Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Is there a "best" genealogy program?

One of more commonly reoccurring questions I am called upon to answer is "Which is the best genealogy program?" In reality, this question is the functional equivalent of asking which is the best car or computer or washer or whatever on the market. There is no "best." The best is what you personally prefer. Notwithstanding this fact, there are hundreds of places where you can go to get lists of the top 10, 20, 40 or whatever. For example, there is a website called "" If you read the "reviews" of the company, you will find a plethora of criticism of their methods and opinions. See, for example, "Top Ten Genealogy Software Reviews for 2013" by Randy Seaver on his Genea-Musings blog.

It may be somewhat painful, but you have to analyze your own shopping habits and attitudes before you decide how much effort and time you might want to spend in determining what items you buy and what you do not buy. You could spend your whole life comparing brands and looking at reviews for everything from food items to a new house.

As a matter of fact, The TopTenReviews folks just came out with their list of the "2015 Best Genealogy Software Reviews and Comparisons." I thought is might be interesting to compare their recommendations to the current lineup on, a user initiated review forum. As I have stated at various times on this blog, I do not do software reviews. I keep my opinions to myself. I have found that no matter what I say, someone disagrees. In fact, I currently have seven different programs on my computers.

Here is the line up of the TopeTenReviews with a note about each of the program's comparison with GenSoftReviws of the same product. I will also throw in a few of my own observations. TopTenReviews claims to evaluate the programs based on an overall rating, web capabilities, creating connections, charting capabilities and citation and organization. The website has advertisements and special offers on the some of the products. You should also note that there is a separate Apple Macintosh genealogy software review.

No. 1
Family Tree Maker 2014
$39.99 from
This is the TopTenReviews Gold Award winning program. My comment is that there is also a Mac version of this program available called "Family Tree Maker 3" but it is not mentioned in the review. You can see the product website at

What do the folks at have to say about Family Tree Maker 2014? Click here for the current reviews. The current version of Family Tree Maker is rated 1.57 stars out of 5.0 with 410 reviews. The reviews in 2015 rate the program 1.69 stars out of 5.0. Most of the reviewers give this product only one star.

No. 2
Legacy Family Tree 8
$29.95 from Milennia Software
Second place from TopTenReviews goes to Legacy Family Tree 8. The statement made by the TopTenReviews folks is that "The best genealogy software provides tools for research, charting and organizing your family tree." In that one statement there are two links to advertisements for other products which I have removed. is not quite so enthusiastic about Legacy Family Tree 8. There have been 127 reviews and the combined rating is 2.9 stars out of 5.0. The reviews in 2015 rate the program even lower with 2.2 stars out of 5.0. Why is there such a disparity between the commercial evaluations of the program and that of the users? This is the question you have to answer for yourself.

No. 3
Family Historian 6
$49.95 from Calico Pie
This is a UK based company and the product is popular in the UK. TopTenReviews rates it high because of "ease of use and accuracy scores." I find that the program is lesser known in the United States.

On, the program has only garnered 38 reviews, but they are more favorable than the preceding two programs. The overall rating is 4.76 out of 5.0 stars and the rating for 2015 is 5.0. Those few folks who reviewed this program seem to love it.

No. 4
RootsMagic 7
$29.95 from RootsMagic, Inc. gives this program a high rating because it stores and organizes large volumes of data. In looking at the review, I found it to be inaccurate in its characterization of the RootsMagic Record Hints feature that contrary to what is implied links to's Family Tree and's family tree.

RootsMagic does much better on than it does on Its overall rating is 4.34 out of 5.0 stars with 93 reviews. For 2015, it has 4.79 and seems to be gaining in its ratings. At the very least this disparity should be raising some questions about the ratings. From my standpoint, I would rather read a user review that look at a rating.

No. 5
Ancestral Quest
$29.95 from Incline software
The strong point of Ancestral Quest from the folks is that the program has "several tools for calculating relationships and searching for individuals in a huge database. From the historical standpoint, Ancestral Quest is the successor to the old Personal Ancestral File program.

