Doing genealogy is a great way to learn about the fascinating people and stories within your lineage. With these resourceful genealogy apps, you can learn more about and expand upon your family history from the comfort of your couch.
Instead of sitting at a dusty old computer in a family research center dealing with outdated software, or spending months sorting through piles of written records, ledgers, newspaper clippings, and certificates, these fantastic apps let you research your family’s records directly from your Android or iOS device. You can easily search through billions of records and edit or add them to your family’s tree. Some go the extra mile by offering DNA test kits and helping you find and connect to distant family members that way.
Although these apps are designed to be easy to use and are full of helpful tools meant to expedite the research process, you might find that you still need to use a few third-party apps to help you gather and prepare information efficiently. Luckily, there are plenty of free tools perfect for the job. Apps like Google PhotoScan and Pixlr are great for scanning and editing family photos before you upload them. Others like Evernote or Basecamp are perfect for storing notes and recordings, and keeping all of your genealogy tasks organized. There are even apps like Find A Grave that make it easy to identify and share information from headstones.
Update, 3/1/22: Updated pricing for Findmypast. Ensured other picks and links still good.
These apps are a terrific way to learn about your ancestors or even find a long-lost relative, but they also harbor potential privacy concerns. What you are ultimately doing with these apps is sharing personal information, like your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, and even past addresses—all things that are common fodder for security questions, and which could be used to jeopardize your (online) security. Some services may still have access to your information if you’ve deleted it or used it for commercial purposes. Some might experience security issues or be sold to another company you wouldn’t initially have wanted to have access to your information.
If you’re trying to flesh out the information for your family tree, family tree apps make it easy to connect to your lineage. The best genealogy apps offer robust tools to help you use them better and have other useful features that can help you along the way, which we’ve detailed below:
- Extensive Database: If the app you choose isn’t connected to a large database of records, what’s the point, right? Typically, the genealogy apps with the biggest names are the best tools, as they have the most funding and resources, and the most people actively updating records. This not only means a greater quantity of information but more accurate information, which is exactly what you need. However, sometimes the smaller apps might have advantages like better technological features or a niche genetic focus for more precise searching power. Consider your specific needs before deciding on an app.
- Efficient Record Creation: These apps were designed to streamline the time- and labor-intensive process of doing genealogy manually. Good apps will ensure that you can make efficient entries, customize options, and have all the tools necessary at your fingertips to get through a huge stack of new entries. Some even offer a variety of customizable charts and cloud storage for extra convenience and supply you with a way to import any existing GEDCOM files you may have.
- Reasonable Cost: While there are free options, most genealogy apps and services require a monthly subscription fee in exchange for access to their records and resources. If you’re into genealogy as a serious hobby, you’ll probably find that the cost of accessing these resources balances out and is worth your dollar given what you get access to in return. But if you just need to look up some family records or do something less long-term, look for a free service, or at least one that offers a free trial.
- Helpful Support: Though it might sound easy, documenting your ancestry with software can be pretty complex if you’ve never done genealogy work before. The best genealogy apps offer online classes, tutorials, and educational texts on how to properly use the tools. They should also have helpful hints along the way and supply you with a method of contacting the company with any questions you have.
Ancestry has over 20 billion historical records you can search through. The helpful Ancestry Hints feature can automatically find existing records, stories, and photos for relatives, and you can add other users as collaborators if you want to make filling out your genealogy a family affair. Ancestry also offers a DNA test, so you can see how your ethnicity lines up with your family history or find new DNA matches.
Upgrading to one of Ancestry’s paid plans has its perks. The least expensive plan, US Discovery, costs $24.99 per month or $99 for 6 months, and gets you access to all United States records. The World Explorer plan is $39.99 per month or $149 for 6 months, and includes access to all United States and international records. The All Access plan costs $49.99 per month or $199 per every 6 months and grants you full membership to Ancestry’s site, along with 142 million articles on newspapers.com and 537 million historical military records on fold3.com. Despite being undeniably pricey, the All Access plan is your best bet, as it gets you access to all of that plus access to newspaper stories and military records, as we mentioned above.
Though its vast database of digitized records and intuitive app are both impressive, perhaps the best feature of FamilySearch Tree is that it’s totally free. Unlike the other apps, FamilySearch doesn’t keep the majority of its usable features locked behind a paywall and is probably the best genealogy app to use if you’re on a tight budget. It’s worth noting, however, that this service is offered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon Church), so any personal data you share in the app is data you are sharing with that institution, which they may use for their own ecclesiastical, operational, or administrative purposes.
