Too Many Genea-Software Programs! How to Choose? Part 1

NOTE: This two part series is in no way meant to be a cohesive overview or review of software programs. It is much more like stream-of-consciousness rambling thoughts that passed through my mind when I decided I needed to get going with my genealogy software program, whichever one I decided to use. 

Back at the end of 2015, when Ancestry announced the end of Family Tree Maker, I began looking at all the genealogy software programs on the market. I had already pretty much migrated to RootsMagic, but wanted to look at all the choices out there.

That led me to Ancestral Quest, Family Historian, Family Tree Maker (Software MacKiev version), Heredis, Legacy and RootsMagic. From there, I was able to narrow down the list a bit more to Family Historian, Family Tree Maker, Legacy and RootsMagic.

In the intervening months, I started to play with the programs, but decided I needed to wait at least until the new syncs were released for FTM and RM before even trying to narrow down my choices anymore.

I am back to playing with all four programs again, which currently exist as Family Historian 6, Family Tree Maker 2017, Legacy 9 and RootsMagic 7.

I still am not sure I will be able to make a final choice or whether I will remain mired among these four, but I thought if I blogged about it, it might be easier to reach a conclusion.

For those who might not be familiar with one or more of these programs, here are the basics:

Family Historian 6 – based in England. It currently costs $46.50 (U.S.) as a download. There is no Facebook users group, but there is a very active users group online. The few times I’ve needed questions answered, replies have been quick. There is a free 30-day trial of the full program available. A 240+ page users guide is available for purchase – $23.95 on Amazon.

Family Tree Maker 2017 – If you’ve never owned FTM, it now costs $79.95. If there is still a discounted price for an upgrade of a previous version, I didn’t find the link online. There is a very active Facebook users group. No free version. A 350+ page users guide is located in the Help menu in the program and there doesn’t seem to be any option to purchase a printed edition. Hints appear from Ancestry and FamilySearch.

Legacy 9 – This program costs $39.95, but there is a standard free version available. I have the paid version and don’t know what bells and whistles are missing from the free program. The website does give a list of ten deluxe features. There is a very active Facebook users group. A 300+ page users guide is available for purchase – $14.95.

RootsMagic 7 – The cost is $29.95, but also has a free basic version. I also have the paid version of RM and don’t know which features are excluded from the free version. There is a very active Facebook users group. A 380+ page users guide is available for purchase – $14.95. Hints appear from Ancestry, FamilySearch

Next, here are features which are/aren’t important to me:

  1. Easy to use – By easy, I mean that I can do basic navigation and data entry without having to look at the users’ manual every few minutes.
  2. If I need to read the user guide, I prefer a printed version. I have the manuals for FH, Legacy and RM. I’ll have to print out the 350 pages for FTM if I want that one, too.
  3. If I can’t find the answer to my question in the manual, I visit the online user group.
  4. I like a clean looking interface and am not a fan of color coding.
  5. Report formats aren’t important because I rarely use them. A family group sheet is about the only one I use and, even then, I only use it to print out data on a family for which I’m writing a blog post. Then I toss the paper!
  6. I do like the display that tells how the highlighted person is related to me.
  7. Syncing my trees has become less and less important to me. My only trees are on Ancestry and I haven’t synced them since the June 2014 DDOS attack. Instead of syncing, I will upload new gedcoms without images if I decide I want a new tree online. The DDOS attack pretty much put me off syncing at all.
  8. I prefer searching hints and ancestors directly in databases on Ancestry and FamilySearch or anywhere else, so the hints now available in these software programs aren’t much of a draw for me. I might occasionally use them.
  9. For many years, I have put my source citations in my notes box, much like old-fashioned bibliographies at the end of term papers. I am beginning to play with source citation templates and would love to learn to use them without getting to the point of wanting to throw my computer out the window.
  10. If I end up using more than one of these programs to access certain features, will the second program do a good job importing a gedcom and link to the images on my computer?
  11. A local users group is very beneficial because if I get stuck and can’t even find a quick answer in the manual or online, I have a local friend who perhaps can help.

As you can see, my needs/preferences are rather simple, which makes it much more difficult to make the commitment to one main program.

My experience level with each program:

Family Historian 6 – I have basic experience with Family Historian. I’ve played with it a bit and found it user friendly after adjusting to British English descriptions like “Focus Window,” which is basically the home screen for an individual or family.

