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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Update of Do you still need a desktop (local) genealogy program?

The last time I had a post with this title was in 2013. See

Here is a comment I recently received to this old blog post.
I am a beginner genealogist and have only used and family I inherited a FTM file with 64,000 names on one of my lines and was able to upload it onto However, I want to go through the names one by one to verify them before I put them in my family tree or do anything else with them. I'm looking for a program that will help me create a methodology or system for going through these names. Since I'm a beginner, right now, I just randomly work on names or lines that seem interesting but there is no rhyme or reason to how I am going about this. I would like to have a system so that I know where I am going, where have been and what I have accomplished. Let me know if anyone can give an update on the debate about online versus desktop software for genealogy and recommendations on which program might help me accomplish my goal the best. I realize this is a personal decision so maybe there is no way to comment. Just thought I would ask.
This commentator is looking for the same things I have been looking for since about 1982. I am not sure that what we are looking for exists even now more than thirty years after I first got involved in doing genealogical research. To be a good tool, the tool has to assist in doing the work you want to accomplish and not become a task itself. For example, computers are marvelous tools, but learning how to use a computer is just as difficult as getting any benefit from its use. Sure, ultimately, the benefits far outweigh the effort, but the effort needed to obtain the benefits takes valuable time away from the work objective. Hmm. That sounds really complicated to me and I guess it is.

For all the many years I was learning about genealogy and the same time learning about computers and computer programs, I could see that eventually, computers would help me with the massive amount of information I was gathering in my genealogical research efforts. I also think that this blog and my other genealogy blog are simply ongoing reflections of this ultimate objective to make it "easier" to make progress in my genealogical research. There is no doubt that my ability to do accurate, pertinent, and effective genealogical research has been magnified hundreds, perhaps thousands of times as computers and computer systems have developed. But, and this is a huge "but," the basic ideas of finding accurate historical records and applying the information to my research have not changed.

Back in 2013, my perspective about a local program was entirely different than it is today. One thing that has changed is that steps have been taken by the genealogical computer program developers to finally integrate both online and local desktop programs so that information can be relatively quickly and somewhat more easily moved from one program to another. The limits on being able to do this are still rather rudimentary, but they are beginning to be implemented. In 2013, we were still talking about GEDCOM and whether or not we needed to "back up" our data in an online family tree. Now, I think the question of maintaining more than one family tree and including a desktop program has evolved and taken on a different set of considerations. Also, back in 2013, the ideas of linking your desktop program or two different online family trees were still in the idea stage and not yet a reality.

First of all, you need to seriously consider the fact that the big, online genealogy programs that host family trees, such as,,, and all provide automatically generated record hints that augment your research. By having a family tree in one or more of these programs, you are in effect hiring a full-time research assistant to search records on each of the programs hosting your family tree. My experience is that these record hints are extremely valuable and provide information that you would likely overlook. So let's suppose you have your family tree data on one or more of these programs, are you going to spend the time to maintain an entirely separate desktop-based program? You have to answer that question for yourself.

From my perspective, the big issue has become the time involved in maintaining more than one family tree that I consider to be my "primary" place where I maintain my research. I can more than adequately do this with any one of the online family tree programs. This is especially true if I am not short-sighted and do not want to collaborate online with other members of my extended family.

For a beginner, I think the best idea is to start with an online family tree using one or more of the big database programs. Later, if you think you need to have a more proprietary family tree, which I think runs counter to the whole idea of genealogy by the way, then I would investigate your options. If you decide to do genealogy today, the reality is that you will need to learn to use some kind of computer program, either online or desktop-based. If you start out using paper, you are only guaranteeing that your information will be lost at some point or that you or someone else will have to spend the time duplicating your paper information in a computer program.

What are the main considerations? I would consider the following:

  • Will the program be supported and available for upgrades in the future?
  • How much time do I want to spend duplicating my data on more than one family tree?
  • Do I feel comfortable with all my data online?
  • Do I know enough about the available programs to make a reasonable choice? (See
  • Do I want to take advantage of the automatic record hints online?
  • How much do I know about using a computer and will I be able to learn more than one program?
There are probably a lot of other questions that should be considered, but this short list should start you thinking about the options. 


  1. I use FamilySearch Family Tree and RootsMagic. RM allows me to easily add living people when there are births in the extended family and keep track of other events regarding living people. I also like the groups that I create that I can then focus on. Good topic.

  2. The answer is really very simple, do you want to rely on a third party to keep your data safe, or are you happy to lose access to all your data when the online company pulls the plug.

    Think it won’t happen ask the millions of researchers who have data on Rootsweb servers.
    Rootsweb provided free online space for genealogists for at least 20 years to my knowledge then in December last year they had a problem and pulled the plug on the servers.
    They are gradually bringing the servers back online (for example the mailing lists) but there is still no definitive date when personal family history sites will be back online (if ever).

    The snowflake generation need to learn to be responsible for their own “property” and that responsibility includes keeping your own data on a computer under your control.

    If you delegate control don’t cry when the inevitable loss occurs.

    1. That is one possible response to the problem but rather fatalistic.

  3. Couple of reasons. I am more comfortable having my data local and backed up locally and under my control. I realize that the big gen companies spend tons of money on security, BUT I fear hacking and ransomware. I don't want to be dependent on someone else for maintaining my info.

    Also the desktop software gives me many, many options for reporting, charting and manipulating my data.

    1. Be sure and backup "your" data then. I have had several computers, hard drives and other storage devices crash over the years.

  4. A GEDCOM file can be downloaded from an existing tree on Ancestry and imported into Ancestral Quest or RootsMagic. Ancestral Quest and probably RootsMagic have a feature wherein the entries there can be tagged. I sync my Ancestral Quest data with FamilySearch and use tags to help me keep track of the tasks I have worked on or completed on FamilySearch.

    1. GEDCOM is an outmoded method of transmitting genealogical data. You will lose a substantial amount of data by moving genealogical information via GEDCOM.

  5. Gensoftreviews still allow new reviews of outdated pieces of software like PAF. Until they stop all new reviews of software which is not currently supported by the producers of the software and remove that outdated and unsupported software from their search results their recommendations are pretty much worthless.

  6. I use RootsMagic a my personal genealogy management tool. It links with FamilySearch and lights up a bulb if there is a source in FamilySearch that hasn't been updated which is a source that I then also add to RootsMagic. If you chose to use RootsMagic, you could add a fact called DATE REVIEWED to document that you'd reviewed all the relevant material about a specific person. I happen to blog about my ancestors after doing a deep research on that particular person & have added a fact which I happen to call FamilyHistory Blog where I include the link to my blog. This lets me know the date that I reviewed all the information about that person. I also add any e-mails that are sent to me in response to these blogs or queries as sources so they are kept with the person in my tree.

  7. I'm wondering if anyone else has tried out It's a free online tree that gets hints from FamilySearch, FindMyPast, etc, and does searches of collections at Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc. It's very easy to use and lots of research helps, a research log, links, a TODO creator and links with FamilySearch. It even has a webclipper that copies data to everyone in the family at once.