Published on
October 20, 2020 by Joseph Levy

Best Genealogy Software 2020 - Build Your Family Tree

Best Genealogy Software 2020 - Build Your Family Tree

We spent months exploring and testing genealogy companies that claim to offer the best tools for creating and growing your family tree to help you figure out which family tree builder is the most deserving of your time and money.

The winner in all of our tests for the best genealogy software is Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage. It’s easy to use, good value for money, lets you contact other members who might belong in your family tree, and it has a huge database.

If you’re in a rush and just want the best family tree builder, skip this review and go straight to Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage!

Discover Your Family Tree Today!

 

The Biggest Family Tree Builder Review Ever Done!

Yes, the historical documents are out there, and yes, there are dozens of DNA testing companies claiming to have the right format, features, and resources to assist you in finding out where you come from. But which software should you turn to?

We set out to answer these questions and more. Our team of genealogy experts has spent hundreds of hours testing over 100 ancestry and family tree companies to find out which are the best.

Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage is our #1 choice, but there are some other great products available, too. Take a look and see which genealogy software is best for you.

Short on time? Here are our top picks for best family tree builders!

Our Best Family Tree Builders Reviewed

1. Family Tree Builder by MyHeritage – Best for Popularity

This popular family tree builder is used by millions of people worldwide and is free to download onto your Windows or Mac PC. However, you can only add up to 250 individuals unless you upgrade from the free basic to a Premium or PremiumPlus subscription. 

  • Automatically finds historical records of your ancestors
  • Automatically links your tree with millions of others 
  • Ability to add thousands of people very quickly
  • Can create and customize eye-catching charts 
  • Share and collaborate on trees with a private “family site”

Build Your Family Tree with MyHeritage

2. Trees by Ancestry – Best for Growing Your Family Tree

It’s easy to start a family tree with Ancestry simply by entering a few details: your first name, last name, age, birthplace, and whether you want to search on your father’s or mother’s side of the family. It’s all online, so there’s no software to download.

  • Connect with millions of AncestryDNA members
  • Start with a free 14-day trial
  • Access billions of historical records (more added daily)
  • Grow and share your tree using highly advanced tools
  • Access ancestral information from 80+ countries outside the US

Build Your Family Tree with Ancestry

3. FindMyPast – Best for Finding British or Irish Ancestry

FindMyPast lets you find out who your ancestors were and where they lived. With over two billion genealogical records of British and Irish ancestry at your disposal, you can build your family tree and see the results mapped over 80 global regions. The company offers ancestral DNA testing and lets you trace both your maternal and paternal lines.

  • Twice the number of Irish records of any other site
  • Autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA genetic testing available
  • Birth, marriage, and death records dating back to the early 1700s.
  • Customer support team available along with step-by-step educational content
  • 14-day free trial

Build Your Family Tree with FindMyPast

4. TheGenealogist – Best for People with Australian Heritage

TheGenealogist, partnered with FamilyTreeDNA, offers one of the largest genetic genealogy databases in the world to help you trace your family history and build a complete family tree. The genealogy website focuses on tracking the movements of the British Empire, and specifically looks at migration to Australia including tracing people who were transported to the penal colonies.

  • Highly accurate DNA based ancestry results from a partnership with FamilyTreeDNA
  • Maps and residential data
  • Casualty lists from WW1 and WW2
  • Military personnel lists are taken from the army and navy
  • Census transcripts and images from 1841 to 1911

Build Your Family Tree with TheGenealogist

5. GenealogyBank – Best for Access to Largest Collection of Historical US Newspapers

Genealogy Bank offers a family tree builder based on the world’s largest collection of newspapers. You can start creating a picture of your genealogical heritage based on online obituary archives, and birth and marriage announcements taken from newspapers in 50 states going back over 330 years.

  • DNA test kits taken with saliva samples
  • DNA analysis of over 36 gene pools
  • Filter search results by keyword, location, or date
  • Exclusive newspaper archives featuring billions of historical records
  • 13,000 newspaper titles from all 50 States

Build Your Family Tree with GenealogyBank

6. Legacy 9.0 by Legacy Family Tree – Best for Ease-of-Use

Legacy Family Tree has what looks like a legacy website, but its Legacy 9.0 family tree builder is of good value. Plus, it can search through the records of several genealogy services, such as FindMyPast, FamilySearch, GenealogyBank, and MyHeritage.

  • Great value for money (free standard edition) 
  • Very user-friendly
  • Customizable
  • A mapping tool allowing you to trace ancestors’ movements
  • Ongoing genealogical research suggestions

See Legacy Family Tree Deals

7. Genes Reunited – Best for Discovering Others Who Share Your Passion for Family Tree Building

Genes Reunited lets you search through census records, birth, marriages, and death announcements, and military records to discover your family’s history. They also have parish records and an enormous library of images so that you can enrich your tree and understand your past. There’s an active community forum where users connect with long-lost relatives, and exchange tips for tracing and tracking ancestors. And once you locate your family details, you can use their detailed family tree builder to display your findings.

