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First Steps


Family Finder
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Choosing the right genealogy software

Find the program that best suits your style

How do I

Get Started on My Family Tree
Present and Preserve My Family Story
Choose Software That's Right for Me
Learn More About Genealogy
Search for My Family


Many family history enthusiasts find that software programs are an excellent way to save and organize their family history. They also make editing charts and reports much quicker — no more recopying that family group sheet by hand! You will find that a wide variety of programs are available, each with tools and information to make family research easier and more fun. So how do you decide which of the many genealogy programs is right for you?

Determine Your Needs

All genealogists have specific needs related to the way they prefer to research and what they want to do with what they find. Some want to create beautiful wall-sized trees, some want to include photos, audio, and video, and some want to quickly test the waters and see what information is available. Some are just looking for a basic program that can store names and event dates, without all of the multimedia and display extras. Determining what's important to you will help you choose.

You will also want to think about whether you are planning to do online research, to what extent, and whether you plan to share your research online with other family historians. The major genealogy programs, such as Family Tree Maker, have full-featured Web sites with free searches, message boards, and user home pages, among other features. Many also have direct links to Web sites from within the program, which can lead you to other resources.

Determine Your Level of Detail

Family history is a pursuit that can be approached from many angles. There are programs for every level of interest and experience, from those who want a database for basic information (birth, marriage, death) to those who want a full-featured program that offers many different ways to categorize a wide variety of life facts. These more "heavyweight" programs also tend to have stronger sourcing features, so that you can keep track of where you found information — an important feature for all genealogists, but especially those who wish to publish their research or establish membership in a hereditary organization.

Determine Your Level of Experience

People begin using genealogy software from many different experience levels within the hobby, from those who have never searched for their ancestors before to professional researchers who are switching from paper to computer. Look at the features offered by the programs you're considering to see if they will do what you want now, and also in the future, as you gain more experience in your research. You may also want to consider the learning curve of the programs — how long will it take to learn the software so that you can use it comfortably? This is important whether you are just starting out or entering years of data from paper files.

There are many factors to consider in choosing a software program for your genealogy research. For a table that breaks out the features of the major genealogy programs we offer, see our Genealogy Software page.

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