What is the best UK family history software?

We consider the advantages of using family history software to start your family tree, and the pros and cons of Family Tree Maker, Family Historian, Heredis, Legacy and MacFamily Tree

Family History software

While it’s easy these days to start your family tree on a family history website, it’s still worth buying family history software to be able to store your tree privately on your own computer. Before deciding which family history software to buy, don’t miss our guide to the main brands on the market.

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What is the best UK family history software?

Family Tree Maker: The pros and cons

Family Tree Maker family history software

Company: Software MacKiev

Operating system: Mac, Windows

Integrates with: Ancestry, FamilySearch

Price: £79.95 (£49.95 upgrade)

User interface
Family Tree Maker’s (FTM’s) user interface splits itself into seven clearly labelled sections, including Plan, People, Places and Publish. Each manages to lay out its key elements over just one or two tabs without overcomplicating the screen. As a result, it’s easy to see where you are and navigate around the family history software.

Media management
This is traditionally a weak point in Family Tree Maker, but recent improvements have included a Photo Darkroom tool that’s designed to improve pictures that have faded with age. You can now also select a primary photo for a person, then choose a headshot from it to use as a thumbnail, improving the overall look of your tree.

Charts and reports
FTM’s Publish tool contains a wide range of charting and reporting options, along with tools for writing and publishing your own books. They’re easy to use, but also extremely customisable, and you’re able to make changes and see their effects in real time instead of having to regenerate the chart or report.  One highlight is Smart Stories, which encourages you to write your own reports while making it easy to insert elements of a person’s life from your research into the text, which you’re then free to edit or rewrite.

Mapping tools
Although they’re no longer setting the benchmark for other family history software developers to follow, FTM’s mapping tools remain effective in addition to easy to use. The tools encourage you to standardise your places using search tools to help track down the correct naming convention. Once you’ve managed this, you can then set up individual street addresses, and use the map to place markers and generate exact geocoordinates for your relatives’ specific locations.

Online and mobile integration
FTM led the way with linking to records held on family history websites, and since it was acquired by MacKiev it has added support for FamilySearch too. Its integrated tools make it easy to find and merge records from both databases, while its Web Clipper tool means you can add records from just about any other site as well. You can keep your tree in sync with both sites, which gives you access to your tree on the go using either FamilySearch or Ancestry’s mobile apps (both free). MacKiev has also launched TreeVault, a collection of cloud services for backup and integration with other apps. This costs an extra £20 per year, but you can road-test it for free for 12 months to see if you find it useful.

Pros
• Simple to use, but offers a comprehensive suite of features
• Best in class for integrating with online trees
• Wide range of charting and reporting tools, all easy to use and customise
•  Powerful mapping tools

Cons
• Expensive compared with its rivals
• Despite improvements, the image-editing tools still lag behind the rest of the program
• TreeVault online services would appear to be unnecessary for most users

Verdict: Family Tree Maker remains one of the best family history software programs thanks to its clever balance of combining powerful features with a user-friendly interface.

Family Historian: The pros and cons

Family Historian family history software

Company: Calico Pie

Operating system: Windows

Integrates with: Findmypast, MyHeritage

Price: £59.95 (20–30 per cent upgrade discount)

User interface
You have four basic views to choose from, but an early illustration of Family Historian’s unique customisability is that you can generate a chart and use that as your working environment. A properties pane minimises the need to open additional windows, while a series of tabs on the left can be used to quickly switch between sections and act as a navigation trail. A lot of work has gone into keeping things simple, but Family Historian is packed with so many features that it’s still possible to get lost. Nevertheless, persevere and Family Historian’s flexibility is something you’ll grow to love.

Media management
Family Historian’s media tools focus exclusively on linking photos and other supported documents – there are no image-editing tools in sight. Files can be linked to people, families, events, places and sources, and Family Historian was the first family history software program to frame people’s heads in photos.

Charts and reports
Family Historian offers publishing tools to support most people’s needs – a mind-boggling array of charts, infinitely customisable, accompanied by 40 reports, along with a book-publishing tool that lets you combine these with your own custom-written content. Added support for formatting means your reports and books will look better than ever.

Mapping tools
Family Historian boasts the full set of mapping and place-management tools, but one niggle is that the Places List tool opens in a separate window instead of integrating with the main user interface. Going through your places database standardising entries isn’t as quick and straightforward as other tools, although you can at least easily select – and merge – duplicate places. The addition of a historic map (Britain only) from the 1920s–1940s is welcome, but the lack of street names on the maps make them awkward to navigate.