  • Database of over 550 million family historical records
  • 11 million family trees for you to search through to find ancestors
  • Expert genealogists available to help
  • Huge and active community
  • Free version available as well as subscription options

Build Your Family Tree with Genes Reunited

8. Family Historian 6 – Best for Beginners

Family Historian 6 offers several user-friendly features for beginners who might not know how to build a family tree. You can get started with a 30-day free trial but, ultimately, you’ll have to pay for deeper genealogical research.

  • 30-day free trial
  • A “Time Slider” to track family movements over time
  • Automatic matching to MyHeritage historical records and family trees
  • A “Smart Tree” feature for great customizability of chart layouts
  • Easy to build a family tree based on current family knowledge

9. WikiTree – Best for Support Resources

WikiTree might not be the first name you think of for family tree building, but it’s definitely one to bear in mind. Anyone can contribute to growing a single family tree from DNA and traditional genealogical sources, and – best of all – it will always be free.

  • 100% free
  • See potential DNA relatives
  • Easily connect with other members’ genealogical research
  • Effortless importation of sources and citations from all your research
  • Very helpful community to guide your genealogical search 

See WikiTree Deals

10. Heredis 2020 – Best for Syncing with Genealogical Search Engines

This family tree builder, which runs on Windows or Mac, should be seriously considered by professional or amateur genealogists alike. It offers a user-friendly interface, an abundance of useful features, and seamless synchronization with some of the major genealogical search engines.

  • Easy installation
  • Great for users of all abilities
  • Lots of chart formats, designs, settings, and options
  • Synchronizes with AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch
  • Import files from other genealogy programs and websites

See Heredis Deals

What is a Family Tree?

A family tree is a diagram that shows how the members of your family are related to one another. It can trace your family’s history back in time, listing the names, birth dates, and death dates of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, etc. It can also include all of your cousins across many generations.

Many people take a lot of pride and pleasure in documenting their family tree, find it a profound way of understanding where they came from, and view it as a priceless legacy of information that might otherwise risk being lost forever.

Today, many companies such as Legacy Family Tree, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and Legacy Tree Genealogists – offer you the ability to create, build, and maintain your family tree online. This type of tool is called a “family tree builder,” for obvious reasons.

Using an online family tree builder is much more convenient than recording your family tree on paper – because the larger your tree becomes, the more branches you need to keep adding. Before too long, your tree can extend across many pages and become increasingly unmanageable unless you do it online.

You can also share an online family tree with your relatives and collaborate on building it together. But best of all, companies that offer a paid genealogy subscription service – again, such as Legacy Family Tree, MyHeritage, and Ancestry – enable you to do research that will help you find relatives, and information about those relatives, quickly and accurately.

By searching for your parents’ names, birth dates, and other information, you can often find historical records in these companies’ databases that will help you trace your family line back over many generations. Along the way, you can discover photos and historical documents that bring these people to life in your imagination. You can also discover living relatives around the world that you never knew about before!

Doing this type of research can be very time consuming, even when you have a genealogy subscription. But the end result is a vivid and exciting way to experience and share the fascinating history of your family.

How to Read Your Family Tree

Each person on your family tree is represented by a rectangle containing that individual’s name, birth date, and (if relevant) date of death. Men and women are usually represented by differently colored rectangles for ease of differentiation. In an online family tree, you can usually view more information about each family member by clicking on that person’s rectangle – such as photos, places and dates of residence and travel, as well as various kinds of important historical documents.

The lines that connect these rectangles demonstrate the relationships between all members of the tree. For example, on a vertically oriented family tree, a husband and wife are usually connected by a horizontal line, and a vertical line leads down to their children, who all appear on a horizontal line with each other. If those children are married, they are each connected to their spouses by another horizontal line. The youngest generation of living relatives will appear at the bottom of the tree, and the oldest known generation will appear at the top.

It’s also possible to view a family tree on a horizontal axis, with the youngest living relatives on the left and the oldest known generation on the right.

How We Compared the Top Family Tree Builders

Creating something as comprehensive as this was pretty straightforward, but it still took a lot of time and effort, as there’s a mountain of data to sift through for every company and website that we looked at.

