Sunday 23 June 2024

Using all the Documents

I have recently been looking at information about a property that my ancestors owned in Cornwood parish, Devon, England. My curiosity was heightened when a friend introduced me to new owners who have spent a few years now in renovating and updating the house.

The property was called Notts, later renamed as Woodburn. Tracing its acquisition and use has become an obsession as it may impact greatly on our family’s history in the region, at least on assumptions I have made. (Genealogists should never make assumptions because they can delay or sideline needed research into family history.)

How do I know this property was so important to my family history and when did it come into the family in the first place? The answers, at least as near as I can determine, start to appear after a review of many different types of documents.

Things started to come together when I assembled a spreadsheet listing the documents I have found on indexes or obtained concerning the lands. (I do not know why I did not do this before as I use spreadsheets for everything!) The summary was organized by date. That allowed me to see what individuals were involved in the ownership and the timing of when my ancestors arrived on the scene.

The information that I have learned about the property, briefly summarized here, will be part of an article I am writing about Master Craftsmanship, which will detail the history of the original construction, modifications and renovations of the home over the centuries and the possible roles my ancestors played.


The oldest reference I have for Notts is a transcription of an abstract of an Inquisition Post Mortem (IPM), dated 25 September 1629 for William Shepheard, who I believe was my 9th great-grandfather. In addition to recording that he lived in Plympton St. Mary parish, is information that leases for Notts and another property in Yealmpton parish, were passed down to Nicholas Shepheard, his “son & heir, then aged 26.” Thi is the only document that indicates Nicholas, my 8th great-grandfather, was likely born in 1601. The IPM refers to Notts as having been “held of Ellis Hele, esq. of his manor of Fardell.”

The IPM affirms that the property was in possession of a family member by 28 January 1628 the date the document states William died. (That date may be wrong by a few days. According to the Plympton St. Mary church register, he was buried there on 27 January 1628.)

Nicholas’s will, proved in 1657, recorded that he gave all his land to his eldest son, John Shepheard (1633-bef 1685), my 7th great-grandfather, but does not name the properties. I had assumed they included a property name Rooke in Cornwood parish, but other documents I found demonstrate the lands were not acquired until probably the late 1750s. Following Nicholas’s death, his wife, Margerit (Lee) Shepheard (c1603-1685) was to share possession of the lands until her death. 

Land-related Documents

These types of contracts record ownership and tenant relationships, along with any information regarding financing and security. They name the parties involved at the time they were executed along with, in many cases, others who predated them as owners and are thus ripe sources for family history reconstruction.

A very important lease document dated 5 July 1759 recited all those in possesion of rights to Notts from Margerit Shepheard and her son, John Shepheard, down two more generations, through Nicholas Shepheard (1675-1756), my 6th great-grandfather, to Nicholas Shepheard (1716-1786), my 5th great-grandfather, and to his wife, Mary (Barrett) Shepheard (1736-1803).

Past that date, other lease and sale documents show the property was eventually in possession of William’s 3rd great-grandson, and Mary’s son, Nicholas Shepheard (1761-1820), my 4th great-granduncle, who sold it in 1806.

Tax Lists

I was aware from land tax lists that Notts (aka Knotts) was owned by my 5th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard from 1781 until his death in 1786 when it went to their oldest son, my 4th great-granduncle, Nicholas Shepheard, the last Shepheard owner.

Other lists over the years include: the 1642 Protestation Return which names Nicholas Shepheard (1601-1657); the 1674 Hearth Tax which names Margerit Shepheard (c1603-1685); and the Oath Rolls, which name Nicholas Shepheard (1675-1756). These documents do not identify the lands on which the individuals resided but do indicate they lived in Cornwood parish.

Parish Registers

We mostly follow families through baptism, marriage and burial entries in the parish registers. They are the basic references to people, at least as far back as the early 16th century.

One major problem that exists for Cornwood parish is that all the registers and many other lists were destroyed in a fire in 1685, so we have to depend on other material to find the family members.

From all documents we can surmise that William Shepheard (c1575-1628) lived in Plympton St Mary but never, apparently, in Cornwood. I connected the baptisms of nine other children of William Shepheard in Plympton St. Mary, between 1603 and about 1620. The register only goes back to 1603 so the record of the birth of Nicholas has not been preserved.

