Family Tree Ware Face-Off

By Family Tree Editors Premium

With so many genealogy software choices, how do you make a winning decision? We put 10 popular programs head to head — see who knocks out the competition.

[By Rick Crume]

Just a few years ago, researching your family history meant filling in pedigree charts by hand, organizing your data with index cards and sharing photocopied reports with other researchers by snail mail. Today, genealogy software automates all of these tasks, from entering your findings and generating numbered pedigree charts to creating family tree books and publishing your family history on the Web.

Since we first compared Windows genealogy software four years ago, several programs have dropped off the map, but two outstanding new titles, Family Tree Legends and RootsMagic, have taken their place. And many of the old favorites have had significant upgrades, so you can now choose among several excellent programs. Most are reasonably priced — or even free — and all have modest computer requirements.

People often ask us, “What’s the best genealogy software?” Well, the truth is that almost any genealogy program will help you organize your research, create reports and even search the Internet. But some programs excel in certain areas — so the “best” software is the one that stands out in the areas you care about most. Here are the key features you should look for to pick the program that’s right for you.

Round 1: Organizing your research

? Data entry: Most genealogy software lets you record events in individuals’ lives — including dates and places of birth, marriage and death — along with the sources where you found that information. You also can include biographical data and pictures, and link individuals to their families.

Ancestral Quest (and its twin, Heritage Family Tree Deluxe), Family Tree Legends, Personal Ancestral File and Roots Magic make it especially easy to add events to an individual record. Then they automatically display the events in a person’s life in chronological order on one screen, creating a handy biographical timeline. Data entry is easy in Legacy Family Tree, too, and the program features a handy Chronology View showing a timeline of life events.

? Source documentation: Most programs let you cite your source for each piece of information, whether it’s a book, census record or personal interview.

Ancestry Family Tree, Personal Ancestral File and RootsMagic help you avoid repetitive keystrokes when documenting sources. If you find information on several people in the same record, you can enter the data for one individual and “memorize” the citation. When you enter more data from the same source, just paste the memorized citation. If you want to cite a different page within the source, you can change the page number. Ancestral Quest has a similar system: Once you create a source citation, you can easily attach it to a series of events. Legacy’s Source Clipboard also makes citing sources efficient. The Clipboard holds up to five source citations, and you can document a source with the click of a button.

? Navigation: Most programs let you view your data on screen in an individual, family or pedigree view. You can navigate through the generations, edit your information and print reports.

Ancestral Quest and the programs based on it (Ancestry Family Tree, Family Trees Quick & Easy and Personal Ancestral File) all feature a well-designed pedigree view that lets you see both the big picture and small details without switching to a different view. With five generations displayed on screen, you can place the cursor over any name, and a small window will appear with details on that individual. Click on the name, and the window expands to show the person’s spouse and children.

Family Tree Maker 2005 and Family Tree Legends 4.0 have just added similar pedigree views. Those two programs and Personal Ancestral File also offer streamlined, easy-to-grasp family views.

? Family group sheets and pedigree charts: Family group sheets summarize your data on a couple and their children; pedigree charts show one person’s ancestors, usually for four or five generations. Nearly all genealogy programs create these charts, so you don’t have to fill them out by hand. You can keep printouts in a three-ring binder for easy reference at home and on research trips.

Ancestral Quest, its spinoff programs, Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic all create nicely designed family group sheets and numbered pedigree charts showing four, five or six generations on a page.

Round 2: Exchanging data

Genealogy software makes sharing your family data with other researchers easy. Most programs can’t directly read family files created with other genealogy software, but all popular programs can work with a standard file format called GEDCOM (short for Genealogical Data COMmunications). If you want to share your data with a cousin who uses a different program, just create a GED-COM file — a copy of all or part of your family file. If you ever want to switch genealogy software, a GEDCOM file also is a handy way to transfer your data to another program without having to retype everything.

Ancestral Quest and the programs based on it, Family Tree Legends, Legacy and RootsMagic all handle GEDCOM transfers well. Since GEDCOM transfers aren’t always reliable, though, The Master Genealogist reads several other programs’ family files directly to ensure that no data gets lost or garbled.

