Ancestral Quest 15The following is a summary of five of the “best genealogy software reviews” on the internet.  Before getting into the summary I would like to make a couple of comments that may help you make a decision on which software option is best for your situation.


Many companies offer the options of obtaining your software via disc or download. Companies go out of business, are bought up by other companies, change their business strategies, etc. This means that what you download now may not be available a week from now.

What happens if your downloaded version becomes corrupted or another glitch makes it unusable and you need to reinstall it to make it work?  Now you are without working software if the downloaded version is no longer available.  I would prefer the disc version even if it costs a few dollars more.  That way I maintain control over my family research.


Collaborative, or as I consider them, “public” trees allow anyone to enter or delete data.  They would be great IF “anyone” was as concerned about accuracy as they should be.

Twice I have had to “prune” out branches of my “private” tree because I entered data that I thought was from a responsible source only to find out after much work that it wasn’t accurate.  Then I had to go back and “graft” the correct branch onto the tree resulting in a lot of wasted time and work.  That is the reason I prefer “private” over “collaborative” trees.


     I will break down the summaries into three groups :

  • Beginner – For those who have been bitten by the genealogy “bug” and want to find out more about it before committing an appreciable amount of time and money into something that they may find is actually not for them.
  • Experienced – For those who have already invested some time and money into their research and want to upgrade to better software for any of a myriad of reasons.
  • Professional – For those experienced genealogists who feel qualified and have the desire to do genealogical and family history research for others.


The “experts” have identified five brands of software that I would consider “Beginner” software and of use if  I wanted to get a taste of what Genealogy was about without investing a lot of time and money.  Those five are listed in alphabetical order with notes from the “experts” and my personal notes:

1.  Branches     branchesgenealogy.com/Purchase

Experts’ positive notes: Most affordable ancestry program; does all the basic things and does them easily; not overly complex; great and unique views of tree

Experts’ negative notes: Not agile and comprehensive data management; not for serious genealogists; not the easiest program to learn, lacks chart quality and scrapbooking capabilities; poor GEDCOM function; mediocre navigation and data entry tools; cannot create reports or books; have to email manufacturer to determine version number; no continuous backup; problems with installation; not as full featured as other software

My notes: Number of negatives outweighs the advantage of the low price.  Not recommended.

2,  Family Historian 6      Amazon    eBay   family-historian.co.uk

Experts’ positive notes:  Best choice for overall ease of use; compatible with Windows 7+ & Vista; download; FindMyPast & MyHeritage integration; superior GEDCOM accuracy; highest grades for ease of use and data management; most intuitive user experience; no support for DNA results

Experts’ negative notes: Not compatible with Mac; fewer charts than Legacy 9 and not as artistic; lack of backgrounds leaves charts looking dull; more limited online community; no integration with Ancestry or FamilySearch; price; basic chart designs; mapping tool difficult to find

My notes: The exceptional GEDCOM capability could make this well worth the money if you ever decide to move your tree to some other software or website.

Getting The Most From Family Historian 6 (Paperback Book)

3.  Family Tree Builder   myheritage.com/Free Download

Experts’ positive notes:  Good for starter; compatible with Windows 7+ & Mac 10.6+; MyHeritage integration; download; GEDCOM import; free mobile apps; may be the ideal program for beginners because it is free and quite simple; DNA support; can add media; Family History map; free mobile apps

Experts’ negative notes: No Ancestry or FamilySearch integration

4.  Gramps     gramps-project.org/Free Download

Experts’ positive notes: More features than many other free genealogy search options; search for name by location and/or date; supports listing of adoptions and same-sex marriages;

Experts’ negative notes: Can have problems importing files from older versions; has a “rather steep learning curve”; no comprehensive manual; wiki system for documentation and help support can require “some time” looking for appropriate information; method of entering Census data confusing and difficult to follow; updates for Windows very slow in coming; etc., etc.

My notes: Negatives outweigh the positives.  Not recommended

5.  RootsMajic 7 Essentials    rootsmajic.com/Free Download

Experts’ positive notes: free RootsMagic Essentials 7 version; free versions with no time limit but will miss best features

Experts’ negative notes: free RootsMagic Essentials 7 does not include a lot of the best features; customer problems with running Essentials 7 on Mac program


The “experts” reviewed six brands of software that I would consider to be for the “Experienced” genealogist.  These would be useful for someone going from beginner to experienced or for an experienced genealogist to upgrade from a brand that he or she is not satisfied with.  I have also included one brand, Family Tree Heritage Platinum, that I recently came across which was not reviewed by the “experts”.  Listed in alphabetical order with notes from the “experts” and my personal notes.

1.  Ancestral Quest 15     Amazon     ancquest.com

Experts’ positive notes: Integrated with FamilySearch (free) and Ancestry (paid) and FindMyPast; view tree 4 ways; create To Do lists; GEDCOM export with media; NetFam collaboration feature eliminates need for GEDCOM file; Family View indicates if child has a record or spouse; can Pedigree view 7 generations (with large monitor) or 3 generations (with small monitor); straight forward and easy to use; online video tutorials; DNA support; can add media

Experts’ negative notes: Interface is basic; creating reports and charts somewhat difficult; NetFam requires placing tree on central server; $29.95 per year for collaboration service; no Family History map

2.  Family Tree Heritage Platinum 9     Amazon/Windows   Amazon/Mac    eBay                                  individualsoftware.com

Experts’ positive notes: Covers all the basics with flying colors; available by disc or download; Ancestry, FamilySearch & Rootsweb integration and can help add additional sites; easy to merge two trees; can process bulk changes in spelling of names; great for producing easy to read reports; can link to more online sites than others; GEDCOM export, best software for printing

Experts’ negative notes: lacks some of the bells and whistles of others; more limited choice of charts with uninteresting backgrounds; no in-app browser; only available for Windows; very little online support; visual graphics somewhat lackluster

3.  Family Tree Heritage Platinum 15     Amazon/Windows&Mac    eBay     individualsoftware.com/Mac     individualsoftware.com/Windows

Not reviewed.  Can also be used for Family Tree Maker users to transfer database to FTH; disc or download; Research Timeline and Color Coding features; toolbar access to FamilySearch with registration and Ancestry with subscription; See website for additional details

4.  Family Tree Maker 2017     mackiev.com/Purchase

Note: Only available from mackiev.com  Expect FTM 2019 to be released summer 2019.

