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 applications please see my companion review at Best Free Online Genealogy / Family Tree Applications.

Several free genealogy programs 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.
  • Intersex and transsexual individuals are not supported.
  • 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.

I also reviewed mobile applications. The mobile app ratings are for that category only and are not meant for direct comparison with the PC programs.

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

Gramps

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

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
4.2.1-2
79.9 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Open source freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.

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). 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.

The place entry is 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.

The date support is superior. 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 calculated.

Gramps creates the best 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. Citations can be copied and pasted.

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 worried 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:)

Gramps supports the utf-8 character set.


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

Lacks people list, source list, repository list, and citation list reports.


Portable version available at http://portableapps.com/apps/education/gramps_portable

"Gramps is primarily developed for Linux and UNIX-like operating systems, but it is also available for Windows and Mac OSX."

ScionPC

5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
8.2
7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.

If 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. Can document a Sex Change.

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.

Lists include repository, note, and media.

Global merge function for all identical Sources, Repositories, and Notes.

Supports other languages and database format is XML compliant yet only supports the ascii character set.


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

Only one citation per event.  Only one source format.  No private notes.  No book print function.  No history list or back button to revisit previously viewed pages.  No fan charts.

Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10, Kubuntu Linux using Wine

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
7.0.0.7138
35.1 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder's hour glass view 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. MyHeritage  does offer the ability to merge relatives from other peoples trees on the MyHeritage.com website. 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. Supports Hebrew and French Revolution calendars.

Reports can be saved to HTML, RTF, and PDF format; charts, to PDF and JPEG. Supports a direct upload to the MyHeritage web site but no other independent web site creation. Imports GEDCOM format files.  Will offer to create GEDCOM files directly from several other formats.

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."

UTF-8 character encoding is supported.


No place or individual person reports.

The PDF format manual is very helpful substitute for context sensitive help.

Launches MyHeritage.com in a browser window on every program launch and displays nag screens when options unavailable in the free version are selected. Registration adds your email to several mailing lists. Some features require syncing to MyHeritage.com.  (See note below)

No merge tools. No individual or place reports. No date calculator. Can not create a complete web site file set for upload to a third party site. Only one source format.

Requires registration with MyHeritage.com web site (See note below). 


Please note that the MyHeritage online website was not recommended in my companion review of the Best Free Online Genealogy and Family Tree Applications. I felt that the online limit of 250 people was too constraining.

Windows

Legacy Standard

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
8.0.0.536
69.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

Legacy StandardLegacy Standard is fairly easy to use, flexible, and has plenty of capabilities. The free version supports family, pedigree, and index views. 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. The source templates are well structured. The location field is unstructured but the Master Location List can help keep the locations consistent. The merge feature for people, places, sources, repositories, etc. is easy to use. 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. Saving reports to PDF format is not supported.

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

Legacy creates good looking web pages. 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 supported. Supports multiple names but not searchable.

Only ASCII character encoding is 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.

Windows, Macs with Windows installed, and Linux with Windows emulator. Win 98, and Win Me need all available Microsoft Service Packs installed.

RootsMagic Essentials

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
7.0.10.0
29.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

RootsMagic Essentials can import directly from several other genealogy programs as well as from a GEDCOM file. This functionality should be more widely supported as a lot of detail is lost in transfers with the GEDCOM format.

RootsMagic Essentials has a variety of source templates based somewhat on Elizabeth Shown Mills "Evidence."

Open multiple databases or the same database multiple times and display them side by side.

UTF-8 character encoding is supported.

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—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. Reports not supported in free version are nicely greyed out.

I like the copy and paste citation functionality.


All parent relationships assume that the parents are married. This would give a very odd impression for children of an incestuous (parent/child) relationship.

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 nonfunctional reports are greyed out.

No People List views.

No relationship calculator.


Don't bother selecting the 68M place database download. The free version does not support the function.

"Platform: Windows Windows 10 / 8 / 7 / Vista / XP / 2000 Mac OS X Mac OS X Free!"

Brother's Keeper

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
7.1.7
15 MB (English) 40 MB (All supported languages)
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

Brother's Keeper checks for duplicates when new people are entered.