William’s son, Nicholas Shepheard (1601-1657) married Margerit Lee (c1603-1685) on 5 April 1630 in Plympton St. Mary parish. but all their children were baptized, and presumably born in Cornwood parish, beginning with John in 1633 and ending with Orindge about 1640. The growth of the family begs the question as to whether the original Notts longhouse might have undergone expansion during this period.

This information suggests they were the first Shepheard family to come to Cornwood. In addition, the 1759 document states Margerit was “formerly in the tenure or possession” of Notts, which we might read as living and raising her family there. She was buried in Cornwood on 14 July 1685.

Subsequent generations were almost all born, married and buried in Cornwood.


No single set of documents has enough information to completely assemble my family tree and confirm inter-generational relationships. With the combined documentation, though, we can get a much better understanding of how the individuals were related and where they may have resided.

Monday 10 June 2024

The Confusion of Similar Names

 In our family research, we have all run up against situations where we have two or more individuals with the same or similar names, born about the same time and living in the same area, any of whom could be our ancestor. Sometimes you can only guess which is the one that fits your family the best.

I was corresponding with a cousin last week about the common ancestors we have in Cornwood, Devon, England. In my years as an Online Parish Clerk, I have acquired and transcribed thousands of entries in the baptism marriage and burial registers and on the multiple census records for the area.

Anyway, we were discussing a Mary Maddock who was our common ancestral connection. In Cornwood, there were two children baptized with that name, one in 1699, to parents Robert and Sarah (James) Maddock, and the other in 1701, to parents Richard and Elizabeth (Heard) Maddock. There were a couple of others born around the same time in neighbouring areas, but we thought one from Cornwood would be a better bet since both our families had connections to that parish and the descendants of our Mary Maddock lived in that area.

One married James Collins/Collings, on 6 January 1725-26, in Plympton St. Mary parish, next door. My cousin and I both share ancestors with the Collins family. James and Mary (Maddock) Collins had three children born in Plympton St. Mary and then three more in Cornwood. One daughter, Mary Collins (1735-1797), married Richard Shepheard (1726-1803) in Cornwood in 1761. They are my 5th great-grandparents. Another daughter, Susannah, married Stephen Sandover and they are my cousin’s 5th great-grandparents.

The other Mary Maddock married John Edwards, also in Cornwood, on 11 May 1727. The Edwards family are ancestral to my Crispin line. Mary Crispin (1800-1884) married William Carpenter (1796-1877) in 1796. Their daughter, Mary Crispin Carpenter (1830-1890) married John Shepheard (1830-1901) and are my 2nd great-grandparents. John was also the great-grandson of Richard and Mary (Collins) Shepheard.

Our main problem is we cannot confirm which Mary Maddock married James Collins and which married John Edwards. The baptism, burial and marriage registers have no details that would indicate who their parents were or what age they were when they married and died. But, as it turns out, both couples are my 6th great-grandparents.

As a solution, rightly or wrongly, I decided that the oldest Mary Maddock would have married first and the younger one married later. Thus, my tree has the Mary born in 1699 as the wife of James Collins and the one born in 1701 as the wife of John Edwards.

It does not get any easier fleshing out the families. We think that both James and John were not born in Cornwood but can find no record that is a definitive match. We have only tentative burial dates for all four people but, again, cannot confirm them. And common forenames like John and James don’t give us a narrow list of possible candidates. More confusion!

One aspect in support of my decision about which Mary married which man was in looking at the names of their children. John and Mary Edwards had children named Elizabeth and Richard, which were also the parents’ names for the Mary Maddock born in 1701. That seemed to connect these families.

Given the dates we are looking at – late 17th century – it will be difficult to trace either of the Maddock families much further back in Cornwood. All the parish registers compiled before 1685 were destroyed in a fire in the Churchwarden’s home in that year.

Sometimes you have limited data that will confirm relationships. In these cases, you have to make what may be reasoned guesses. I think I have done this for my two Mary Maddocks, based on age, marriage date and children’s names. Perhaps one day blood connections through DNA tests may help narrow down the options.