Online and mobile integration
At present, Family Historian can automatically search Findmypast and MyHeritage for matches to people in your tree – a small circle with the number of hints is displayed next to a person’s name, and clicking this reveals a handy summary and link to explore the results in Family Historian’s own browser. Subscribers can view the results, and drag-and-drop facts and images into the relevant property panel. However, there are no options for keeping your tree in sync with an online provider, and no mobile apps.

Pros
• Packed with features and can be customised
• User interface is well laid out and logical
• Tools for managing sources are best in class
• Web Clipper makes it possible to import
facts from most websites

Cons
• Significant initial learning curve
• Mapping tools are a little disjointed, and not as friendly to use as other packages
• No means of syncing your family tree online, or accessing it via a mobile app

Verdict: This powerful package will appeal to experienced family historians with an eye for recording lots of detail. There are more user-friendly family history software programs out there, but if you persevere, you’ll be richly rewarded.

Heredis: The pros and cons

Heredis

Company: Heredis

Operating system: Windows, Mac

Integrates with: FamilySearch

Price: £28* (Windows), £48.99 (Mac)
*Approximately – the actual price is $35.99 including VAT. The Mac price is exact, from the UK Mac App Store

User interface
Heredis manages to cram a lot into its three-paned window. Key views are spread across five tabs, including a new Graphs option that provides a dynamic ancestor wheel you can also export as a chart. Everything feels within easy reach, and although accessing some features requires you to open pop-up windows, the interface remains fairly logical whatever you’re doing.

Media management
Heredis’ tools sit in the middle of those on test. You can attach photos to most elements including individual places and families, plus apply basic fixes with rudimentary photo-correction tools. You can also frame individual faces, which creates separate headshots that can be selected as profile pictures.

Charts and reports
The family history software’s charting options are quite limited compared with its rivals – just six basic types (including four different ancestor styles) in addition to the wheel chart accessible from the main screen. That said, it does provide a preview of your chart that updates in real time. In addition, there are plenty of reports, plus a Books feature with patronymic and genealogical dictionary options that produces documents you can edit in a word processor.

Mapping tools
Select the History tab from the main view and you’ll immediately be shown a map with markers pinpointing the current person and their immediate family’s events on it. Select an individual on the right and you’ll get to trace their movements in sequence. Also, a places index allows you to double-click entries to fix geocoding (with a search function and map view to pinpoint streets) and attach photos. Places can be grouped using ‘variants’, but you can’t merge close duplicates. However, the ability to drag-and-drop places from the search pane into events is a handy timesaver.

Online and mobile integration
You can link people in your tree to individuals on FamilySearch, but it’s not a quick process and there’s no way to share data between the two. There are no direct integrations with other websites, and the Online Archives tool that lets you search a limited selection of sites can only take screen captures of site results to link into your research as images.
On the upside, there is an easy-to-use, slickly presented but secure way of sharing your tree online, while a free app allows you to sync, access and update your research on the go.

Pros
• User interface is easy to use
• Excellent online tree-publishing service and free companion mobile app
• Places tools packed with useful features
• Sheets and Books tools are very handy

Cons
• FamilySearch integration weaker than rival apps. No other direct online integrations
• Charting options are not very comprehensive
• New version released every year, so regular paid upgrades required to use new features

Verdict: Heredis continues to get better with every release, and – on the PC at least – is competitively priced. If you don’t care about easy merging of records from websites, give the trial version a spin.

Legacy: The pros and cons

Legacy

Company: MyHeritage

Operating system: Windows

Integrates with: FamilySearch

Price: $34.95 (a cut-down version is available for free)

User interface
Legacy is starting to look really dated, but it’s still reasonably logical, with its many tools laid out in a multi-tabbed ribbon across the top of the screen. There’s also a handy customisable My Toolbar option that allows you to put the most frequently accessed tools within easy reach. The main screen gives you five ways to view the currently selected person, including a Timeline view that can help you spot gaps in your research. However, adding or editing information involves opening one or more pop-up windows, some of which are quite cluttered and confusing to navigate (editing individuals is a case in point).

