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Unlock Old Secrets & Safeguard Memories Using Family History Apps

Andrew Ronald
Simirity Founder | Father of two

For many, ‘family history’ conjures up thoughts about sprawling family trees and black-and-white photos of ancestors whose lives have long since been forgotten. It’s not so exciting, especially for children.

But wouldn’t it be special if the rich details of family life could be preserved? Giving future family members a chance to connect with far more than just the names and dates of their ancestors.

In so many ways, most of which we remain unaware of, we are a function of our family’s history. The country we live in, the way we do things, and the values we live by are most likely influenced by people who came before us. Yet despite their impact, we know so little about them.

In this article, we explore the best family history apps and services – enabling you to research your ancestors and preserve your family’s stories. 

A family exploring their family history by reviewing old family photos.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know more about old family photos?

Jump to section:

What Is Your Family History Goal?

When it comes to family history, there are several ways to achieve meaningful results. Pick the wrong one, and you will be disappointed.

In this article, we’ll explore services you can use to achieve the following outcomes:

  1. To understand your ethnicity.
  2. To see how your family has spread out geographically over time.
  3. To learn about the origins of traits like appearance, personality and health.
  4. To find living relatives.
  5. To discover who ancestors like great-great-grandparents were.
  6. To preserve your family’s history; the real-life stories that together represent your true family heritage.

Family History Using DNA Services

DNA services are not genealogical services – DNA test results won’t list your ancestors.

So how come you’ve heard about people who found family members using the tests? DNA testing can’t help us with ancestors, but it could help us find close living relatives.

How DNA can find living relatives

Your living relatives share DNA. You and your parents share 50% of the same DNA. You share up to 50% of your DNA with your brothers or sisters. And if you have a half-brother or half-sister, you share up to 25% of your DNA.

As a result, close relationships up to 2nd cousins are relatively easy to identify using a DNA test. There is one BIG hurdle to overcome before you can celebrate finding these living relatives – both you and your relatives have to:

  1. Do a DNA test.
  2. Share your DNA results in the SAME database.

What are the chances of finding a living relative?

As discussed, if you are looking to find living relatives Using DNA, they’ll need to be in the DNA database you are using. So what are the chances of that?

Research by FutureMarketInsights shows that 90% of direct-to-consumer DNA tests are used within the US. So if your living relatives are abroad, your chances are vastly reduced.

YouGov survey in 2022 gave the following results:

  • Two out of ten Americans say they’ve taken a  DNA test.
  • 24% of White Americans have taken a DNA test, compared to 16% of Black Americans and 16% of Hispanic Americans.
  • Americans aged 65 and older are nearly twice as likely to have taken a test than those under 30.
  • 45% of Americans would consider taking a DNA test if it was free. But 33% were not interested, and 22% were not sure.

Together, these statistics show that a spot of luck is needed if you hope to find a relative. And that white Americans over the age of 65 are the easiest to match with.

Which DNA Service is Best?

Over 90 companies are providing at-home DNA test kits. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a living relative who shares their DNA in an online database, you must submit your results to the same database to find a match.

So who should you go with?

Each service provides its own pros and cons, but if you are looking to go with a service with the most extensive database, the following statistics compiled by knowyourdna.com suggest that AncestryDNA is significantly larger than the others. 

A chart showing the estimated number of members of different DNA services in 2023. AncestryDNA is the largest with over 20 million members.
Data originates at Knowyourdna.com

If finding living relatives is your priority, AncestryDNA seems to be a good choice. 

If you would like to read more in-depth comparisons of these services we recommend these reviews by PCmag and the NYTimes.

What else can DNA tests tell you?

DNA Reveals:
1. YOUR ETHNICITY
2. MIGRATION PATHS
3. GENETIC TRAITS

Each service differs slightly. In general terms, DNA tests provide insights on:

  1. Your Ethnicity: Which part of the world do you originate from? You’ll learn what percentage of your DNA comes from different regions – you might discover origins far from home in places like Africa, Ireland or South America.
  2. Migration Paths: How has your family moved geographically over the centuries? Armed with your DNA, databases can help you visualise the geographical spread of your ancestors in a timeline. 
  3. Genetic Traits: How are your appearance, personality and health traits affected by your DNA? You’ll learn lots about this from your DNA results.

What does a DNA test involve?

Kits can be bought online and are delivered to your door. Simply spit into a tube or swab the inside of your mouth (like you did during COVID-19 times) to capture a sample of your DNA. 

Return your sample and await the results. It’s all straightforward and convenient.

