For family historians the importance of maintaining a clear, organized and accurate family tree cannot be overstated. But finding a program that has just the perfect mix of features can feel like quite a task.
Whether you’ve just started researching your family’s past, or are looking for a fresh start, our guide will help you discover the best family tree software program for your needs. You’ll find a detailed breakdown of the top 6 family tree programs available today. These are the programs we’ll be covering.
Best Family Tree Programs for Genealogy Research
- Family Tree by FamilySearch (free)
- Ancestry Family Tree (free)
- Wikitree (free)
- Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage (free)
- RootsMagic 8 (paid)
This guide will also cover Family Tree Maker 2019.
When it comes to building your tree electronically – be it online, in a downloadable program, or both – we know there are a lot of great options out there. So many, in fact, that it’s easy to become overwhelmed by choices.
But don’t let this overabundance of choices get in the way of finding your best family tree program.
To begin narrowing down the competition, you’ll first need to assess your individual needs. What do you need (and want) your family tree software to do for you? What are your special areas of concern?
Consider these questions:
Are you looking for a free family tree program, or are you willing to pay for the right software?
Do you want to download software to your home computer or would you prefer to keep your tree online? Maybe you’d like to do both?
What are your feelings about keeping your family tree private? Is the privacy of your tree an absolute must or are you happy to share your work in progress with others? Does it matter to you who owns your online family tree?
Are you looking for just the basics in a family tree software program? Or would you like to have access to a wide array of special features and fun extras?
Do you want a tree-making service that allows you to search extensive records collections that are integrated right into the program? How about one that provides you with helpful hints and matches that encourage you to grow your tree? Or one that syncs with Ancestry.com or MyHeritage?
Would you like to be able to easily share your progress with others and invite them to collaborate with you on your tree?
Do you need access to a selection of printable and shareable charts, reports and maps? Or the ability to easily create a website dedicated to your family’s history?
What level of user support do you need? Would you like your tree program to include extensive help pages, free learning centers or peer-to-peer forums?
Once you’ve asked yourself these basic questions – and identified what elements will make up your best family tree software – you can begin the search for the right program.
We’ve put together a breakdown of six popular family tree programs, some which are available completely online and some that you’ll download to your computer. You’ll learn about their basic features, what they cost, the type of privacy they provide, and hear about a few pros and cons for each.
We have not chosen a favorite here because, the truth is, no single tree builder is perfect for everyone. Our top choices are listed below in no particular order.
A Note About Cost:
Some of these family tree options are free, such as Ancestry and MyHeritage, but are so integrated with their own paid record hints and searches that it can be distracting or difficult to complete your research if you do not intend to consider a paid subscription. You might consider taking advantage of a free trial of their record subscriptions before committing to their tree.
Other programs, like RootsMagic 8 and Family Tree Maker 2019, are available for a one-time cost but may require you to pay to upgrade to a new version in the future. Keep this in mind when choosing the program that best fits your needs.
Update: For a great free option we did not include in our guide consider reading our new review of RootsFinder (now owned by Findmypast).
If you need help downloading a GEDCOM and moving your tree to a new program read this article.
Please know that we have teamed up with many genealogy companies to bring you news and updates about their services. We may earn money to support our site if you make a purchase through links found on this page. This helps us support our work but does not influence our opinions in any way. Our goal, first and foremost, is to help you make informed decisions to benefit your research.
Honorary Mention: Since publishing this guide many of our readers have written us about their love of the Legacy Family Tree program, which we did not include in this guide. You can take a look at that option here.
Detailed Comparisons of the Best Family Tree Software Programs and Online Options
Family Tree by FamilySearch – Free Online Tree
FamilySearch, keeper of the largest collection of free genealogy records in the world, would seem like the perfect place to host your personal family tree – and for some it is – but if you’re considering starting a tree on FamilySearch there are a few key points to keep in mind.
First off, if you’re looking for a traditional, private tree building experience you probably won’t find it here. Why? Well, Family Tree by FamilySearch is a collaborative tree: in other words, everyone works together on one giant, shared tree (everyone can edit entries) and only certain elements (like details regarding living people) can be made private. Some people love this, others do not.
