If you’ve been doing genealogy for any amount of time, you know that it does not take long to accumulate a substantial amount of documentation. For many people, they simply save the documents to their Ancestry, MyHeritage, or any site where you may have a family tree. While this seems like a good idea, it really is not, and let me explain why.
First, although it is not likely to happen, what if your chosen host goes out of business? You lose everything you’ve saved to your tree. The same is true if you decide not to renew your subscription and to delete your tree from their website. You can keep a copy on the website, but I always suggest keeping a copy on the hard drive of your computer, especially if you are going only use the tree online. I am old school enough that I have paper copies as well. While I love technology, I don’t completely trust it either. I like to have a hard copy to fall back on if all of this goes south at some point.
Second, many people end up using several different sites for research and holding hypothetical family trees (I will explain this in a minute). In this case, you can end up with different documents in many different locations. It makes sense to keep a full set of documents from each source in one place on your computer. Jumping from one place to another to locate a document or multiple documents can be time consuming just trying to remember which site which document is on. I, personally, have broken my files down into family groups and save documents to those groups to make them easier to locate.
The best solution, however, can be to select a genealogical software that allows you to store documents in your tree. The software will manage and catalog, if you will, the documentation you save to an individual. Then, when you need to retrieve it, you simply pull that person up and you will have the documents there. It isn’t a perfect system either if you’re working on one computer because you’ll have to minimize one screen to go and look at another screen while you are doing your research, but I like having my official family tree on my genealogy software with my records there; while, I have hypothetical trees on these websites that I have subscriptions with. What I mean by hypothetical is that, I use these trees to test theories and to do most of my research. When I am as close to certain as I can be about an ancestor (or certain), then I will move that information and data to my tree on my computer. These trees that I have on Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc. are moving targets, meaning I may have a line that I am working on and it may show one individual and 3 or 4 generations behind him one day, and then it could all disappear the next if I feel I’ve gone down a bad road. I don’t want to do that on my computer tree. It is much easier to do it on the online trees.
I will tell you that this probably drives some people mad because there are people out there who copy trees, believing that the trees people have online are the gospel truth, and do not do their due diligence. Let me tell you now, do not do this. Unless someone has 5 or 6 records attached to a person to prove what they have alleged, I would not copy it. But we have to remember, that each person is doing their own research. They aren’t doing it for me or for you; they are doing it for themselves and their family. We all need to respect that. Also realize, that the way Ancestry and MyHeritage’s algorithms work for their leaves, they pick up our entries and those are included along with official records, even though they may or may not be accurate, so make sure when you are checking out a leaf or match that they are coming from a legitimate source.
So what genealogical software is out there? There are several: Legacy 9, Family Historian 6, Heredis 2017, RootsMagic 7, Branches, Family Tree Maker, Ancestral Quest 14, Reunion 12, Brother’s Keeper 7.1, and Family Tree Heritage Platinum. For years I used Family Tree Maker because it was one of the first on the market and I never researched anything else until a few years ago when another genealogist recommended RootsMagic. I have been using it now for about 3 years. I find it much easier to use than Family Tree Maker was and I like the interface with Ancestry.com and it also provides hints from it’s sister company FindMyPast.com.
A website called TOP 10 REVIEWS reviewed genealogy software for 2019. Jeph Preece, Senior Domain Editor for the website, said that he spent 40 hours creating family trees using his own information and made up information, importing and exporting Gedcom files, and consulting with genealogy experts. At the end of that experiment, he was most impressed with Family Historian 6 and Legacy 9 due to the superior nature of their gedcom accuracy. If you don’t understand what that means, the Gedcom is the file you would either export to Ancestry or MyHeritage or import from Ancestry to your software. The accuracy of import or export is huge. You don’t want to have a ton of missing people or data when you export or import, because that means you either try again or you enter it manually. YUCK! Heredis 2017 was third, followed by RootsMagic and Branches to round out the top 5.
In comparing these 5, Family Historian is the most expensive averaging $49.95 (Legacy $39.95; Heredis $29.95; RootsMagic $29.95; Branches $14.99). However, Preece found Family Historian to be the easiest to use, had the best charting capabilities, best data management, best gedcom accuracy, and best navigation. The only thing he really knocked it for was price. Legacy, on the other hand, the only 2 areas that he knocked them on was price and ease of use; otherwise, they are in line with Family Historian.
Heredis did not fair as well in terms of ease of use, gedcom accuracy, and data management. RootsMagic, although it has a nice price, did not rate well on charting capabilities, gedcom accuracy, and navigation. Branches received the highest score for price, but every other category was mediocre at best; thus, placing it at number 5. There is also some freeware out there, but I have no experience with those. I suspect that free means that “free”… use it, but if you have issues, you may or may not get any help.
For me, it is a matter of ease of use, accuracy, and price. I do not normally print charts unless I have some reason to do so, so that is not a huge point for me. It may become one when I come to a point of saying, “I’m done.” I like to re-evaluate my software choice every few years and this just may be the year to do so. If you use one of these other softwares, like Legacy or Family Historian, let me know how you like it or dislike it. Everyone can benefit from your input.
Have a great week!