Round 3: Creating reports

? Books: Most genealogy software can create a narrative family history with people numbered according to a standard system. This report shows all of an individual’s ancestors or descendants for a specified number of generations. Your source citations may appear as footnotes or endnotes. The software automatically generates an index of names.

Ancestral Quest/Heritage Family Tree Deluxe, Ancestry Family Tree, Family Trees Quick & Easy and The Master Genealogist all do an outstanding job on book-format reports. You can customize the wording in your report so that the dates and places you’ve entered for events will be converted into natural-sounding sentences. All of these programs’ book-format reports also have markers for indexed terms and footnotes. That means you can edit the report with a word processor before printing it, and you won’t foul up the index and footnotes. You can add more footnotes, insert photographs and even reformat the whole thing into two columns — the footnotes and page numbers in the index will still be numbered correctly when you’re ready to print.

apples of your eye

“Wait a minute,” you Mac users are probably thinking, “what about us?”We promise, we’re not biased toward Windows programs — it’s just that you have far fewer choices than your more-populous PC-using brethren. And since Macs can’t run Windows programs (unless you have PC-emulation software) and vice versa, pitting different platforms’ programs against one another would be like comparing, well, Apples to oranges.

So instead, we’re highlighting Mac options separately. You can choose from several stellar programs:


$49.99,, <>. A customizable program that works directly with GEDCOM files, GEDitCOM has multimedia support, creates books and is good for documenting sources. Requires Mac OS 8 or higher. Reviewed in the December 2001 Family Tree Magazine.

? Heredis Mac X

$69 from BSD Concept, info@, <>. This user-friendly French export makes citing sources easy and produces attractive, fully customizable family tree charts. Requires Mac OS 9.1 or higher, 32MB RAM (64MB recommended), 27MB hard disk space. See the April 2004 Family Tree Magazine for a review.

? Reunion $99.95 from Leister Productions, (717) 697-1378,

<>. This program supports pictures, sound, video and Web publishing. Create common genealogy reports, charts and forms, plus birthday calendars, mailing lists, questionnaires, indexes and wall charts. Charts allow on-screen editing of boxes, lines, fonts and colors. Requires Mac OS 8.5 or higher. Read our review in the April 2003 Family Tree Magazine.

If you have another program, you might want to use an add-on application from Progeny Software <> to get better book-format reports. Progeny’s PAF Companion for Personal Ancestral File and its Charting Companions for Ancestry Family Tree, Ancestral Quest and Legacy produce excellent book-format reports and fancy wall charts in many formats. Heritage Family Tree Deluxe bundles Ancestral Quest with Progeny Software’s Charting Companion.

? Graphic charts: Many genealogy programs create graphical family trees suitable for family reunions and gifts. See the September 2003 Preserving Your Memories (a Family Tree Magazine special issue available from <>) for an in-depth guide to printing books and graphic charts.

You can easily create well-designed graphic charts with Family Tree Maker. The program lets you customize charts with pictures and your choice of fonts, borders and tree formats. Or you can choose from several pre-designed templates with well-coordinated background patterns, fonts and borders. Family Tree Legends 4.0 has just added similar chart templates.

Genbox and RootsMagic also produce nice ancestor and descendant wall charts. If you use other genealogy software, take advantage of PAF Companion or the Charting Companions from Progeny Software to get high-quality graphical charts.

? Multimedia: Most genealogy software can edit photographs, create slide shows and even put together multimedia scrapbooks with photos, sound and video.

Family Tree Legends, Family Tree Maker, Legacy and RootsMagic have the most powerful photo-editing capabilities of any genealogy software. All three can rotate and crop pictures, as well as adjust brightness and contrast. Family Tree Maker also can correct red eye. If you want to do anything beyond basic photo editing, get image-editing software such as Jasc Paint Shop Pro <> or Adobe Photoshop Elements <>. They offer tools far beyond what you’ll find in family tree software.

foreign alternatives:


Considering an imported model?

