The Software Shuffle
The high-tech side of genealogy has been abuzz
lately with speculation as to which software programs are likely to
be in existence six months or a year from now, given the speed with
which such genealogical products seem to be appearing, disappearing,
or resurfacing under a new name or a new version in the marketplace.
For consumers, this is a real concern, particularly if you bought a
program a few years ago and are now trying to decide whether to
stick with what you've got, upgrade to a newer edition, or switch to
something different. What, exactly, is going on?
For what it's worth, here is my take on the
For people using Windows-based computers (we will
talk about Macintosh software later), there are now two "gorillas"
in this particular jungle: Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and Family
Tree Maker (FTM). In terms of sheer numbers, these programs are the
most widely used by a sizeable margin, for the simple reason they
have both been around a long time and have enjoyed a lot of
exposure. In the case of PAF, distributed by the LDS Church, the
program's ease of use, cheap price (currently free), and strong
backing from the Church have made it a natural choice for many
newcomers to genealogical computing. In the case of FTM, distributed
through retail stores and other commercial channels,
user-friendliness, discounted pricing, and aggressive advertising
have also been key factors behind its success.
But here is where the plot thickens.
The Windows version of PAF is actually a
derivative of a program called Ancestral Quest (AQ), developed by
Incline Software, which sells its program directly to the public
The Church has tweaked the product in various ways, so in its PAF
remake, it is no longer the original program that Incline supplied.
At the same time, Incline has added features to AQ that are not
available in PAF, giving AQ another level of distinctiveness.
A good example of this is what Incline calls
"collaboration"--an interesting concept that permits a registered
owner of AQ to post a copy of a file on the Internet for other
people to "check out" (like a library book) and edit with new
information, then transmit back to the Internet for someone else to
check out. Since the software's owner decides who has check-out
rights, there is no risk of random access to the shared file. The
advantage of collaboration is that all users of the common file can
view the file at any time and see the latest changes, thereby
eliminating the need to exchange information through slower or more
complicated means. Because the shared file is stored on Incline's
server, it is completely separate from any AQ files that users are
maintaining on their own computers. Users can always download
information from the shared file if they want to.
In addition to its own sales efforts, Incline has
licensed AQ to several commercial partners to sell under other
labels. You are most likely to encounter it under the name Ancestry
Family Tree (AFT), marketed over the Internet by MyFamily.com and
its subsidiary, Ancestry.com. How long this AQ byproduct will remain
"out there" is anybody's guess when you consider that MyFamily.com
also has another subsidiary, Genealogy.com, which just happens to be
the owner of FTM. Since FTM and PAF (essentially AQ in disguise) are
competitive programs, both designed to be "everyman's" software, it
is possible that MyFamily.com will lose interest in AFT (also AQ in
disguise) and replace it with some variation of FTM. Right now,
that's not happening, but it could, for the following reason:
Genealogy.com has a reputation as a graveyard for
genealogical software. At various stages of its corporate life, it
has purchased three programs--Ultimate Family Tree, Family Origins,
and Generations--but no longer sells or supports two of them (UFT
and FO) and is not actively promoting the third, whose days
therefore may be numbered. Genealogy.com remains committed to its
bread-and-butter product, FTM, which the company continues to
upgrade with new features each year. By the time you read this,
Version 11.0 should be hitting the shelves.
So, what other programs are available besides PAF,
FTM, and AQ?
Another product worth looking at is Legacy from
www.legacyfamilytree.com. Like Incline Software, Millennia is a
small, independent company trying to carve out a niche for itself in
a market dominated by two very large vendors. Like AQ, Legacy is a
feature-rich program that is constantly evolving as new changes are
introduced. Both programs are available in free trial versions and
in complete, commercial versions as downloads or on disk.
By itself at the top of the food chain (as
measured by its many capabilities) is The Master Genealogist (TMG),
developed by Wholly Genes Software
www.whollygenes.com, another independent. This is a powerhouse
of a program aimed at the serious researcher who understands that
the Internet is not a substitute for getting down-and-dirty in
primary records. The program is heavy on managing numerous kinds of
information and on documenting your sources for that information. It
is detail-driven. As you might suspect, it is not my No. 1 choice
for ease of use. To get your money's worth from TMG, you will need
to read the manual first--which is probably a good idea in any case.
Perhaps we should pause at this point to clarify
one issue. Any discussion about genealogical software must be
careful to distinguish between a program's ability at input (data
entry) and its ability at output (reports). For most consumers,
software is synonymous with the latter. If they think about it at
all, most people think of input as simply a matter of typing in
names, dates, and places, and possibly some notes. More important
for most users is: "What will my information look like when I print
Developers are very much aware of this bias
toward output and have tried to address it. Today, all programs can
generate an array of ancestor charts, descendant charts, family
group sheets, and other reports. The makers of FTM, in fact, have
made it part of their mantra to emphasize their software's reporting
strengths. Unless you have very specialized requirements for
printouts, most of today's programs should meet your needs in this
But keep in mind that reports are no better than
the data they contain, no matter how many formats you can produce or
how attractive those formats are. Genealogical software is subject
to the same basic rules constraining other software. And Rule Numero
Uno is: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Which brings us back to the
subject of data entry. Software should function as a kind of
insurance policy against both perishable and erroneous information;
it should encourage you to think systematically, even analytically,
about what you are entering, how you are entering it, and why you
should endeavor to do the job correctly the first time.
Computers lend themselves to this purpose quite
handily, but they are not babysitters; you can defeat even the best
software by "dumping" information into your database with the idea
of "cleaning it up" later, or by entering information
inconsistently, or by omitting sources, or by including sources but
failing to link them precisely with the details you are recording.
The decisions you make at the front end will determine whether your
reports down the road are anything more than pretty.
What about new genealogical programs? Are there
any new kids on the block that you might want to consider in
addition to the programs I have already described? I am aware of
two: RootsMagic and Family Tree Legends.
RootsMagic (RM) is the creation of FormalSoft
www.rootsmagic.com, the same company that developed the
now-defunct Family Origins. Since I have not yet tested it, I can't
compare RM with other programs, but FormalSoft is hoping that FO's
customer base, now abandoned by Genealogy.com, will turn to RM as
their program of choice.
Family Tree Legends (FTL) is the brainchild of a
new company called Pearl Street Software
www.familytreelegends.com, which is marketing its product as
"the first truly Internet-intelligent genealogy application." This
early in the game, I can't say how accurate such a claim may be. FTL
appears to take the path of programs like FTM and AFT, which make it
easy for you to search web sites affiliated with the programs'
manufacturers. FTL links you to the "Global Tree" database at
www.gencircles.com, a site developed by the same person who
To sum up, PAF
www.familysearch.com and FTM
will continue to be popular because a lot of people are using them
and they are supported by large organizations. Also, to give credit
where credit is due, they are very serviceable programs. The only
caveat here is that the LDS Church is a nonprofit entity that may or
may not decide to throw more money at developing Personal Ancestral
File, whereas Genealogy.com has every reason to stick with its
present marketing strategy.
That leaves two strong contenders--AQ and
Legacy--for those consumers interested in alternative products.
Whether RM and FTL can also compete in this group remains to be
Lastly, in the Windows market, is TMG, a
one-of-a-kind product that has assumed the position of cutting-edge
technology in genealogical computing. I think we can expect a lot
more innovation from this high-end leader.
As for users of Macintosh computers, the news is
all good: one company--Leister Productions
www.leisterpro.com - has captured this field with a product of
such high quality that it makes no sense to shop for anything else.
The program, Reunion, is one slick package. Get out your credit