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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Most Reviewed Genealogy Programs

One way to view the popularity of any product is to simply count the number of reviews. Of course, reviews can be both positive and negative. In fact, it is not uncommon to have reviews that wildly praise a program and another, about the same program, that condemn it to oblivion. I have learned to discount very negative reviews especially when there are a much larger number of positive ones and vice versa.  But I do have to admit that I will determine my purchases, in many cases, by the reviews the products have received. I am also wary of "friendship" reviews, that is, reviews that come from people who are really trying to promote the products. Also, more detailed reviews carry more weight than short blasts.

Most of the software reviews you see are solicited product reviews. In many cases, the reviewer has received some sort of renumeration such as a copy of the free product. This type of review is not necessarily bad, but always needs to be put in perspective. I have avoided doing genealogy product reviews per se, because my viewpoint does not necessarily reflect the "average user" of any product. Doing an adequate formal review of a product is time consuming and never ending due to the constant upgrades and changes in the actively supported programs. Reviews of software inevitably requires a comparison to be valid. It is not enough to say that a certain feature is good or bad if there is no other program that has that particular feature.

In my opinion, one of very few (if any) open forum, public review website for genealogy software is There are presently 3,025 reviews on the website. The website is maintained by Lois Kessler, who describes himself as a "long time programmer and genealogist, living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada." See About This Site.

The opinions in reviews can be brutal and very few products with any number of individual reviews can avoid some very negative ones. The most useless negative reviews are those that simply rant about how bad the program is without explaining why the person bought the program in the first place. Another interesting point about genealogy software reviews; those programs with the highest ratings are not necessarily supported programs. An example from is the online program which was closed down in September of 2014 and is still getting reviews for some reason.

From my standpoint, the fact that I write about a program does not mean I either endorse it or even use it. I try out dozens of new programs every year and write about quite a few, but I try to make my announcements as neutral as possible unless I find the program to be a significant advance or extremely and immediately useful.

In going through the reviews on, I have some of the same questions posed by Louis Kessler in the following two articles from the website, "How Good are GenSoftReviews Ratings?" and Can Genealogy Software be Rated Fairly?" Louis makes an interesting statement in his first article. He says in part, "...the programs that rise to the top of GenSoftReviews in ranking tend to be stable programs with a dedicated user base who like the program, that are less prone to user problems or major failures." You should take the time to read both of these excellent articles.

Here is another interesting comment from Louis about the perfidy of software reviewers.
So I’ve had to think about what all this means. People don’t believe the ratings on GenSoftReviews either when a program they are using is not rated highly enough, or when another program they do not feel is superior to their own is rated higher than their own.
That statement about sums up all software reviews except those that are extremely detailed and lengthy. When all is said and done about software, we all vote with our wallet and our clicks. Programs with few or no users generally get fewer reviews. This is the reason for the title of this post. A program with a very small number of reviews is either very newly released or has no customer base to speak of. If a program had only two reviews and both of the reviewers gave the program 5 stars, it will look great. If the same small number of reviewers both disliked the program then the program looks bad. However, if there are hundreds of reviews it means that the program is currently used by a lot of people and the opinion of any one reviewer is moderated by the large number of reviews. That is why the number of reviews is important and it also helps you to understand why you need to participate and review programs.

I do find some really interesting anomalies in the reviews but any comments I would make will show my own biases and prejudices. One last comment, I am very puzzled by software reviews of programs that are no longer available and no longer supported, especially when they are in the 4 and 5 star range. This shows one reason why genealogy software reviews have some challenges.


  1. Part of it is once we(genealogists) have a program that works for us we are slow to change. I helped run a computer group at my society for a fair number of years and found that people were slow to upgrade versions of their program unless there was a feature in the new version they really wanted, kept using Personal Ancestral File for years after it was not supported and probably it was only the removal of the program from the site that stopped more people using it. people don't want to face the learning curve with a new program and the trauma of the conversion from one to another. I shifted from PAF to FTM V1-7 then went to TMG V1-8 and while I am happy with it I have also had other programs on my computer partly to help others and also to be able to use a specific feature like a special report or cjhart in htose programs. I am now looking at Family Historian as a ossible substitute program.

  2. James,

    Thanks for the good commentary on GenSoftReviews and my two articles.

    Regarding why there are reviews of programs that are no longer available and no longer supported: I would say it is because there are a good number of people still using these programs. They've used them for many years and because the program is so familiar to them and it works well for them, they give them 4 and 5 star reviews.

    But they do tail off after a while. PAF had only 12 reviews in 2014 and has none so far this year. Out of the reviews so far in 2015, only 13 are from unsupported programs, and many of the reviews includes a complaint that the program is unsupported which you'll see in the Mundia reviews.