I'm new to all this. My local small-town historical society is interested in capturing the local history genealogy (and tying it to its small artifacts collection).

It seems most genealogy software assumes you're researching your own family tree, and your relationships are contiguous. Our situation may involve dozens of different families who may or may not be connected, except by the fact they lived in town.

Perhaps unlike usual genealogists, our interest is in capturing just what we do know rather than researching and piecing together what we don't! (at least for now).

What software would you suggest for getting started which can handle this?

We have very little/no budget for this to start but a number of enthusiastic volunteers.

  • 2
    Thanks for your great answers so far! I'm beginning to realize that "collection management" is what they've been doing (with index cards) and need to get into a database. Some genealogy, but not a whole project centered around it.
    – linojon
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 16:06

4 Answers 4


I believe that, if you want to build a strong local group, you are asking the wrong question; or at least, asking it far too soon.

You should not try to select your software (tools) until you are very clear on what it is that the group wants to do. It is inevitable that if you choose any one of the possible packages, then it will not be able to do something that some of your members will want, and that will be a cause of some unhappiness.

Begin by agreeing on what tasks the group wants to undertake as a whole group, as teams, or as an associations of individuals. Then you can set out to find what you need to use to make those plans a reality.

If there is strong support for a few activities that cannot be handled by one package, then you can ask What suite of software will let us do things and link or share our results most efficienmtly?


One method you might consider is the pando (one big tree) at WeRelate.org. It's free and run by a foundation, not a for-profit corporation. It's a pando of sources and places as well as of people. You could look up if your town was already present (e.g. Scituate, MA) and then see what links there (e.g. all the people with links to that place) by clicking on the sidebar. Or you could make your own 'template' and link the early founders together. You can also include a link to your society on that page (and on this one too!).

You might also look at how other local societies did it. For example, I grew up in Scituate, Mass and you can see their website has a section with the early families.

As an example of how existing software can be used (albeit for a slightly different purpose but it's illustrative for your needs), I used this site to derive which of my ancestors are descended from these early families. I found I was descended from 9 of the 40 (not many choices in the early years so lots of intermarriage among those 40 families). I made some descendant charts by making a temporary gedcom and then creating a mythical person called Scituate. I had each of the 9 have Scituate as their father. Then using Gramps (a free open-source genealogy program), I made a graphviz (a free open-source graphing program) descendant chart which I then trimmed the graphviz source (eg remove the other descendants, made the line to 'Scituate' invisible for each of the founders, etc). I could have done most of the trimming in gramps but doing it in graphviz then me do things like make the fake lines invisible.

I'd also suggest you include the name of your town in your question. This will allow people doing google searches to find this question on this site. You can also use specific questions (e.g. about a given founder) on this site to draw interest - and get answers! I.e. genealogy.se can be a 'free' site for you also, as long as you use it as it was intended. You might find there is a lot more interest in your small town than you realized and se can help you leverage that interest.

Scituate Tree


I would suggest that you look at similar projects conducted by local history societies, such as how town history books are compiled, homesteading conglomerates, etc. How do these groups put the word out about their project? How do they gain approval from individual families to include their personal information?

You will need to have some serious discussions about individual privacy and come to specific decisions about who will update the software and how approval to include details about any individual is given (i.e. a signed approval form). Be careful of well-meaning townies adding information on behalf of someone else.

Many software programs let you create multiple trees. For example, a quick search provided this: "XY Family Tree software allows you to keep multiple family trees and switch easily between them." You could also start a wiki and create a page for each family to contribute their information to.


If you are thinking of posting individual family trees (albeit only a few leaves per tree), do look at "The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding" by Darrin Lythgoe. I've been happily using his web software for quite a few years. You can post an unlimited number of individual trees. They do not need to be connected to each other. Or, you can have several trees entered into the same database and post the various groups as a single tree online.

On the other hand, you might want something more along the lines of a digital archive: Displaying what you have online in the form of a "virtual museum." I have yet to find anything truly suitable for a local genealogy society (unless you have an awful lot of expertise and/or funding).

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