Older versions of FTM and FTM support products available at eBay

Experts’ positive notes: Best all-around, download or disc, compatible with Windows 7+ and Mac 10.9+; Ancestry and FamilySearch integration, wealth of online support; great all-around program for most users; best for working with other family members on same tree; GEDCOM export; A+ for data entry efficiency, scrapbooking tools and ease of use; well designed and easy to navigate; color coding to keep things organized; best bet if you’re out there working with other relatives or if you want to upload your final results to Ancestry; most popular;

Experts’ negative notes: Charts not as extensive as Legacy 9; may not support older versions; most expensive; no warnings for potentially wrong information

My notes: I have been using earlier versions of Family Tree Maker exclusively for many years and have been very satisfied.  I have not, and probably never will, make use of all the features available in those versions.  Reportedly later versions have not been of the same quality as the earlier versions since being produced by the current manufacturer, mackiev.

5.  Heredis 2018     heredis.com

Note: Heredis 2018 & 2019 only available from heredis.com.

Experts’ positive notes: Most stylish and largest variety of charts and reports of all software; quality of charts is unmatched; best charting capabilities; unmatched chart number, quality, variety and style; best for printing out family trees, genealogy reports and books; modern interface and customizable tools; highest quality charts with most options; excellent media file integration

Experts’ negative notes: Difficult to use, subpar GEDCOM accuracy; doesn’t automatically backup data; no undo/redo tool

My notes:  Appears to be designed mainly for producing reports, charts and books.  I would only consider this as secondary software to be used specifically for those purposes and in addition to primary software to be used for entering research data.

6.  Legacy 9  legacy.familytreewebinars.com/Purchase

Note: Legacy 9 only available from legacy.familytreewebinars.com

Older versions and support products for Legacy available at eBay

Experts’ positive notes: Disc or download; compatible with Windows 7+ and Mac with Windows emulator; best and most extensive reports and charts; FamilySearch, Find A Grave, FindMyPast, GenealogyBank and MyHeritage integration; X-DNA chart; secure online backup; online support; great all-around program; greatest number of charts; best for creating web pages; best for creating charts; free versions with no time limit but will miss best features; superior GEDCOM accuracy; very easy to use; excellent research and scrapbooking tools; excellent data management and research tools; “A” grades for navigation and data entry; interface is dated but pleasantly simple; automatic warnings when incorrect information is entered; best charts in the industry; great option if you really want fancy graphics and well-organized charts; best all-around; can add DNA; can add media; Family History map; place to attach parentage citations directly

Experts’ negative notes: Slightly harder to navigate than most; no undo/redo tool; no hints to help with research; average chart quality

My notes: Exceptional GEDCOM accuracy makes it worth the money.  Clearly a favorite of the “experts”.

7.  Reunion 12    store.leisterpro.com/Purchase     Amazon/Versions 7, 8, & 9

Experts’ positive notes: One of best options for Apple laptop, iPad or iPhone mobile research; family tree easy to print out; easily attach photos, video and other media to family member; incredibly efficient data entry; “A” grade for ease of use and data entry efficiency; exceptionally designed; one of the best interfaces; some of best charting capabilities available; 100% satisfied; has ReunionTouch for carrying and updating files on mobile devices; excellent support

Experts’ negative notes: Limited to Mac; not compatible with Windows; some GEDCOM compatibility problems; cost; lost all multimedia jpegs upon upgrade from Version 11 to 12; lack of a place to attach a source citation to the relationship between parent and child; does not make use of common shortcut features

My notes: Not recommended due to price, not being Windows compatible and GEDCOM accuracy problems.


The “experts” reviewed one brand of software, RootsMagic 7, which I would consider professional quality software, and I have included one additional brand, Behold Genealogy, that appears to be of professional quality.  I have included some comments of my own and some comments of users and the manufacturer of the other brand.

1.  Behold Genealogy    beholdgenealogy.com/Purchase

My notes: Developed by a professional genealogist/computer programmer; view and use all data at once; organize and include what you want; reads all GEDCOM files and does error checking; Everything Report shows all individual data; Windows 7, 8, 10, Vista, XP, NT, ME and 2000 compatible; Mac compatible with Windows emulator.  See additional information and features at Behold Genealogy

2.  RootsMagic 7     Amazon     rootsmajic.com

Getting the Most Out of RootsMajic 7 (Paperback Book)

Experts’ positive notes: Most popular with genealogists; available by disc or download, Windows (all) & Mac 10.8+; Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast & MyHeritage integration; offers all the basics; ability to have more than one data base open at the same time; RootsMagic ToGo allows loading portable copy of the program onto a USB drive and using it on any computer to make doing on-the-road research easier; extensive options for reports; free RootsMagic Essentials 7 version; top choice for road research without a laptop; more popular among professional genealogists largely due to portability; best for creating webpages; free versions with no time limit but will miss best features; GEDCOM export