Family History Using Genealogy Apps  

DNA tests can provide a general indication of your family history and give interesting insights, as discussed previously. But if you’re looking to build your family tree with names and dates, genealogy is the only method.

What is Genealogy?

'Genealogy' -originating from two Greek words. One meaning ‘race’ or “family’. the other ‘theory’ or ‘science’.

It’s the study of the people in our family line, beginning with our parents and working back in time to grandparents, great grandparents etc. You can go back hundreds of years, discovering connections to people and places you never knew about.

The output of this family history research focuses on the family tree, with details such as:

  • Name.
  • Dates (birth, marriage, death).
  • Places where they lived (via censuses).

Finding your ancestors has never been easier using these online genealogy tools. 

What are the best genealogy apps and services?

Many apps and services are available, but four dominant ones (discussed below) are supported by additional databases or complimentary services such as family tree apps. A comprehensive overview of 101 genealogy-related services can be found at familytreemagazine

Some apps are free, others can be accessed with monthly or annual subscriptions. 

All the research tools listed below require your effort and patience to make discoveries. If you are seeking help from experts, try a service like Legacytree (packages start at $2,950 for 25 hours of research).

1. Ancestry 

Ancestry.com is the most extensive database with 30 billion records users can search, but it comes at a premium price. The cheaper subscription option gives access to the US records only. A subscription giving full access, including information about people abroad and all news articles hosted on newspapers.com (so you can search for press articles about your family), costs $539.99 per year

2. MyHeritage 

MyHeritage.com is a rapidly growing service with 19 billion records to explore. It also offers additional tools to help restore and animate old family photos. A full-access subscription costs $199 per year. 

3. FamilySearch

FamilySearch.org has nearly 2 billion records, and they also provide a digital library of scanned books that can be searched. Their service is free. It is provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who describe FamilySearch as a “nonprofit family history organization dedicated to connecting families across generations.”

4. Findmypast

Findmypast.com is a smaller service but has the best coverage in Britain. So if you are searching for ancestors in the UK, you might stand a better chance of finding them here. Their premium subscription costs $299.99 per year.

Many other apps and genealogy websites are available, but these are widely considered the ‘best’ for most families.

What is a good way to get started with genealogy?

It’s tempting to pick a service and jump right in. But hold off, at least until you have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve with such a service.

Try these steps to get started:

1. What is it you want to find?

Is your focus on building out your family tree? Are you searching for an ancestor that is hard to find? Are you looking for family links to foreign countries? What other information about your family are you trying to uncover, perhaps press clippings, about someone specific?

Your needs will help you pick the best service.

2. What information do you already have?

Explore your family history by talking to family members.

Try to build your family tree as best you can. Dust off those old family albums and start asking questions about who is who. By doing so, you’ll better understand what information is missing.

3. Which service or services are most likely to have the information I seek?

Based on your family tree, particularly what’s missing from it, identify which service best matches your needs. Pay particular attention to the region in which you want to search. 

4. Try their free trial or opt for the monthly subscription plan to start

Most genealogical services offer a free trial to get you started. Give it a try and see how you get on. If you want to upgrade, you can always opt for a monthly rather than annual subscription. It’s more expensive of course, but perhaps you won’t need access for a full year if you want to work intensively. 

5. Capture the information you find

Build your family tree and add relevant information to the family profiles. Most services allow you to download your family tree information as a GEDCOM file, which you can upload to alternative services if you wish. 

Combining DNA and Genealogy Research  

Combining genealogy with DNA results can give the most comprehensive view of your family tree:

1. Find lost or unknown relatives

Genealogy research won’t help if any close relatives are missing from your family history. These might be estranged family members or those adopted into another family. Your DNA might match theirs, or a relative of theirs who could put you in touch.

2. Verify familial relationships

You might encounter people you suspect are part of your family tree, but no physical records can prove it. A DNA test would confirm this by matching their DNA to yours or your relatives.

3. Find other genealogists within your family

Genealogy is increasingly popular, and if you were lucky enough to find a distant cousin using DNA matching who already has a family tree, they might be willing to share details about your extended family. 

4. Hone in on regions of interest

Genealogical research in your country may fail to yield the desired results. Your DNA results might suggest other countries. With this information, you can expand your genealogical search beyond the US. 

There’s More to ‘Family History’ Than Your ‘Family Tree’

What is ‘Family History’?

Discovering our family roots through genealogy or DNA is fascinating. But they will never be able to address our underlying desire to know who they were. 

You might get some crumbs of information, but the most interesting details are likely to remain a mystery:

  • The things they did in their daily life.
  • Their views on world events (e.g. inventions, cultural changes, wars).
  • Their personality.
  • Their aspirations.
  • Their challenges and setbacks.
  • Their achievements.
  • Their education.
  • Their talents.
  • Their beliefs and values.
  • The people who mattered in their life.
  • Their dreams for the future.

