Trace Your Family Tree, From Roots to Green Shoots
App Smart: Your Family Tree
The Times’s Kit Eaton on Ancestry, MyHeritage and other apps to trace your family tree.
I’m British, Welsh to be exact, which means if I consulted the right databases and cross-referenced family documents I could probably trace my ancestry back 400 or 500 years. Nowadays, I can even carry out genealogy research with my smartphone.
A good place to start is Ancestry.com, which runs a well-regarded app for family trees. The app is a straightforward way to construct your family tree yourself, by entering data you have already found in family records or online databases.
Building your tree starts with your own entry. You can tap in your name, date and place of birth or let Ancestry pull the data from Facebook. Once your basic data is in place, you enter data for your parents, then their parents and so on. As you do this, the app builds a tree. You can edit entries, adding extra information such as children or siblings, dates of weddings, deaths and so on.
The app compares the information you’ve entered with online databases of genealogical data. If it thinks entries in your tree are a match to historical information found elsewhere, it will alert you that it has found a “hint.” You can check to see if the data it has found belongs in your tree, or dismiss it if it does not.
If you’re already researching your family history, this slick app could act as a powerful mobile data repository. But it has its quirks. It partly populates your family tree based on traditional ideas about what constitutes a family and that may not apply to you. I also found it a bit tiresome to have to go back into a particular entry to add data on relatives.
Ancestry is free on iOS and Android, but to make the most of its features you need to run it in concert with the full Ancestry.com website. For access to some databases you also have to pay a fee. The World Explorer data, for example, is $35.
A great alternative is the free MyHeritage app on iOS and Android. Like Ancestry, it works best when you use it in collaboration with the parent website, but it is still effective on its own. It is similar to and asks for the same sort of information as the Ancestry app, but it is less attractive.
Still, I prefer its interface, which presents each entry in your family tree as a data “card.” To add to a card, you tap it and the card turns over. This graphical trick helps you keep track of the information you’re entering. MyHeritage also has nice extras like letting you share smartphone photos.
A research system that uses several types of databases to find information on your ancestors is built into the app. It is powerful — it found the right entry for my father even with limited inputs. It also turned up several hits from a long time ago in Philadelphia, which is interesting because family lore suggests I am related to people who were early settlers there. Access to this system, however, costs $10 annually.
MobileFamilyTree 7 is a $15 iOS app that can do the research work without a partner website. It has built-in research databases to help you find historical family data and it can import a genealogy database saved from other family tree apps if you’ve used them before. Its most attractive feature is its 3-D “virtual family tree,” which turns the typical 2-D tree shape into a 3-D graphic that you can zoom around.
But entering data is labor-intensive, and some reviewers on iTunes have also complained about the quality of the databases compared to rivals.
Many family tree apps are made for viewing family tree data that you’ve entered elsewhere. While they are handy for viewing the data you have, they’re useless for adding anything new. The free RootsMagic app on iOS, Android and Amazon Kindle is a popular and well-designed app of this type.
One caveat: Be absolutely certain you want to publicly share your family data online, if this is an option in the app. It’s a choice that could affect your privacy.
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