Experts’ negative notes: Not many charts available; interface not as nice looking or as easy to use making it more frustrating for beginners; website more limited than others; does include some video tutorials and how-to guides and smaller user community; free RootsMagic Essentials 7 does not include a lot of the best features; customer problem with running Essentials 7 on Mac program; charting capabilities, relatively few graphics and charts


Ancestral Quest 15     Amazon    ancquest.com

Behold Genealogy    beholdgenealogy.com/Purchase

Branches    branchesgenealogy.com/Purchase

Family Historian 6      Amazon     eBay    family-historian.co.uk                                                                                               Getting The Most From Family Historian 6 (Paperback book)

Family Tree Builder   myheritage.com/Free Download

Family Tree Heritage Platinum 9     Amazon/Windows      Amazon/Mac     eBay      individualsoftware.com

Family Tree Heritage Platinum 15     Amazon/Windows & Mac    eBay    individualsoftware.com/Mac     individualsoftware.com/Windows

Family Tree Maker 2017  mackiev.com/Purchase

Older versions of FTM and FTM support products available at eBay

Gramps    gramps-project.org/Free Download

Heredis 2018  heredis.com/Purchase

Legacy 9  legacy.familytreewebinars.com

Older versions and support products for Legacy available at eBay

Reunion 12    store.leisterpro.com/Purchase     Amazon/Versions 7,8 & 9

RootsMagic 7     Amazon    rootsmajic.com

Getting the Most Out of RootsMajic 7 (Paperback Book)

RootsMajic 7 Essentials    rootsmajic.com/Free Download


Whether a beginner, experienced or professional genealogist I hope this summary assists you in making your decision regarding obtaining genealogy software.  If it does then I can say “mission accomplished”.  If you become aware of software that I have not listed I would appreciate it if you would let me know so that I can review the experts opinions for the benefit of all.  I have tried to keep my opinions to a minimum and have tried to defer to the opinions of the “experts”.


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GENEALOGY REVIEWS – The Best Genealogy Software, Website and DNA Reviews

I will bring you, my fellow genealogists, the best of genealogy software reviews and the best rated genealogy websites and DNA programs.  I will review the reviewers and bring you summaries of the “professional” reviewers ratings.  After examining my “review of the reviewers” you will be able to make decisions that are quick, intelligent and cost effective.

I will review a wide range of genealogical merchandise and services.  From software to online services.  From books and family tree charts to genealogical novelty items.  I will apply what I have learned from 25 plus years of genealogical experience and good old common sense.  Some of my criteria will be: ease of use, availability of special features, dollar for dollar value, etc.

If you’re shopping for genealogy supplies, research material or anything genealogy related stop here first.  If I don’t have a review of the item or service just leave a request in the Comments section below and I will make an honest effort to get the information you are looking for as quickly as possible.


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GEDCOM – What Is A Genealogy GEDCOM

What genealogy GEDCOM is –

You’ve heard the term “GEDCOM” and you’re wondering what is a GEDCOM, or more specifically what is a genealogy GEDCOM? You’re not sure what it is and how it relates to genealogy and your family tree and history. I’ll see if I can shed some light on the subject although I have never used the GEDCOM protocol.

First of all, GEDCOM is an acronym for GEnealogy Data COMmunication or, simply a means of communicating genealogical data from one point to another. This data would usually be the information included in your family tree computer file of names, dates, locations, etc.

It was developed by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) as a rather “universal” means of communicating your family tree information to other genealogists, websites, etc. Although supposedly “universal” in nature there are certain software programs that either do not recognize all the GEDCOM versions or tack on their own format extensions that are not recognized by other software programs.

GEDCOM 5.5 of 1996 is still considered the standard version. If you buy genealogy software you may want to check to see if the software recognizes the 1966 version or if it adds extensions to its GEDCOM file that might not be recognized by other software.

Everything else being equal I don’t believe that I would not purchase a certain brand of software simply because of the negatives mentioned above especially if the software has a feature that you believe you would be interested in utilizing. In over 25 years of genealogical research I have never found the need to utilize my software’s GEDCOM capabilities.

However, that being said, I was recently contacted by a distant cousin who is willing to share family information with me. Even though I emailed the cousin some information I realize how much more convenient it would be if I sent him a GEDCOM file which he could examine and take info from at his convenience and he could send me a GEDCOM copy of his file which I could use in the same way.

Creating a GEDCOM file –

The best advice for creating a GEDCOM file would be to follow the directions in the manual that came with your software.

For the software that I am using you would go to the “Family Page”, click on “File” and then click on the “Copy/Export Family File button” in the File menu. You click on the “Save as type”, then click on “GEDCOM (*.GED), then “Save” and “OK” to export to GEDCOM. It seems pretty straight forward but I’ll know more when I eventually try it.

Using a genealogy GEDCOM file –

My software allows me to send a single family line of ancestors to a GEDCOM. Usually when someone wants a copy of my file they are only interested in that line that we share in common and my software allows me to send them a GEDCOM of that line only.

My software also allows me to import a GEDCOM file. I can do this using one of two procedures.

  • Procedure 1 –

The first procedure is to immediately Append/Merge my Family File with the incoming GEDCOM file. However, if you are not satisfied that the incoming GEDCOM file contains only accurate information you would probably be wise to use Procedure 2.

  • Procedure 2 –

This procedure requires that you open the GEDCOM file with a newly created Family File and then after you have examined the information for accuracy you can then Append/Merge your original Family File with the new GEDCOM file or the newly created Family File.

