Family & Education
The Roots Of All People
Genealogy Software Brings You
Closer To Your Ancestors
July 2003 Volume 14 Issue 7
July 2003 Smart Choice • Legacy Family Tree Deluxe 4.0
To the uninitiated, genealogy may seem like a dry topic. Those of us who have explored our roots, however, understand that genealogy is not only interesting but also addictive. Each answer seems to raise at least 10 more questions. A decade ago, keeping detailed paper records of genealogy research may have been possible. Today, however, with so many online genealogy resources, it can seem as if you're watering your ever-growing family tree with steroids. A good genealogy program can help organize an otherwise unmanageable stack of ancestor records. We'll take a look at the most popular programs and choose a Smart Choice for organizing and presenting a family history.
How We Tested
To test the software, we set 2,880 Scots-Irish relatives loose in each program. In other words, we imported a standard genealogy file called a GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunications) into each program. Our file contained information about a couple born in Scotland in the 1700s and 2,878 related individuals. This GEDCOM tested each program's ability to import files with minimal data loss. It also helped us determine how easy it is to navigate very large, complex family trees.
We checked for potential-problem notification features, amount of data visible on the Family and Pedigree views, and quality of source-citation features. We placed special emphasis on whether programs let us note individuals who never married or never had children. There is no point searching for family members who never existed.
All the programs we reviewed let us add photographs, sounds, and videos and included easy-to-use Web-publishing wizards. These features worked equally well in all programs. Finally, we printed the same descendant chart and family card in each program to see which created the most professional-looking documents.
Family Tree Maker Deluxe 10.0
(800) 395-0277; (319) 247-3325
Family Tree Maker is one of the most popular genealogy programs. We tested the Deluxe Edition, which comes with nine data CDs: the four-disc FamilyFinder Index (a guide to data CDs you can buy), the two-disc SSDI (Social Security Death Index) for 1937-1999, Family History: MidAtlantic Genealogies 1340-1940, Local and Family Histories: New England 1600s-1900s, and Military Records: U.S. Soldiers 1784-1811.
The FamilyFinder feature searches the bundled CDs and genealogy sites for matches to the individuals in your file. We let the FamilyFinder search run over our 28.8K.bps (kilobits per second) modem. The search for the first 500 individuals took more than eight hours, so you'll probably want a broadband connection to use the online search.
The FamilyFinder found hundreds of promising results, but most cost money. The question is whether buying World Family Tree data CDs ($19.99 each) or an online subscription to the World Family Tree data ($49.99 annually) was worth it. In our case, the answer was no. Many of the results weren't true matches or contained no additional information. We could find much of the information on free services, such as RootsWeb (http://www.rootsweb.com) and the USGenWeb Project (http://www.usgenweb.com).
Family Tree Maker did create the most attractive charts and reports. It also let us note how relationships began and ended so that we wouldn't waste time in the future searching for nonexistent marriage or divorce records.
We liked the program's Export To PDF feature, which makes it easy to share information through email with others. The program imports PAF (Personal Ancestral File) files, as well as GEDCOMs. It also includes a spell checker and potential-problems report.
There are several ways Broderbund could improve Family Tree Maker. First, we would like a way to note if a couple never had children. We also couldn't help but notice that this was the only program we reviewed in which you cannot see the names of a couple's parents in the Family view. Also, for a week, Family Tree Maker's "helpful" dialog boxes continued to pop up and present tips on every screen, no matter how many times we selected Do Not Display This Message Again.
None of the four programs we tested recognized the Hobbies tag from our GEDCOM, but Family Tree Maker was the only program that seemed to delete the data. If Great-Grandfather Charles' love of hunting and fishing was recorded in any note, field, or error log, we couldn't find it.
Legacy Family Tree Deluxe 4.0
$34.95 ($19.95 for download)
(800) 753-3453; (623) 444-8918
Legacy Family Tree's Family view shows Husband and Wife cards with dates, locations, and facts for each. Above each spouse card are the names and birth and death dates for each of the spouse's parents. Below the spouse cards is a Marriage button with the date and place of marriage. Legacy lists children below the Marriage button. You can tell at a glance which children married or had children of his or her own. This was the only program we found that let us mark that a couple never married or had children.
