I spent 40 hours researching and testing genealogy software to find out which program is the best. Throughout that week, I consulted with genealogy experts, built my own family tree back five generations, created family trees based on fictional characters, and learned a lot about Irish Kings and U.S. Presidents by importing GEDCOM files. In the end, Legacy Family Tree and Family Historian stood out among the others due to their superior GEDCOM accuracy.
Legacy Family Tree
Legacy Family Tree earned perfect marks in my GEDCOM test, is easy to use, and has comprehensive research and scrapbooking tools. It’s comparable to the best genealogy software but costs less.
Family Historian performed perfectly in my GEDCOM test and received the highest grades for ease of use and data management. Those scores, combined with its excellent scrapbooking tools and feature set, give it the most intuitive user experience of the programs we tested.
Not only does Heredis 2018 feature the most stylish family tree charts and genealogy reports, but it also has the widest variety. Also, the quality of its charts is unmatched.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Ease of Use||Charting Capabilities||Data Management||Price||GEDCOM Import Accuracy||Navigation||Data Entry Efficiency||Undo and Redo Tool||Hints||Chart Quality||Customizable Charting Tools||Descendent Tree||Fan Charts||Bow-Tie & Hourglass Charts||Scrapbooking||Warnings||Automatic Backup||Location Mapping||Task List|
|Family Historian 6||View Deal||4.5/5||6.3||10||9.3||9.8||$46.50||A+||A+||A+||✓||✓||B+||✓||✓||✓||✓||A||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Legacy Family Tree 9||View Deal||4/5||7||7.3||9||10||$39.95||A+||A||A||-||-||B||✓||✓||✓||✓||A+||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Heredis 2017||View Deal||4/5||8.3||6.3||10||7.5||$29.99||C+||A||A||-||-||A+||✓||✓||✓||✓||A-||✓||-||✓||-|
|RootsMagic 7||View Deal||3.5/5||8.3||7.3||4.5||7.8||$29.95||B||B+||A-||-||✓||C+||-||✓||-||-||B||✓||✓||-||✓|
|Family Tree Maker||View Deal||3.5/5||2.3||8.5||9.8||6.5||$79.95||A-||A+||A+||✓||-||A||✓||✓||✓||✓||A+||-||-||✓||✓|
|Ancestral Quest 14||View Deal||3/5||8.3||8||1.5||6||$29.95||B||B+||C+||✓||✓||D||✓||✓||✓||-||B+||✓||✓||-||✓|
|Reunion 12||View Deal||3/5||0||9||8.5||7.8||$99.00||B-||A||A||✓||✓||A-||✓||✓||✓||-||A||✓||-||✓||-|
|Brother's Keeper 7.1||View Deal||3/5||6.5||4.8||6||5.8||$45.00||B-||C-||C-||Undo Only||C-||-||✓||✓||✓||C||-||✓||✓||✓|
|Family Tree Heritage Platinum 9||View Deal||3/5||7||6.5||2||5.8||$39.99||C+||B||B||-||✓||C-||-||✓||-||-||B||-||✓||-||✓|
Legacy Family Tree emerged from my tests and research as one of the best performing family tree apps because of its excellent data management and research tools. The interface is a little dated, but it's very effective and easy to use. Most importantly, Legacy Family Tree was one of only two programs with 100-percent accuracy in my GEDCOM test. This, along with its lower price point, make it the best value genealogy software.
In my GEDCOM import tests, I used four genealogical records to gauge how well each program interpreted this universal genealogical file format. Legacy Family Tree and Family Historian were the only programs that earned perfect scores.
These weren't simple records either. Two of the files contained over 1,000 family names, including media files, notes, memories and more. I purposely made the other two GEDCOM records difficult for genealogy software to interpret by including same-sex marriages, polygamous families and mixed families. Legacy Family Tree’s accuracy makes it ideal for incorporating a family member’s research into your own.
Legacy Family Tree received A grades for navigation and data entry in my ease of use tests. Its interface is pleasantly simple, not overwhelming like many of the programs I reviewed. This makes it easy to manage data, especially when there's so much to get lost in. I also liked the automatic warnings the software gave when I entered possibly incorrect information, such as if a parent was too young at the entered marriage date or too old at death.
Best User Experience
If your main reason for doing genealogy is to record and tell your family's story, then Family Historian is your best software option. Not only did it most accurately interpret data from GEDCOM files (which makes it easy to incorporate data collected by other family members) but its interface was also the easiest to use.
Its scrapbooking tools are also effective and easy to find. In addition, Family Historian’s integration with online databases makes it a powerful genealogy tool.
