Pictured above is my great-great-great grandmother. On the back of the faded photograph, an old cursive scrawl reads, “Minerva Sulgrove (nee Early and Stewart – last husband killed in Civil War) a dear little Quaker lady – my grandmother” The notation is signed by my great-grandmother. It would seem that genealogy is in my blood. ;)
My pixie-in-law and I have been studying our respective and combined genealogies for some time, now. She prefers to use FamilyEcho.com, but I started out with MyHeritage.com. She has a lovely how-to HERE where extolls the virtues of her favorite platform. Well, for anyone starting out with genealogy, here’s why (and how) you should use my favorite platform: MyHeritage.com, and specifically their accompanying free software.
Here’s the how.
I recommend starting with downloading the free software (here) and setting up your tree to sync through their website (the sync feature is free up to 250 people – I’m up to 2,000+ on the combined tree I have).
The set-up will look something like this, quick and easy:
Presto! You have started doing Geneology!
Once that’s done, the software invites you to create a profile through the website. There are some swell reasons to do it, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
You can also start straight through the website, and that set up is a little more arduous. This is because the software is really the best part about this platform because of all it can do, and if you’ve started through the website, you have to export your file (called a GEDCOM) in order to use it. No biggie, here’s what that process looks like:
And to export your tree…
After you’ve downloaded and installed the software, importing is a cinch. When the GEDCOM has downloaded to your computer, click on it. It should automatically open in the software like this:
Ta da! They want you to pay for premium because businesses always want you to pay for premium, but you can (I repeat: CAN) do everything you want for free. I have some additional resource websites that I raid whenever myheritage.com wants me to cough up a premium membership to get at some obscure information. I’ll touch on those at the end.
Now, here are some of the features I really like using this software. As you can see, there are pretty colors, clear lines, and lots of options.
Right-clicking on a person’s identity card gives you a dropdown which lets you quickly add everything from spouses to parents to kids, research that person, or change how the software views them (i.e. setting a different ‘home person’). It also lets you attach existing persons on the tree. This comes in handy if your family tree turns out to be a little convoluted in some areas. More on that later.
Mousing-over a person’s name on their identity card lets you see their relation to the home person. If you left-click on that name, it brings that card (and the previous and continuing generations) front and center. Examples below:
That pictured feature is really handy when you’re a few hours along on a branch and are wracking your brain to remember exactly how Ankaret “Angharad, 7th Baroness Strange of Blackmere” Strange (Neville) is related to you, personally.
MyHeritage.com also consistently searches for people matching the descriptions in your tree and provides matches. Many of these are available without purchasing their upgraded package, and often I get better information or more detailed knowledge from people who’ve done further research into their tree. This is a BIG plus.
Information is added by double-clicking on an identity card:
This information can later be seen in a full PDF compilation of your family tree (under ‘reports’, ‘book report’). PDFs are searchable. This saved my and the Pixie-in-law’s bacon once upon a genealogical adventure. Use this knowledge wisely.
Fun side note: through the book-report option, the Pixie and I discovered that we were 28th cousins. It was stated right there, in black and white print. The PDF is also 667 pages long. Ha!
MyHeritage.com also has built in research capabilities. The pull-out menu on the left of the screen is searchable and sortable (another beautiful feature), but if you right-click on a name…
and then chose the research option, it launches the website with all of their knowledge regarding said person.
If they don’t have the answers you seek, there is always the chance that they provide a crucial detail in researching through other websites (listed at the end).
They also have the ability to do charts and maps. Really, isn’t that why we’re all here?
Since my personal tree is too big to fit in a picture on this blog, I picked a random individual from my family tree to show some options. The “chart” button is located at the top of the bar, and whoever is selected in the tree will be the individual who is charted. You can choose ancestors, descendants, close family, and a variety of types of charts. MyHeritage offers a printing service (which I have never used), and a window pops up the first time you try to use charts in each session with the software. Click out of it and it will look something like this…
And again with the options! You can specify the number of generations (out to 30 – then they figure you probably want to go all in). You can make your chart pretty, or detailed, plain and simple, and everything in-between. It’s also possible to drag people around the family tree for yourself.
If you’ve been diligent in adding people to your tree and details to those people, the map function is also rather marvelous. It puts a pin down in every country/state where a family member has lived/died/been married (again, all modify-able). Here’s what my combined family tree geography looks like:
By using the ‘map all’ function near the name of any given country, it gets a little more specific for you.
You can also add photos and images into the fray if you chose. You can add lots of photos to each person, give a person a little head-shot which shows on their identity card, tag multiple family members in single photos, use the feature to add coats of arms to the nobles, ect.
If all these juicy screenshots haven’t been enough evidence, let me summarize why you should use this software through a brief pro-vs-con:
Cons: it only syncs to the website up to 250 people. As long as you are only working in the software, however, it really doesn’t matter. I haven’t had any difficulty in working around this. The charts don’t automatically show the oddities of a family tree; if there are multiple connections to the same person, that persona will be listed multiple times, but it won’t have all the lines going back to him/her.
Pros: more options than any other software out there, and all for free. There is support through the MyHeritage website and database, automatic collaboration with other genealogy-addicts, and the ability to go DEEP with your details. Trimmings out the wazoo. Your ancestors can have multiple spouses, children with different wives, divorces, adoption notes, and just about everything you need to work out a complicated family history.
These are options you won’t know you need until (like me) you find out that someone in your family tree married his mother’s brother’s wife’s brother’s daughter, and you need a way to just make it all gel together OR that three different branches of your family tree all trace back to the same Viking who settled in France (again, true story).
I’ve barely even scratched the surface here of what this software can do, but I hope you all have found it educational and inspirational.
For further genealogical resources, take a look at these websites… just be sure to double check your facts whenever possible!
When all else fails, Google it. Google every variation of it with all of the Google tools that exist in the Googleverse. Find books scanned into Google which reference your ancestors, scour censuses for their names, and ask about family bibles.
May the genealogical winds blow in your favor.