Multiple names are supported and can be searched. Supports multiple parents and marriages. Same sex marriage is supported. Same sex parents are supported.

Supports languages with ASCII character encoding. No nags.


Does not support Unicode characters.

No duplicate merge tools (does check people on first entry). No pop-up calendar. No people bookmarks.

"Brother's Keeper works with Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and Windows 10."

Ancestral Quest Basics

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
14.00.32
Complete 35 MB Streamlined 19 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

Ancestral Quest Basics 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, Familysearch.com, and Worldvitalrecords.com (some types of search available only with paid version).

Internet connection and browser required for internet search functions.

Supports languages with ASCII character encoding.


Only product reviewed which did not support incestual relationships (children of parent-child unions). Same gender relationships not supported.

Only search by primary name is supported. Back buttons, bookmarks, and history of people viewed are not supported.

Only product which did not support ancestor or descendant box type charts. No relationship or timeline reports. Photos can be attached to individuals and "include photos" can apparently be selected for reports but I was unable to have the photos to display anywhere except in the individual's scrapbook.

Nags with each startup and whenever a feature available only in paid version is selected.

No Unicode support.

Individual view blocked.

"Ancestral Quest runs on both the Windows operating system and on Mac OS X. It is compatible with Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and with Mac OS X 10.7 or later."
 
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.
Android 1.1.116 / Ipad 3.1.2
3.6M
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
Requires (free or paid) Ancestry.com registration.
 
Editor
This software category is maintained by volunteer editor okrick. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.
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Comments

I have been using Legacy Family Tree for the past 5 years. It does support same sex marriage and same sex parents. You just have to turn off the 'warning' of this 'error' in the Customize menu.

[Commercial version feature comment removed]

I looked for the "warning" you described in the Customize menu. I can't find it. It is not a "warning" that prevents adding a same sec spouse or parent. The menu options for adding those people is greyed out, e.g. add wife is greyed out when a female is displayed. If add a husband is selected then the sex defaults to male with female greyed out. Please describe the step by step process for adding a same sex spouse and parent.
"Opens MyHeritage web site on every program start. Nags when encountering feature limits." Haven't downloaded MyHeritage Family Tree builder, but the the homepage shows that there is no adware, spyware or evil-ware included with the product. Is it feature-limited, because I can't see that too http://www.myheritage.com/download-family-tree-builder
If there are no extra third-party things bundled with the software, then the site is correct in saying that there are no adware, spyware, or evil-ware included. However, a nag screen is different. Having a nag screen does not make the program a spyware, or adware. It makes it a nagware. So, what is written by the editor is correct in the QSG. These things should be discussed in the Editor's Forum anyways.
Yes, it is feature limited. My comments and ratings are based on the actual features available in the free version. There is a comment in the Quick Selection guide for all of the products to indicate whether they are feature limited versions of commercial products.
Yes I did see that in the QSD, but the site here: http://www.myheritage.com/download-family-tree-builder states that the product doesn't include any kind of adware etc, as opposed to the cons in the QSD. Also I can't find any Pro version of the software anywhere on the site, if the free was feature limited. I might be wrong, I still have to test the product. Edit: Ok, I did find the premium version, which is the link that's been pointed to in the QSD
Sorry, I have no control over the claims the company makes on its web site. I agree that all of the feature limited versions of commercial software listed here contain adware. To avoid adware, I suggest using one of the programs listed as "Unrestricted freeware" in the QSD. For me, clicking the QSD link launched the free version download page. On that page, clicking the link just below the "Free Download" link ("We also have a Premium version for more powerful features") opens a window that says "To get the Premium Family Tree Builder, start with the free download. You can upgrade later from the program itself." Upgrades to commercial versions are out of scope for this website.

Thanks for the reply, okrick. I am using IE 10 as my browser, and when I click on the Quick Selection Guide link, I am only taken as far down as the ScionPC discussion. Also, please note that I'm not sure from the discussion which free program gets the highest rating or which programs work well with the 64 bit version of Windows.

I tried with IE10 on my Windows 8 PC, and the Quick Selection Guide is working fine. Tried with Firefox too. All fine here. Maybe some add-on interfering?