Only two genealogy programs perfectly interpreted data in GEDCOM files – and Family Historian was one of them. I imported four GEDCOM files – two very large records and two smaller records I created specifically to test each program’s ability to interpret tricky information, such as same-sex marriages, polygamist families and mixed families. Each of these records included media files, memories, notes, burial locations and more. Family Historian interpreted the data and incorporated the records into its format without flaw. If someone else in your family has done a lot of research already, this is the best program for incorporating their records into your own.
Family Historian received the highest grades for ease of use. It’s easy to navigate, with almost no learning curve. Also, the tabbed menus make data entry quick and effortless because you don't have to open new windows for every piece of information you want to enter. If you do genealogy for hours at a time, opening and closing windows can add a significant amount of time to your work. It's also one of the few programs with a time-saving undo/redo feature.
Best Charting Capabilities
Heredis 2018 wasn’t impressive, particularly because of its subpar GEDCOM accuracy. In fact, it completely failed to import one of my four test GEDCOM files. However, the software’s charts are unmatched in number, quality, variety and style. If you primarily want genealogy software to print out family trees, genealogy reports and books, Heredis 2018 is the best option.
The software has more chart options than any other app I reviewed by a long shot. There are 45 charts and 33 report styles to choose from – nearly double the options other programs have. Its selection includes charts with actual trees as the background, charts with fancy designs linking people together and charts made to look like antique scrolls. Heredis’ charts are of high enough quality you can print and frame them.
In many ways, Heredis is my favorite interface to work in because of its modern design and customizable tools. It doesn't feel like it was designed in the 1990s like some of its competitors do. In fact, the module-based interface is fully customizable, so you can mold it to your preferences, making it great for novices and experts alike.
Heredis lacks undo and redo tools and doesn't offer hints to guide you in your research. It also doesn’t have a task list and doesn’t automatically back up your data. Perhaps most important, though, it didn't perform very well in my GEDCOM tests, completely failing to import one of the files and having issues with the others.
Best for Beginners
Family Tree Maker is a great tool for comprehensive genealogy research.
In our tests, it received an A+ for data entry efficiency, scrapbooking tools and ease-of-use. Very few features require you open new windows, eliminating the possibility of getting lost in a sea of data. For testing, we entered the information of 10 people and it took under 5 minutes. Charting is also easy so if you've never used software like this before, the learning curve is small. The scrapbooking features are also right at the top of the interface, where you can add photos, videos and other material to flesh out your family's story.
Best for Mac
The only reason this product doesn’t rank higher in our rankings is because its limited to Macs, but if you’ve got an Apple laptop, iPad or iPhone this software is one of the best options out there.
Reunion 12's charting displays crisply, making your family tree easy to print out. You can easily attach photos, video and other media to a family member via the main toolbar, which is displayed vertically on the left side of the screen. It only took us 7 minutes to enter data for 10 individuals, which is incredibly efficient compared to other products we tested that took 10 minutes or more. The one flaw we discovered with Reunion 12 had to do with importing your family tree as a GEDCOM file. The programming excluded a same-sex marriage and some media files. Aside from some GEDCOM compatibility problems though, this software is easy to use on your Apple device.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed genealogy software since 2004, testing and comparing the best products on the market each year. As I tested these programs, I put most of my focus on ease of use, evaluating each software’s GEDCOM accuracy, interface navigation, tools and features, and data entry process. However, I also considered the apps’ charting capabilities and data management, paying special attention to their scrapbooking tools because genealogy is about much more than tracking down your ancestor’s records – it's about collecting, recording and managing your family's story.
While this is the first time I've reviewed family tree software, genealogy is a frequent topic of conversation in my family. My ancestors’ stories make up a core part of who I am and how I came to be. I've traveled to Ireland, Wales and England specifically to visit ancestral sites. Genealogy software has an existential value for me, and I approached each program as someone recording his family’s story.
How We Tested
Sharing research is a major part of successful genealogy work. To do this, you create a GEDCOM file, a universal format for recording genealogy records. It allows you to incorporate research from others, such as a great aunt or a cousin, into your own database. However, while GEDCOM files are universal, not all programs accurately interpret their data.
To test the apps’ accuracy, I used GEDCOM files of Irish kings and U.S. presidents. Then I created a GEDCOM file based on my own family tree and a fictional file based on characters from my favorite TV show. The purpose of the first two records was to test the breadth of the program, as each file had thousands of names and hundreds of families. The other two records were made to be as difficult as possible – they included same-sex marriages, polygamist relationships and complicated mixed families. Each of these GEDCOM files included media files, notes, memories, web links and more.
The amount of information in these GEDCOM files was staggering, making it all the more impressive when two programs emerged with perfect results. The biggest problem programs had was excluding huge swaths of information from a family line based on one problematic entry. Another issue was errors in the media files and missing notes. Often, the data was still available, but the connections had to be re-stitched.