Here’s what you need to know about Family Tree by FamilySearch:
- Cost: Free, access to other public trees and billions of records is free (records can also be accessed without a FamilySearch tree)
- Online version only
- No GEDCOM upload option
- Some elements can be made private but there is no option to make your entire tree private, others can edit entries
- Full syncing with FamilySearch app and partial individual person syncing with Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic
- Does not directly integrate with DNA research
- Search integrated with FamilySearch’s records, Ancestry, MyHeritage and more
- Receive hints from FamilySearch’s record databases
- Huge variety of printable charts, forms, keepsakes, maps and more
- Share and collaborate with family and community members easily
- Extensive online support, learning center, research wiki and more
Some features, or additional features, may be limited to LDS members.
FamilySearch Tree Family View
FamilySearch Tree Pedigree View
The obvious high-point of this family tree tool is that it’s made by FamilySearch. Building your tree here will give you a comprehensive, all-in-one experience: a place to research billions of free historical records, collaborate with other genealogists from all over the world, take advantage of a huge family history learning center and grow your family tree – all without ever leaving FamilySearch’s site or paying a dime.
If you prefer to keep your tree, and all of its associated research, private – or you’re uncomfortable with the concept of sharing editing control over individual profiles in your tree – you will want to look into other options for building your family tree. Additionally, the lack of the many extra features found in desktop tree programs may deter some users. You are also unable to upload a current GEDCOM to your family tree.
Family Tree from FamilySearch is a great choice if you’re looking for a place to collaborate with others on one collective family tree – to help others with their family history research while also furthering your own. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a tree maker that allows you complete privacy and control, or includes every extra feature imaginable, you may want to consider other options.
Get Started with Family Tree by FamilySearch
Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage – Free Downloadable Program and Free Online Tree
Family Tree Builder, the tree making program from MyHeritage, is unique in that it offers users an online and downloadable version, as well as a mobile app, meaning you can easily sync across all devices. While you’ll need a data subscription to take advantage of their “Super Search,” which accesses MyHeritage’s database of billions of historical records, the online, desktop and mobile versions of the tree builder are completely free.
They offer some very robust tools and an advanced way to integrate your family tree with DNA results. MyHeritage sells DNA kits here or you can upload raw DNA data from any other provider for free here. This is one of the most compelling reasons to use this tree program since their unique genealogy-focused DNA research system includes a beautifully designed and easy-to-use way to understand how you are connected to your genetic cousins.
MyHeritage also recently added a chromosome browser.
Here’s what you need to know about MyHeritage’s Family Tree Builder:
- Cost: Free, access to other public trees and most records requires a paid subscription
- The only option with an online version, mobile app and downloadable software (for Windows and Mac)
- Can be made completely private
- Syncs with DNA research from MyHeritage DNA database (requires uploaded DNA data – read about that here)
- Downloadable software syncs with MyHeritage’s online tree and mobile app
- Software and online tree only offer vertical family view, horizontal pedigree view is planned for the future
- Integrated search with MyHeritage databases (requires subscription)
- Receives hints (known as discoveries) from MyHeritage’s database of records and family trees (requires subscription)
- Includes a variety of printable and customizable charts, reports, and family books
- Share and collaborate with others on a private family site, included free
- Online help and support center
View of Family Tree Builder Free Downloadable Software
View of Online Family Tree from MyHeritage
This free offering from MyHeritage comes with a variety of features great for any family historian. For starters, it includes a private family site that allows you to share your research with family. Then there’s the ability to conveniently sync between your online and offline trees, as well as a handy mobile app that lets you update your tree virtually anywhere. We especially love the consistency checking feature, which scans your tree for inconsistencies or mistakes in your data and lets you know so you can fix them. It also syncs with their advanced DNA research center.
The main drawback of this tree builder is the need for a yearly data subscription in order to take advantage of MyHeritage’s integrated search – and while you will receive their hints for free, you’ll need that same data subscription to view the actual records being suggested (this setup is not unique to MyHeritage – Ancestry, for example, follows the same model).
The same kind of restrictions apply to the free family site, which will require a separate subscription to access features like their online tree consistency checker or to facilitate a larger family tree.
Luckily, MyHeritage pricing is very reasonable when compared to some other subscription services and they have a 14 day free trial so you can take it all for a spin at no cost.