Disabled all IE 10 add-ons; link issue remains. In fact, just noted another issue. After clicking the link, along the right side of the narrative, I see small specks of icons. If I put my cursor on the specks, the say things like "version," "product type," "pros," "cons," etc. When I return to that page, the specks are missing until I click on the poorly working Quick Selection Guide link again.

However, I'm less interested in fixing the link issue and more interested about how the free programs in the discussion are rated compared to others and which will work well with 64 bit Windows 7?

The stars in the Quick Selection Guide show their relative rating compared with the others. All the programs worked well with 64 bit Windows 7. All of them are actually designed for a 32 bit system.
Seems like the page might not be loading right for some reason. Try clearing cache, history, temp files, etc, and then try again. Or, use another browser.

Using latest version of Firefox solved the problem; all ratings appear and Quick Selection Guide link works perfectly. I will have to play with IE10 to see if I can figure out it's issue.

Re: Legacy Standard free
Gizmo says
"Source templates, research guidance, 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, to do, and DNA. Internet searches. Polygamous and sequential multiple marriages and incestuous relationships are supported. Supports multiple names but can't search them."

Legacy says that "research Guidance" only available in the paid version. "Dna" markers also only in paid version, I did not research any further re comparisons of other features only in the Paid version

Good catch. You are absolutely correct. The language was partially left over from last years review. I must have lifted some of Legacy's narration without double checking that it was actually present in the free version. I revisited the other claims and they are present in the free version. I corrected my narrative. Neither of these issues is significant enough to modify my rating. Thanks, Rick

Just read this today and wondered why several of the discussed software packages never made it to the ratings and compatible operating software part of the article (Quick Selection Guide)? Also the Quick Selection Guide link early in the article takes us to a spot mid-discussion rather than to the start of the guide.

Sorry about that. This time I used an off line html editor to make my changes. When I pasted the results back online I noticed that many of the links and images vanished. I hope I've found all of the missing issues. I vow to never edit these articles off line again. The Quick Selection Guide link took me to the start of the guide in Firefox, Chrome, and IExplore. Please try it again and let me know exactly where the link lands you. Also it might be helpful to know which browser you're using. Rick

I should have mentioned in my previous post that I am using the portable version of Gramps but surely this would not make a difference to the relationship situation for cousins. As much as I love open source software I do detest having to download and install separate software components in order to allow Gramps to run. That is why I downloaded the portable version.

The Gramps Kinship Report lists cousins of all degrees and removals. It even indicats the direction of the removal. I used the all in one windows installed version instead of the portable version. Since my last review, Gramps has prominently listed all in one installers on its site. During my previous reviews, it seemed to me that the all in one installers were independent projects of one of their developers. I felt much more space at the time was devoted to the differing versions of Gramps and to informing potential users of how to get and install the various software components. I'm glad to see that has apparently changed.

Have you heard of or looked at XY Family Tree? I have downloaded it and GRAMPS. XY was considerably easier to enter data into. Also after I had entered all available data GRAMPS would not recognize cousin relationships at all yet XY Family Tree listed all such relationships including the once, twice removed status etc.

Yes, I looked at XY Family Tree. Didn't recommend it due to no sources, only born, married, and death events, and no reports. In my opinion, any one of these issues would be a fatal flaw for a genealogy program.

Have just migrated from a paid program to Gramps v.3.4.3-1. I am impressed beyond believe. Took a few days to find my way around the wiki help files but well worth the time.
Almost every screen has a Help button that takes you to the appropriate page in the online wiki (Prepare to Bookmark!)
Lots of pop up tips as well to help you through the mire.

Someone mentioned that you can't change the date format. In my version, it can be easily changed via Edit > preferences > Display tab > 'Date Format'.

The features in Legacy are about average for what you'd expect of a family tree program but there're many more user friendly programs on the market. I use Legacg, FTM, FTB, PAF and CGR depending on what I want to do and which reports I want to run.

But would you trust your family tree data, data that has been collected after years of painstaking research, to a program that does not correctly export to a Gedcom?

Legacy is more concerned with developing new features rather than fixing the bugs in their current version. Below is correspondence with their "support" department when I discovered a bug in the system..a bug they claim to have known about and fixed in Oct 2012 but the fix has not been released as at 6 Feb 2013..

[edited out]

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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