10 March 2020

Comparing Family Tree Programs Is an Eye Opener

Want to appreciate your family tree software? Check out the competition.

Have you ever considered changing your family tree software program? I've used Family Tree Maker since 2002 when I began this obsessive hobby. Industry-leading software tends to have the best programmers and the biggest budget. I have no problem paying for an update every few years. Even if I were on a tight budget, I'm sure I could cut back on something else to scrounge up $50 or $80.

Blog reader Nancy C. sent me her list comparing the features of several family tree programs. I'll admit I've thought about having a look at other programs. And now I want to see why she loves the Family Group Sheet feature in Legacy 9.0. You can download the free standard edition of Legacy 8. I don't know how different Legacy 9 may be.

I installed the program and fed it a brand new GEDCOM file with 23,305 individuals. It is taking forever to load.

My first impression is that Legacy has a 1980s low-budget look and feel. I'm hating every second of this experience. Isn't is funny how we get so used to our preferred software that everything else is impossible to figure out?

As a computer pro, I know a bad software interface when I see it.
As a computer pro, I know a bad software interface when I see it.

I'm finding that most features are not available in the free version of Legacy. When I'm viewing one family, it lists the children in no apparent order. I found a File Maintenance option called Set File Sorting Order. Maybe that will put the children in age order. Nope. I don't know what that did, but it didn't fix the completely random order of the children.

I did find one report I like that I've never seen in Family Tree Maker. It's a timeline of the ancestors of whichever individual you choose. The chart is a grid showing the lifespan of each of the person's ancestors. You can see how their lives overlap. If you don't know when a person died, you have the option of keeping or changing the default 70-year lifespan. People with an estimated birth or death date have a dotted line.

One feature I liked in Legacy 8 is this timeline chart.
One feature I liked in Legacy 8 is this timeline chart.

It's interesting to see which of my ancestors had very short lives. I'm also seeing a lot of dates that don't make sense. Like parents who weren't old enough when their child was born. I'll have to check these people in my tree and see what the problem is. Did I make a mistake, or is this chart using an estimated date that doesn't make sense?

You don't know how good or bad your software is until you look at another program.
You don't know how good or bad your software is until you look at another program.

Since I truly despise what I have seen of this software, let me tell you about some of the Family Tree Maker features I love.
  • The index with a search box at the top, various sort options, and custom filters, lets me find anyone in a heartbeat.
  • The tree view lets me see a few generations at once.
  • Color-coding makes my direct ancestors (and which line they belong to) immediately visible.
  • The side panel for any given person holds a lot of information and is customizable.
  • A new feature of the Notes, Media, and Sources tabs lets me know how many items are there before I click to see what they are.
I'd love to be a great programmer and create the ultimate family tree software. But I can't think of anything better or more useful than Family Tree Maker and the tree view on Ancestry.com. Please share in the comments section below why you love your family tree software. See if you can persuade me.

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14 comments:

  1. I too love my FTM software and have been a loyal user since 1997. I too have looked at the other two big names, Legacy and RootsMagic. What those two have going for it that FTM doesn't is the try before you buy versions. For years I used RootsMagic for its color coding and some if its repoerts. Plus it let you create a family tree website from your file. However, I just could not get used to its input screens and only imported my GEDCOM to access its features. Rootsmagic sync to Ancestry is combersome but the ability to import a branch from FamilySearch is nice because moving around RM was easier than FamilySearch. When FTM was first retired by Ancestry, I seriously tried RM. I was relieved when FTM was taken over by MacKiev.

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    1. Was I glad when MacKiev decided to take over FTM! I got Rootsmagic in the interim and had a hard time with it. I am sure it has its strength too, but I glady switched back to FTM, when it was available again. Annick H.

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  2. Ha! That was a good take on my recent survey of the various genealogy software that I use. I don't think the free version that you used will let you do most of the things that I use Legacy for, but you are right about the old “feel.” I’m not going to defend Legacy, but once you buy the software they are wonderful about free updates. So, I've more than gotten my money's worth out of my original software expense over these many years. (It's now only $34 to purchase the deluxe version)
    When I was paper/note book based (I am now all digital) the Legacy family group sheet print-out was the first document in that section of the notebook about a particular family. It's clean and easy to view and write notes on. The reports/charts/graphs are amazing and are far superior to any other genealogy software. I keep a recent version of my gedcom file loaded in Legacy ( I am now 100% online Ancestry synced through Family Tree Maker) and when I get an email or message ( I have them email me !!) requesting information on a person or families in my file, I can quickly run a report on that family/person, save it as a pdf and email to them as an attachment. I will send you two samples of these reports, maybe you can include them at bottom of your post -so folks can see my actual samples. They take 10 seconds to produce!

    I usually send a "Narrative Book" report adjusted by # of generations of interest. Because Legacy is drawing from my Ancestry/Family Tree maker ged(with media) it will embed images of the graphic file images attached to the people in that branch and include an amazing bibliography ( Source citations) at the end of the report. Then the person knows all the documentation I have as proof.
    So easy, no typing info and they can quickly see all that I have on a particular person/family. (citation- citations, baby!)