The insights listed above are the foundation of our ‘family history’. The things our ancestors have experienced matter a million times more to descendants than the names and dates that genealogy can provide. 

The most precious thing you can leave to your descendants are stories from your life.

Just imagine the thrill of getting to know the character of your ancestors and witnessing their lives unfold through written word, photos, videos and voice recordings! That’s a priceless and enduring gift that you can give your future family. 

Your legacy - THE STORIES THAT PRESERVE FAMILY HISTORY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

7 Family History Apps To Preserve Your True Family History

So how can you preserve all the history you currently know about your family, and the precious family moments as they unfold? Ensuring precious details won’t be lost, like the stories of your ancestors.

Here are 7 family history apps to consider:

1. Google Drive

Go digital with Google Drive and build an archive of documents, photos and videos that collectively capture your family’s history.

While not created as a specialist family history app, this broad platform can easily host such content and you can get started for free. You can even collaborate with other family members, so you are not alone in adding your family’s history. 

2. Storyworth

Storyworth.com is an annual subscription, where each week a chosen family member receives a question via email about their life. They reply, attaching relevant photos, and at the end of the year a beautiful book containing their responses is printed.

This is a great way to capture the history of individuals in your family, in a printed format that can be passed down. You can customise questions, so by including questions about their ancestors, you can also capture some extended family members’ history. 

3. Ancestry

Ancestry.com is here once again! Not only do they offer DNA and genealogical services, but you can also attach written stories and photos of family members to your family tree.

This is a great way to share stories publicly with the millions of people who access this platform. Typically these are more significant stories that sum up the life of the deceased, not hundreds or thousands of mini-stories detailing the lives of living people. 

4. Storii

With Storii.com, family history can be preserved in voice recordings.

With this subscription, a family member receives an automated telephone call every week with a question you’ve chosen about their life. You can pick questions from their list or write your own. The call recipient answers the question over the phone, and it’s recorded on their platform so all family members can access it whenever they wish.

5. Mykeeper

Mykeeper.com is an online memorial that helps preserve the memories of people who have passed away. You can create a bio for them, add stories, photos, and videos, and share messages. You can even geotag their final resting place. 

6. Tinybeans 

If you’d prefer to focus on preserving the photos and videos of your children, Tinybeans.com is a great app. You can tag people and pets in your media files and add a description. You can even mark milestones in your child’s life.

7. Simirity 

This is the app that my family created, partly to solve the problem of preserving our family’s history. All of the above family history apps are great, but they were not the exact solution we were looking for:

  • We’ll always appreciate the flexibility of the pen-and-paper journal solution, which allows you to write about all aspects of life without limitation. But we have so much digital content we would want to include.
  • ‘Cloud’ services like Google Drive makes good sense, so we can collaborate on preserving family history, and our work is available to all. However, creating Google documents seemed quite an imposing task.
  • We value physical books like Storyworth, but the books we’ve printed in the past tend to be enjoyed upon receipt and then forgotten, gathering dust on the bookshelf. 
  • My family cherishes Ancestry’s family tree in the cloud. My Mum has found family members going back as far as 1389, but we would only add stories about deceased people, not living family.
  • We love listening to voice recordings like those captured in Storii. But it’s nice if they can be paired with related photos, videos, or the written word. Otherwise, some context might be missing.
  • A memorial to deceased family members with MyKeeper is a really thoughtful option for paying tribute to those who pass away, but it does not help us preserve stories from our own lives.
  • And Tinybeans photos and video sharing solution is perfect for sharing such files. Still, its focus is mainly on media files and family history can be so much more than pictures.

So we built Simirity to give an alternative option for families like ours.

Simirity App is a private storytelling app that unites your extended family in stories, even if you live apart.

Over time, your entire family can build an archive of digital stories, filled with memorable photos, videos and audio, that preserve your experiences for younger generations.

If you would like to learn more about the Simirity app, visit our home page.

Overview of Family History Apps and Services 

As we’ve seen, there are several aspects to your family history. 

Genealogy research helps you add people to your family tree. DNA tests can assist with genealogy research and if you’re lucky, you might discover a living relative. Together, these two steps build up a framework for your family, upon which you can add stories, photos, videos and voice recordings to bring your family’s history to life. 

For inspiration on the type of stories families treasure, explore these Story Prompts.

Your family history is your origin story – how you and your loved ones came to be.

Discover it. Treasure it. Preserve it for future family. 

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