Conclusion –

I can appreciate how useful a GEDCOM file can be assuming that the information in the file is accurate and you probably won’t know that until you receive and examine it. Some researchers are very meticulous about only entering information from reliable sources and others not so much.

There is an article at Wikipedia on GEDCOMs but much of the language is too technical for me to understand but maybe you would understand it better than I.


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Planting Your Family Tree –

So you think you are ready to do some researching?  Good!  You either own or have access to a personal computer (PC) and you have purchased and installed your family tree software on the PC?

You have put some thought into either using “hunt and peck” typing or to learning some basic typing skills as you begin your research.  In the case of the latter you have either purchased a book on basic typing or are following instructions from an online tutorial.  See my post “PREPARATIONS – Basic Needs For Researching Your Family History” for sources for typing books and online tutorials.

If you don’t have a file cabinet you are keeping an eye out for one at a reasonable price or are going to check your local recycle/reuse center or thrift store for one.

Goals and rules for planting your tree –

Before you start you may want to decide what your goal(s) is and to create some personal rules to follow so that your research is productive, stays on track and advances you toward achieving your goal(s).  These rules should be general in nature and flexible enough to allow occasional deviations as situations require.

The first thing I would suggest is to decide what your goal is and then establish a personal rule or rules that will get you to your goal.  Is your goal just to identify who your ancestors are or to identify your more closely related ancestors and learn more about them and how and where they lived?

If your goal is to just identify all of your ancestors that goal will result in an indefinitely long list of names and dates of births and deaths, etc.  If you are interested in just creating a long list of thousands of names that would be the way to go.

Personally, I have set a goal of determining who certain ancestors are and then learning how they lived.  I would rather spend my time learning about my most direct ancestors than spending that time compiling a list of meaningless names of cousins and in-laws.  To that end I have a rule that I only list parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-aunts and uncles and first cousins no matter how many times “removed”.

That rule also provides for listing the ancestors’ spouses and their spouses parents.  Spouses’ parents are mainly for purposes of identifying the spouse out of a list of spouses with similar names as I explain elsewhere on this website.

Planting your family tree –

So, you have set some goals and ground rules for growing your tree and now its time to get “your hands dirty”.  Keep in mind that the goals and rules that you have established are YOUR goals and rules.  If it turns out that they prove to be too restrictive or not restrictive enough you have the power to change or modify them.

Just keep in mind that the more you modify them and the later you modify them the better the chance that the modification may cost you some valuable lost time so I would put some thought into whether or not you really want to modify those basic goals and rules..

Okay, its time to “get your hands dirty” and plant the tree.  Start out with basic and easily obtainable information.  The most basic and easily obtainable information would be about you (and your spouse if you have one).  After that info is entered I would enter any information on any children that you may have and any available info on any siblings that you may have.

Slightly more difficult to obtain would be on your parents, especially if they are deceased.  You may have to get copies of birth, marriage and death certificates to get their “vital” information.  The next most difficult would be “vital” information on grandparents, etc.  The further you go back the more difficult the research becomes.  Remember, I said more difficult not impossible.  Now you may have to resort to old wills, deeds, censuses, etc. which will take more time but will be more interesting than what you already know about them.  I can almost guarantee that.

Tips for growing your tree –

Over the years I have found, mostly by trial and error, some things that, had I known or realized them when I began my research, would have saved me a lot of time that could have been spent more productively in researching the ancestors that I had identified and how they lived.

  • Sources – 

Probably the most important tip is to RECORD YOUR SOURCES!  One of the biggest mistakes beginning researchers make is not taking the time to record the sources of the information they obtain.  Any reputable genealogy software should allow you to record your sources.  If by some chance your software doesn’t I would seriously consider finding software that does.

I can almost guarantee that eventually, and probably many times, you will want to refer back to some source of information and if you don’t have it recorded it’s as much as gone, maybe forever.

Citing sources is time well spent and you will appreciate having done so many times over.

In order to locate sources more quickly I have categorized my sources by: Archives; Bible; Biography; Birth Records; Books; Cemetery; Cemetery Records;  Census; Church; Church Records; Court; Court Records; Death Records; Deeds; Genealogist; Manuscript; Marriage Records; Military Records; Miscellaneous; Newspaper; Obituary; Organization; Periodical; Tax List; Tombstone; Website; Will and a few smaller categories.  You can set up your own categories.

  • Website pages –

If I am taking information on an individual from a website I copy and paste the website page just before or above the information of the individual in the “Citation Text” box or whatever that space is referred to by the software you are using.  This saves time when you want to refer back to the source for some reason.  Instead of having to search the source’s website for the individual I copy and paste the web page URL into my browser and it takes me directly to that page.

  • Dates –

Eventually you will come across a situation where the date of birth (DOB) and/or the date of death (DOD) is listed as a range of dates rather than something more exact.  Ex.: Instead of a particular DOB of a “John Smith” or “Jane Doe” the DOB will be listed as “estimated 1660 to 1720” which is better than nothing at all but it’s still a range of 60 years.

What I have found that seems to narrow the date down somewhat and is usually fairly accurate is; Ex.: if a spouse is listed with a DOB of “Abt. 1680” or “May 1680” or May 3rd 1680” I will usually either subtract 2 years for the other  spouse in the case of a male and make him “Abt. 1678” or add 2 years for the other spouse in the case of a female and make her “Abt. 1682” and in both cases I will list my source as “Miscellaneous”.

When you’re looking for a particular individual in a list of 20 or 30 “John Smiths” or “Jane Does” and all you have is a date or approximate date it is much easier to pick out the individual you’re looking for if the date or approximate date is listed rather than a range of dates that could cover 50 or 60 years or more.

