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Susan Snelgrove
Susan Snelgrove

Your Roots Are Showing Blog

On-Line Versus Off-Line Family Tree Building Software

In my last Blog Post “The Foundation of Genealogy Research”, I mentioned you will want a software program to build your family tree. You’ll have the option of a standalone software program, or an on-line service.  With the second you get access to a wealth of research record sets integrated with the family tree building software.

Off-Line Family Tree Building Software

When I first started genealogy, on-line providers didn’t even exist.  But you could buy a Genealogy family tree building software program to make your tree.  There are now many “standalone” choices you can purchase, if you’d like to go this route.  A quick google search will provide a lot of information on what’s available.

One nice thing about “standalone” programs is that they usually have nice tree and report printing capabilities. It’s important to have a written record of your efforts. There are limited printing capabilities on sites like Ancestry, or you can pay extra for their services to do things like print a beautiful tree for framing.  No doubt the current “standalone” family tree programs have all sorts of helpful information and tools, so spend some time doing some research before you buy. A quick Google search will help you find articles that analyze the abilities and features of each so you can determine what’s important to you.

There is certainly nothing wrong with having your family tree off-line, and adding your research discoveries to your tree manually.  I even know some “old school” genealogists who track all their information on Excel Spreadsheets.  I wouldn’t recommend that last option myself, but whatever works for you!

On-Line Family Tree Building Software

It’s probably no secret that on-line is the way that I think you should go. Yes, you might get an excellent standalone software program for your computer. But subscribing to an on-line genealogy website gives you instant access to billions of records as well as great family tree building capabilities.

The only concern I have with this is that all my huge databases now reside with someone else instead of on my computer.  What if that system went down or the company disappears, and my data is lost?  A lifetime of work gone!  Luckily, there is a way to Export your Gedcom file from these on-line services, so you can get your hands on them again. And some software programs allow you to sync multiple trees across platforms.  

What the Heck is a Gedcom?

When you build your family tree in any software program, the data resides in a file called a Gedcom. The the file extension “.ged”.  These files are specific to genealogy, and they are transferable between genealogy software programs.  So you can build your tree in a computer based program if you’d like, and be able to upload it later to on-line sites like MyHeritage, Family Tree or Ancestry for instance.  Or vice versa!  Gedcoms therefore give you great flexibility.

When I joined a genealogy website (to access their on-line records), I first uploaded my Gedcom there, and made any future additions/changes to my tree at the on-line site.  I did occasionally make manual updating entries to my computer based tree, but this was so much work I eventually gave up and just kept building the on-line tree.

As I am writing this, I realize I myself have gotten rather lazy and haven’t downloaded copies of my trees for a VERY long time.  So note to self:  Export my Gedcom files as a backup!  Gee, writing this blog is already paying off. 

But don’t stress about this decision.  You can always start with one and then change your mind and move your Gedcom files to the other.  I say “files”, because you may end up with way more than one tree once you get into this.  I found that it was so much fun, that it wasn’t long before I was volunteering to build trees for other people. That’s where the “Junkie” part comes from in the name “Geni Junkie”.

So Many Genealogy Websites to Choose From!

So let’s say you want to go the on-line route.  I’m sure you have seen advertising for many of these companies…. Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, FamilyTreeDNA and free sites like FamilySearch.  So which one do you choose?  There are so many factors to consider that I have written the next Blog “Choosing a Family Tree Building Website” for you.  But I suggest the key factor will be whether or not you would like your DNA test done. 

I also urge you to check out my other Blog posts “Why Do a DNA Test?” and “Choosing a DNA Testing Company” for some great information to help make your decisions.

So you have just a little more homework to do, and then the fun is will begin! 

Your Geni Junkie friend,


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