I also evaluated how easy each program is to use by looking closely at its interface design and data entry process. The easiest programs are modeless – you don’t have to open a new window for every tool or feature you want to use. Instead, you enter data in an interface that uses floating tabs and adjustable modules in a single window. This process requires fewer mouse-clicks, so it saves time. Overall, modeless interfaces have shallower learning curves and help novices become experts quicker.
In addition, I evaluated the programs’ charting capabilities and scrapbooking tools. Genealogy is about much more than collecting dates and names – it’s also about telling your family story; displaying family connections on a visual chart; and tracking down pictures, videos, audio, family memories, life events, health records, facts and other notes. The best genealogy programs put their chart options and scrapbooking tools front and center so you don’t have to dig to find them.
How Much Does Genealogy Software Cost?
We tested genealogy software that cost an average of $46, making it more cost-effective than paying a monthly fee to use a genealogy website. If you opt for genealogy software the only ongoing costs are for software updates or upgrades, which costs roughly $20 depending on the service.
Why Buy Genealogy Software?
As I began researching genealogy software for this review, my family had a big party to celebrate six birthdays – siblings, nieces, nephews, grandmother. Everyone was there. At the party, I talked about reviewing genealogy software, knowing it's a topic my family is interested in. The reaction I got from everyone was "So, you're reviewing services like Ancestry and MyHertitage? Are you going to get your DNA tested?"
Indeed, Top Ten Reviews covers genealogy services and DNA testing kits, but when I explained it was desktop genealogy software, the response was "Why? Aren't the services better? FamilySearch.org is free!"
And they make a good point – why buy genealogy software? The software doesn't come with a database of names and records. If you have to access a database to do research anyway, why not use a service to build your family tree?
I asked Simon Orde, director at Family Historian, the same question: Why is genealogy software still relevant? While he praises online genealogy services as a vital part of the genealogy industry that connects people with vast databases of names and records, he draws a stark line between the value of genealogy software and that of genealogy services. Desktop software, he explains, "allows customers to store their own data on their own PC, under their own control."
It may seem like a small detail, but there are big implications. Namely, when you use a cloud-based database, the information isn't yours to control or maintain. When you put your family history together in a desktop genealogy program, you not only own the data, but you own the process. It makes you more invested in your family’s story.
Doing genealogy is like being a detective. This is part of the appeal for many people – building an ancestor's life story through small clues and fractured information. To do this, you can't limit yourself to one database. However, genealogy services lock you into a subscription with complicated user agreements and intellectual property issues, making it difficult to do cross-database research.
If you're like a detective, online services limit the scope of your detecting. Orde illustrates this by pointing out that services only provide hints within their own database – you don't get hints about records on other databases. For example, Ancesty.com doesn’t direct you to MyHeritage.com or other sites, even if the information may further your research. But with software, you get hints and matches for individuals on multiple databases.
The cloud-based nature of online genealogy services means other users can change information. While citing information is good practice, an online user doesn't necessarily need to cite the reason for changing data. For example, a few years ago, someone changed my grandfather's death date on a popular ancestry service's database. My father had to go through the process of fixing the altered date, showing he had firsthand experience and citing the death certificate before the date was corrected. As it turned out, the person who altered the date had mistaken my grandfather for someone with a similar name. Not an uncommon issue with databases.
A Living Record
Another reason to buy genealogy software is to build a record of living relatives. Marcia Helzer, a retired school teacher and volunteer indexer for FamilySearch.org for the last eight years, emphasizes how genealogy is a living record. It should focus as much your living relatives as it does your ancestors. But this is difficult to do with online services because it may violate living individuals’ privacy. Online databases, she argues, are great for building backward but not for building forward. In an era where identity theft is a real concern, a privately managed database on your computer is the safer option.
Pairing Genealogy Software With DNA Test Kits
While genealogy software can do a lot to help you reveal your family’s history, it is still fallible since you may be missing information or have some incorrect details. For example, there are many stories about people taking DNA tests for fun only to find out that the person they thought was their father isn’t. Without this accurate paternity information, it is impossible to fill in correct genealogical data.
On the flip side, a DNA test kit is also worth it if you don’t know anything about one or more of your parents and want to learn about where you come from. Similarly, a consumer DNA test is also beneficial if you are multiracial – it can reveal a detailed breakdown of your heritage, including information about which continents and countries your DNA originates from. Also, depending on which test you purchase, you may find out what percentage of your biological makeup comes from each region. This can help you focus your genealogy research.
Consumer DNA tests are fun and educational. Though the process has inherent risks, the information the tests provide can help you fill out your genealogy correctly. They can also bring your family closer together and even inspire future travel plans.
More Guides for Family Historians:
- The Best (Inexpensive) 35MM Film Scanners
- The Best DNA Testing Kits
- The Best Genealogy Search Websites
- The Best People Search Engines
- The Best Photo and Movie-Film Scanning Services
- The Best VHS to Digital Converters