For marriage dates I do something similar mainly to just fill in a blank.  If no date is provided by some source I take the date of the oldest known child and subtract one year and enter that as the Marriage Date.  For instance if the DOB of the oldest known child is 1663 I will enter the Marriage Date as “Abt. 1662”.  You would be surprised how close that comes to the actual date if the actual date is eventually found.

  • Names –

I enter parents, grandparents and great-grandparents names in upper case letters.  When you are looking for a particular direct ancestor (parent, grandparent or great-grandparent) in a list of individuals with similar or same surnames it makes it much easier and quicker if you have the direct ancestor’s name in all upper case letters.  Ex.: If my direct ancestor was “John Smith” or “Jane Doe” I would enter their names in the file as JOHN SMITH or JANE DOE.

If all of the other individuals are entered in the file with lower case letters it is much easier to pick out the JOHN SMITH or JANE DOE from all of the John Smiths and Jane Does.

Also, when entering names only enter females with their maiden/birth surname if you have it.  If I don’t have a surname I just list them by their first or given name until such time as my research identifies their surname at which time I add it to their file.  Listing females by their married names creates a lot of unnecessary confusion.

The exception to that rule is when two people with the same surname, such as cousins, marry which makes the females surname the same as the husbands and it is then necessary to enter her correct surname even if it is the same as her husband’s.

Also, keep in mind that it was common then, as it is now, that in the event a child was born out-of-wedlock he or she was given the mother’s maiden name/surname as their own surname.

Also keep in mind that it was very common for ancestors who came from foreign countries to have their surnames changed to a phonetic version when they arrived in the New World.

Depending on the person who was recording passengers from arriving ships, usually a person of English descent in the case of ancestors arriving in the British colonies, and how well they understood the ancestor’s pronunciation of their surname the actual Old World birth surname could well, and usually was, spelled phonetically much differently than the name recorded upon arrival in the New World.

English officials usually were not familiar with surnames of foreigners and many foreigners, especially foreigners from rural areas, were either illiterate or semi-literate and many could not spell their own names.  Many family names were passed down phonetically from generation to generation.

Many of the surnames of my German and Swiss German ancestors who immigrated to the New World are unrecognizable from the spelling of the original Old World surnames although, phonetically, they are usually quite similar.  A good example would be the Old World spelling of “Dohrs” and the New World spelling of “Doors” of the same family and both of which are pronounced the same.

Because the revised spelling upon entry to the new country was usually accepted as the legal spelling many deeds, wills and other legal documents used the revised spelling.  For that reason I use the Old World spelling of the surname for any ancestor who died in the Old World and the New World spelling for any ancestor whose surname was subject to phonetic revision upon immigration to the New World and who died in the New World.

Fertilizer to help your tree grow bigger and faster –

Although you can plant and grow a healthy family tree without any additional help there is some “fertilizer” that I use to help me make the most of my time.

  • Ancestor List –

I maintain lists of the surnames and given names of every unique name in my tree.  I maintain a list for my ancestors and one for my wife’s ancestors.

I do not include duplicate given names.  For instance if I have 20 Jane Does I only place one “Jane” in the Doe family group.  Likewise if I have five John Smith III’s I only place one “John III” in the Smith family group and so on and, as with my computer file, I place surnames of direct ancestors in upper case letters and in bold type.

It does take some additional time to enter the info but it has saved me probably as much or more time be making it easier to pick out duplicate individuals (individuals entered into the same file more than once).  I keep the Ancestor List document open while I am working with my PC family tree software so that I can quickly jump back and forth between the two.

  • Surname Search List 

I maintain lists of the surnames of all direct ancestors (parents, grandparents and great-grandparents).  Again I maintain a list of my direct ancestors as well as a separate list of my wife’s direct ancestors.

I use the lists when I am doing research away from home such as at a library, etc.  It’s impossible to remember all of the surnames of ancestors that I am looking for so if I run across a name and I’m not sure if its one that I am interested in all I have to do is make a quick check of the list or I can use the lists looking for ancestors with specific surnames.

  • Resource List –

Often times when I am examining a resource such as a website I will run across references to additional resources such as books, additional websites, museums and libraries, etc.  Rather than get sidetracked from what I am doing at the time and rather than taking a chance on losing the valuable information included in the other mentioned resources I enter the additional resources on what I call my Resource List.

There again, I have two Resource Lists, one for my family resources and one for my wife’s family resources.

  • State, County, Township, Borough Formation Document –

I have found that many times a source will list the birth or death, usually birth, of an individual in a location, usually a county, that didn’t even exist at the time of the event.  If you began searching that location looking for additional information you would be wasting that time when you could have been searching the correct location.

In the 1700s and 1800s the U. S. was expanding so fast that residents would find that accessing government facilities such as county seats was difficult because of the travel distance involved.

If enough citizens were involved they would petition their state government to create a new county whose county seat would be more accessible and the request was usually granted.  So a large county would be divided up into two or more smaller counties.and a few years later they could be divided up again into even smaller counties.  This was also common with townships and other municipalities.

It was not uncommon for an individual to be born and to die in the same home many years later and at the same time to have lived in two or three different counties because of this division of large counties into smaller ones.  This also applied, to a lesser degree, with townships and other municipalities.

In order to enter the locations that were correct at the time of the event I developed my “State, County, Township, Borough Formation” document.  I have used the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries for much of the county information and Wikipedia.org (search for the list of townships for each state) for much of the township information.


I hope the tips and suggestions I provided make your genealogical experience more interesting and productive.  I’m sure that you will come up with some tips and suggestions of your own that might enhance my research.  If so I would appreciate hearing from you.  Please leave tips and suggestions below.

