Choosing Genealogy Software
Jim Byram compares the strong and weak points of the major genealogy programs.

(Please note: This article is meant as a sample of the sorts of software reviews featured in Family Chronicle, rather than an up-to-date comparison of what is currently on the market. Several of the packages listed below have since released newer versions, many of which have been profiled in more recent issues.)

THE FUNDAMENTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR CHOOSING software are as follows. The program should allow you to record all data that you discover during your research, including conflicting data for the same event, and you should be able to document where each piece of information that you record was obtained.

The key features are the following:

Data Integrity. The program should not create data. If the program adds data such as a ‘married name,’ the user should have control over the process.

Data Recording — Names. Adequate space and fields should be available for recording names and there should be a means to record all name variants a person might use in his/her life.

Data Recording — Dates. All standard date entries should be accepted and the user should be able to choose the form in which dates are displayed in the program. The program should allow a ‘sort date’ or other means to control the sorting of data in the program views and reports.

Data Recording — Places. Adequate space should be available to record place names.

Data Recording — Events and Facts. Programs have been evolving towards storing each event or fact in a person’s life in a discrete ‘tag’ structure as opposed to using a fill-in-the-blank approach. Each tag should have at least four fields — event name (such as birth, death, occupation, census, etc.), date, place and notes. Tags have the enormous advantage that all conflicting data frequently encountered in genealogical research can be recorded.

Data Recording — Roles. Many events in your database will have more than one participant. Some programs now have tools to link all of those persons to that event and to allow each differing role to be output to narrative reports.

Multiple Parents. Programs should allow linking a child to not only their natural parents but also to adopted parents and handling other non-traditional relationships.

Multimedia. There should be provisions for linking multimedia objects (photos, sound, video) to individuals and events and to be able to incorporate those images into reports.

Source Documentation. You need to record the source of any information that you enter into your database to provide substantiation for your research and to tell other researchers where they can locate the data that you are reporting. Programs should include the ability to record citation detail that links the event to the source and to record the repository where the source was obtained.

Evidence Evaluation (Surety). A provision should exist to enter a surety value so that you can record your judgment about the validity of any data that you enter.

Searching & Sorting / Filters / Flags. You will need tools to find individuals and to designate subsets of your data for export and for printing.

Research Log. Your program should give you the ability to record tasks as you discover what needs to be done and to print a useful report to aid your next trip to a repository.

Data Import. Some programs provide direct import from the databases produced by other software packages and every major genealogy program supports GEDCOM version 5.5 (GEnealogical Data COMmunication), a standard developed by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to facilitate exchanging computerized genealogical data.

Data Export. GEDCOM data transfer is somewhat limited to only data that fits the specification. Since the higher-end programs can record data for which no explicit provision is made in the GEDCOM standard, there may be limits as to how much of the data that you record in one program can be transferred to another via GEDCOM.

Report Output. To aid your research, you need to be able to produce lists of a subset of people or events as defined by a filter. When you contact a new relative, you would like to be able to provide him/her with a concise and readable report such as a pedigree or compact descendant chart to show where you are in your research.

On the other end of the spectrum, you need tools to produce that family history that you have been planning to write. This includes creating a readable narrative report with a table of contents, footnotes or endnotes to annotate your data, a bibliography, and one or more indexes. Your report should be exported in a format acceptable to the word processor of your choice for final editing. If you include graphical images, the report should include links to the external image files inserted into the proper places in the text. Web Page Creation. Report output into HTML format files as well as some aids for web page creation are becoming a requirement. Backup. Your program should have backup capabilities to safeguard your data.

Personal Ancestral File Version 4.0.3 (PAF)
(Free download, or $5 US, LDS Church Distribution Center, 800-537-5971, 801-240-3800)
PAF is a 32-bit application that runs under Windows 95/98.

PAF’s Edit Individual screen has sections for Personal (name elements, sex), Events (birth, christening, death, burial), LDS Ordinances (displayed optionally), Other Events (predefined or custom) and Other (name variants, cause of death, physical description and custom ID). A simple marriage record screen records the marriage and has a divorce flag. Other data may go in the individual or marriage note fields. Data in the note fields may be ‘regular’ (text) or ‘tagged’ (text denoted by named tags). A leading character may mark notes as printable or confidential.