Monday 27 May 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 7: Preserving Memorabilia

In the first blog post about this subject, I mentioned preserving memorabilia (4 March 2024 – Organizing Your Information). I have written before about photos and photo albums (What will we do with future photos, Prized Old Photos, Digitizing Memories, My amazing picture-taking machines), home movies (Preserving Home Movies), family memorabilia (Memorabilia, Old Heirloom Watches), school records (My Mother’s Scrapbook), furniture and antiques (The Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me).

I am a collector of old family stuff: photos (of course), antiques and furniture, drawings, woodworking projects, souvenirs, brochures, bibles, area history publications, family correspondence, cards (birthday, anniversary, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day), tape and video recordings, phonograph records, tools, farm implements, toys, musical instruments, cameras, various types of collections, artwork (both professional and pieces done by children and grandchildren) and assorted mementoes of family activities, events, workplaces and life milestones.

I still have all the report cards and many of the projects our children brought home from school. These have been digitized so their families can see them easily (and in case they get lost, damaged or thrown out).

And, as I have written about before, all the old original family documents are secured in binders or in my safe.

My family laughs at me for keeping it all but, to my mind these things represent family history. They were important to people who owned and used them.

As much as I have, I am still surprised and annoyed with myself for having given away or discarded many items.

We have given (or will give) a few things to children and grandchildren. By doing so we at least keep them in the family and imbue the recipients with some sense of their ancestral history.

Now that we are in our probable last home, I have made a point of bringing many things out of their storage boxes to display them. A lot of comments are made by preservationists about keeping material in archive-like containers to prevent their deterioration. That is a good idea for many things but putting them out on shelves or hanging them on walls so that people, especially family members, can see them is also important. Stories and memories can be easily forgotten if the tangible pieces that go with them kept are out-of-sight.

One of my projects is to photograph and document all the old stuff that is still kicking around here. That will includes making displays of small but bulky pieces is shadow boxes.

Whatever you choose to keep, make a record of what it is, where is came from, who it belonged to and what dates it was both produced and acquired. Without that information, your descendants and family will not have any knowledge of its importance or provenance.
1-Grandma Miller's irons, 2-Dad's home made chess set, 3-Dad's carving 1934 contest entry made with coping saw, 4-great-grandfather James Shepheard's pocket watch, 5-custom made stained glass window, 6-old family rocking chair, 7-Wayne's 70-year old toy cap guns, 8-Grandpa Miller's farm fork, 9-Wayne's safety matchbook collection

Monday 13 May 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 6: Publishing Your Stories

An important part of family history research is putting the information you find into a form that other people can see. You have spent countless hours, or years finding ancestors and learning about their lives and livelihoods.

When you are gone, though, what will happen to all that knowledge?

While you are able, it is important to write down what stories you have discovered, along with the data you have assembled about past family members. That does not mean publishing them in genealogical magazines or writing books, necessarily, although those are not bad objectives.

An important part of family history research is allowing other family members to see it. You may have uncovered stories about certain ancestors that are interesting: they may have been newsworthy; they may have been part of important historical events; they may have been romantic interludes; they may have been associated with life and death circumstances; they may have been about travel, to exotic places or to new homes in search of a better life.

If they are direct ancestors they will, of course, had children and some of those children will have had children, and so on down the years. Each of those families will have had unique histories that added to the overall family narrative. Their individual stories may just have been about normal life passages of growing up, finding a career and having a family of their own, like your own experiences, but no less important.

How you choose to record your family’s history is up to you. If you are just beginning to consider the idea, it is important to not try to bite off more than you can chew. You should also decide beforehand who your audience will be as that may dictate where you publish your information.

Any type of medium or format is fine to consider. Perhaps, as a starting point, it is easier and more palatable to look at picking a single interesting event or person and telling others about it or them. Then add more stories and data to produce a more comprehensive piece about an entire family line.

You have probably already assembled a family tree and have it stored on your computer or online. I posted some ideas about that earlier in this series (Genealogy Software). Within each individual profile you may have recorded information about the people and their families. This may be a good place to incorporate that information into a summary that might form the basis for a future blog post or article, or a chapter in a book if you get that far.