    I am also a big database cleaner, like you are, and the report I most frequently use is "Potential Problems" report which can be designed to report on just what you want to work on. I print out the reports and then make the correction online directly into Ancestry, then with the next sync they are changed in my FamilyTree Maker ged.
    Everyone should make sure they are syncing their file from Ancestry to their own computer . They should own a personal digital copy of everything they have found and attached to each person in their ancestry files. I think you can only do that syncing now through FTMaker and RootsMagic.
    Also If you are looking for genealogy education, Legacy has absolutely wonderful webinars too !! check out the software here https://legacyfamilytree.com/ You will not think you wasted $34!
    I will send you samples to link to so folks can see what I most frequently use. Thanks, Nancy C https://nancysgenealogyblog.blogspot.com/

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  3. I thought this was going to be controversial. So far so good.

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    1. DiAnn, Before computers were readily available, my tree was in a yellow pad and colored pencils I kept in a small briefcase, and I carried a wire bound notebook with pen clipped to it everywhere - you never know when you'll find a church or library, right? I bought my first computer in 1988, a large white monitor and an even larger hard drive and started transferring the data from yellow pad to Excel. Then, in 1989, I discovered this wonderful program called Broderbund Family Tree and ordered a floppy disk. Since then, I've been a fan and constant user of Family Tree Maker, although I've tried several others including Clooz and Legacy. I upgrade each time one is available and although I don't consider myself proficient by any means,I have no problems or issues that make me want to change programs. I like the readily available information, the different printed reports, and the ease in adding or correcting data. I've become the go-to person in my families any time facts are needed, and last year was able to print ancestors for our paternal grandfather line and 5 cousins maternal line for them to use both in FL and Puerto Rico when their mother (my aunt) died to help settle estate matters. The simplicity of the family view report was understood by the attorneys as well as those making the decisions. Digna

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    2. I still have my composition notebook filled with Ellis Island website entries for everyone who came from either of my grandfathers' towns in Italy.

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  4. I use pretty much every package for various things, but keep my main tree in RootsMagic. I love the UI and once RM8 is released, it will be even better. The ability to create custom citation templates is wonderful too. I've never really got the hang on the sources in FTM. RM has other great features - notes, research log, lots of different reports.

    Re: Legacy. I agree, the old UI is hideous. It's one of the things that drove me to RM, but what really did it for me was its inability to support Unicode. I have Polish ancestors with diacritics in their names and Legacy won't display them. What made me really move, however, was when, after repeated requests from users for Unicode support, we were told that it was a low priority for the developer. I get that it's American software, but really? Wanting our family names to appear as they're supposed to is "low priority"?

    That said, I still use it for some reports and I love the Family Dictionary feature. The report is literally a dictionary of your entire tree - it's very cool.

    I also use Family Historian as it to has some nice reports and a layout conducive to screencaps for my blog posts.

    The two tree programs I maintain fully are RM and FTM, keep them synced with my Ancestry tree. I did learn my lesson, however, with FTM re working both ways on a sync. In RM, I can make changes in RM and on Ancestry and then TreeShare moves things back and forth. I didn't realize that was bad practise in FTM and ended up with a bit of a mess at one point. Now I know better.

    I've also played around with the free version of Heredis, but don't love it. It's sourcing is awful and I find it clunky to work with.

    What I always tell people when they ask me about software is to try as many different ones as possible because software is a very personal thing - what works for one person, doesn't work for another. It's also why I held out so long on going back to FTM (I started with it in the 90s) - because they refuse to offer a demo or trial period and, given how expensive the software is, it made me really angry. I finally found a good upgrade deal a couple of years ago and bought it again, mostly so I had two programs that could get info from my Ancestry tree.

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  5. Hi DiAnn,

    I think we sort of fall into a favorite program. I started with legal size two post binder 60 years ago. My first computer program was Family Tree Maker when it was owned by Brodrebund (pre Ancestry.com), found it lacking, moved on to Dollarhide's Everyone Family Tree, eventually moved to PAF, and then jumped to RootsMagic 3, 4, 5, 6, and now 7. I bought Legacy 8 and went back to RM7. I love RootsMagic, and am looking forward to the promised 8.

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    1. I do hear nothing but love for RootsMagic, but I can't imagine anything that'd make me switch after so long. Remember the old FTM interface? That's how bad some new programs look to me now.

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  6. I had FTM for years but an old version and wasn't very pleased when I could no longer get ancestry hints. I just didn't want to put my tree onto ancestry to get the hints. So, late last year I bought a new laptop and switched to RootsMagic and I really like it. I mapped my tree to FamilySearch which was my main goal and have been working to clean up the remaining data problems. Then I plan to get photos, etc into FamilySearch so they don't get lost. At some point I'll put a portion on ancestry to add some additional sources.

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  7. I switched to Legacy last year after using Family Tree Builder with MyHeritage and bought the Deluxe version. It does take time to find all the features, but I use it all the time now. Of course you can sort children. I do it all the time. Just click on the symbol beside the children and choose sort from the menu.

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    1. I figured there had to be a way to sort those kids. That was, in fact, a choice I made in FTM.

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  8. I use to use the FTM from Ancestry, then switched to Legacy but again, switched to RootsMagic7 and have been using it quite a while now. I love the charts in RM, such as the Family Group Sheet and the other reports.May be time to upgrade it??? lol. I did not like Legacy. My system kicked it out or something, somewhere along the line I lost it. I contacted them and they literally told me they has no record of me buying it.

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  9. It feels like we needed to have this discussion. Thank you all for your input.

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