Name and place fields are limited to 120 characters. The edit individual screen allows for married name, ‘also known as’ and nickname. Additional names can be entered in the other events section.

Children can be linked to multiple sets of parents and each relationship can marked as one of five predefined types (biological, adopted, guardian, challenged or disproved). However, you can select only one type of parent link for each set of parents and you can have one type of parent link for any given parent.

Multimedia objects can be added to any individual or source. Default photos optionally display on the Family View screen and can be included on reports and web pages.

One or more sources can be attached to the data and events on the edit individual or marriage screen. Tagged notes can also be entered as events on the edit individual screen with date, place and sources. The source screen allows full source documentation including the repository, citation details, comments, a field for recording full text and an image. A new source or repository needs to be entered only once and existing entries can be selected or edited from master lists. A source with citation details may be ‘memorized’ and copied to new event entries.

Advanced search tools are available, using wildcards, relationship filters and field filters. Individuals or groups can be selected for reports, GEDCOM export or editing. For example, a place spelling error can be easily corrected for all affected individuals. Global search and replace is available.

Using TODO tags in the note fields allows building a collection of research tasks and specific subsets of these tasks may be retrieved with the search tools to generate a report for a repository visit or field trip.

The GEDCOM listing file detailing import errors can be included in the notes of each appropriate individual during the import process. This is a superb feature which greatly simplifies cleanup after import.

A wide variety of reports including pedigree, custom, lists, calendar, family group, ancestry, descendants, book, individual summary and two blank forms (pedigree and family group record) can be generated. Six reports including the two book reports can be saved as Rich Text Format (RTF) files for editing in a word processor. Another Windows program, the PAF Companion, can be used with PAF for printing many of the same reports in differing formats and several additional reports (kinship report, fan chart, ancestor and descendant charts). PAF includes tools to create web pages.

File backup/restore options are available.

Generations Family Tree Grande Suite Version 6.0 (GEN)
(Sierra, $70-80 US retail,
Generations is a 32-bit application that runs under Windows 95/98.

The Edit Person screen has tabs for Name (name, sex, user ID), Events (predefined or custom events with type, date, place, and memo), Facts (predefined or custom facts with type and text), Notes (predefined or custom) and Flags (predefined or custom). Some items predefined as ‘facts’ are better suited as ‘events’ with dates and you can set them up as you please. Additional name variants can be defined as events or facts. Following GEDCOM import of my data, all name variants had been added to the first and last name as appropriate (Parthenia Winham/Dalrymple/Gardner). Basically, most data can be stored as events or facts rather than being entered into notes fields. Images can be attached to the family cards and marked as the primary image for either spouse.

If you enter a date form that GEN doesn’t recognize, you will be prompted for a sort date. In addition, you can manually arrange the order of events on the event tab by dragging them.

The Edit Family screen has tabs for Marriage (date, place, memo, type and status), Children (with control of order and 15 types of child status), Notes (predefined and custom) and Events (predefined or custom with type, date, place and memo). A child can be linked to both adoptive and biological parents (duplicate child buttons).

Sources can be entered on a Source Fields tab in a structured fashion or on a Free Form Text tab. Source fields are predefined or custom and include a data field. The repository is entered in a Library/Archive field. A Preview tab lets you see how the source will appear in a report. The source citations include a citation detail field. Citations can be attached to most data (name, events, facts, marriage, marriage events) or at any point in a note. Sources may be viewed, added or edited from the master source list. Database-wide custom log files can be used to track research progress.

Various lists are available and you can mark individuals, lines, ancestors and descendants. An advanced ‘mark groups’ function can be used to build lists for reports or export and to mark/unmark using a one to four condition filter. Many preset groups have already been defined.

All data from GEDCOM import not going into one of the available or newly imported fields was saved in the notes fields. Delimited text or Generation family files can be imported. In addition to GEDCOM export, data can be exported into a delimited file for spreadsheet/database use.

The GEN output menus are separated into reports, charts and Internet. Some reports may be generated in normal (existing data) or questionnaire (data plus blanks for missing data) styles. Blank person and family group sheets may be saved. A separate charting program, EasyChart, is used for elaborate graphical charts that can include pictures. Book publishing can be accomplished with the family history report or the register report. Reports can be saved as text or RTF files for further editing and specifying your word processor opens the report in that program. A variety of reports and charts can be generated as HTML files for web pages and space is available on the website.