Ancestral Quest fairs very well on It has an overall rating of 4.63 out of 5.0 stars and a 2015 rating of 5.0 stars. You can't get much better than that. But the total number of reviews is low at 24. That seems surprising to me, but I think the overall number of reviews probably roughly corresponds to the customer base.

No. 6
Heredis 2014
$39.99 from
The TopTenReviews seems a little inconsistent when it gets to the review for Heredis. The review mentions the fact that the desktop product combines with their online database, Heredis Online. However, the reviews do not point out that Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest have the same type of feature. Family Tree Maker synchronizes with an online family tree and both RootsMagic and Ancestral Quest synchronize with Family Tree. The review does point out that Heredis is available on multiple devices, Apple, Windows, iOS and Android. has only 19 overall reviews for Heredis and the overall results give Heredis 4.1 stars out of 5.0 overall and a solid 4.0 out of 5.0 for 2015 but that is based on only 4 reviews.

No. 7
Family Tree Heritage Platinum
$24.99 from Individual Software, Inc.
I must be quite frank, I was only vaguely aware of this software program at the time I wrote this post. The big feature from the standpoint of the TopTenSoftware reviews is the global search an replace feature. They fail to mention that most (if not all) of the programs the have rated higher all seem to have some variation of this feature.

Family Tree Heritage only has 3 reviews on and its overall rating is 2.81 and there is no previous history of ratings. This is evidently a new program so it is hard to tell how the ratings would go in the future.

No. 8
Brother's Keeper
$45.00 from John Steed
Brother's Keeper is an older program and TopTenReviews notes that this program "hasn't changed much since the days of DOS but that the program has had a fiercely loyal user base since the 1990s.
I am not sure that a loyal customer base is a reason for rating a program in the top ten, but that is what they have to say.

Despite the review by the TopTenReviews, users give the program an overall rating of 4.68 stars out of 5.0 from 81 reviews. The reviews in 2015 rate the program at 5.0. Read the reviews on and you will soon see why this program is so highly rated.

No. 9
GenBox Family History 3
$29.95 from Thoughtful Creations
I am going to have to admit, this is one program I do not remember ever hearing about. rated this program so high based on the ease of use category, but it sounds like they had to dig for features to mention. Here is a link to their website, you might find it a little hard to find. GenBox Family History Version 3.7.1.

The GenBox Family History program has an overall rating of 3.01 stars out of 5.0 from and a 2015 rating of 1.0. There are a total of 21 reviews and only 1 review in 2015.

No. 10
WinFamily 10
$87.00 from Evoo Systems, Inc.
I am starting to be embarrassed, this is another program I have never heard of. Their website is  Maybe this is another reason to avoid doing software reviews.

Well, maybe the reason why I have never heard of this program is that I have never heard of this program. There is only 1 review on and that was back in 2011. Not one since then and that review did not rate the program.

I have no clue what all this shows, but it seems to me that it must mean something. Here are the top 10 genealogical database programs by rating from You might think that these programs, because they have a user base and because that user base has submitted reviews would be a better list to choose from than the seemingly arbitrary list from the other company. I have included only supported programs but there are higher rated unsupported programs. Bear in mind that some of the ratings are based on a very few reviews.

My Family Tree by Chronoplex Software
Branches by Sherwood Electronics Laboratories, Inc.
Ezitree by Rex Toomey
Simple Family Tree by Jerry C. DeKeyser
Full Family Tree by Charles Herrick
Lifelines by Marc Nozell
Progeny Link by
Ahnenblatt by Dirk Bottcher
Ultimate Family Tree by Palladium Interactive, Inc.
Family Historian by Calico Pie

This is another interesting list since I have never seen or even talked to anyone who uses even one of the programs on this list. Popularity and high ratings are not based on sales. Here are some of the programs with the highest number of reviews, which I think is more of an indication of the popularity of the programs.

Family Tree Maker
Family Tree Builder
Legacy Family Tree

Is there a "best" genealogy program? Hmm. It may be out there but there is no practical way to determine which one it is.