These three programs from England and France produce nice graphical family tree charts, but they’re no match for their American counterparts when it comes to entering data, documenting sources and printing basic charts. All require Windows 95 or higher.

? Embla Family Treasures

Free download from Embla

<>. Reviewed in the December 2004 Family Tree Magazine.

? Family Historian

About $80 from Calico Pie

<>. Reviewed in the October 2003 Family Tree Magazine.

? Heredis

Free Standard Edition, $29.90Premium Edition from BSD Concept <>.

Reviewed in the October 2002 Family Tree Magazine.

Round 4: Using the Internet

? Web-page creation: Most genealogy software will create HTML reports for publishing on your Web site. In addition to a narrative family history and an index of names, you usually can include photos and a downloadable GEDCOM file. Just select a few options, and the software creates your pages instantly.

Family Tree Legends and Family Tree Maker provide free Web space and make it easy to publish your family history reports online. But Family Tree Maker can’t produce reports in HTML format for posting on your own Web site.

? Online-database access: Some programs come bundled with access to genealogical data on the Internet. Family Tree Maker is sold in stores as a package deal with subscriptions to < >- but you can buy the program by itself online. The producers of Family Tree Legends offer online subscriptions separately from the software.

Most genealogy programs automatically search online databases for one or more names in your family tree. Family Tree Maker 2005 does a great job searching’s huge collections, though you’ll need a subscription to view matches. Just click on the Web Search button beside a name. When I searched for John French, born in 1790 in Pittsfield, Mass., the very first match was my John French in the 1850 census of Pittsfield — a new find for me.

Family Tree Legends uses SmartMatching technology to search the GenCircles Global Tree, a free pedigree database with more than 90 million names, and it has an uncanny knack for finding matches that could add a whole new branch to your family tree.

The chart on page 40 compares 10 of the best Windows genealogy programs in each of the areas discussed above. Here we take a look at each program’s unique features.


Version tested: 11

Price: $34.95 download, $43.95 CD-ROM

Company: Incline Software, (800) 825-8864, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 8MB RAM, 8 to 35MB hard disk space


Version tested: 3.0

Price: $39.95

Company: Individual Software, (800) 822 3522, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 98 or higher, 32MB RAM, 6 to 45MB hard disk space

Known for easy navigation and outstanding printed reports, Ancestral Quest 11 is similar to Personal Ancestral File (see page 44), but boasts more features.

? Research Manager: This handy tool helps you keep track of the sources you’ve already checked or would like to check.

? Centralized documentation: The documentation window gives you easy access to notes and sources for individuals and marriages.

? Collaboration: You and your relatives can work concurrently on the same master family file placed on the Internet, view one another’s changes in real time and avoid having to merge data and remove duplicate entries.

? Unique reporting options: Most genealogy software includes sources and notes in family group sheets and book-format reports, but this is one of only a few programs that can print sources and notes with pedigree charts and fan charts. Ancestral Quest can even print images of source documents with reports. So when you print a report such as a family group sheet, you also can print images of the family Bible, census record and birth certificate where you found the information. The latest upgrade to the program adds Drop Line charts showing the line of descent between an ancestor and a descendant. And now you can save reports as PDF files for publishing on your Web site or sending as e-mail attachments.

? Jewish Hall of Names: Ancestral Quest can generate a Page of Testimony so you can submit information on Holocaust victims to the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem << in Israel.

Ancestral Quest can read and write PAF 3 and 4 files and read PAF 5 files. That gives PAF users access to several features not found in PAF, such as enhanced Web pages, a printed manual, and source references and images printed with pedigree charts.

Whether used alone or as a complement to Personal Ancestral File, Ancestral Quest is one of the best programs for organizing your family history.

Heritage Family Tree Deluxe is identical to Ancestral Quest 11, but comes bundled with Progeny Software’s Charting Companion. That gives you Ancestral Quest’s solid tools for organizing your family history combined with Charting Companion’s strong charting features, PDF output and book-format reports. Extras rounding out the package include three months of access and a collection of more than 14,000 historical images from the British Isles.