The ‘save a copy’ function saves a copy of your database to a specified location.

Family Tree Maker Deluxe Version 7.0 (FTM)
(, $40-80 US retail,
Family Tree Maker is a 32-bit application that runs under Windows 95/98.

A person’s preferred name, birth, death and burial facts are entered on the Family Page and are linked to fields on the More About - Facts screen. Unlimited facts for an individual including name variants can be entered on the facts screen. Each pre-defined or custom fact has fields for fact name, date and a 256-character comments/location. Alternate or conflicting facts can be recorded and the preferred alternates marked. Facts can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically. If fact text won’t fit into the comments/location field, the text is added to the person’s notes field. Some information is recorded on other screens (title, alias, address, medical information, etc.). Each marriage has a facts screen where marriage (or other facts linked to both spouses) and marriage status are recorded and a notes screen. Other parents for a child can be added with the Other Parents option and the nature of the relationships is shown on the lineage screen. Unlimited multimedia objects and OLE objects can be linked to an individual with the ‘scrapbook.’

One or more sources can be linked to each fact, but there is no way to link sources to text in the notes fields or to fields on the other screens. Source citation screens for each fact include citation details and the footnote used in narrative reports. Source screens include source details and fields for source location and quality.

Research progress and tasks are recorded in the Research Journal, which can be sorted in one or two columns and printed. FTM can import GEDCOM files, older FTM files and PAF 2.x/3.0 files and can export several versions of FTM and GEDCOM files.

Only basic search and selection tools are included but a variety of list reports using subsets of the dataset and custom reports can be generated. As would be expected, a variety of narrative reports and charts can be printed. The ‘trees’ include a unique hourglass tree showing both an individual’s ancestors and descendants and an all-in-one tree. Publication tools include three styles of genealogy report and a ‘family book.’ Several narrative reports can be exported to text or RTF files for editing. FTM includes tools for publishing to the Internet and space is available for users on the website.

FTM creates backup files in the location of your choice and can span multiple floppy disks as required.

Family Origins Version 8.0 (FO8)
(, $30-45 US, 800-779-6000, 319-395-9626,
Family Origins is a 32-bit application that runs under Windows 95/98. The Edit Individual screen contains fields for name elements and sex and a table where you enter unlimited pre-defined or custom ‘facts’ (name variants, facts and events) that occur in a person’s life. The Edit Personal Fact screen contains context sensitive fields depending on the fact (name, occupation) and/or date and place. A place list is maintained. The individual and each fact can have a note and source citations attached and an address screen is available. Additional parents can be added with the Add Parents option. An adoption fact can be added to the individual recording the details and the adoption parents can be linked to the event.

Photos, audio clips and videos can be added to an individual or family with the multimedia scrapbook. The scrapbook includes fields for filename, caption and description of each entry. The primary image can appear in the Family/Tree views and images can be used in charts and reports.

Each citation includes fields for citation details and quality. Sources are listed and edited from the source manager. A source tab includes fields for abbreviation, description, author, publisher and text. A repository tab shows the repository details, call number and comments. Repositories are selected/added/edited from a list. The edit repository screen has fields for name, address, telephone and notes.

The Explorer allows you to globally find and edit any information for any person. A selection dialog allows marking of persons for export and similar dialogs allow selection during report generation. Lists of marriages, places, fact types, sources and repositories/contacts can be generated for viewing and editing.

A correspondence log keeps track of your genealogical correspondence and a To Do list allows research tasks to be attached to individuals and includes fields for status, priority, task, date and place/person. Reports are available for both. The To Do Item screen uses the repository list and includes a details/results field. You can filter reports by surname or individual.

FO8 can import from PAF versions 2.1 to 3.1M and from GEDCOM files and will export to several variants of GEDCOM file including version 5.5 and to Clooz.

FO8 produces a variety of lists, charts, reports and seven types of blank forms. A ‘forest’ list counts and identifies the family trees in your database. Several reports have the output destinations of screen/printer, text file or RTF file. Four flavors of ‘book’ report can include notes, sources with optional citation details, photos and index. Tools are available to create and upload a website and user space is provided on the site.

Backup/restore tools are available and the backup will span disks if necessary.

