Best Free Genealogy or Family Tree Software

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Introduction

Genealogy software provides a method for recording the subjects of our research, e.g. their names, relationships, and events of their lives. Evidence (citations and sources) should be recorded to support the conclusions reached. They also print the reports and charts to show off the results of our labor.  This article reviews stand alone programs which run on your PC. If you are interested in web based applications please see my companion review at Best Free Online Genealogy / Family Tree Applications.

I reviewed several free genealogy programs which will do a reasonable job for the novice or advanced genealogist.  Unless otherwise noted:

  • They support unlimited entry of individuals, birth, marriage, death, burial, and other events together with their associated dates, locations, and source citations.
  • Alternative names can be entered but are not necessarily searched.
  • Marriages are not numerically limited, i.e. multiple spouses (sequential or polygamous).
  • Polygamous relationships are not completely displayed, e.g. only one pair can be viewed at a time.
  • Multiple parents are supported (adopted, foster, or other possibilities). However, only one pair of parents can be displayed at a time.
  • Incest is supported, e.g. a child can be married to one of their parents and/or be both sibling and parent of another sibling. 
  • Same sex marriages and parents are supported by several of the recommended programs.
  • They support family group, pedigree, and descendant reports and charts together with the associated foot- or end-notes.
  • They support multimedia attachments but not all support photos in reports.
  • They support import and export of GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) format files.
Discussion

Legacy StandardLegacy Standard, my top selection, is fairly easy to use, flexible, and has plenty of capabilities. The free version supports family, pedigree, and index views. You can easily navigate to younger or older generations simply by clicking on the individuals. Clicking on Events icon displays all of the events for an individual.

You can attach photos or any other type of document. I love the well structured source templates. The location field is unstructured but the Master Location List can help keep the locations consistent. I love the merge feature for people, places, sources, repositories, etc. You can select specific individuals, families and entire family lines for export or reports by placing them in a Focus Group. 

Strong report generator supports many general report types including citation and to do lists. Legacy can print narrative book style reports using generic sentence templates. Creates stunning graphical charts, ancestor, descendant, fan, hourglass, and bow tie charts. Cannot save some reports to RTF (Rich Text Format); however, text format (ASCII) is supported.

The program provides Internet Search links and a To Do List. 

Legacy creates the best looking web pages and has the most features for web site creation of these programs. Supports photos and CSS.

Same sex couples are not supported either as parents or marriage. Polygamous and sequential multiple marriages and incestuous relationships are supported. Multiple parental relationships such as including adoptive parents or guardians are not supported.

Many menu items when selected display a nagging message that the feature is available only in the Deluxe Edition. Greying out and disabling the unavailable options would have been less obtrusive.

Legacy places data files in the C:\Legacy\Data directory instead of the normal %UserProfile% directory unless the default directory is changed in the options. The user should take care that their backup software includes the nonstandard location.

GrampsGramps should be able to run on any operating systems that supports Python, e.g. Windows, Linux, Mac OS (disclaimer--I only tested in Windows). I liked that I could easily navigate or filter by people or name list, family, relationship, ancestry, events, places, sources, repositories, media, and notes. An undo function allows easy correction of the most recent entries.

I felt the place entry especially outstanding. Places have distinct fields for street, city, latitude, church parish, etc. Alternate locations can be entered for each place, e.g. one could enter Virginia as an alternate for some West Virginia locations prior to the Civil War. Sources, notes, multimedia, and internet links can be linked to each place.  Also all events linked to the place are displayed and can be navigated to.

I loved the date support. Dates can be based on several different calendars, e.g. Gregorian, Islamic, etc. The date can have a quality of regular, estimated, or calculated. And finally the type can include before, after, range, span, etc. Events support roles, e.g. bride for a marriage event. Oddly there is no date calculator so, for example, a birth date calculated from the age at death would need to be manually .

Gramps can create narrative style web sites. You can select a standard copyright or from any of the Creative Commons copyrights. Not only can living people be excluded, entirely or name only but also a date range to restrict recently deceased people can be selected, e.g. people who died within the last five years could be treated as if they were still living.

Gramps can create large format reports which could be sent to a facility with the ability to print large sheets.  Alternatively, large sized reports can be printed on individual pages which can be put together like a jigsaw puzzle, with the pages numbered according to their location in the overall report.

Sources can be attached to people, families, events, and multimedia. I love the ability to copy and paste citations. I would have preferred source templates based on Mills' or Lackey's books.

Gramps directly supports patronymic and matronymic style names, e.g. ap Robert, verch Evan, etc. It also supports multiple surnames, e.g. Ramón y Cajal.

Gramps supports multiple parent relationships, e.g. adoptive. Same sex marriage is supported and each partner is labeled as "spouse." Same sex parents are also supported but one parent will be labeled as father and the other as mother. Marriage is not assumed for parents. Gender need not be specified for parents or married couples, e.g. a marriage can be entered for J. Roe and A. Smith with both listed as unknown gender. Genealogists worrying about how to enter the parents of cloned individuals will be relieved to know that the same person can be entered as both father and mother (found this quite by accident).

