Family history’s big business as far as the internet’s concerned: just imagine, details of your ancestors’ lives (as well as some of your own records) are all publicly available online – for a price, of course. The big websites like Ancestry have wrapped up the market in online record archives, but the internet offers more than just a digital database, with family history themed social networks making it possible to get in touch with far-flung relatives and distant cousins.

MyHeritage.com is one such website, and one of its key selling points is that it provides this – Family Tree Builder – for no cost. The catch is that you’ll need a MyHeritage.com account to use it, but as this needn’t cost you a cent, it’s no major drawback, and you’ll be able to use the program to track down possible matches with other MyHeritage.com members quickly and easily, even if it costs a pretty penny in terms of upgrading to a Premium subscription in order to actually merge those records into your tree.

If you ignore the tie-in, then Family Tree Builder is actually one of the better free programs for recording and organising your family history, along with any associated documents and media files. It has everything you’d expect of a genealogy program, plus some features that put it on a par with paid-for titles. Most impressive of all is the image-handling tools, which feature facial detection allowing you to quickly and easily tag photos of various family members - this feature requires you upload your photos via the Sync tool first, and can take some time to complete. There’s also all the options you need for recording details about your ancestors, plus additional tools like charting and report publishing, mapping and so on.

Some features are limited for free account holders – you can only upload the first 250 individuals in your tree to the MyHeritage.com website for example, while only the first 50 locations are supported by the mapping tool. Even without these extras, though, Family Tree Builder has many of the tools a budding genealogist needs.

Version 8.0 "includes all of the well-known and loved features of previous versions, including sync, Record Matches, Smart Matches™, charts and more, with a totally rewritten internal infrastructure that adds support for very large family trees (up to 500,000 individuals), and delivers faster performance. In addition to being faster and more responsive, version 8.0 delivers improved data integrity".

Verdict

Powerful family history package that’s packed with useful features, but the free version’s limitations do make it less practical for those with larger trees.