Being a blogger, I always suggest this as a great place to put short stories about ancestors. In this blogsite, I have written 109 posts (of the over 400 on the site) about family members. Some of them were expanded to be part of published articles. Your blog might be public, like mine, or set up just for family with a controlled distribution list. Making it public offers a chance that it will be seen by cousins or other researchers you did not know about but may have information about your family.

Other avenues you might want to investigate include:

·         Local family history society newsletters and journals – These groups ae always looking for articles – short and detailed – that will show examples of past family activities and methods of research.

·         Presentations – Again, local societies might be interested in hearing your stories. And in doing so, you would produce a written script that could be published or distributed later.

·         Social media – There are many sites where you may have a personal page, or a family page where you might contribute a story about a past family member.

·         Commercial publications – These publications also have an interest in seeing new articles that present historical events and ideas about family history research. These types of pieces may require some higher calibre of writing expertise thus they may be something to look at after you have practiced with contributions to other venues.

If you are looking for information on how to start writing, here are a few sources for inspiration and advice:

·         Cyndi’s List – Writing Your Family History: General Resources.

·         Family Tree (UK) How to guides – How to write up your family history.

·         Family Tree Magazine (USA): 9 tips for getting started on writing your family history.

·         FindMyPast – Preserving the story of your ancestry: our expert guide to writing your family history.

·         Genealogy Stories – Curious Descendants Club: How to go from boring to brilliant family history writing.

·         FamilySearch Blog – 18 Writing Tips: Tell Family Stories with Confidence

·         Gil Blanchard. (2014). Writing Your Family History: A guide for family historians. Pen & Sword, 228 pp.

Writing stories is a major part of preserving family history and should become a regular task whether they are short summaries of a few hundred words or a comprehensive project like a book.

Start small and practice. 

Monday 29 April 2024

Leaving the Past for the Future 5: The importance of maps

As an earth scientist I have dealt with maps for most of my life, even created many. Using them in family history research was natural to me.

There is probably no type of map that I have not seen or used, among them:

·         geographical, topographical and bathymetric maps

·         town and street maps

·         geologic, weather and mineral resource maps

·         maps showing areas where natural events like earthquakes or hurricanes have occurred; .

·         air photos and in recent decades, satellite images, forms of maps that are especially useful in looking at changes to landforms

·         socio-economic maps showing the distribution of things like population, incomes, election results and tithe apportionment boundaries

·         Google maps, a prime starting point to look at local, regional, national and continental views

All types of maps have their uses in reviewing and imagining the homes of our ancestors, particularly the older ones.

Incorporating maps into a family narrative is one of the most useful tools a family historian can employ. Knowing where your ancestors lived or originated may be just as important as the era in which they lived and died.

I am a mongrel, having descended from many family lines from many countries and from many regions in those many countries. I have searched out maps for each of the locations in which my ancestors lived – hundreds in total. Regional maps showed me the broad geography of where my ancestors lived and worked. Local county or parish maps allowed me to focus on neighbourhoods or small communities. Property maps produced through the years demonstrated for me how family residences or homesteads changed or developed as families grew.

I have written several posts on this blog about using maps: where to find them, how to use them, what information about areas you can glean from them, and, of course, where people lived and worked. I have written posts about using maps of various kinds (Using Old Maps - 22 July 2014; More About Using Old Maps – 12 August 2014; Even More About Using Old Maps – 26 August 2014. I have pointed out the value of local map sources such as Tithe Apportionment Maps (23 September 2014) and War Diaries and Trench Maps from WWI (14 Apr 2020). I noted looking at the locations of some of the homes we had lived in as shown on Old City Maps & Aerial Photos (1 Mar 2023).

In a series of blog posts about Old Homes and Homesteads (18 February to 22 April 2014) I detailed the homes of many of my ancestors from the British Isles, the USA and Canada, most accompanied by maps of the areas: in Devon, England (Corntown, East Rooke, Lutton, Plympton St. Mary, Torquay); Virginia; Kansas to Alberta; an Alberta homestead; family farms in Alberta; Alberta and British Columbia.

In another series about Moving (14 July to 5 July 2016) I tracked the routes families took between their various homes across the USA and in Canada: the McDaniels, the Keiths, the Mayfields, the Andersons in Ontario and North Dakota, the McDaniels going west, the Millers going west, the Thompsons in Ontario and North Dakota.

