Family history built a bridge between me and my father when I was a rebellious teenager—a time when I needed it most, but wanted it least—and it changed my life at a crucial point. I’ve seen first-hand the power of family history to transform lives. But that power doesn’t come from looking at names and dates in a well-cited tree; it comes from a meaningful connection that resonates with someone at just the right moment.

I want to give the next generation of my family the fuel they need to spark that fire. But they’re not interested in pedigree charts. They want videos, stories, games, and social apps, not a genealogy research program. I need something simple, modern, and fun for them but powerful enough for me—and I don’t want them to have to pay.

Dallan has wanted to contribute his programming skills to family history for many years. He especially wants to make family history more approachable and fun, like a game, so that it can be enjoyed by a broader audience. We set out to create a single tool that could work equally well for both ends of the spectrum: the advanced genealogist and the complete beginner.

What it does

RootsFinder meets the needs of the advanced genealogist while also making family history easy and fun for the next generation. With videos, stories, photos, and social media integration, “younger folk” have a visually entertaining, social interface they’re used to. Tree-building hints are clear and simple enough that they can help build the tree if they want to, and “Challenges” turn research into a game. It’s easy and fun to grow your family tree, and other family members can enjoy their history without having to do (or pay) anything.

For the advanced genealogist, our source-centric paradigm supports the Genealogical Proof Standard in a very innovative way. RootsFinder collects all information from a source at once, allowing for unprecedented analysis and correlation. With the Evidence Analysis Report, conflicting evidence is more easily identified for resolution. Written conclusions can be attached to the source, or to the person—not just to the event or a single citation. It’s very exciting…if you like that kind of thing.

How we built it

We spent 9 months testing and over a year building RootsFinder to meet the needs of the genealogist while being intuitive and approachable for the non-genealogist. We leveraged studies from Google with Material Design. We did UX testing, UI testing, interviews, and beta testing. And we’re still improving the software every day.

Challenges we ran into

It’s not easy to build a site that meets the needs of the advanced genealogist without overwhelming the non-genealogist. It’s a delicate balance that requires feedback from a wide range of users and a deep understanding of the complexities of genealogical data. Partner integrations are a challenge. And it can be surprisingly difficult to elicit actionable feedback from beta testers.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We’re really proud of the way things are coming together for RootsFinder. People are starting to use it; we’re adding new features almost every day. We’re also very proud of our revolutionary new approach to evidence management. It will help users leave a legacy that’s not only interesting but also well founded.

What we learned

As we suspected, it’s not an easy road. There are many considerations such as the size of the tree we can support (less than 10,000 people is best), demand for offline access (some people don’t always have fast—or any—Internet), technical preferences (what features do users really need) and data model differences (RootsMagic vs Ancestry vs TMG data, etc.). Then there are user behaviors and preferences—where do people prefer to click based on their technical background; what do they expect the system to do. And genealogists have a lot of stuff (even more than Dallan was expecting). But the most important thing we have learned is that genealogists are ready for a solution that lets them maintain their own private tree while still integrating with FamilySearch and sharing with family members. We’re on the right track. We just need to continue to nail it and scale it.

What's next for RootsFinder

By RootsTech the following additional features will be implemented:

  • GEDCOM media upload app
  • Mobile app
  • Simplified feed of documents, photos, and stories
  • Full FamilySearch integration
  • Hints from content partners
  • In-app messaging to other RootsFinder users

Following RootsTech we will focus on the following additions:

  • Challenges directing beginners what to work on next
  • DNA
  • Hints from other trees & tree comparisons
  • Historical photo library
  • Additional features according to user demand

Try it

Sign up for free at and start building (and sharing!) your tree. Or, to view my tree, go to my tree at RootsFinder

Note: you will not be able to see anyone in my tree who is still living unless I give you access.

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