Thursday, October 15, 2009

Choosing Genealogy Software

For the past few months I've been trying out genealogy software to see how they compare against each other.

According to some sources tracing your family history is now the third most popular hobby in the US. Something you've possibly noticed if you count the number of magazines devoted to the subject. I got bitten by the genealogy bug back in my early 20s (a long time ago) and if anything, my interest has increased.

In the past I've kept records:
  • on separate cards - which constantly get out of order

  • in loose leaf folders - a disaster once you drop it once

  • in hard backed notebooks - which drop to bits over time and need re-transcribing

...but then along came computers and Internet offering a much easier (and possibly safer) method of storing information.

For a while I experimented with creating my own database program but it quickly became apparent to me that I was attempting to re-invent the wheel. There are lots of pre-made genealogy programs out there, some of which, e.g.Personal Ancestral File. are excellent and FREE!

I used Personal Ancestral File (PAF) for years but began to wonder if I was perhaps missing out on something. Could it be that there were much better programs available which might suit me better - even if I did have to pay for them?

Of course if you read the reviews of software you'll get as many different 'best buy's as there are reviews. Family history magazines tend to promote the one they offer for sale or are supported by and computer magazines tend not to be written by genealogists (Computer Shopper has reviewed genealogy programs twice in the last 8 years and made glaring omissions). There was only one thing for it. I got hold of each of the programs and tried them out myself.

The full results can be seen on my Genlinks website but here's a short summary of what I found:

  • The most expensive programs are NOT the best programs

  • All of them are rubbish at producing websites

  • The use of information from Internet has increased the number of errors in family trees. Lots of software packages allow you to make errors such as a 69 year old woman having children two years after her death

  • You'll need to read manuals to get the best out of most of the software and sometimes there's an extra charge for that. Something I find objectionable - (Legacy please note!)

  • None of the programs integrate with e-mail clients - a surprising omission since much information will come via that route

  • Few of the programs allow you to add clickable web page links. Presumably the software publishers will say 'Web pages may disappear' (obviously never having heard of the Internet Archive)

  • A surprising number of the programs offer few facilities for keeping contact information

  • Adding map information is a great idea but few software programs do it well and none of them offer old maps

  • DNA information has left most of the programs far behind

  • Some programs are excellent if you want to write a book about your family. Others are useless at this because you can't edit the result

  • Most of the programs will run with Windows 7 but some may have slight problems if text and icons are set at 125% or more scale on a large high resolution display. One expensive program does not use standard file windows.

So which one would I choose?
  • I'm going to keep PAF because despite being the oldest and free program it's the best at providing the text for my website.

  • I'm going to buy RootsMagic 4 because with a score of 158 points it's the outright winner. It's just a shame that it's so rubbish at making web pages and warning you about errors.

  • I'm probably going to buy Legacy 7 since I like it's warnings and can read and interpret manuals. I may eventually understand it's awful merge individuals feature. I look forward to Legacy 8

So I'll be using not one but three programs - and that will be a real pain!

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