There’s a lot to love about Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage. With strong privacy capabilities, fairly attractive layouts and easy syncing and sharing, the free features (of the online, desktop and mobile versions) will provide you with a solid foundation on which to grow your tree.
However, you will need to look into their yearly data subscription in order to take full advantage of this particular program and of MyHeritage’s extensive record collections – be sure to take this into consideration if you’re looking for a totally free tree building experience. It can be frustrating to receive record suggestions that you cannot access. Still, many people do happily use their trees without a subscription,
Get Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage for Desktop Here or Start an Online Tree Here
You can try a record subscription free for 14 days and get your offline or online tree all set up at once. If you decide not to keep your subscription you can still keep your tree for free, but will no longer be able to access new records.
WikiTree – Free Online Family Tree
If you’re looking for a totally unique way to grow your family tree, and you love the idea of sharing most elements of your tree with a huge community of other genealogists, WikiTree may be the perfect place for you. The goal of WikiTree is to create one – that’s right, one – family tree that connects everyone, everywhere. As you may have guessed, the key here is collaboration: WikiTree is a community – users can view and even edit profiles from across the shared tree. At present there are over 15 million individual profiles.
Here’s what you need to know about WikiTree:
- Cost: Free, free access to other people’s public trees
- Online version only
- Focus on individual profiles and reports over a typical family tree view
- Horizontal pedigree view for family tree
- Some elements can be made private, focus on sharing
- Connects in a limited way with DNA information via GEDmatch’s huge database
- Doesn’t sync with any outside trees
- Search WikiTree’s database of profiles for free, no direct access to historical records
- Collaborate with family and community members and a great volunteer network
- Extensive help pages and peer-to-peer forum
View of WikiTree Family Tree
Even with WikiTree’s community-oriented approach, users still retain the ability to control certain elements of their tree’s privacy by creating “trusted lists” for living and recently deceased relatives.
Another major plus? WikiTree strives to validate its giant, shared tree with DNA results – so once you confirm that you’ve taken a DNA test from any provider the site will provide you with DNA-based matches (over 3 million profiles are DNA-verified) to help grow your tree. The method is quite different than the advanced family tree and DNA integrations you will find on MyHeritage or Ancestry however.
And of course, the beauty of this large, collaborative family tree is that you get to benefit from the work of others and help them expand their own family trees in return. And you’ll find a wealth of different informational views.
The obvious downside here is the lack of complete privacy and control over your entire family tree, and the limited set of tools. If you can’t imagine sharing almost every element of your family tree with a community of nearly half a million other genealogists than WikiTree is not the place for you. And, since this isn’t your typical tree building platform, you won’t find much when it comes to pretty, printable charts or reports.
The mission behind WikiTree is an amazing one: to create a free and accurate family tree that connects the whole world and is accessible to all: but an open, collaborative environment is not for everyone. If your concerns about privacy – or a desire to have the final say on each entry into your tree – are more pressing than the possible benefits, you will want to look elsewhere.
Do keep in mind that privacy is a complicated matter, and the fact that WikiTree is noncommercial, like FamilySearch, means less chance that your data will ever be sold for profit (as happens on many paid subscription sites). You may not be able to keep your tree private but you can know that at least it is free and open to all.
If the idea of working together with other family historians on their trees – while at the same time welcoming them to help you expand your own – sounds appealing, WikiTree is the perfect place to do just that.
RootsMagic 8 – Paid
This family tree building program has been a favorite of genealogists for years and there’s a good reason for it. When it comes to downloadable tree creators, RootsMagic 8 has some exciting features that you won’t find anywhere else. Because RootsMagic 8 now syncs with your Ancestry tree this program is a good alternative to Family Tree Maker for those who are not happy with the current offering.
Here’s what you need to know about RootsMagic 8:
- Cost: $39.95
- Downloadable software (for Windows and Mac), mobile app with limited functionality
- Syncs with FamilySearch and Ancestry online trees (some elements require full, paid version)
- Can be made completely private
- No DNA integration
- Search nearly any internet database directly from program
- Recieve hints from FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Ancestry and more
- Horizontal pedigree view, family view is also horizontal
- Includes over 100 printable charts, reports, lists, and family books
- Share and collaborate through personal website
- Built-in help system, extensive online support center
View of Rootsmagic Family View
When it comes to the high points of RootsMagic, there are almost too many to name. Whether it’s the excellent integration of popular databases, the ability to sync with Ancestry’s online trees (a huge bonus for many), the large variety of printables and maps, the easy to publish personal website or the dozens of other little things that make this program so comprehensive – there’s a lot to take advantage of here.
