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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Deal Makers vs. Deal Breakers -- What works and doesn't work in genealogy software

One of the things I look at when making a purchase on is the buyer's reviews. uses a five star rating system that is pretty straight forward. Generally, I avoid products with low reviews when I have an option to do so. One very obvious thing about the reviews is that there is always someone who is unhappy with the product, no matter how good or bad it really is. It is interesting that the bad reviews are usually based on some very personal factor important to the reviewer and not to anyone else. You can have a very solid "5 Star" set of reviews with one person who is unhappy and gives the same product one star.

For example, I looked at an Estwing Mfg Co. E3-16S 16-Ounce Rip Claw Hammer with Steel Handle. There are 47 reviews for this hammer and 42 of them give 5 stars. There is one review that gives this hammer one star. His comment is interesting. He says, "I own a number of Estwing hammers, 6-7, this one has a ring to it when you use it..." For this, he gives the hammer a one star rating. Interestingly, here is a quote from another review about the same subject:
my dad had a 16oz. leather hammer when I was just a little kid. All the guys on the crew made fun of the little hammer, because it would ring every time it hit a nail, but that hammer outlasted any other hammer that I ever saw. my dad had that hammer over 28 years and it built alot of houses. It is strong enough to frame with, yet light and well balanced for trimming with. The smooth leather handle won't blister your hand. Now I have my own construction co. and I have over a dozen estwing hammers all different styles, from brick to drywall, to millfaced framers. I have hung many hundereds of thousands of sq. ft. of drywall, built houses, and quite a few log cabins compleete with this hammer as my main trim hammer, but my dad never used any other hammer and works with me now and won't use any other hammer. his old sining hammer has worn down, but it still gets the job done every day, year after year. It's never gave a splinter in a finger, never cracked or broken a handle in over 28 years. I would say the hammer has nothing to prove, it's been there and done it all for our family businesses. Deffinately has been a great hammer. (and it carries a good toon)! [direct quote no corrections]
That reviewer gave the hammer five stars. Would you buy an Estwing hammer?

Are we back to the question about what this has to do with genealogy yet?  I find genealogists to be just as opinionated and insular about the subject of genealogy and particularly genealogy software as people generally are about any subject or product out there in the marketplace. Guess what? sells genealogy software and they have software reviews. In fact, I did a search on for genealogy software and there are 373 products listed. One thing you can do is to list the products by average customer review. I find some very interesting things about the genealogy products and the rankings. These reviews give an interesting insight into the genealogical community and are, in many cases, almost uniquely different than reviews for any other type of product on

If you want to make this evaluation even more interesting, then you need to compare the reviews on with the accumulated reviews on has, at the time of this post, 2821 reviews of 868 genealogy products. It has been online since 2008. You can also sort the programs by overall rating.

Of course, I have some comments about the ranking of genealogy programs, but as usual, I will try not to interpose my own opinions about the programs. If you reflect on the two reviews I cite above about hammers, you can see that the same feature is a deal maker for one person and a deal breaker for another. Personally, since I am mostly pretty deaf, I probably would not be able to hear a hammer ring. But I do remember hearing that sound in the past. Would I overlook a ringing hammer if it had a long list of other important features? You bet. Would I tell you not to buy this or that hammer on the basis of whether or not it rings? No! That "feature" has nothing to do with what a hammer does or does not do well. So that is how I read reviews. I think about whether the objection made by the one star reviewer really has anything to do with the product.

Now what about the two lists of reviews; the one on and the one on The first most obvious fact is that the top ten listed programs on the two websites do not share any of the same products. Yes, the two lists, as far as the top ten products, do not have even one product in common. Why is that?

To understand this interesting fact and to see something even more interesting about genealogists, you have to carefully look at each of the products on both lists that the most highly rated. Here are some of my conclusions for examining both lists:

  • Nine of the ten products listed on are unavailable or old versions. 
  • Three of the products on the top ten on are unavailable or out of date. Five of the programs are free or shareware. All except one are utilities and work with other programs.
  • The largest number of users of any of the programs who submitted reviews to GenSoftReviews was nine. Most of the the reviews only had two or three reviewers. 
  • The highest number of reviewers on was 165 but that was for Microsoft Publisher 2010, not really a genealogy program and an out-of-date version at that.

Remarkably, some of the out-of-date versions of the programs listed on were still available. The most noteworthy of these old programs is a listing for Personal Ancestral File Version 5.2 that sells for $17.99 in the original box. Personal Ancestral File was last updated in 2002 and for many years and still is a free download. Other notable out-of-date programs on include Broderbund Family Tree Maker Version 7 as a 12 CD set for $79.45 and Family Tree Maker 2008 Platinum for $55.29. If you don't realize why these programs are out-of-date, you probably should not be buying genealogy software until you find out.

You have to go down the list of highly rated programs on for about 5 pages listings before you find a current version of a current genealogy database program.

I got started on this subject this week when a patron came into the Brigham Young University Family History Library and had an issue with copying an old Personal Ancestral File off her computer for use in publishing a book. She was trying to put the file on a CD so the CD could be included with the book.

After doing all this looking, I decided that I wouldn't list all my conclusions about genealogists because most of them were too negative. But I will give an example, without mentioning the product name. This is a current version of a commercially available genealogy database program on It has 37 reviews and 18 of those reviews give the product five stars. Four people give the product one star. These negative users had no real complaints about the program or its function. Here is a typical one star review:
I do not like it either. Very sorry I spent this money. It does not have a book or guide to help you.
Bad decision.
This particular program has a full manual online and freely available.

Perhaps you can see why I avoid doing software reviews. Occasionally, I will talk about a program I really like, but I do not give star ratings because, for the most part, they are very personal and very opinionated. I also make an exception for online programs and of course, I am always reviewing and commenting on the big online genealogy database programs.


  1. Great post!! It can be applied to anything from books to cars!! Really a good reminder on being careful of reviews. Thanks

  2. James,

    That's an interesting take on comparing GenSoftReviews ratings to Amazon ratings of genealogical software.

    From your comparison, it seems to me you may be just listing the programs on GenSoftReviews "By Overall Ratings". Doing so will list those that still have a 5.00 rating out of 5. And none of them have more than 4 reviews.

    That's because, once you get a significant number of reviews, someone is bound to think of it as less than perfect and give it less than 5, dropping it from the 5 out of 5 group.

    So I feel to be a top program, you need a more substantial number of reviews. I've picked 10 reviews as the number needed to win a Users Choice Award.

    I also allow you to sort the programs on GenSoftReviews "By Overall (>=10)" and doing so gives quite an different list of top programs. 7 of this top 10 are full featured programs. They have between 11 and 155 reviews. All but 1 of them are still in use with Ultimate Family Tree the one fondly remembered with a 4.70 out of 5 rating on 24 reviews.

    My real goal for GenSoftReviews is to provide feedback to the program developers. Hopefully, they'll look at the complaints their customers have, and work to improve their products. Doing so will be a win-win situation for both the developers and their users.


    1. Thanks for this insight. My intent was to show that many programs are still getting reviews and being sold even though they have been discontinued or no longer supported.