Legacy Family Tree Version 2.0 / 12/01/99 Update (Legacy)
(Millennia, $50 US, 800-753-3453, 425-788-2121,
Legacy is a 16-bit application that runs under Windows 3.1 or Windows 95/98. The individual’s information screen contains fields for name elements, birth, christening or baptism, death and burial. An alternate name list allows unlimited entry and an alternate may be switched with the main name. A table allows adding unlimited additional pre-defined or custom events. The event edit screen has fields for event name, date, and location/description. An individual has three note fields — general, research and medical. The font can be selected for a notes field to allow table entry. A marriage screen contains fields for date, place, status and status date. Additional parents can be linked to a child and the relationship status can be set from the child settings window.

Picture, sound or video files can be attached to individuals or families (marriage). Pictures designated #1 for the husband and wife are displayed on the Family/Pedigree views.

A source screen lists sources for a person’s events, notes and death cause field. One or more sources can be attached to each event with citation details. Full source details include text and comments. A repository must be recorded in either the publication facts or comments fields. The citation details screen includes source text and surety. A source list is maintained and a source clipboard can store up to five sources to speed attachment while editing events. Surety can be specified for sources and surety can be edited globally for all citations to a master source.

Individuals and marriages can be tagged at one of three levels and the tags used for exports or reports. From the name list, you can globally tag/untag individuals and display selected subsets. A Focus Group is another global method of marking groups for export or report output. Search tools allow simple to detailed searches with up to three levels of conditionals. Search criteria may be saved. A number of miscellaneous searches are predefined. A large number of lists including eight master lists are available. An advanced delete feature under the name list allows you to delete all individuals selected by a search. Global search and replace is available.

Legacy imports from PAF 2.31/3.0 and comparable Ancestral Quest files and from GEDCOM files and can export to various flavors of GEDCOM files and to CLOOZ. An import wizard can guide you through the import process. Legacy has a unique feature called Intellishare that allows two or more persons to work on the same database and to consolidate the changes made by those persons back into a master file.

A wide variety of lists, charts, reports and blank forms can be printed and report options can be saved for reuse. The blank forms include well-designed census forms. A list of all trees in your family file is available. The two narrative ‘book’ reports have extensive formatting options, can include a table of contents and index and can be previewed or saved as text, RTF or HTML files. Several reports can include pictures stored with your family file. Many reports can be saved as HTML files for web page creation.

Legacy includes backup/ restore functions and produces standard ZIP files.

The Master Genealogist for Windows Version 4.0 (TMG)
(Wholly Genes, $59-99, 800-982-2103, 410-796-2447,
TMG is a 16-bit FoxPro application that includes Visual Chartform, a 32-bit charting program requiring Windows 95/98. Every name, relationship and event for an individual is recorded using a pre-defined or custom tag. Unlimited tags are allowed including multiple tags for name variants and for the same event. Attributes such as gender or living are recorded with single character flags. Unlimited and custom flags are allowed.

The tag edit screen includes fields for two principals, date, sort date, place elements, memo, sentence structure for narrative reports, and boxes for unlimited citations and witnesses.

Besides two principles, any number of ‘witnesses’ (other participants) can be linked to an event. Each witness may have a unique sentence structure to specify his/her role. Any number of child/parent links can be created and tags, such as adoption, can record the details.

Exhibits (text files, graphic images, audio and video clips and OLE objects) can be attached to any person, event, source or repository. Images can be used in pedigree charts and several reports.

Each tag is linked to one or more sources with a citation screen that includes fields for citation details and surety. There is a source list and repository list. Full source details, text and multiple repositories can be recorded. The source details vary with each pre-defined or custom source type. Source elements are used to construct templates for each source type for footnotes, short footnotes and bibliographies. There are pre-defined source types modeled after the examples in the books on genealogical citations by R. S. Lackey (Cite Your Sources, 1980) and by E. S. Mills (Evidence!, 1997). These default source types can be modified and custom source types can be constructed.

For export or reports, a subset of your database can be defined using the focus tab of a report definition using Boolean logic and flags. The same tools can be applied for viewing a subset of the Picklist (the name list).

Research tasks can be attached to any person, event, source or repository and are managed with the Research Log. Tasks include keywords for retrieval, a memo and progress indicators and you may, for example, generate a custom report of tasks to do at a repository during your next visit.

TMG includes a unique technology, GenBridge, which allows it to import directly from 14 other genealogy programs, various versions and backups of those programs, as well as GEDCOM files and can export to GEDCOM 4.0/5.5, text, spreadsheet and database files.