Our Testing Methodologies – What We Looked For in the Best Family Tree Builders

Here’s a long list of basically everything we were looking for while doing our research:

  1. What the user experience is like
  2. Whether the site is intuitive to navigate
  3. The overall cost and whether there are discounts or free trials
  4. If the cost matches the value of the product
  5. Whether you are able to share trees and collaborate with others
  6. If you get access to historical records
  7. The depth and quality of records on file 
  8. How easy it is to discover and reach out to potential relatives
  9. How visually appealing the family tree and reports are 
  10. If there are options for customization 
  11. Whether or not you have to install software
  12. If the builder can easily sync with other builders
  13. The quality and accessibility of on-site resources
  14. The customer service experience

Basically, I tried to organize all of the components that make a great family tree builder into four distinct, (albeit broad), fundamental categories that likely matter to everyone:

  1. Usability
  2. Cost
  3. Access To Historical Records
  4. “Everything Else” 

Is the Family Tree Builder Easy to Use?

I really wanted to call this category “User-Friendliness,” but apparently that’s not a real word. However, that’s really what we’re talking about here. Depending on the builder, it might seem like you need a background in coding. Others are so automated that you basically just have to sit back and watch.

The more you personally have to do with any particular software in order to create a comprehensive, beautiful family tree, the less attractive the product is…at least to me. But if, for example, you’re getting regular research tips and potential relatives are automatically added to your tree, then you’re looking at a family tree builder that’s a cut above the rest.

What I was looking for is an easy-going, no-frills, headache-free interface that would be as enjoyable for the professional genealogist as it would be for the first timer with little to no experience. Sounds easy enough, right? 

How Much Does the Genealogy Software Cost?

Obviously, you want the most amount of value for your hard-earned money. So, if there’s a family tree builder that’s offering user-friendly automation, plenty of features, and an attractive appearance at what may be a comparatively higher price, you may still want to keep it on your short list.

Alternatively, there are a lot of builders that are boringly basic, require a lot of active input from you, and – quite honestly – end up looking really dull when you assemble all of your research into what you hoped would be a beautiful illustration of your genealogy. But they are free.

Therefore, what you should probably be looking for is the most you can get with the lightest price tag. And, if there’s a long-lasting free trial available, even better!

Do I Have Access To Historical Records?

Any real attempt to research your genealogy and grow a family tree would benefit from access to historical records related to your ancestors. And the fewer restraints you have on that access, the deeper you’ll be able to dive into your research and expand the branches of your family tree.

Depending on the vendor and subscription cost, you could have nearly unfettered access to literally billions of historical records to decode your family history. On the other hand, while other builders might offer you a lot of access to such documents, the archive might be significantly smaller than what you get from other resources, or you might feel lost in too much information without any direction. 

That said, what you need are the most amount of records available along with some guidance on how to search through it all.

What Else is Included?

I know this might sound very vague, but hear me out. There are a lot of other miscellaneous factors to take into account when picking the best family tree builders, which are so collectively important that I had to bunch them into their own category.

Here’s a brief lineup of what I looked at:

  • What are the best features?
  • What are the worst features?
  • Can you collaborate with others?
  • Can you save and share your reports?
  • Is it easy to get in touch with Customer Support?
  • How quickly are your questions answered?

Each of these “little things” plays a part in the overall customer experience. Individually, they might not be the most important aspect of the review, but they do help determine the overall value and whether or not we would recommend them to you. 

Genealogy Software Comparison Table

Free Trial Need a Subscription Best Feature Main Disadvantage
Family Tree Builder – MyHeritage Free (for the first 250 added to the tree) Yes, after the first 250 people  Automatically finds historical records of your ancestors The overall graphic appearance could be more appealing
Family Tree – AncestryDNA 14 days  Access billions of historical records (more added daily) Subscriptions can be pretty pricey
FindMyPast Over 2 billion records Records only cover 90% of North America
TheGenealogist Army and Navy records Dated interface is hard to use
GenealogyBank Birth and marriage announcements taken from 50 states US-focused with a lack of global resources
Legacy 9.0 – Family Tree Free standard edition (no trial) Great value for money  Lacks an undo or redo tool to edit your work
Genes Reunited No limit to the size of the family tree Dated website interface with limited features
Family Historian 30 days After 30 days you must purchase a license Automatic matching to MyHeritage historical records and family trees Not the most visually appealing
WikiTree Everything is 100% free 100% free No real fact-checking
Heredis A free, limited demo of the latest version Synchronizes with AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch Basic features compared to others
WikiTree Everything is 100% free 100% free No real fact-checking

FAQ

Do you have to submit a DNA sample to use a family tree builder?

No, you absolutely don’t need to take a DNA test to use a family tree builder. All you have to do is pick a company to host your family tree online and create your account. Then it’s just a matter of using the company’s tools to enter the names and dates of all the relatives you know about.

There are many companies that let you build a family tree online for free, but a free family tree builder usually requires you to manually add each relative based on what you happen to know about them. Once you reach the limits of what you know, it’s hard to grow your family tree any further.

But companies that offer a paid genealogy service – such as Legacy Family Tree, MyHeritage, and Ancestry – allow you to search through their huge databases of historical records and information and thus find people you might otherwise not be able to locate. As you add these people to your tree, they can lead to more and more additional relatives across many generations. (WikiTree offers this same service for free.)