Besides the cost, the biggest thing you’ll want to consider is RootsMagic’s very basic visual appearance. It’s not very modern and the small text can be hard on the eyes. Unlike many other programs, this tree program’s bland look may leave some feeling as if it’s a bit outdated (although it certainly isn’t). And, of course, as with any desktop software, users must have a device running on Windows (or Mac) to use RootsMagic 8 – a major drawback if you primarily use a tablet or Chromebook to do your genealogy research.
They do offer a mobile app but it is read-only so there is no editing your tree, and the Android version is known to not work properly on many devices. It also does not sync with your offline tree, showing changes in real-time. Rather, you will need to upload a file from your offline tree to view it on mobile each time you make a change.
For this reason, you will only be able to do research on your computer unless you choose to sync with an online tree from another source.
If you’re in the market for a downloadable family tree program with a ton to offer at a reasonable price, and you don’t mind a pretty basic design, RootsMagic is a great choice. Don’t want to shell out any cash? Consider trying out a basic version of the software (RootsMagic Essentials) completely free. You will still get many of the core elements that make this tree builder so desirable. All in all, with RootsMagic 8, expect a feature-rich package no matter your budget.
Ancestry Family Tree – Free Online Tree
Perhaps the most well-known provider of online family trees, Ancestry.com has been helping family historians research and build their family trees for decades. Ancestry currently hosts over 90 million trees and features over 20 billion records (most of which are from the U.S.), though the vast majority (but not all) of these records require a subscription to access. It’s these features and more that make Ancestry’s online tree a favorite for family historians of every skill level.
Here’s what you need to know about Ancestry online trees:
- Cost: Free, access to other public trees and most records requires a paid subscription
- Online version only
- Can be made completely private
- Syncs with Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic and the Ancestry app
- Integrated search with Ancestry’s record databases and family trees
- Advanced DNA research with Ancestry DNA (requires that you have taken an Ancestry DNA test, they do not offer free uploads)
- Receive hints from Ancestry’s record databases and family trees (requires subscription)
- Some printable charts, reports, etc.
- Easily share and collaborate with family members
- Extensive online support and learning center
Ancestry Tree Pedigree View
Ancestry Tree Family View
When you choose to host your tree with Ancestry, you’ll enjoy a seamless connection between your tree and the massive databases found on the site. In addition to billions of records from 80 countries, Ancestry will scan their millions of public family trees from other members and give you hints to help you grow your own tree. A very attractive and modern layout is easy to read and the convenient mobile app and an array of features round out this solid offering.
As with any paid site that provides free family trees, you’ll need to subscribe to a plan with Ancestry in order to take full advantage of features, such as the integrated search and access to most record hints. And, while the Ancestry tree making tool is integrated with one of the largest databases of easily accessible historical records out there, you won’t find the same wide range of extra features (like customizable and printable charts or reports) that you’d find with a desktop program.
If you’re already an Ancestry subscriber, taking advantage of their free family tree may feel like a no-brainer. Since it easily syncs with both Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic 8, it’s a great choice as an online tree for those considering (or already using) desktop genealogy software.
On the other hand, if you’re simply looking to make an online tree, and you don’t plan to subscribe to Ancestry anytime in the near future, there may be better options out there. As with MyHeritage, seeing hints that you cannot access can be frustrating and every aspect of their site in designed to encourage you to subscribe. Their prices are also more expensive than some other genealogy research sites, but access to so many records is often worth it.
Start a Family Tree with Ancestry Here or Get a 14 Day Free Trial of All Records and a Free Tree Here
Family History Daily offers an unofficial online course on how to make the most of Ancestry and its family tree here. Also read our cautionary article about “saving” data to your Ancestry tree.
