheets starting from the 1970s using LibreOffice. My DNA matches are in spreadsheets.  I use documents as well." 

LibreOffice is Free and Open Source Software, available for everyone to use, share and modify, and produced by a worldwide community of hundreds of developers. A successor to OpenOffice.org (commonly known as OpenOffice), it has been used in its various incarnations by millions. Today, LibreOffice is by far the most active continuation of the OpenOffice.org codebase, with releases every six months and hundreds of contributors. Also, LibreOffice uses libraries from the Document Liberation Project, handing control back to content creators.

10. Family Tree Software

There is much debate over which family tree software is "the best". There are a plethora of options such as Family Tree Maker, Family Historian, Legacy, Roots Magic. Some offer free versions or free trials of their software. They each are designed to help you store all your family history information and some integrate with popular genealogy websites such as Ancestry, Find My Past, My Heritage or Family Search.

There are comparison and review articles online but many of them are not written by highly experienced genealogists. We recommend trying the different software options yourself where possible or asking fellow SoG members for their thoughts before investing.

11. MS Access

One contributor suggested that MS Access, the Microsoft database software, is the best tool “by a long, long distance”, adding that, in his view, the programme can handle historical dates better than other spreadsheet tools.

12. Note pads

Some people prefer paper notes, or to combine using paper notes with electronic notes. Note pads with tab sections or Bullet Journaling techniques might be ideal for those that like to physically write their thoughts.

13. Microsoft Edge's Collections

Collections in Microsoft Edge is a fairly new feature that helps you keep track of your ideas on the web, whether you're shopping for genealogy items, planning a trip to your ancestors' former homes, collecting notes for family history research, or just want to pick up where you left off the last time you were browsing the internet. You can add text, web pages, and images. Collections syncs across your signed-in devices, so if you use Microsoft Edge on multiple devices, your collections will always be up to date on all of them. 

Recommended as "With Collections, you can return to exactly where you left off with your research. You can even add or remove tabs from the collection."

14. OneNote

Microsoft's note taking software was originally designed for students. It's made to replicate a physical filing system with notes being placed on tabs that belong within a binder. Users aren't restricted to writing in a linear fashion. You can click anywhere on your pad and start typing or drawing. You can also add pictures, web clips etc.

15. Evernote

Another fantastic note taking system, Evernote claims to give you everything you need to keep life organized—great note-taking, project planning, and easy ways to find what you need when you need it.

Our Tweeter told us she loves Evernote as "I can web-clip articles, photos, upload PDFs... and everything is searchable that has text.  With the ability to create endless tags for each note I can easily find things I have saved. The online web clipping is GREAT!"

16. Google Drive, DropBox or other Cloud Based Storage Options

The sheer amount of files and images that are generated by tracing your family tree can soon get overwhelming. Finding somewhere to save these and a filing system that works for you is essential! Many genealogists turn to 'cloud based' storage options such as Google Drive or DropBox. This means their data is saved on an external server and not directly on their computer. This means their information can be accessed from multiple devices and is backed up.

Storage options range from free to paid, often depending upon the amount of data you are saving to the cloud.

17. Mobile Scanner Apps

There are many image scanning apps available to download onto your phone. These apps allow you to take photos of documents in a manner that replicates a scanning machine. Images are compiled to form one image, free from reflection or glare!

18. Remento

Remento iOS app is free and can be used when interviewing living relatives while creating artefacts for the future, by guiding and recording your conversation - including narration over old photos! Remento claims to help people discover, document, and more deeply appreciate their family stories in a new way, making it easy to host a conversation with a family member that uncovers precious memories from their past. Remento reports, "In doing so, these conversations break down barriers across generations, breed connection through curiosity, and remind us that understanding our own story starts by listening to the stories of others."

19. Excel 

This well known Microsoft application was recommended as being particularly good for genetic genealogy: “One tab is for one DNA segment and each column will hold a DNA match and their Ahnentafel (row 1 = match name, row 2+3 = parents, etc.). There may be 10 to 100 columns (i.e. genealogies) per segment.”

20. GedTool 

This was recommended as "an Excel GEDCOM toolbox". GedTool is a collection of Excel macros for processing GEDCOM genealogy files. Once the GEDCOM data is in Excel it can then be viewed, edited and changed easily using Excel functionality, or checked or processed using further GedTool functions. GedTool can be used to transfer data from one Genealogy program to another, share data with other researchers, process and check data sets, and capture data.

Become a member

Join us

As a member, you can make the most of our resources, access our experts, and find a welcoming community of people interested in family history and genealogy.

We all have roots. Let’s find them together.

Keep up to date with news and events

Subscribe to The Genealogy Gazette

Sign up today to receive regular updates including The Genealogy Gazette, a monthly newsletter packed with family history news from around the community, hints, tips, and more. Receive information on upcoming events, talks and lectures, and special offers!

Thankyou! Please look out for an email from events@sog.org.uk to validate your email address, after which you'll be added to our Newsletter subscription.