P.S.  If you would like me to send you a sample page of my Ancestor List, Surname Search List, Resource List and/or my State, County, Township, Borough Formation document please leave an email address and the item(s) you are interested in in the Comments space below.


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PREPARATIONS – Basic needs for researching your family history

So you’ve made up your mind that you want to begin researching your family history, right?  There’s no time like the present to get started but to make the overall experience both interesting and productive there are a few things you might want to consider.

Typing Skills – Typing skills speed up information entry

First of all, there will be a lot of typing of names, dates, locations and other notes and family stories.  You can use the “hunt and peck” method but that is really going to limit how much research you get done.

I lucked out.  Sixty years ago I took a semester of Typing in high school on a college prep program.  I learned the basics but never needed to apply the knowledge for college or, basically, anything else for that matter, so I figured it was just a waste of time.  Little did I know how valuable the ability to type would be in doing my family tree search.

Now I’m not suggesting that you put off starting your family history research until you can get the typing skills that will prove beneficial in the long run.  What I am suggesting is that you gradually learn the typing skill as you are starting out with the research.  There are numerous relatively inexpensive books and online tutorials that you can use to learn the basics.

Some of the books are “Applying Your Typing Skills for Dummies” which is available on ebay for $4.95 plus shipping. “Typing For Beginners” is available in paperback at the Barnes & Noble website for $1.99.  Also “Computer Keyboarding” is also available in paperback at the Barnes & Noble website for $5.77 and I am sure there are additional books and sources.

Another resource that you might want to check out are free tutorials on YouTube at Free Typing Tutorial – The Basics and Typing Tutorial.

Personal Computer (PC) – 

You will find a personal computer (PC) indispensable for any serious research work.  The days of keeping info and notes on 3×5 file cards is long gone, fortunately.  I don’t know anyone that either doesn’t own a PC or at least have access to one.

If you are one of the unfortunate few that have neither you might consider checking with your local recycling or reuse center for a used PC or your local computer repair business for a used computer that someone traded-in on a new one.

However, that being said if you end up with a used PC or one that you don’t know of its past history and how it was used or abused you might want your local PC repair guy to check it out to make as sure as you can that it still has some life in it.  And that being said, it is probably more important that you backup your family history file even more often in case your used PC crashes.

I recently had a new hard drive installed in my PC with so much additional memory that I will never have to worry about running out of memory.  Even so, I still backup my family file to a flash drive about once a month.  I actually use two flash drives and keep them stored in different locations in my home in case of fire, etc. and occasionally do a backup on flash drives that I have my children keep in their homes.  If I have been putting a lot of info into the file I will back it up more often.  Twenty-five years plus of work and time is not something I want to take a chance on losing.

File cabinet –  

Although you will be filing probably 95% or more of your family history on your PC there will be a certain amount of paper that you should file for future reference.

Copies of birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, deeds, pictures, etc. will need a place to be filed.  I suggest that, if you don’t already have access to at least a single drawer file cabinet, that you start keeping an eye open for one.

If money is a concern check out the local recycle/reuse center or thrift stores or even ebay or Craig’s List.  It doesn’t have to be anything pretty, just functional.  Being a single drawer cabinet to begin with you might be able to set it on a table in the room with your PC or put it on a shelf in a closet.

In fact a few available shelves in a closet would be a good place to store books and other reference material.  After 25 or so years I am able to get all of my paper files in a two drawer cabinet and I have pretty much used up the available space on the shelves in the closet in the room where I do my research work.

Software – 

Other than a PC probably the most important item you will need is the software that you will be using for recording your family tree information.  Names, dates, locations, notes, sources of information, etc.

As I have said elsewhere I have been using Family Tree Maker (FTM) for Windows ever since I started many years ago.  Although I upgraded within the same brand many years ago the version I currently have has many, many features that I do not use and will probably never use.  I would Google “genealogy software reviews” and check out the reviews that are available.

Note: Even though I use an illustration of FTM software I do not recommend any particular brand..


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My Family Tree

Family Tree Mural of Unknown Family

Actually “My Family Tree” is a bit of a misnomer. The tree should actually be called “Our Family Tree” as the tree is a combination of mine and my wife’s family ancestors and descendants.

Actually, if I was to start over I would probably plant and grow two family trees, one of my ancestors and one of my wife’s ancestors. Working with a combined tree is a bit bulky because of the number of individuals in the file but is not a major problem with the use of the PC. I never imagined 25 or so years ago that the tree would grow as large as it has.

My Methods

Currently there are 58,569 individuals in the tree. This consists of ancestors, our children and their spouses and in-laws and their children, our grand-children. It also includes some of our children’s spouses and some of their ancestors.

In order to concentrate more on our family history rather than just on an endless list of names, dates and locations I only include our parents and their siblings (our aunts and uncles) and first cousins and their spouses and their spouses parents. I include spouse’s parents mainly for identification purposes.

If I get two persons with the same or similar names and same or similar Dates of Birth and/or Dates of Death I can many times tell one from the other by who their parents were. For example, you may end up with 20 or more “John Smiths” or “Joan Smiths” in your tree file and with two or three with Dates of Birth or Death that are close and with spouses with the same or similar Given name and similar Surnames. To determine which “John Smith” or “Joan Smith” is the one you are looking for they can usually be identified by the parents’ names.

In addition to including our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins I also include only grand-parents and their siblings (our great-aunts and uncles) and their children (our first cousins’ whatever number of times “removed”). I will try to explain the “removed” term elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com. By limiting our relationship to the individuals in the tree I don’t get bogged down with a list of distant cousins whose history I’m not really interested in.