In the many posts and articles, I have published about natural event and their impact on families, I have included maps showing where they occurred. In a more recent piece, I used a map of London, England to show where two of my ancestral lines likely lived and how they possibly got together (Marriage & Maps, Family Tree magazine, June 2024).

In one session of a recent course I have been taking (Research Skills Studio by Dr. Sophie Kay and hosted by Family Tree magazine), there was an emphasis on using maps to learn more about the daily lives of families. Sophie took participants through an ancestral walk in a village to get better acquainted with the areas in which their past families lived and the lives they led. “By stepping into your ancestor’s shoes, you’ll notice details about their location which had never occurred to you before.”

No dates have as yet been announced for a repeat of Sophie’s course but readers may find out more in future issues of the Family Tree newsletter.

I have previously listed some websites that are great for maps in the past, but here are a few as reminders or that may be new to readers (some are commercial organizations): National Library of Scotland, Bienecke Labrary, David Rumsey Map Collection, Family Search, Old Maps Online, My Old Maps, Historic Map Works, Old Maps, Norman B Leventhal Map & Education Centre, edmaps, Library of Congress, USGS, University of Calgary, University of Victoria,  Historical Topographic Map Digitization Project (Ontario, Canada), Arcanum Maps,


Monday 15 April 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 4: Digital Sources

In previous posts in this series, I have mentioned my personal, digitized family history files, genealogical software programs and my paperless habits.

Sourcing information is, of course, the most important thing we do in building our family trees. In years past many family historians visited local LDS Family History Centers (now called FamilySearch Centers), or the main library in Salt Lake City, where microfilms of old parish registers, for example, could be borrowed to search for information about births, marriages and deaths.

Or people wrote letters to archives, museums and country record offices for any information they might have on local communities or people, as my aunt did in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Or they may have consulted Online Parish Clerks in the UK like me or volunteers providing similar assistance in other parts of the world.

The world has moved on. Now we mostly review data in digital form on major genealogical websites, like Ancestry, FindMyPast The Genealogist, MyHeritage, or ScotlandsPeople, both mainly through subscriptions. If you cannot afford the fees for accessing the commercial databases, you might find them using the computers set up at municipal libraries, the FamilySearch Centers or local family history society offices. Some people wait for those special free days offered by some commercial site providers, for example, around Armistice Day to look at military documents or St. Patrick’s Day for Irish records.

But there is a growing number of other websites where information about ancestors can be freely found in digital format, especially important for those of us with limited shelf space or a disinclination for printed material.

Helen Osborn, an English professional genealogist, wrote an excellent piece for the November 2022 issue of Who Do You Think You Are magazine titled, Build your own Digital Reference Library. In it she documented where to find and how to access family history information books on some of the major and minor websites and reminding us of some sources we may have used in the past but forgotten.

Among those highlighted were libraries where you can acquire or just borrow books: the library at familysearch, Google Books, HathiTrust, and Internet Archive. Helen is based in the UK so many of her sources for documents or transcripts are also there: specialist societies like the Surtees Society, the British Record Society and the Harleian Society; local, civic or country record societies such as the London Record Society, British History Online, Bristol Record Society,  the Huguenot Society, or the Navy Records Society.

In the UK’s The National Archives has dozens of published calendars listing important historical records of use to genealogists. Information provided by similar groups in many other countries can I’m sure be found. In the US, use the services provided by their National Archives.

Digital journals are important sources of material that can help the search for ancestors. JSTOR has an immense library of academic studies that can be read online or accessed through a private subscription or a local library. Universities and professional organizations offer publications of all kinds. You need only search for subjects or localities of interest to come up with relevant groups or articles.

Some other sources I have discovered and used include: the Digital Public Library of America, the British Library, Project Gutenberg and the Smithsonian Libraries. Closer to home is the Library and Archives Canada.

Newspapers are a valuable resource for information about people and events. I frequently use The British Newspaper Archive, (by Ancestry), Peel’s Prairie Provinces now also part of Internet Archive and Chronicling America at the Library of Congress.

