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.

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.
  • 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

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 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. 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:)

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

Gramps provides Unicode support.

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. 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Launches a browser window on 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.

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

RootsMagic 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.

Unicode characters are supported.

All parent relationships assume that the parents are married. With same sex parents one of the individuals is 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.

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.

I like the copy and paste citation functionality. There is no optional surety assessment 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

ScionPC

5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
No gender constraints. Sex Change fact. Supports date range and many other calendars. Pop-up calendar. Can create a web site. Portable. Lists include repository, note, and media.
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. Database format is XML compliant yet Unicode characters are not supported.
8.2
7 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.

Gramps

5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
The best location and date support of tested programs. Best program for creating websites. Supports other languages and Unicode characters.
No foot or end notes on family group report. Lacks people list, place list, source list, repository list, and citation list reports.
3.4.8-1
51.1 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Open source freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.

Legacy Standard

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Web site creation support. Internet searches. Merge and search & replace features for people, places, sources, repositories, etc.
Does not support same sex parents nor same sex marriages. PDF reports are not supported. Multiple names supported but not searchable. No Unicode support. Nags when unavailable menu items are selected.
8.0.0.458
67.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Win 98, and Win Me need all available Microsoft Service Packs installed.

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. Pop-up calendar. Supports Hebrew and French Revolution calendars. Checks for duplicates upon entry. Unicode support.
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. Opens MyHeritage web site on every program start. Nags when encountering feature limits. Some features require syncing to MyHeritage.com.
7.0.0.7138
35.3 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
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. Also your research is in a sense held hostage since one must pay to retrieve a GEDCOM.

Brother's Keeper

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Automatically checks for duplicate people. Supports other languages (but lacks Unicode support). No nags.
No date formatting. No people list view. Only product which did not support pictures or other media. Reports cannot be saved to formats other than html. No bookmarks. Supports same sex parents but labels are Father/Mother. Does not support Unicode. No duplicate merge tools. No custom facts. No pop-up calendar. No private notes. No people bookmarks.
7.0.38
15 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.

RootsMagic Essentials

3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Able to import from other genealogy programs as well as GEDCOM. Source templates. Place and citation list reports. Copy & paste citations. Nice looking reports. Nice method of indicating which functions are not supported in free version. Unicode supported.
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. Same sex parents labeled as Father & Mother. Assumes marriage of parents.
7.0.2.2
30.5 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Don't bother selecting the 68M place database download. The free version does not support the function.

Ancestral Quest Basics

2
 
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). Supports other languages (but lacks Unicode support).
Only product reviewed which did not support unmarried parents or incestual relationships. Same gender relationships not supported. Only search by primary name is supported. Bookmarks and history of people viewed is not supported. Only product which did not support box type charts. Nags with each startup and whenever a feature available only in paid version is selected. No Unicode support.
14.0
35 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
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.
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

Wow. Very helpful, but I am SO confused.
I just got several pages of geneology from a cousin and want to put them in a program.
HOWEVER, I want to keep from doing a lot of unnecessary typing - oops I don't like THAT program, THIS one is better, starting from scratch.
So I thought I would put data in an EXCEL worksheet and import into a program. Then if I decide to change programs, be able to do the same thing.
So I'm looking for a program with import/export capability.
HOWEVER, since many of the comments here look like Greek, I may be way over my head.
SO, can anyone tell me best program to use with data import feature?
and please remember, I am techno-challenged.

Thanks!

Every genealogy propgram will import and export to a GEDCOM file. I imported my dad's Roots Magic GEDCOM file into Gramps and it worked great.

You will run into trouble if you start saving data that isn't included in the GEDCOM scheme. Proprietary formats could include sources, images, recordings. Those are fine as long as the company stays in business and you want to pay what they ask, but if you share the data with someone else they probably won't have the same program. If you use Excel (or the open source LibreOffice Calc) you will have your own format to sort out.

Gramps seems to be the only real open source genealogy program. It is better than the old PAF from the Mormons, and has a ton of capabilities. I back it up in their format, but also back up occasionally in GEDCOM.

ttowndick, Vandamme is absolutely correct. Excel is not supported by any genealogy program import. GEDCOM is supported by all of them. I suggest you start using one of the programs. If you aren't happy then export the date you've entered to a GEDCOM file and import that to the new program. I do suggest you start with the program with the most capability. I can speak from experience that it is very difficult to go back and add details to records you already entered. I originally started my research with a program that is still commercially available but I became frustrated with its limitations. Even with a GEDCOM import, I essentially had to review hundreds of records when I upgraded to a far superior program. Gramps would be an excellent choice for a program one is unlikely to outgrow.

Thanks for yours & Vandamme's prompt replies. I hope he sees this as well.
Looking around, I started putting information into a free account at FamilySearch.org. I ASSUME since they have access to LDS data, that would be most helpful, and I have found several ancestors already listed.
I did NOT check on their export options, but I think this is most helpful for my needs.
My question had to do with Excel, that I have most experience in, would be best way to enter data and give me most flexibility in whatever program(s) I might discover later. And being tech dangerous, I don't know anything about GEDCOM at all.
I think I am going to continue with FamilySearch. If you or anyone has comments on going that direction, I would welcome input.
As to my original question, after your comments, I did a quick search and http://orba-design.com/ged.php offers a method to import excel to GEDCOM format.
I did NOT explore at this time, and only put it here in case someone is looking for ways to follow my approach using Excel.
Thanks again for you help.