Version tested: 9.0.3

Price: Free download

Company:, (800) 262-3787, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 32MB RAM, 10MB hard disk space


Version tested: 6.0

Price: $19.95

Company: Individual Software, (800) 822 3522, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 16MB RAM, 6MB hard disk space Ancestry Family Tree and Family Trees Quick & Easy are both based on Ancestral Quest version 3.0. They’re easy to use and navigate, and produce well-designed basic charts.

? Ease of use: Both feature simple, uncluttered screens and extensive on-screen help. Family Trees Quick & Easy and Heritage Family Tree Deluxe are the only programs reviewed here with toll-free help numbers.

? Navigation: The well-designed pedigree view lets you see both the big picture and details without switching to a different view.



When you consider all the ties between programs, the genealogy software world seems like one big family: “Programs A and B are descendants of program C, which is a sibling of program D …” and so on. Of course, those connections can lead to confusion for the average consumer. So to help you sort them out, we’ve created this relationship chart.


Windows Genealogy Programs Compared

? Basic charts: Both programs print good standard family group sheets and pedigree charts that let you see at a glance what you know about your ancestors and where you need to do more research.

Customized to work with’s online services, Ancestry Family Tree automatically reports how many matches it finds in’s databases for each name in your pedigree. Just click on a link to do a search. Some databases require a subscription, but many are free. For a full review of Ancestry Family Tree, see the June 2002 Family Tree Magazine.

Family Trees Quick & Easy inherited several features from Ancestral Quest 3.0 that are lacking in Ancestry Family Tree, including source and repository merging, a calendar report and PAF compatibility.

Both programs are easy to use and solid performers in key areas. Ancestry Family Tree is a free download, and that makes it especially appealing, whether or not you subscribe to


Version tested: 4.0 (beta)

Price: $29.95

Company: Pearl Street Software, (800) 326-5816, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 32MB RAM, 30MB hard disk space

Uncluttered screens, attractive graphics and a refreshing pastel color scheme make Family Tree Legends the most attractive genealogy software you’ll find. One of the best genealogy programs for creating graphical wall charts, Family Tree Legends’ ancestor, descendant and hourglass wall charts are customizable with your own family pictures and your choice of designs, colors, borders and an assortment of attractive frames.

Designed by the creators of the popular GenForum <> and GenCircles <>Web sites, Family Tree Legends rivals the best programs in terms of ease of use and charting, and it integrates with the Web in inventive ways.

? Real-Time Internet Backup and Publishing: Automatically back up your data files on secure servers and easily publish your family history on the Web.

? SmartMatching: Family Tree Legends will compare the names in your file with the names in the GenCircles pedigree database. Instead of returning dozens of false matches, it intelligently identifies connections that could add new branches to your family tree — an edge over other programs’ name searches.

Version 4.0 adds many new features and improvements, including well-designed family group sheets and templates for creating attractive family tree charts in various styles. You can easily combine charts and reports into a single book with a comprehensive index. The program also supports more-advanced photo editing, and the latest version adds brightness and contrast controls.

Exceptionally easy to use, Family Tree Legends produces impressive graphical charts, and its innovative Internet features place it on the leading edge of genealogy software. See the review in the August 2004 Family Tree Magazine.


Version tested: 2005

Price: $29.95; $2 a minute for phone support

Company:, (800) 262-3787, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 98 or higher, 32MB RAM (128MB with Windows XP), 150MB hard disk space

Powerful charting has always been Family Tree Maker’s hallmark, but dramatic improvements in the latest version also make this program a useful tool for organizing your family history.

? Updated family view: The feeble old family view showing only two generations and no more than four children on screen at a time has been replaced with a superb new layout showing three generations and up to eight children at a time. Instead of awkwardly navigating through your family tree with tabs, now you click on buttons to edit individual details or go to a child’s family view.

