Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I use several software programs

This week's Open Thread Thursday topic at Geneabloggers is Running Multiple Genealogy Software Programs.  Several society colleagues and readers have asked about my use and experience with genealogy software programs, and asked for my recommendations, so I want to address the issue.  The prompts in the Open Thread Thursday post are:

1)  Which genealogy software program do you use and why?

2) If you use more than one program, list them and tell us why you use more than one program.

I currently have Family Tree Maker 16, Family Tree Maker 2010, RootsMagic 4, Legacy Family Tree 7 and Family Tree Builder 4 on my computer running Windows XP. 

I am still using Family Tree Maker 16 as my primary program - the one that I use to enter and edit names, dates, places, notes, sources, etc.  I am trying to add and improve my source citations in my database with 39,500 names.  I occasionally make a GEDCOM file so that I can keep the databases in the other programs up-to-date.  I find that Family Tree Maker 16 is the easiest program to use to add and edit information, probably because I have over 12 years experience in it.

I have Family Tree Maker 2010, Legacy 7, RootsMagic 4 and Family Tree Builder 4 in order to stay up-to-date with the modern commercial software.  They all essentially do the same basic tasks, but each has unique features.  And some present unique features and problems for me. 

For instance, Family Tree Maker 2010 is the only program that can upload a file directly into (instead of a GEDCOM file).  FTM 2010 still cannot perform a simple task of making an Ancestor List (some call it an Ahnentafel List - with just names, dates, places of ancestors in ancestral chart order - 1 through N).  FTM 2010 takes over one minute to start up on my computer, while the others take seconds.

Legacy Family Tree 7 and RootsMagic 4 are more graphical and produce more types and nicer charts and reports with better formatting options.  But some of their reports include facts and information that I don't want included in the reports.  FTM 16 produces great narrative reports in a format I really like.

Family Tree Builder 4 produces terrible genealogy reports.

 I teach a senior adult class on Beginning Computer Genealogy three times a year and recommend starting with the free Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition and/or the free RootsMagic Essentials programs.  The price is right and if the students want to continue in their research, they will probably upgrade to the full-featured version. 

I also have family trees posted on Ancestry Member Trees, MyHeritage, GeneaNet, Geni and several other sites.  These are used as "cousin bait" - in case other researchers search and find one of my ancestral families, they can contact me.

3)  How do you “sync” multiple programs? Do you simply enter the data more than one time? Do you export data from one program and import into another?

I avoid adding media or changing any data in any program or online tree except for FTM 16.  It is a waste of my time.  I upload the latest GEDCOM file, created by FTM 16, into the other programs from time to time.
The latest versions of RootsMagic 4 and Legacy Family Tree 7 (and I don't know about FTM 2011) will permit synchronization of family information with new FamilySearch Family Tree, which is currently available only to LDS church members. has a stated goal of being able to synchronize information between Family Tree Maker and Ancestry Member Trees, but it is not yet able to perform this operation.  A user can upload an FTM 2010 file into a new Member Tree on Ancestry (but that tree does not replace one already there, which means the earlier tree should be deleted), and can download an Ancestry Member Tree into a new FTM 2010 file (which could be merged into an existing FTM 2010 file, but I wouldn't take that chance!).

4)  What do you think about the inter-changeability of data between genealogy software programs? Do you fear data loss if you export your data and import into a different program? What improvements would you like software makers to make?

The ideal would be if each software program could read the native file from all of the other software programs.  For instance, RootsMagic 4 reads native files from RootsMagic 3 and earlier, FTM 16 and earlier, Legacy (including Version 7?  I don't know), PAF, Family Origins, and GEDCOM files.   Legacy Family Tree 7 reads native files from earlier Legacy versions, Personal Ancestral File, Ancestral Quest, and GEDCOM files. 

One of my reasons for importing a native file or a GEDCOM file into all of the programs is to determine if there is data loss.  For instance, I recently imported my FTM 16 file into FTM 2010, RootsMagic and Legacy.  The names, dates, places, notes all imported well, but I found that some of the source  information (which I'm working really hard on) did not come across completely.  I will write about that in another post.


Donna Hansen Peterson said...

o be added to a family group sheet.

I export a gedcom file from Family Tree Maker and import the file to other programs. I have not noticed any data loss. I also keep my file on a flash drive for portability and back-up uses.

Ben Sayer said...

Hi, Randy. It was interesting to read about how you use various software. I'm surprised that your ideal is for all genealogy software to read the native file formats of all the other software--even if it were only for the most popular programs. It seems to me that it would be shame to waste resources creating and maintaining software to accomplish this multi-directional interchange capability. Wouldn't it be ideal to have a standard format that all the programs could use to exchange data (like GEDCOM, but not flawed)?