Legacy includes an Import Wizard that recognizes GEDCOM, PAF, and Ancestral Quest files. When Legacy encounters GEDCOM tags it doesn't recognize, it offers to convert each to a known tag or attach them to note fields. This essential feature prevented data loss and kept genealogy information linked with the correct individuals rather than locked away in an error report.
Several icons are at the bottom of each spouse's card. A number accompanies the Spouse, Siblings, and Parents icon so you can quickly see how many spouses, siblings, or sets of parents each person had. Legacy also has detailed bibliographic fields, letting us create citations for specific dates and facts.
Of the four programs. Legacy has the most detailed Pedigree view. In addition to ancestors, it shows the individual's spouse, children, and siblings. As with Family Tree Maker, Legacy includes a spell checker, exports to PDF format, and generates potential-problem reports.
Legacy has several unique features. The Chronology view creates a timeline of events (such as birth, graduation, marriage) for the selected individual. We also liked Location Notes, which let us add historical information about locations to our files. For instance, adding Location Notes about the history of Bucks County to a marriage field may aid future research and adds a human-interest element to a family history. Legacy also lets you print blank questionnaire forms, complete with a note introducing yourself and your research.
Personal Ancestral File 5.2
$6 on CD-ROM (free download)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
PAF is the official genealogy software of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Genealogy plays a key role in the beliefs of the church's members. In fact, the LDS church developed the GEDCOM standard and has a number of Family History Libraries throughout the world. Therefore, no evaluation of genealogy software would be complete without a review of the latest version of PAF.
PAF has several limitations. The Family view doesn't show details about children, such as the individual's gender or whether she had any children of her own. There is also no way to note that a person or couple had no children. You can, however, tell if an individual had other spouses and if there is additional information about parents or children.
You won't see many details in the Pedigree view, but placing the pointer over a name displays birth, marriage, and death dates. Click the name to also view the spouse and children.
Navigation of Family and Pedigree views isn't as intuitive as in other programs. Rather than clicking or double-clicking a name to navigate the family line, you have to click the arrow next to the name. Also, adding sources wasn't as intuitive as in other programs, but it was possible to note the source of individual facts.
When PAF encounters unknown GEDCOM tags, there is an option to automatically add the unrecognized data to individuals' Notes fields. PAF exports to GEDCOM 5.5, Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, and to PAF for Palm OS handhelds.
Heritage Family Tree Deluxe 2.0
(800) 822-3522; (925) 734-6767
The final program we reviewed was Heritage Family Tree Deluxe, a program that looks eerily like PAF. The interface is the same, except that Heritage squishes some extra information onto its screens. For example, the Family view is identical, except that Heritage includes a Marriage button. There is also an Add Spouse button on the screen.
Many of PAF's weaknesses are also weaknesses of Heritage. You can't see the sex of children from the Family view, and you also can't select Never Married or No Children. Heritage lists all unknown tags in a GEDCOM Import Log, which preserves the data but keeps it at arm's length rather than linking it to the proper individuals.
Heritage has two real strengths. First, you can easily add sources by clicking the S button next to any field. Second, although Heritage's interface looks like PAF, navigating Heritage is more intuitive.
Heritage includes bonus CD-ROMs (not available when you download the software from the Web site). The first, SSDI, is rather pointless because you can find more up-to-date records at RootsWeb's Social Security Death Index Interactive Search (http://ssdi.rootsweb.com). The second disc is a collection of photos from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
All of these programs will do what you need them to: record genealogy data, organize research, and present family histories to others. However, all family-tree software is not created equal. You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a great genealogy program. The free download of PAF will suffice. There's no need to spend $39 or more on software. The bonus CDs that came with Heritage Family Tree and Family Tree Maker weren't useful enough to justify the added cost, especially with so much genealogical data available online.
Legacy Family Tree's interface is straightforward. Family and Pedigree views both presented a wealth of genealogy data at a glance without cluttering the screen. It is easy to add source citations, and the program has several unique capabilities, such as the Location Notes. Legacy also let us split the screen so we could view and compare two family files.
Often when a "budget program" wins a Smart Choice award, it is not because it is the best program but because it is has the best value per dollar. Millennia Legacy Family Tree, however, was the program we most enjoyed using, and the low cost was merely a bonus. Therefore, we declare it the Smart Choice for experienced and aspiring genealogists.
BY KYLEE DICKEY