The installation can be intimidating. There are several required programs which must be installed in a specific order. I highly recommend using the all in one installation or the portable version on the Portable Apps website for Windows installers.

The family group text report did not have foot or end notes.

Some users find the interface difficult to use.

Scion PCIf you're interested in an easy to use portable application then ScionPC should be at the top of your list. 

I love the lack of gender constraints, e.g. I can add both of my grandchild's same sex parents without resorting to tricks such as changing the gender of one of the parents. Both members of marriages are referred to as partner's. (There is a warning that the couple is the same sex.) I wish other genealogy programs would adopt this standard. Supports multiple aliases.

ScionPC has exceptional date format support, e.g. Circa, Before, After, Estimated, and Date Range modifiers as well as Georgian, Julian, Hebrew, French Revolutionary, Islamic, Persian, Indian National, Coptic, User Defined and Unknown calendars. I like the pop up calendar for use when entering dates.

The program creates a complete web site for upload.  Supports CSS. 

Only one source format. Only one source citation is permitted per event. No book print function.

Myheritage Family Tree Builder I love MyHeritage Family Tree Builder's hour glass view that can adjust from just one generation above and below the focus person to three generations. This eliminates the need for separate person, pedigree, and descendant views. There is a handy list for navigation just to the left which can be expanded or retracted out of the way. 

MyHeritage automatically checks for possible duplicates when entering people. This feature mitigates the absence of a merge duplicate people tool. Good tree consistency checker.

A button appears next to the place entry field when clicked will offer suggestions from similar places already appearing in your database. A pop-up calendar is available when entering dates. 

Reports can be saved to HTML format. Supports a direct upload to the MyHeritage web site but no other independent web site creation. Imports Family Tree Legends as well as GEDCOM format files.

MyHeritage supports multiple parent relationships, e.g. adoptive. Same sex marriage is supported and both partner's are labeled as "husband" or "wife" depending on sex. Same sex parents are also suported. Marriage is assumed for parents but can be changed to another type of status such as Friends, Engaged, or Other. Gender need not be specified for parents or married couples, e.g. a marriage can be entered for J. Roe and A. Smith with both listed as unknown gender and "husband."

No place or individual person reports. 

There is no context sensitive help available but the PDF format manual is very helpful.

Launches a browser window and displays nag screens when options unavailable in the free version are selection. Registration adds your email to several mailing lists. Some features (e.g. Profiles) require syncing to MyHeritage.com.

RootsMagic EssentialsRootsMagic Essentials has a variety of source templates based on Elizabeth Shown Mills Evidence.  I was able to open multiple databases or the same database multiple times and display them side by side.

Supports multiple parent relationships, e.g. adoptive.  However, all parent relationships assume that the parents are married. Happily I was able to enter a gender neutral relationship for the parents of a child. However, one of the women was denoted the father and the other as the mother.  I'd prefer to be able to list both as parent, both as mother, or the actual mother as mother and the other as parent.  Supports multiple aliases.

The reports and charts produced by RootsMagic are generally better in appearance than the other programs listed here.  Place, citation, to-do list, and narrative reports are supported. Bibliographies are available for some reports. Saving reports to other file formats is disabled in the free version--viewing and printing is allowed. There is no option to hide living people or events for living folks and no option to exclude private notes in reports.

I like the copy and paste citation functionality. There is no optional surety assesment for citations. There is no relationship calculator.

RootsMagic displays a nagging splash screen at every start up requiring the user to chose between the free and the Full version. This is immediately followed with a RootsMagic News screen. Many menu choices are not functional in the free version but I do appreciate that they are highlighted in a reddish color.

 
Related Products and Links
GEDViewGEDView is a portable viewer for GEDCOM files. Save your GEDCOM to a USB drive with this utility and you'll never be without access to your research. Provides name listing, individual screen, and pop up pedigree, descendant, Mitochondrial DNA, and Y Chromosome views.
Ged2WebGed2Web converts GEDCOM files to HTML files for uploading to a website. More features than PAF but either Legacy, Gramps, or ScionPC produce better formatted web sites. If you don't want to install Legacy, Gramps, or ScionPC then you might try this utility.
GeneaQuilts"GeneaQuilts is a new visualization technique for representing large genealogies of up to several thousand individuals. The visualization takes the form of a diagonally-filled matrix, where rows are individuals and columns are nuclear families. The system includes an overview, a timeline, search and filtering components, and a new interaction technique called Bring & Slide that allows fluid navigation in very large genealogies." I suggest watching the demonstration video if you're interested in trying this program.

AncestryThe Ancestry Android and Ipad Apps offer a mobile method for accessing your Ancestry.com family trees.

Horizontal pedigree chart with individual and family displays that can shown at the right side. Displays, adds, and edits individuals and events. Easy to search by name. Can add photos to the tree. With internet connection, edits are posted to Ancestry.com, locations are prompted, and Ancestry.com can be searched. Location aware devices can also supply current city for event location.

Does not support sources. No descendant, people, or place list view. No bookmarks or history list of viewed people.

Requires (free or paid) Ancestry.com registration.