Media management
Old photographs and other media can be attached to most records in your tree, including people, facts and places. You can edit photos, plus add captions, dates and descriptions, but it all feels a little disjointed thanks to the lack of a dedicated hub where you can view all your photos in one place. A Picture Centre aims to help you attach photos to multiple people, but aside from tools for finding and relinking media, there’s little else.

Charts and reports
One of Legacy’s strengths is its publishing tools. Beyond the core individual chart and reports, there’s a large selection of additional reports, plus a Publishing Centre where you can combine multiple charts and reports together in a book, complete with cover, chapters and other elements. That said, some readers have found that the book publishing tool isn’t ‘flexible’ – there’s no equivalent to Family Tree Maker’s handy Smart Stories tool, for example.

Mapping tools
This is one area where Legacy falls down badly. While you can download an optional Geo Location Database to help ensure that place names are formatted correctly when entered, there are currently no mapping tools with which to visually confirm matches, never mind plot your ancestor’s locations or trace their movements.

Online and mobile integration
Although the feature is switched off by default, you can link relations in your tree to their online entries on FamilySearch. This allows you to match individuals and merge data to your tree (and send it the other way). There’s also a search tool that can connect you directly to a wide range of online resources, with results displayed in your web browser. However, you can’t easily paste records from online sources into your research.

Pros
• Free version contains all the key functionality
• Lots of helpful tools for research, calculating, fixing problems and much more
• Space to record details about each ancestor
• Powerful book-publishing tool

Cons
• User interface can become cluttered and difficult to navigate in places
• Map Family feature doesn’t currently work, leaving Legacy with no mapping tools
• No direct integration with records websites

Verdict: Legacy is a solid family history software program that is let down by a complete lack of mapping tools along with so-so online integration. The free version is excellent value, but think hard before you pay to upgrade to the full version.

MacFamilyTree: The pros and cons

MacFamilyTree family history software

Company: Synium Software

Operating system: Mac

Integrates with: FamilySearch

Price: £54.99

User interface
MacFamilyTree wins hands down for its logical, easy-to-navigate interface, with everything clearly labelled and a series of vertical collapsible sidebars serving as an effective form of breadcrumbs for navigating the program. It’s clean and uncluttered, and jumping between sections, never mind adding and editing information, is as painless as it could possibly be.

Media management
Photos and other images can be attached to the usual elements, and managed from the delightful Media index, which provides easily navigable thumbnails organised by person, family or place. Tagging faces works seamlessly, and the program even features several photo-enhancement tools, including colouring tools for monochrome snaps. Better still, these are non-destructive, so you can easily undo any unwanted changes.

Charts and reports
MacFamilyTree overhauled its charting and reporting tools for version 9, making them snappier and more responsive to user tweaks. You have a choice of 15 chart types, 11 reports, 13 lists and a publishing section for both creating books and uploading your site to the web using MacFamilyTree’s own free hosting service. Everything is customisable – almost infinitely so in the case of charts and reports, but you shouldn’t need to perform much surgery to get results that are pleasing to the eye.

Mapping tools
MacFamilyTree boasts a places index with search tool and map to help pinpoint geocoordinates, in addition to two interesting views: a globe pinpointing the events of selected relations, plus statistic maps that enable you to compare interesting trivia like average age or name distribution. You can also find (and merge) duplicate or similar place names.

Online and mobile integration
MacFamilyTree’s integration with FamilySearch is best in class by some distance. It proactively searches for potential matches with everyone in your tree, then displays the results in such a way as to make it easy to review and match individuals (and their immediate family) quickly. Sadly, that’s it as far as integration with other sites go, other than a cursory web-search tool. Access on your mobile device will cost you an eye-watering £29 for the MobileFamilyTree app (iOS only), but your money buys you an app that’s practically identical to MacFamilyTree, so it’s both familiar and fully featured. Thanks to recent improvements to the program’s CloudSync feature, it’s quick and easy keeping your research in sync between desktop and mobile too.

Pros
• Elegant and accessible user interface
• Media tools include photo colourisation
• Unique feature allows you to view statistics distributed across a map
• Comprehensive FamilySearch integration

Cons
• No integration with any of the other major websites for genealogical records
• Expensive, particularly when purchased with the companion MobileFamilyTree app

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Verdict: Not only is MacFamilyTree the best family history software for the Mac, it’s close to being the best full stop. The only thing it’s now missing is the ability to easily merge records from websites into your tree.