There are exceptions to this self-imposed rule. If I run across a distant cousin who was notable for some reason I will sometimes include them and their lineage linking them to our tree. Also, if I run across a distant cousin who is also engaged in researching their tree and we have common ancestors I will usually include them largely for a means of maintaining contact information with them.

Results Of My Research – Statistics

In addition to the 58,569 individuals in the file we have recorded 31,334 marriages, 9,568 surnames and 97 generations and we’re adding more all the time. The average life span of all the 58,569 individuals is 60 years 7 months and one individual on my wife’s side, Baine ingen Sqaile (meaning “Baine daughter of Sqaile”), was born about the year 100 in England, then a Roman Province, and died about 145 in Ireland, also under Roman rule at that time.

Results Of My Research – Relationships

Between our two families we have confirmed relationships to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, several English and French kings, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Native American Comanche chief Quana Parker and many other notable people.

John and Catherine Croyle Home, Bedford Co., PA


My ancestors were mainly from German speaking Switzerland and Germany and then Pennsylvania. My 4xGreat-grandparents were on the first ship, the “Charming Nancy”, of entirely Amish immigrants to come to America in 1737. A scattering of Amish who emigrated from Switzerland due to religious persecution had preceded them.

A first cousin, 7x-removed, was the first Treasurer of the United States under George Washington, who was my 2nd cousin, 8x removed. (George and Martha had no children therefore no one can claim to be a direct descendant of theirs.) Gen. George Armstrong Custer, famous Civil War general who died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and I are 4th cousins, 4x-removed. A 3rd cousin, 3x-removed was the founder of the Statler Hotel chain which was sold to the Hilton Hotel chain in 1954.

Watson and Cassandra Owens home, Dickenson Co., VA

My wife’s ancestors were mainly from England, France and Ireland and then Virginia. She is partially descended from several English and French kings and other European royalty and from many members of the Knights Templar. She also has Viking ancestors. She was also a 2nd cousin, 8x removed of George Washington, as am I which makes us somehow related although I have never taken the time to check that out.

Although John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas appear in my wife’s ancestral history due to their connection with the English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, they are not related to my wife. She is however a 3rd cousin, 4x removed of Native American Comanche chief Quanah Parker. Chief Quanah Parker was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a 2nd cousin, 5x removed of my wife, and Peta Nacona, also a Native American Comanche chief.

These relationships and I expect more to come, were unknown prior to our researching our family history. So as you can see you can develop many relationships with past famous, and infamous, figures in history when you begin your family history research.


These relationships were unknown prior to our researching our family history. So, as you can see, you can develop many relationships with past famous, and infamous, figures in history when you begin your family history research.

So, you can see that starting with a couple of dozen immediate family members we have come quite a ways working in our spare time for the past 25 years or so. You can have the same or more success working on your own family history so why not start now?

Your Friendly Family History Source,


Family treeResearching and charting genealogy and family trees along with researching family history is probably one of the fastest growing hobbies and pastimes right now. This is largely due to the proliferation of personal computers (PCs) and the establishment of the World Wide Web (WWW).

My mother piqued my interest in the subject many years ago with her interest in our family history. She kept her research and information mainly on spiral bound paper tablets and 3×5 file cards. Needless to say she spent much of her time just filing and retrieving notes, names and dates.

Getting started nowadays is much faster and easier with the use of PCs. The information that required banks of file cabinets years ago can now be contained on a hard drive or a few flash drives. Retrieving notes and information that could take hour’s years ago now takes only seconds.

In addition to the interest in determining who our ancestors are and how they lived and the good times and hard times they experienced are the benefits of determining family genetic medical conditions, tracking of land and personal property ownership through deeds, land grants, wills, etc. These are all additional benefits that come with genealogical research.


In addition to a PC which most of us have access to, probably the most basic of genealogy supplies would be the software required to record and retrieve names, dates and notes on ancestors. There are many brands available with various features and shortcomings.

Some common brands are Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, Gramps, Reunion for Mac, Family Historian, Brother’s Keeper, GeneWeb, Family Tree Maker, etc. Some of those are free and some require a purchase.

I began many years ago with Family Tree Maker (FTM) and although I upgraded once to a newer version I have found it to do everything that I have needed and then some. I am currently using FTM version 10 and I only use about half of the features available with that version such as scrapbooks, photos, books, calendar, etc.

Tree of Life
Tree Of Life

Paper family tree charts are also available but I have found them to be of limited use in my research. They may make attractive wall decorations for small trees or branches of trees but are unwieldy and time-consuming for large trees.

This is especially the case when you realize that you have to add or delete an ancestor to an established tree which requires erasing or otherwise removing the names of an entire branch or branches so that you can add a missing ancestor or delete an ancestor that shouldn’t have been included. Each time you want to observe the tree or make an addition or deletion it often requires unfolding and refolding large sheets of paper and then finding a place to store them unless you have a wall(s) large enough to hang them on.

Reviews of various software brands are available online and links to various software retailers are available elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com.


Online websites –

  • Many online genealogy sites offer some free information but usually require the purchase of a monthly or annual subscription to gain full access and some are entirely free and others are a combination of both. The website Family Tree University offers a pretty comprehensive listing of the “25 Best Genealogy Websites for Beginners” of both paid for and free sites.