Find Grave (beta)Find Grave (beta) Android App offers a mobile method for searching FindaGrave.com for cemeteries and memorials. Add a memorial if you are registered at FindaGrave.com.

Requires internet connection.

Quick Selection Guide

Legacy Standard
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Source templates, place list, to-do list, Focus groups. Creates web sites. Merge feature for people, places, sources, repositories, etc. Many report and chart types including narrative, citation list, and to do. Internet searches. Polygamous and sequential multiple marriages and incestuous relationships are supported. Supports multiple names but can't search them.
Does not support same sex parents or same sex marriages. Multiple parental relationships such as including adoptive parents or guardians are not supported. Nags when unavailable menu items are selected.
http://www.legacyfamilytree.com
7.5.0.219
47.7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
"Legacy runs on newer Macs with Windows installed under Bootcamp, Parallel or Fusion . Legacy runs on Linux machines with a Windows emulator like VMWare or Sun's Virtual Box."

Win 98 and Win Me need all available Microsoft Service Packs installed.

Gramps
5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Undo function. Date range support. Place list. Creates web sites. Copy & paste citations. Supports large sized reports. Supports multiple names. Supports multiple marriages with children from each. Same sex marriage is supported but one person is labeled father and the other mother. Children may have multiple sets of parents.
Only one source format. No foot or end notes on family group report. No date calculator.
http://www.gramps-project.org/
3.4.5-1
46.1 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Open source freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.
Gramps currently runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. Guides for installation on BSD and Solaris are available.
ScionPC
4.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Portable. No gender constraints. Date range support. Can create a web site. Individual view. Pop-up calendar. Multiple marriages, parents, and alternate names.
Only one source format. Only one citation per event. No book print function. No private notes.
8.1
7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
ScionPC has been confirmed to run on Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit) and Windows 8 (32-bit and 64-bit). It should run on any other "32-bit" Windows such as 95, 98, NT3 (or later), but this has not currently been confirmed. It has been reported to run happily in Kubuntu Linux using Wine, so should also run on most Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X and Solaris distributions using Wine.
MyHeritage Family Tree Builder
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Hour glass view adjustable from one to three generations. Checks for duplicate people. Pop-up calendar. Supports multiple marriages and parents. Supports unmarried parents. Supports same sex marriages and parents. Supports multiple names. Supports free syncing of up to 250 people (not selectable from program) with personal www.myheritage.com website. Supports searches in www.myheritage.com free & paid database collections.
Opens MyHeritage web site on every program start. Nags when encountering feature limits. Only one source format. No merge tools. No individual report. No context sensitive help. No date calculator; e.g. can't calculate birth date from death date & age at death. Some features (e.g. Profiles) require syncing to MyHeritage.com.
7.0.0.7105
35.2 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows
RootsMagic Essentials
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Source templates. Place and citation list reports. Supports multiple marriages, multiple parents, and unmarried parents. Supports same sex parents but labels say Father & Mother. Copy & paste citations. Nice looking reports. Supports multiple names. Optional surety assessment. Nice method of indicating which functions are not supported in free version.
Nags at start with a splash screen. Reports cannot be saved to other file formats. No book print function. No private notes. No relationship calculator.
http://www.rootsmagic.com
6.1.0.3
26.3 MB + 68 MB optional place database
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Runs under Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000
Brother's Keeper
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Automatically checks for duplicate people. Supports multiple names, marriages, and parents. Supports same sex marriage. Supports same sex parents but labels are Father/Mother.
No date formatting. No people list. No pictures or other media. Reports cannot be saved to other formats. No bookmarks.
http://www.bkwin.org
6.6.8
14 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Brother's Keeper 6.6 will run with Windows Vista and Windows 7 and 8
Ancestral Quest Basics
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Automatically searches RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project and Ancestry.com in the background and displays number of matches. Performs individual Internet searches of Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, and Familysearch.com (some types of search available only with paid version).
Nags with each startup and whenever a feature available only in paid version is selected. Does not support incestual or same gender relationships. Only search by name is supported. Bookmarks and history of people viewed is not supported.
14.0
35 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Runs on the Microsoft Windows logo Windows operating system. It is compatible with Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista and XP.

Internet connection and browser required for internet search functions.

Quick Selection Guide-Mobile

Ancestry
3.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Horizontal pedigree chart with individual and family displays that can shown at the right side. Display, add, and edit individuals and events. Easy to search by name. Add photos to the tree. With internet connection, edits are posted to Ancestry.com, locations are prompted, and Ancestry.com can be searched. Location aware devices can also supply current city for event location.
Does not support sources. No descendant, people, or place list view. No bookmarks or history list of viewed people.
http://ancestry.com
Android 1.1.116 / Ipad 3.1.2
3.6M
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
Android 2.1 and up or iOS 4.0 or later.

Requires (free or paid) Ancestry.com registration.

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Comments

by Anupam on 10. February 2013 - 13:08  (105266)

Have edited out the long conversation posted, which was quite long for the comments section. Please post it in the freeware forum, with a link to the thread here in the comments section.

Also, please make sure not to post the emails, as this is a public forum, and it's not safe posting emails publicly.

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