Family Tree Maker 2019 – Paid Downloadable Software Program
This well-known genealogy software has been used by family historians for decades. Previously owned and supported by Ancestry, Family Tree Maker was acquired by Software MacKiev (maker of the Mac version) when Ancestry discontinued support. Since then, the road to a new version has been long and winding – but in 2017 MacKiev followed through on their promise (after months of careful testing) and released FTM 2017. Then, later, FTM 2019.
FTM 2019 builds on its former incarnations by refreshing existing tools and debuting some new ones – including a new Ancestry tree syncing feature.
Here’s what you need to know about Family Tree Maker 2019:
- Cost: starts at $79.95, some discounts may be available for those who are upgrading from some previous versions
- Available as downloadable software (for Windows and Mac)
- Can be made completely private
- Does not directly integrate with DNA research
- Syncs with your Ancestry online tree
- Integrated search with Ancestry and FamilySearch databases
- Receive hints from both Ancestry and FamilySearch
- Includes a wide variety of advanced printable charts, reports, and interactive maps
- Onscreen help system and online support center
Family Tree Maker Pedigree View
Family Tree Maker Family View
Overall, Family Tree Maker 2019 is an easy-to-use and comprehensive tree building software. It goes beyond the basics with many extra features like a built-in, lightweight photo editor, a helpful color-coding tool and themed backgrounds for printing. This newest version of FTM also features “FamilySync,” a technology that allows users to easily sync up to three copies of FTM (from three different computers) to one Ancestry online tree.
Even with all of its bells and whistles, FTM 2019 is a bit on the pricey side at just under $80. Also, as with any software program, your device must meet certain system requirements (in this case you’ll need at least Windows 7 or X 10.9 for Mac) and, unlike online tree programs, FTM cannot be used with common devices like a Chromebook or a tablet. As with RootsMagic, you will only be able to do research on your computer unless you choose to sync with an online tree from another source.
Family Tree Maker 2019 is an all-around great choice if you’re looking for a downloadable tree building program that gives you good integration and plenty of extra features. However, you may want to look elsewhere if you’d like to create a family tree on a tight budget.
Online: If you use a great deal of UK records you will want to consider FindMyPast. They have an attractive, powerful tree that provides hints from records on their site (subscription required). Sign up for a free family tree here, or they also offer a free trial subscription to their record collections.
Desktop: Legacy Family Tree 9 or Family Historian 6 which are both desktop programs many people like. They are worth a look.
So, there you have it, our top picks for the best family tree software and online programs.
And remember, you don’t have to choose just one option. Since many desktop family tree programs sync with online trees – for example, RootsMagic syncs with Ancestry’s and FamilySearch’s trees and – you can take advantage of the features of both types of trees and have the best of both worlds.
While we did our best to cover all the major features of each family tree program, this is not an exhaustive breakdown of each program or its capabilities. In addition, there were some very basic features that were shared by all of the tree programs – such as the ability to import/export a GEDCOM or to attach photos/records/notes to an individual’s profile in your tree – that we chose not to include in the reviews. Please visit the site for each individual family tree program for complete details on features and capabilities.
Thank you to Kate Jackson for her hard work making this comparison guide possible.
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30 thoughts on “Looking for a New Family Tree Program? A Detailed Guide to the Top 6 Choices”
I used the Broderbund program for a long time and now am using the family tree as the Broderbund was bought out by the LDS and I hate it. I used to be able to print off a tree—all 700 people if I wanted, but now I have to confine my print to one family for 3 or 4 generations
Hi Dave yes it was the best program but unfortunately the creator died, and I don’t know what happen to his offsider he looked after it for awhile and the updates suddenly stopped
Same here Kelly. I originally used PAF (Personal Ancestry File) produced by LDS. When it phased out, I converted to the Legacy free version which was much the same as PAF. Since then, I have upgraded to the inexpensive Legacy paid versions until I am now using 9. I tried to use My Heritage in conjunction with Legacy when I was paid up member of My Heritage but found the latter too clunky and have since discontinued to use it. (I am no longer a paid up member of My Heritage). I use the Family Search facility with Legacy and am satisfied with both. I also ask the question posed by Fay why Legacy 9 is not on the list?
Has any one ever heard of a program called Relatively Yours 3. Best program ever and then it suddenly disappeared.
You can upload a GEDCOM to Family Search but under Genealogies. Others can see your tree but not change anything. You can update it anytime.