Hints appear from Find My Past and MyHeritage. FH 6 has new features described on the website as: a Map Window, new Media Window, new Automatic Source Citation pane (but doesn’t use Evidence Explained format, which is reportedly coming in the future), extended family Timeline facts and Support for Witnesses (allows you to add witnesses to family events). Also, as far as I know, Family Historian 6 is the only program which allows for tagging individual faces in photos, as we can do in social media. This is a unique feature that I love!

Here is a screen shot from my practice Molin tree in Family Historian 6:

Family Historian 6

Individuals in a tree can be viewed by clicking on the icon at the top left of the above screen:

Individuals in a tree

Yes, that is the complete list – I created a very small practice tree!

Family Tree Maker 2017 – I have a lot of experience with Family Tree Maker, as it was my program of choice for many years. I did not participate in beta testing or later test drives. I migrated away from it after the Ancestry dot com DDOS attack because I had problems using it from that time onwards, even when I unlinked it. It got to the point where it took about five minutes to open and it froze fairly often.

FTM 2017 thankfully opens in just a few seconds, although I had quite a bit of trouble getting it open once. It also has frozen on me once and I’ve only had it for three days.

The new touted features are FamilySync (replaces the old TreeSynce), Sync Weather Report (which lets you know if there are syncing issues currently going on), Color Coding (apply color codes to various ancestors and lines), Photo Darkroom (simple editing tools to reduce fading in old images) and a FamilySearch link to search, match and merge

Legacy 9 – I have, by far, the least experience with Legacy 9. I have watched a few tutorials and asked how to get rid of the red and blue color coding, which I hated. (It was an easy fix, just by changing to Classic mode.)

This new version of Legacy was released in April and has quite a few new features. Hints come from Find My Past, FamilySearch, GenealogyBank and MyHeritage, but not Ancestry. There is also access to FindAGrave, new Cause of Death charts, Hash Tags can be added for easier searching, Media Sorting by date, Online Backup with Legacy Cloud, and a unique offering – Chronology Comparison – (If you are trying to sort out two men of the same name, they can be viewed and compared side by side.) Chronology Comparison is a feature I love!

I think Legacy 9 might offer more bells and whistles than any of the other programs, as the description has a list of 98 deluxe features! No one would ever use all of them, but the options are a bit mind boggling.

Here is the home screen:

Family Screen

Here is the screen for an individual:

Notice the DNA Icon!

The DNA icon to add notes about DNA test results is also, I think, unique to Legacy 9. With the growing popularity of DNA testing, having a niche to separate out DNA notes from other notes, is great.

Legacy doesn’t offer the full list name list at the side, but like Family Historian 6, it does have an easy tab to view everyone:

RootsMagic 7 – I’d say I have the second most experience with RM, as I have been using it as my main program since abandoning the old Family Tree Maker. The updated RootsMagic 7 was released in early July.

This new version also offers syncing with Ancestry, although TreeSync allows syncing a person or facts with Ancestry, rather than syncing tons of changes in an entire tree at once. The plus side here is that if you have notes or data of some type that you don’t want added online, you have the ability to say NO!

WebHints come in not just from Ancestry, but also from FamilySearch and MyHeritage. RM 7 previously had added Data Clean to clean up bad files and Compare Files, along with Publish Online. Import Lists, Backup and Restore with Media, Quick Groups and Drag and Drop Media were other new features.

RootsMagic Screen

Here is the individual work box:

RootsMagic Work Screen

See why I am having such a hard time deciding about a genealogy software program. Tomorrow, I will share my experiences as I try to do the same few tasks in each of these programs.

In the meantime, if you are a regular user of any of my group of four choices and there is a feature you love that I haven’t mentioned today, please leave a comment and let me know what it is!









4 thoughts on “Too Many Genea-Software Programs! How to Choose? Part 1”

  1. I moved to RootsMagic from Legacy last year – I prefer the UI, the ability to use diacritics, AND TreeShare. One of my favourite features might seem minor, but it’s important to me. In the People view I can pick and choose which information appears and move it around.

    Darn – was going to include a screen capture, but see that I can’t 🙁 Anyway, this feature is very helpful as I can see the information I need at a glance and it’s very easy to add or hide a column if I want a quick overview.

    I tried FamilyHistorian earlier this year while preparing for my Intro to Family History talk – I wanted to tell the audience about the widest variety of software. I liked it, but couldn’t justifying buying yet another piece of software. Wish it had a free, basic version like RM and Legacy. When I tried, I didn’t see the AutoCitation – that sounds interesting!

  2. I hope you understand that a DDOS attack on Ancestry or anywhere else does not steal data. DDOS stands for “Distributed Denial of Service”. It’s intended to crash the website or prevent users from accessing it. It does not steal data.

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