A paid genealogy subscription service can even give you hints when its algorithms find people who seem to be your relatives. This can be a big time saver … and an exciting experience!

With all that said, many companies that offer family tree builders also offer DNA testing. If you take these DNA tests, the companies will let you know if any of their other customers appear to be related to you, and how you may be related, based on your shared DNA segments. This can be another way of finding new relatives to add to your family tree.

And with their permission, you can contact those DNA relatives and compare notes about your family history that can help grow your family tree even further.

Can you upload raw data from a DNA kit to start building a family tree?

Companies that offer both family tree builders and DNA testing will sometimes allow you to upload raw data from other companies’ DNA tests to help you build your family tree. This may save you the time and expense of having to get your DNA tested all over again.

However, most companies that offer this option will only accept raw DNA data from a shortlist of the most well-known DNA testing companies, like 23andMe, Ancestry, or MyHeritage. This is because different companies structure their raw data differently, so it’s complicated importing those data – and the more companies you accept raw data from, the more complicated it gets. (Also, some DNA testing companies have better reputations than others, and their raw data is assumed to be more accurate.)

So, while the ability to upload raw data can be a time-saver, not every company accepts it, and they won’t necessarily accept it from just any other company. You should check a company’s website to find out what your options are.

Can genealogy software prove you are related to someone?

Genealogy software can allow you to locate people who seem to be related to you, based on a company’s database of historical records.

Let’s say your maternal grandmother’s maiden name is Rosalie Beauchamp, and you know she lived from around 1912 to 1989 in France. If you find an individual in the genealogy company’s database who matches these particulars, that person is probably your grandmother. And once you’ve located her in that database, there may be associated historical records that connect her to her parents, brothers, and sisters. In this way, you can discover more and more relatives by following these kinds of leads.

However, this process isn’t infallible. There could be several Rosalie Beauchamps who lived in France around that time. If you pick the wrong one by mistake, you could find yourself connecting many of her relatives to your family tree, even though you aren’t related at all!

So it pays to be conservative about who you decide to add to your tree. Make sure you have a comfortable level of certainty about them. If there are multiple independent historical records that reinforce your lines of connection with someone, it makes it more likely that they are indeed the right person.

Why do many family tree builders have monthly subscriptions?

Professional genealogy companies like Legacy Family Tree, MyHeritage, and Ancestry charge a monthly subscription fee so they can maintain a huge database of genealogy records and documents, and make that information searchable for you. These companies have collected many billions of historical records. Assembling, coding, and storing all that information takes time and money – and it’s also how these companies make money.

Generally, free family tree builder tools don’t offer you access to that kind of historical information, which means you can only add people that you and your relatives know about to your family tree.

However, there are a few family tree builders that offer completely free genealogy capabilities, such as WikiTree – which gives you many of the same benefits you would get from a paid genealogy subscription elsewhere. Operating on the same crowdsourcing basis as Wikipedia, WikiTree has profiles for more than 23 million people from around the world in its database (over 6 million of which have DNA data).

Why is a large genealogy database important when choosing a family tree builder?

The more records a company has, the more mathematically likely it is that a particular relative of yours can be found within that company’s database. It’s also more likely that the database contains photos, birth certificates, and other interesting documents for that relative.

However, some geographical populations are much more well represented in genealogy databases than others. For example, Ancestry has more than 900,000 historical records associated with people in North America…but only eight historical records for people in Columbia, and only two historical records for people in Samoa.

So depending on where your family is from, your relatives may not be found in even the world’s biggest genealogy databases. But they’re even less likely to be found in smaller ones.

How can you find pictures of distant relatives?

Genealogy companies’ databases contain not just people’s names and dates, but also actual digitized documents including photos, birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, and property deeds. If you have a membership with one of these companies, you may be able to find photos of these relatives – but only if their databases happen to contain those photos.

If you don’t have a genealogy membership, you may still be able to find photos of your distant relatives through a simple web search – but only if those relatives happen to have left their mark in some publicly available source, such as Wikipedia.

About Author
Joseph Levy
Joseph Levy
Writer

Joseph Levy is a transplant from New York and currently living in Cyprus. After receiving his law degree and acquiring eight years of experience in the civil side of American law, he moved to the Mediterranean and shifted his focus from being an attorney to his first love: content writing. Joseph prioritizes not only honest accuracy, but also providing an informative and interesting perspective on whatever he puts his name to.

Joseph Levy is a transplant from New York and currently living in Cyprus. After receiving his law degree and acquiring eight years of experience in the civil side of American law, he moved to the Mediterranean and shifted his focus from being an attorney to his first love: content writing. Joseph prioritizes not only honest accuracy, but also providing an informative and interesting perspective on whatever he puts his name to.