Organizations –

  • Probably the pre-eminent organization involved in genealogy would be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Their site can be located at FamilySearch.
Tree of Jesse
Tree of Jesse

Public Rescources –

  • The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. They maintain a vast amount of historical information and also maintain U. S. census records which can be an invaluable tool for identifying and locating ancestors. Some census records are also available at some “Online websites”.
  • Nearly all states maintain archives which can be accessed by searching the various states by “archives”.
  • Some of the most valuable and accurate information that I have accessed has been from county and local genealogical and historical websites. An example would be the Somerset County Pennsylvania Genealogy website which you can examine at Somerset County, PAGenWeb Project . Somerset County is where many of my ancestors were from. Most counties in the U. S. have some society or association that maintains a website dedicated to genealogical research and most of them can be accessed by searching by the county and state name and the words “genealogy”, “historical society”, etc.
  • Another extremely valuable public source is the Allen County Public Library located in Fort Wayne, IN. Their website can be accessed at Allen County Public Library It is said to hold genealogical material second only to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Much information can be accessed online but nothing compares to a personal visit.

Colleges, universities and libraries –

  • Many colleges, universities and public libraries maintain historical information that is valuable to genealogists. An example would be the Detroit Public Library’s Burton Historical Collection which can be accessed at Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection. University libraries many times are also excellent sources of historical and genealogical information.

Books –

  • Thousands of books are available that include genealogical information. Many of these can be located using WorldCat.  I was genuinely surprised at the volume of genealogical information that was recorded centuries ago although much, but not all of it, was of royalty.

Individuals and family members –

  • Many families include family members who have undertaken the task of establishing family trees. Much of the information can be very accurate but depending on who is doing the research and how dedicated they are to accuracy some information can be very misleading so you have to be careful to corroborate what you can. Much information can be gleaned from a family Bible if available and that is usually pretty accurate as it was usually entered at the time an event (birth, death, baptism, christening, wedding, etc.) took place.  One thing to keep in mind is that many of our ancestors were illiterate or semi-literate so many family names were based on a phonetic spelling.

GENEALOGY TRAINING – Can It Advance Your Research?

Formal Genealogy Training is available online and offline. Is it worth the cost? It depends largely on what it is that you feel the need for additional knowledge with.

Fragment of a Compendium of the Genealogy of Christ
Fragment of a Compendium of            the  Genealogy of Christ

As an example, some anecdotal information was found that there might be an ancestral connection to a prominent Native American chief and family to my wife’s branch of our tree.

Not being familiar with Native American ancestry and records keeping I found an online source for training in that area which was highly informative and was helpful in confirming a Native American connection to my wife’s family.

My training was very informal and did not result in a diploma or certificate but was helpful in advancing my research although there are programs available that can result in a certification. Links to sources of training are available elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com.


DNA testing is the latest “fad” to come along in the genealogical world. Although in the commercials it is hyped as a cure-all to determining your ancestry I have found it to be of limited value in my family history research. My wife and I had our DNA tested, partly due to some evidence of Native American connections on my wife’s side. However, the results created more questions than they answered.

Unless you are intimately acquainted with DNA terminology or have access to someone who is, the results can be confusing if not misleading. There are several types of DNA tests that can be done and several companies that are now offering the tests. The basic tests are moderately priced (usually around $100) but can get quite expensive for the more involved tests. My advice is that if you have the money to spend and are interested in the novelty of the thing go for it but don’t expect it to do much to advance your family history research, at least at this time.

DNA Scale Model

I had my DNA tested several years ago. The report that estimated my ethnicity came back and the results were very surprising compared to the information that I had obtained over the 20 or so years that I have been researching my family. They showed connections to regions that I had not recorded a single ancestor from.

Then very recently I received an update from the company that had done the testing. They explained that with newer technology and now with 16,000 samples compared to the 3,000 they had when my test was done they can now separate different regions of the earth more accurately. The results of the update more closely coincided with my research but I wouldn’t be surprised if I get more precise updates in the future as there are still some glaring discrepancies between their results and my research. Bottom line is, if you are curious enough to spend the money go ahead with the test but take the results with a “grain of salt”. I expect that with further development of technology and additional samples there will probably be more accuracy in the future.

One of the positive results of our tests was that they connected us with some “cousins” who were also doing research on our respective families and who were able to assist us with some missing information. Another benefit is that it can be useful in locating missing family members if that is the purpose and goal of your research.

Also keep in mind that more and more DNA testing companies are sharing information with governmental agencies, i.e. F.B.I, C.I.A., etc., so if you are concerned about your information going to “Big Brother” you may want to resist the temptation to have  your DNA tested, or, at the very least, request that your information not be shared if that is an option with the testing company.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on the subject of DNA testing at Wikipedia Genealogical DNA Test.   

Links to some DNA testing companies and DNA testing company reviews are available elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com.


Summing it up I would say that discovering your ancestors and learning about how they lived was never so quick and easy. It’s almost addictive once you get started. You will also be surprised at how many famous and influential people you are related to and how many living “cousins” you have. There will never be a better time to get started than right now! If I can be of further assistance please leave a comment.


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About Robert and Family Roots To Branches

John and Fern Harshberger

Welcome!  I began my genealogy/family history experience about twenty-five years ago largely due to the interest in those subjects of my dear mother, Fern, who has since passed on.

Over the years I have received invaluable help from family, friends and strangers.  Now I feel it is my responsibility to give back and use my experience and knowledge to assist others in their quests to determine the history of their families.  I have had a minimal amount of formal training in genealogy and most of my knowledge was received by way of “trial and error” which, sometimes, is the best teacher.

The goal of Family Roots To Branches is to create a one-stop source for genealogists of all experience levels to be able to quickly and easily obtain the assistance they need to proceed with their work.  Hopefully, I can use some of my experience and knowledge to take some of the “rocks” out of the genealogical “road” for others.

If you ever need a hand or have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.

All the best,