07 January 2012

Which genealogy software?

A few days ago the GenSoftReviews User Choice Awards for 2011 were announced. I was surprised by the results.
Let's have a look at the award winners, and one other, focusing on traditional PC genealogy database software that is hosted on your own computer. Other entries in GenSoftReviews, including analysis add-ons and utilities on a server (in the cloud), likely the way of the future, are not covered here.
Note that the rankings were done at the end of 2011; some comments and ratings have been added on the site subsequently.

Ancestral Quest - 4.89 out of 5 is top rated. The associated website has an Alexa ranking of 1,063,336. Of 12 reviews 10 give it a perfect five star rating, 1 just one star. Comments praise the software's simplicity, user support and compatibility to PAF. There's a free version and full version available as a download for $29.95. The company, Incline Software, is located in Utah; the website shows sensitive to the needs of LDS users.

Family Historian - 4.63 out of 5 is second rated.  The associated website has an Alexa ranking of 1,715,518. There are 16 reviews, 4 added since the new year. 12 give it a perfect five star rating, 2 four stars and 1 two stars. Four of the comments were added in 2011. While comments praise the ease of use and features there do appear to have been some problems with upgrading, and earlier comments referred to a steep learning curve. A free 30 day trial is available by download. A new version, 5 is expected to be released in February 2012 with free upgrade from version 4 which can be purchased online for £29.99.  The company, Calico Pie, is located in the UK.

Personal Ancestral File - 4.61 out of 5. It has not been developed since 2006 but remains available as a free download from familysearch.org. The reviews divide about evenly between five and four star ratings. Comments praise the software's easy of use, stability and being free, while noting the lack of some bells and whistles available in later commercial software. As a product of the LDS, and familysearch.org, it was specially developed to meet Church requirements. Did I mention it's free.

Ultimate Family Tree - 4.59 out of 5. The software was acquired by Family Tree Maker (Ancestry.com) and is no longer supported or developed. Of 14 reviews 7 give it a perfect five star rating, 1 a four star and 1 a single star. Comments praise the software's event (rather then person) orientation, but lament that it's no longer supported and incompatible with recent operating systems.

Genbox Family History - 4.47 out of 5. The associated website has an Alexa ranking of  5,883,836. Of 16 reviews 8 give it a perfect five star rating, 5 four stars, 1 two star. Comments note its completeness, compare it to The Master Genealogist, and that the latest release is from November 2007. The company, Thoughtful Creations, is located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The full version of Genbox Family History can be downloaded for a free trial for 30 days. A permanent license is $29.95.

Brother's Keeper - 4.42 out of 5. The associated website has an Alexa ranking of   2,401,348. Of 50 reviews 34 give it a perfect five star rating, 7 four stars, 2 three stars and 2 two a single star. Comments were that while it may not have more advanced features, including web interaction, it is simple, reliable and has exceptional support. This is shareware produced by John Steed of Michigan. You can download a fully functional version without charge. A registered version will be mailed for $45.

Note:  The following are the big three in PC genealogy software, as reflected in promotion and the higher Alexa rankings for the product website. They have been widely reviewed and are broadly comparable, but see the note for Family Tree Maker.

RootsMagic - 4.45 out of 5. The associated website has an Alexa ranking of 186,946.
Of 47 reviews 41 give it a perfect five star rating, 2 three stars, 1 two stars and 1 a single star. The product, from Utah based RootsMagic Inc, was recently updated to version 5 for $29.95. There is a free essentials version.

Family Tree Maker - Up to Version 16 - 4.18 out of 5. The associated website has an Alexa ranking of 140,254. Of 35 reviews 12 give it a perfect five star rating, 6 four stars, 3 three stars, 3 two stars, and 2 a single star.  Note this this is not the most recent version of Family Tree Maker which only gets a 2.5 rating based on 108 reviews. 

Legacy Family Tree - 4.06 out of 5. The associated website has an Alexa ranking of 129,328. Of 74 reviews 45 give it a perfect five star rating, 11 four stars, 8 three stars and 7 two stars. The product is from Millenium Corporation, based in Arizona and is available as a free standard edition and a download for $29.95.

One that didn't rank among the award winners

The Master Genealogist  - 3.84 out of 5.  The associated website has an Alexa ranking of  351,227.  Of 104 reviews 45 give it a perfect five star rating, 11 each for four and three stars, 7 two stars and 19 just one star. With such diversity and polarization of opinion it's hard to summarize, but most agree the program takes significant effort to learn. Some of those who like it were criticized for being arrogant toward those who don't; those who don't were criticized for being abusive and sometimes uninformed. There was comment that some of the comments were inside jobs! Version 8 was released in December 2011 so most comments refer to earlier versions. The company, Wholly Genes, is located in Columbia, Maryland. A free 30 day trial by download is available. The full feature gold version is $59 by download.

1. Thanks to Louis Kessler for making the GenSoftReviews facility available. You can make it more valuable by posting comments from your own experience.
2. When ratings are based on only a limited number of reviews the system is vulnerable to gaming.
3. Ratings are based on comments since the site opened in September 2008. In most cases there have been developments in the intervening years. Earlier comments may not reflect the situation with the current version.
4. Generally higher ranked software had fewer comments and lower Alexa rankings
5. If the number of comments had been taken into account, beyond not ranking those that received less than 10 ratings, the rankings could have been quite different. For example, based on the number of five star ratings given the first ranked would be The Master Genealogist which didn't even rank among the award winners. TMG, along with Legacy, each gained more five star ratings than the top five ranked programs combined.
6. When choosing software give consideration to support you might need. While most software includes online help consider choosing a program which has a local user base so you can get face to face advice and training. That's especially true if you are looking for a program that is adapted to non-US data, geography and conventions. Most family history societies will have one or more experts and maybe even a user group.

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