If your interest is in Medieval Genealogy, then try Some Notes on Medieval English Genealogy. If it is in Scotland consult the digital resources of the National Library of Scotland, especially for maps. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland will give you substantial information about the geography, people and economy of the country during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

The National Genealogical Society (US) has a list of Eighteen Important Free Websites for Genealogy Research. FamilySearch, already mentioned for books, has a whole webpage dedicated to Using the internet for family history research. Check it out.

I still recommend contacting local record offices, archives, libraries and family history societies, for material pertinent to your research. If you cannot get to their offices, consider hiring a local consultant to search for and make copies of documents. Consider joining a major genealogical society like the Society for Genealogists to access millions of records online.

We live in a digital world now. There is no going back. But that is a good thing as we can now access millions of books and other published material right from our (or someone else’s) computers.

I have listed just a few digital sources here. I know there are dozens of others.

Whatever your interest is, location you want to know more about, family or person you want information about, first try a Google search. My recent search for “genealogy digital sources” brought up over 53 million hits. Narrowing it down to “free genealogy digital sources” still resulted in over 39 million sites. That’s a pretty big starting point.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 3: Going Paperless

Like many people, I have gone increasingly paperless in my day-to-day life and in my genealogical studies. When we first moved to a condo several years ago, I no longer had the room for walls of bookcases or filing cabinets. We are now back in a large house, but over the past few years I developed the habit of not keeping a lot of paper files, other than a few I need that contain important personal or financial papers.

And, of course, those special family memorabilia and historical documents that are preserved in binders.

I admit I still have and purchase printed books, mainly because I find them useful in much of my research. It is often handier to be able to, firstly, read and mark up pages with yellow high-lighter or turn down the corners where there is information I will want to find later. My old schoolteachers would roll over in their graves to know I desecrate books that way, but these are mostly used books I acquired on the Internet for little cost and will undoubtedly be thrown away at some point when I am finished with them or finished period.

My current bookshelves do not take up as much space as my photo albums did. These are now consigned to plastic bins in our storage space. I have not got the heart to throw them out yet even though they have all been scanned and put online where family members can pursue the pictures (blog post Digitizing Memories 7 March 2017). One of our children might toss them in the future but that will be their burden.

A future project will be to describe the provenance of all my important keepsakes. Hopefully that will help our family to decide to keep them for posterity and future family historians. I believe it is important to collect items used by family members and to preserve them. But they need to have explanations about who owned them and what significance they might have to our family’s history.

Of great importance in keeping digital files is making sure you don’t inadvertently delete them or lose them in a hard drive crash. I have had that unfortunate experience in the past and it took some effort to reconstruct my genealogy records. Luckily, I had most of my files and folders on a separate storage device and was able to secure a family tree from another relative, although it was a few years out-of-date.

The use of CDs, DVDs, USB memory sticks or another hard drive has been important in preserving data in the past. Having the information on other devices, whether stored in your own home or with a friend or relative, offers protection against fire or other loss. Keeping duplicate files in more than one place, at least one of them outside your home, may be important to insure they are safe and accessible. The older technologies offered easy solutions to preserving the data, but their life span is a problem. Storage devices should be checked regularly, or just routinely replaced.

In my post of 4 March 2024 (Leaving the Past to the Future 1: Organizing Your Information) it should have been obvious that all the files I keep on my computer are digital. But what I did not mention is that I keep a copy of them in the Cloud. 

Since my last computer crash a few years ago, I have kept my files in remote computer data storage. That includes all manner of files from typewritten to scanned documents and audio/visual files. Once there it can be retrieved and shared.

The commercial service program I use (Carbonite) copies files constantly.  As of March 11th, I have 363,840 files backed up (43,080 new ones just this month). It does cost a bit (Cdn$134 per year) but worth it to insure against losing some valuable information in the future.

I can retrieve parts or all or the library at any time, no matter where I am or what device I am using. Storage is secure, password protected, although I can also invite others to access the data, like my daughter who assists me with my IT activities.

For more about being a paperless genealogist or looking for advice and help on how to do it, just do a Google search for “paperless genealogy” and be amazed at the information you find: blogs, books, presentations, newsletters, magazine articles, technology, etc.