  1. James - you reference Gensoftreviews- Ahenblatt is the hands-down winner there, so why even mention other programs?

    1. Your comment is a perfect example of why I do not do software reviews.

  2. Ultimate Family Tree was bought by and iceboxed, apparently in order to eliminate a competitor with FamilyTreeMaker. I liked its flexibility in linking people with varying event roles, and ability to create a hierarchy of citation types (similar to The Next Generation software). Not all that easy to use, however.

  3. Very nice comparison, James. Your article makes gives me a few thoughts:

    1. I wonder why TopTenReviews use completely different criteria to evaluate Windows genealogy software than they do for Mac genealogy software. In particular, RootsMagic is exactly the same program on the two systems, but gets quite different ratings.

    2. Family Tree Heritage is not a new program. It was a earlier version of Ancestral Quest that was licenced to and repackaged by Individual Software, who distribute inexpensive boxed software of all types under their own name that can be found on store shelves.

    3. GenBox is a very old program, and if there's one thing wrong with it, it is that its developer Bill Flight has not released a new version since 2007 and is leading me to think it is now unsupported. In fact the only later news on their website is that it won a GenSoftReviews user choice award in 2010.

    4. I am not sure where you are getting your GenSoftReviews top ten rated and most popular lists from. They don't seem to come from the "By Overall Rating" and "By Most Reviews" dropdowns at the site. I'd recommend you use the GenSoftReviews Program ranking, which the Users Choice Awards are based on. You can get to those from the "See Program Rankings" link on the GenSoftReviews home page.


    1. I sorted the list of programs by rating then went through the list and selected out the programs, in order, that had the highest ratings. As you point out, the ratings system fails to take into account the present supported or unsupported nature of the program. Thanks for the comment with further explanations.

  4. Because of the difficulties in picking " the best" genealogy program that you very correctly point out, perhaps a more useful discussion could be generated around the question of what are the essentials for an excellent genealogy program to have. What are the features that are absolutely essential to an excellent program? Are some features nice to have but might fall into the "bells and whistles" category, those that are nice to have but not essential (particularly if the features deemed essential are not there at all or are poorly implemented)?

    1. Sounds like it is time to update some of my older posts on that subject. However, the same problems occur; what I think is a "necessary" feature doesn't impress others and what I could care less about, they think is essential.

  5. I don't think much beats using books.

    Pass the word! is BACK! Thank you in advance for you patience and loyalty! ‪#‎quintinpublications‬ ‪#‎rootspoint‬

  6. What about all the other programmes out there? Such as Family Historian, Ancestral Quest, Heredis, Brothers Keeper, Gramps, MAC Family Tree, The Master Genealogist to name but some. Family Historian, for instance came out top in a survey by another review site last year.

    Surely the best advice is to try all of them, as they have limited free trials and see which the user prefers.

  7. Yes, I always suggest folks download the free version of several programs and import the same Gedcom. Then they can compare features that are important to them and get a feel for which program's screen layouts work best for them.

  8. Family Tree maker seems to be the easiest to use for most people.

  9. Thanks for the mention of Genbox. The software was actively developed between the early 2000 and its 'demise' in November 2007. The software offered many innovative features for its time, including sources in Pedigree charts, 'where used' links for source, places, media, etc., a full featured project / research targets / correspondence logs for recording searching, and speed (a 250 page descent narrative, with sources, and all facts/events in less than two minutes (with no 'living' included with a check of an option). It I one of the fastest opening and acting genealogy software. While little known (no advertising) it should have been listed as the top advanced software of its time. In closing, while the software is no longer being developed, many of us who are users still use this software.

  10. At this juncture, with the announcement of Family Tree Maker being discontinued, the best programs should be assessed by their ability to migrate all media, source files and etc, as well consideration of their functionality and ease of operation and reliability.

    1. LIke the 9,000 other FTM users who wrote to Ancestry to express dismay over the discontinuation of the software, I'm looking for exactly those characteristics you've listed--the ability to migrade all media, source files, etc. from FTM to a new program. What program do you think is most compatible with FTM? I've been reading about other programs and am drowning in information. Legacy seems easy, but has mixed reviews ...


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