I went to the Orba Design site and opened up their template with LibreOffice Calc, and it worked fine. But I didn't try their converter.

I found out that GEDCOM was started by the LDS and just kind of grew from there, with some companies making extensions to it for various things.GEDCOM is text based, but others like Excel and LO spreadsheets and Gramps's are XML. There's no standard, or official sanctioning entity to evaluate new formats or features and make them standard. Us engineers have the IEEE, which is why your wireless card works with your router.

I sent in a minor bug report to Gramps and they came right back replying that they fixed that bug in the latest version. So they are moving quick and actively developing and polishing.

And it runs natively on Linux for when you outgrow Windows... ;-)

I used the Legacy one. I did not have any virus protection at the time. I now have virus protection and I scanned my laptop for viruses and when it was done I no longer had my family tree. It was full of viruses so I lost everything I had put in. I am going to try to find a different one to use.

Please do not make such claims unless you include substantive evidence otherwise we view this as trolling. As you can see from the linked report, Legacy is virus free so anything that was found on your computer must have arrived from another source after you installed the program. MC- Site Manager. https://www.virustotal.com/en/file/7737e6a0dc811ae36e93af9d287f8ad12ef75...

Gramps is up to version 4.1.1. I found some bugs in ver.3 and I see they've been fixed.It's in the repositories of openSUSE and Ubuntu so install is quick & EZ in Linux.

That version is still in beta. I'll review it when it gets released.

Gramps: Kaspersky flagged as containing PDM:Trojan.Win32Bazona.a on download.

You have to watch where you get software when you run Windows. Get it right from the Gramps Project, not a "freeware site". And antivirus programs have a lot of false positives.
I run Linux, and usually get apps right from the distro repositories so I know they're clean.

Gramps is probably the only open source genealogy program, so deserves support. It runs great in openSUSE (KDE based) and Mint (Debian/Ubuntu/Gnome3 based). No fooling around with Wine or VM.

I have used MyHeritage Family Tree Builder for years. I HATE the nag "Feature" that I can't seem to turn off. I NEVER want to publish to the web.

I'm looking to replace FTB because now I can no longer create a book report. Not unless I buy a third party software package. What part of FREE doesn't MyHeritage understand. FREE MEANS I DON'T HAVE TO PAY TO USE!!!!!

Looks like I will have to try Legacy Standard. I hope I can export/import my data.

I use Legacy but when using the Individual report Legacy is not consistent with the numbering system. For example I use the d'Aboville numbering. When printing Individual reports for a random person, Legacy allocates number 1 against that individual and not the relevant d'Aboville number. Any suggestions? Is there a program out there that overcomes this?

As far as I know all Genealogical systems using numerals begin the tree with either the Arabic numeral 1 or the Roman numeral I. So printing a report for a single individual the Genealogical numbering system would always be 1 or I regardless of the program. If the object is to print a descendant report in smaller bits then a reference field or custom tag could approximate the numbering system but the appropriate d'Aboville number would need to be manually entered. In Legacy, the Title Pre field would provide a doable workaround and would appear in the proper placement on some reports. The down side with using a field is the need to be updated for each ancestor. If tags are used instead, then a custom tag could be created for each ancestor but tags are unlikely to appear properly on the report.

Thank you very much for this review (and all other reviews).

One thing that is missed in this review is multiple language support for data entry. I need to enter non-Western encoded characters (Chinese in my case). I was very excited to try Legacy because of all the features, only to find out the characters entered all translate to "??" marks. This rendered the application useless for me. I tried Gramps next and it did beautifully with Chinese entry. It even took me to the right place in "OpenStreetMap" based on a location which was entered in Chinese. I haven't tried other applications down the line yet as I'll work with Gramps now to see how it goes. I will miss Legacy's intuitive interface but the lack of the language feature was a deal breaker for me.

Perhaps an update to the Pros and Cons about languages supported for each software would help others.

Thank you for your comments. I may add something about language support claims. However, I'm unqualified to judge whether the support is real. I'll seriously consider your recommendation.
I did test whether each program supports Unicode characters. Rick

Hello, I have an update about double byte character entry for a couple of the software. In my previous post, I said that Gramps allows Chinese character entry. This is still accurate for the software GUI, however I found out that the reports produced do not render the Chinese characters (I tried the PDF reports). I have moved down the list to MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, and that both allows Chinese character entry and generates reports with the Chinese characters intact.

Regarding the nag factor of MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, I recently found that there is a way to turn off the opening of the website at program start. With the application open, go to Tools -> Options -> General. Here, there are options to set "Show splash screen" and "Show My Sites page on startup" to 'No'. I hope that helps.

Sadly Personal Ancestral File is no longer available from the LDS Familysearch site. It is still available elsewhere as is the (essential) PAF Companion, but the latter no longer seems to accept the security PIN.

I had noticed that they were no longer supporting PAF but it was still available as a download at the time of my last revision. Thank you for letting me know. I'll remove this program from my recommendations.

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?

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