I will talk about paperless research sources and techniques in another post.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Upcoming Presentations

 I am presenting two talks to the Society of Genealogists later this year:

On 11 July 2024 I will talk about Genealogy and the Little Ice Age. See here for more details.

On 8 August 2024 I will present Stormy Weather: events that changed our ancestors' fortunes. See here for more details.

Monday 18 March 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 2: Genealogy Software

In my last post I talked about my own family history files and how I organize information.

Part of being organized is having a software program that you can use to assemble your family tree and record at least the basic data about your ancestors. That may entail having the tree on your desktop computer (as mine is), using a laptop (which I only use occasionally, mainly when travelling), or using a handheld electronic device (such as a tablet or smart phone).

I find it difficult to work with small, single screens. Part of it is the price you pay for getting older when your eyesight is not as sharp as it once was. And I always keep more than one screen open on my two monitors, especially when working on family history stuff. Using just one, small window does not work for me as I like to switch back and forth often between open websites.

Many in my family have Apple iPads while my computer and laptop are Windows based. I find it difficult to switch between different operating systems. While I used to use Apple products many years ago, I found that genealogy website and programs were mostly not compatible with Apple systems, so I switched everything over.

But what’s the best genealogy software program to use?

Using an online site to keep your tree is an option but you may need a subscription to access this service. If you lose or delete your membership you could lose your tree as well. I’ll talk about online trees in a later post.

What software programs most of us use comes down to what we like and how we work with our data. Often people get started with one program and stay with it because it’s easier than moving everything.

I use Legacy 9.0. I moved to it when I started using a Windows based computer system. Prior to that I had my data on Reunion on my old Macintosh computer which I quite liked. I tried a few others at the time but preferred Legacy as it had the features that fit the way I like to do things.

Most of the most popular programs have a free version of a free trial period. That only goes so far, though, as once you are into using it, you really want some of the advanced features.

If you want to know more about the various options, first read the reviews of people or groups who have tested them. Most will compare in terms of ease of use, best features and cost and show some user reviews.

·         TopTenReviews compares the most popular programs for 2024 here (August 2023).

·         Some good charts that show the features of 23 programs can be found on Wikimedia here (June 2023).

·         Techradar lists their best here (February 2024).

·         Family Tree Magazine (US) have their top picks for software, along with their assessment of Online Trees, here.

·         No1Reviews came up with a top 10 selection here.

·         Buyers Guide rate their choices here (March 2024).

If you want to know what is available, you can read about dozens of makers of Software &Apps for Genealogy Software Programs on Cyndi’s List.

If you are looking for your first, or new software, check out the reviews first. Also talk to other genealogists to learn what they use and why.

Beware, though. Learning about all the programs may exhaust you.

Some programs work with both Mac and Windows systems. A few also have a mobile app so you can carry the information with you on your phone. Here is a list of some of the more popular programs as summarized by Family Tree Magazine.





Mobile App

Syncs with

Hints from

Ancestral Quest 16

FamilySearch Family Tree

FamilySearch, Findmypast

Family Historian 7

Findmypast, MyHeritage

Family Tree Builder




MyHeritage for iOS and Android (free)





FamilySearch, Geni, MyHeritage, WikiTree & others

Family Tree Maker 2019


Family Tree Maker Connect for iOS and Android (free; no editing capabilities)




Ancestry, FamilySearch



Legacy Family Tree 9





Families for iOS and Android ($14.99)



FamilySearch Family Tree



FamilySearch, Findmypast, GenealogyBank, MyHeritage

Reunion 13



ReunionTouch for iOS ($9.99)

RootsMagic 9










RootsMagic for iOS and Android (free; no editing capabilities)


Ancestry, FamilySearch Family Tree


Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, MyHeritage

It’s important to have genealogy software, no matter what device you use:

·         First you need to have a system that allows you to store information about your ancestral families, for your own purposes as you progress with your research but also for sharing with others now and in the future.

·         Second you need to have a copy of your family tree and genealogical information that you control and not subject to the whims or decisions of others, whether they be individuals or companies that offer and store data.

·         Third, you need ready access to your data – anywhere, any time – on your own device(s) that does not rely on an internet connection.