FamilySearch Tree has plenty of data for you to search through, with billions of records from the United States, England, Canada, Russia, Germany, Brazil, and other countries. If you see records for your family, you can edit and attach them to your own family tree, or you can start from scratch and add information manually, then attach data from existing records later. The app also provides hints for individuals in your family tree that you can investigate and add if they’re relevant and verifiable. On an individual’s page, there’s room for their name, birth and death dates, place of birth, photos, and other details. You can also connect with other FamilySearch users online, and take advantage of the Map My Ancestors tool to see a map detailing the key events of a relative, say, if they migrated from one country to another.
FamilySearch makes it easy to create new records and add data, stories, or photos for an individual. It’s worth noting that there is another app called FamilySearch Memories (free for Android and iOS) that focuses on documenting detailed memories over pure genealogical data. Memories allows you to create a digital scrapbook and add other things like a biography, audio recordings, letters, newspaper clippings, and family jokes and stories. It doesn’t have DNA test kits, however, unlike MyHeritage Family Tree and Ancestry.
Some folks might enjoy the menial work aspect of genealogy, sifting through newspapers and records to connect the dots needed to find yet another member of their family tree. Alternatively, for those who don’t mind getting some automated help along the way, check out MyHeritage Family Tree (free, with upgrades). The app makes it easy to piece together your family history on the go, thanks to the bevy of advanced tools it has on hand.
MyHeritage has over 3.8 billion added profiles. It offers a DNA test kit if you want to jump-start your research that way, or you can take the old-fashioned route and start filling in your family tree details manually. The app’s Smart Matches technology automatically connects existing family trees, and its Record Matches tool helps you find new information about ancestors, pulled from MyHeritage’s global historical records. Record Matches pairs with SuperSearch—MyHeritage’s records search engine—to narrow down your search in specific collections, or through newspapers, vital records, yearbooks, passports, and other resources.
The site offers decent functionality for free, including up to 250 entries on your family tree and 500 MB of storage for your data. You can also access the SuperSearch genealogy search engine and parts of the Family Tree Builder, which helps you set up your family tree. From there, you’ll need to upgrade to one of three paid options. The Premium plan ($7.42 per month) allows up to 2,500 people on your family tree, and gets you Smart Matches and priority customer support. The PremiumPlus plan ($12.42 per month) nets you all that as well as Instant Discoveries and Search Trees. Lastly, the Complete plan ($16.58 per month) gives you access to everything, including MyHeritage’s entire database of 12.5 billion historical records, making it the most useful option, albeit the priciest.
The great thing about Findmypast (free, with upgrades) is its narrowed focus on British and Irish ancestry records. If that’s where the bulk of your family history lies, you might find this app to be of more service to you than the broader more popular apps like Ancestry. Findmypast focuses on the stories of your ancestors’ “arrival, survival and success” as they emigrated from the British Isles, and is supplemented with advice and insight from its team of genealogists. It also has searchable vital records covering birth, marriage, and death certificates going as far back as the early 1700s.
Findmypast is partnered with the National Archives of Ireland, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the BritishLibrary, FamilySearch, and the National Archives. They have an extensive online archive of Irish and British newspapers—with more than twice the amount of Irish records of any other genealogy sites—as well as census and parish records, migration records, British military records, wills and probate records, and institutional records.
You have a few options available to you for free on the site, like beginning to build your family tree and receiving free hints from imported GEDCOM files. From there, it’s worth upgrading to a paid plan if you want access to more records, or at least take advantage of the free 14-day trial period. The Essential plan is the lowest-tiered option, available for $10.75 per month (billed annually at $139), and opens up all records to you for starting and common ancestors from other trees. The next tier, the Ultimate plan, costs $14.92 per month (billed annually at $179), and gets you access to all records, assistance from the site’s U.K.-based experts, and exclusive content.
The site is GDPR-compliant, and here is where you can read more about the information they’ll hold about you. It’s worth noting that you’ll first need to sign up on the website, not the app, and that the app has a few kinks that are still being worked out. For example, while you can upload photos from the app, you can’t see your full family tree or delete people from your tree yet (though you can do so on the desktop site).