With the Custom Report Writer, TMG can produce just about any report needed by a working genealogist with screen preview before printing. Five blank reports are available. Report content and details are specified by custom report definitions and file output includes more than 50 native word processor formats and RTF files. Reports can be automatically opened in your word processor after generation and can include all publication features supported by your word processor such as typeface variations, headers, footers, footnotes, endnotes, table of contents, indexes and bibliography. TMG can generate several types of charts and open them in Visual Chartform, a stand-alone vector charting program, for further editing. TMG will produce most reports in HTML format for web page construction.

TMG will backup databases to standard ZIP files and will span disks as required.

Ultimate Family Tree Version 3.0 (UFT)
(, $30 US retail,
UFT is a 16-bit FoxPro application that includes 32-bit components requiring Windows 95/98.

UFT, based on its feature set, is the most complex program considered here. The individual record screen shows name, attributes (sex, living), relationships and events. Buttons lead to more info (names/flags, miscellaneous, medical and media), text (bibliographical, footnote and research) and evidence. UFT has two editing modes — normal and advanced (with additional data items). Unlimited pre-defined or custom events can be added. The event edit screen has fields for date, sort date, place, details, flags, connected individuals with their roles and text (text, footnote, research). The event and most fields have evidence buttons. Places include custom place levels, each with evidence. A role template determines how each role will appear in printed reports. The template can be edited and the sentence previewed. Additional parents are entered using an event tag such as ‘adoption’ and the roles of all connected individuals can be recorded.

The media options allow you to enter any common media type (image, sound or video) or OLE objects to the multimedia database. Media can be documented and linked to any individual or event.

Evidence is recorded from the Proof screen where you link sources, set CDO (consistency, directness and origin) and enter text (citation details), evaluation, surety, and footnote. From the source record, you can enter source details and miscellaneous info including the repository and a transcript. The source details are based on pre-defined or custom source templates, each using appropriate components to construct forms for footnote and bibliographic citations. UFT includes source templates based on E. S. Mills (Evidence!, 1997) and templates for UK-specific sources.

Numerous lists and extensive search tools using multiple criteria and Boolean logic can be used to find just about any data and to build lists of individuals for export or reports. For example, individuals can be searched for using fifteen different criteria. Individuals may be marked with up to ten flags and events with three flags.

In addition to individual and event research notes and sticky notes attached to windows, tasks can be linked to individuals, events, places, sources and media items. The Task List includes a calendar, task details, progress indicators and repository. Specific reports may be generated such as a task list for a planned repository visit.

UFT can import or share data with ROOTS IV, ROOTS V, Visual Roots and Family Gathering. Data can also be imported from ROOTS III, text and GEDCOM files and exported using several GEDCOM versions. Data for a group of people such as census records can be entered from a spreadsheet-like interface and the data will then be linked to all of those individual’s records.

UFT can generate a veritable blizzard of reports with screen preview before printing. Most reports can be sent to RTF files and list reports can be exported as text, spreadsheet or database files. The RTF reports can be edited with UFT’s built-in editor or your word processor and can include table of contents, footnotes, endnotes, indexing and embedded images and objects for genealogical book construction. The list reports can be sent, for example, to the spreadsheet of your choice. UFT can produce and preview family journal or box chart instant web pages and can upload these pages to user space available on the website.

UFT includes a backup/ restore utility to selectively backup the various data components (project, library, media, support, dictionary).

Those packages marked retail in this article are available from retail/mail order software sources while the other packages are available from Internet or mail order genealogy suppliers. Some programs come with rebates, in more than one version or with different CD-ROM extras.

The most changed programs are the Windows version of PAF and the updated Generations. Most of the updates of the other five programs since the fall of 1998 changed less in regard to the range of features being evaluated in this article. You will need to look in depth at any of these programs to get a true feel of its capabilities and feature set. Generations wins the ‘most improved’ award among the programs reviewed here by a wide margin.

None of these programs can be characterized as a ‘low-end’ program. With any one of these programs and properly disciplined work habits, a person could do a reasonable job of recording and documenting their family history. The higher end programs give a researcher more choice over their data recording and more control over report output with an accompanying increase in program complexity and a steeper learning curve.

This article originally appeared in our March/April 2000 issue.

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