? Pedigree view: Amazingly, Family Tree Maker went through 10 major upgrades in 14 years and never had a pedigree view — a key component of most genealogy programs. The impressive new pedigree view works just about the same as the one in Personal Ancestral File and other programs based on Ancestral Quest. Hold the mouse cursor over a name and a window pops up showing the person’s dates and places of birth and death.

? Web search: Just click a button to search for a person in’s databases, most of which require a subscription.

? Web merge wizard: If you find a match for your ancestor on, just click Web Merge to add the information to your family file.

Family Tree Maker still lets you design and print a wide assortment of graphical family trees, all customizable with your choice of backgrounds, borders, fonts and colors.

On the downside, family group sheets are still lousy, and you can’t print numbered pedigree charts. Also, when you share family files with other researchers, you can exchange multimedia only with other Family Tree Maker users.

Overall, though, the revamped Family Tree Maker should finally shed its reputation as a lightweight program long on graphics and short on everything else. The new pedigree view, updated family view and Web-searching options make this a far more useful program for researching and organizing your family history. Look for a full review of the program in the February 2005 Family Tree Magazine.


Version tested: 3.1

Price: $59 download, $69 CD-ROM

Company: Thoughtful Creations, (513) 522-4116, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 64MB RAM, 40MB hard disk space

Genbox has quietly emerged as one of a rare breed of genealogy software that offers useful tools for both organizing your family history and producing great graphical charts.

? Organizational tools: Entering and viewing family data in Genbox is easy, and the program has a good system for documenting sources.

? Reports: You can choose from an impressive range of reports for printing or publishing on the Web. The software creates nicely formatted pedigree charts and family group sheets, and the pedigree charts include source documentation — a feature found in few other programs.

? Books: Genbox does a great job on narrative reports, whether you want to create a short history of one branch of your family or a whole book. Unlike most other programs, Genbox also creates an index to place names with separate entries for towns, counties and states.

? Graphical charts: Options include ancestor and descendant charts, ancestor ring charts, fan charts and timelines. The convergent chart, an especially useful report available in few other programs, shows the line of descent of two people from a common ancestor.

Although the program is easy to use, it could benefit from some streamlining. Most important functions are accessible via nine tabs on the individual screen. Merging some of those functions would simplify the program. Also, when creating graphical charts, you’re presented with an almost overwhelming array of options. Most users probably would be content with a few standard styles and fewer choices to make. See the review in the August 2004 Family Tree Magazine.

If you’re looking for genealogy software that not only produces attractive graphical charts, but also provides all the tools you need to organize your family history, Genbox fills the bill.


Version tested: 5.0

Price: Standard Edition free download; Deluxe Edition $19.95 download or $29.95CD-ROM with manual

Company: Millennia Corp., (800) 753-3453, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 64MB RAM (128MB or more recommended), 40MB hard disk space

A standout in many areas, Legacy has strong multimedia support and produces excellent reports and Web pages.

? Multimedia: Legacy does basic photo editing, such as adjusting brightness, sharpness and contrast. You can attach pictures, sound files and video files to individuals, events and sources, and include images in many printed reports.

Another neat feature: You can view an individual’s pictures as a slide show or a “slider show” in which the pictures gradually move across the screen in random directions and random sizes. Or print an individual photo album with up to 30 pictures per page.

? Reports: Legacy produces outstanding printed reports in many formats. Well-designed family group sheets and pedigree charts show you key information at a glance, and book-format reports can include both name and location indexes. You have the option of saving all charts in PDF format, which is ideal for e-mailing.

? Web pages: Legacy produces Web pages in a number of styles: ancestor, descendant, pedigree, family group or individual.

These features, along with an efficient system for documenting sources and probably the most useful to-do list of any program reviewed here, make Legacy one of the best all-around genealogy programs. See the June 2004 Family Tree Magazine for more on the Deluxe Edition. Look for version 6.0 in 2005.


