The improvements made to family tree software over the past several years have greatly helped to make these tools indispensable when it comes to genealogy. Not only does family tree software make it easier to update and review your family history, it also makes it easy to publish and share that information with others.
One of the most important considerations when selecting a family tree software tool is the manufacturer’s longevity in the marketplace and the product’s ease of use and reliability.
You should stay away from any free or shareware tools that were developed by an unknown company or group. The reason for this is that you may not be able to transfer or share any of the data that you’ve entered with others.
Over the past decade or so we’ve used a variety of family tree software tools with a variety of success and hardships. All of these tools are excel in certain areas, but not in others. To date, I have yet to find the perfect family tree tool, but I have found that my favorite, Family Tree Maker is coming very close to perfection. The following is an overview of some of the other tools that I’ve used in the past.
In the early 1990’s, I started out on the Macintosh with a product called Reunion®. It was an excellent family tree software to start out with, and I would still be using it today if it weren’t for the fact that I switched to a PC based computer. Unfortunately, there was not a PC version of Reunion® available, and so I needed to find something new.
(NOTE: I did learn much later that the PC license of Reunion® was sold to Ancestry and would later become Family Tree Maker®)
But at that time, I ended up doing a great deal of research to find something similar to Reunion® on a PC, as well as what software tools other genealogists were using on the PC and I narrowed my choice down to a product called “The Master Genealogist“.
TMG (no longer available) was an a really robust tool for genealogists, but it had way too many custom features and was really more complicated than I really needed. I also started to run into some software issues in and became a bit leery of its stability. I really did not want to lose all of my work because of file corruption and so I found myself back to work researching tools that I could easily import my work into from TMG
I then came across a free tool offered by The Church of Latter Day Saints called “PAF“ or Personal Ancestry File (no longer available). I felt comfortable using a tool created by this well known organization, and so I began use it without much thought. I was able to import my prior work (from TMG) into this program, with little issue, although not all of my data transferred correctly.
PAF is a great tool for quick and easy data entry, as well for keeping track of information sources. There is also an add-on for printing which allows you to print your data in a variety of layouts including family trees and charts. This worked quite well and I was quite happy with PAF.
In 2005, I attended a genealogy conference at which the new and improved Family Tree Maker® was introduced. I had heard about FTM before, but when it was first introduced, it was very basic family tree software with very limited features and few options to import or export data.
At the conference in 2005, I found myself very impressed with the latest version of Family Tree Maker®, especially the updated printing and online research features. FTM also included an improved GEDCOM import/export feature which is very important if you want to share your data files with other genealogists.
The greatest improvements to FTM 2006 was in it’s integration with the extensive online family history databases at Ancestry.com, (subscription required). The online search feature within FTM now provided integrated search results about ancestors or family members with out leaving FTM. This feature alone saved countless hours of repetitive work.
I now highly recommend Family Tree Maker®. The latest version is Family Tree Maker 2011. It includes many new features such as the ability to Track AND print your ancestors’ migration paths on interactive maps. (UPDATE: FTM will be discontinued on Dec 31st, 2015).
If you have a favorite family tree software that you like, let us know and we’ll post updates here. If you have other questions, suggestions or comments, please contact us.