Version tested: 5

Price: Silver Edition $34 download, $39.95CD-ROM; Gold Edition $59 download, $79.95 CD-ROM

Company: Wholly Genes, (877) 864-3264, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 98 or higher, 64MB RAM (256MB recommended), 65MB hard disk space

Any genealogy software will help you organize your family history, but TMG stands out for its ability to record every detail, properly cite many kinds of sources, track your correspondence, maintain a research log and produce the most-professional books. The program’s charting and multimedia features improved in version 5. See the October 2002 Family Tree Magazine for a full review.


To organize your family history • Family Tree Legends
• Family Tree Maker
• Genbox Family History
• Legacy Family Tree
• Personal Ancestral File
• RootsMagic
To print graphical charts • Family Tree Legends
• Family Tree Maker
To publish a book • Ancestral Quest/Heritage Family Tree Deluxe
• Ancestry Family Tree
• Family Trees Quick & Easy

? Ease of use: Beginner Data Entry Mode helps new users become acquainted with TMG before tackling the program’s more-advanced features. Tips appear each time you launch the software, and context-sensitive help is available from just about anywhere in the program.

? Charts: The hourglass chart shows an individual’s ancestors and descendants. Box charts can include artistic frames in many styles.

? Multimedia: You can create slide shows with pictures, sound and video and send them to relatives with the included viewer.

Even with the latest usability improvements, TMG packs in so many features and so much information on each screen that it can be overwhelming. You’ll need to spend time reading the manual, doing the lessons in the tutorial and trying out all the menu options. Although TMG is one of the hardest genealogy programs to use, it offers the most comprehensive set of tools for the meticulous researcher.


Version tested: 5.2

Price: Free download, $8.25 CD-ROM with PAF Companion

Company: FamilySearch, (800) 537-5971, <>

Minimum requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 32MB RAM (64MB recommended), 20 to 72MB hard disk space

Brimming with features, yet remarkably easy to use, PAF gives you a lot of power without a steep learning curve. The program is known for efficient data entry, outstanding printed reports and a sleek user interface.

? Ease of use: PAF features exceptionally well-written electronic manuals, lessons and help files. A right-click of the mouse brings up a menu of options from almost anywhere in the program.

? Navigation: The pedigree view provides a quick overview of five generations of your family. You can easily navigate up and down your family tree, edit an individual record, print a report and return to pedigree view.

? Efficient data entry: Create customized individual and marriage screens with only the fields you need and in the order you prefer.

? Reports:Well-designed printed and Web reports show you key information at a glance.

? Foreign-language support: Type names, places and other text with Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters or with Cyrillic letters for languages such as Russian.

Not only is Personal Ancestral File one of the best genealogy programs, the price is right: a free download from FamilySearch <>. It’s a large file (10MB or more), so you might prefer to order the program on CD for $8.25. See the December 2002 Family Tree Magazine for a full review.


Version tested: 2

Price: $29.95

Company: RootsMagic, (877) 766-8762, <>

Minimum requirements:Windows 95 or higher

RootsMagic, the successor to the venerable Family Origins, combines remarkable ease of use with a wealth of features and outstanding reports.

? Easy data entry:Well-designed pedigree, family and descendants views make navigation simple, and tabs give you quick access to an individual’s data, sources and photos. You probably won’t have to spend much time learning how to use this program.

? Research organization: A full range of useful tools, including a correspondence log; to-do lists; and relationship, Soundex and date calculators, helps you organize your research.

? Reports: RootsMagic’s well-designed printed reports include everything from standard pedigree charts and family group sheets to calendars, scrapbooks and photo trees. The program also makes creating family history books easy. You can choose from several formats for publishing your family history on the Internet, too.

Version 2 adds timeline charts, improved book publishing and a charting program for customizable ancestor, descendant and hourglass wall charts.

One of the most well-rounded genealogy programs, RootsMagic scores big points. See our review in the October 2004 Family Tree Magazine. You can download a free trial version from the Web site.

So there you have ’em: The most popular programs in a nutshell. Now that you’ve studied each one’s strengths, you can pick a winner — then start using it to knock out your research challenges.

Contributing editor RICK CRUME is the author of Plugging Into Your Past (Family Tree Books, $19.99).