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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 RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, Family Historian, Heredis, Legacy and MacFamily Tree 10

RootsMagic 8 family history software
Published: April 19, 2022 at 4:13 pm
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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)

See our separate review of Family Tree Maker 2019

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.

MacFamilyTree 10: The pros and cons

MacFamilyTree 10

Company: Synium Software

Operating system: Mac

Integrates with: FamilySearch

Price: £59.99

User interface
MacFamilyTree 10’s user-friendly interface gets another overhaul in this latest release, and a direct comparison with the previous version reveals all changes manage to combine practical improvements with being more pleasing to the eye. That’s impressive, given the high bar set by the previous release.

The Edit, Interactive Tree and Source sections gain the most love with this new release – you can now access all editing tools via the Interactive Tree view, while Source management adopts a new template-driven view, helping you collate and organise your sources in a consistent way.

Elsewhere, the navigation sidebar has been redesigned to consolidate its contents into a single vertical column, with the program’s main sections – Edit, Charts, Views and so on – now represented by a series of clickable buttons at the top of the sidebar.

Media management
MFT’s media tools were already best-in-class, from its beautifully constructed Media index for selecting photos by person, family or place, to smart tagging tools and built-in photo-enhancement features that include one-click colourisation for old black and white photos. Unsurprisingly, given how perfect MFT’s media tools already are, Version 10 does little more than add support for ‘scanning’ photos and documents from your iPhone or iPad camera directly into your tree via the Mac’s Continuity Camera feature

Charts and reports
MacFamilyTree splits its publishing tools into four distinct sections: Charts, Reports, Lists and Publish (for books). Nevertheless, they all work in a similar manner: choose your design, pick a starting person and generate immediate results. From here you can use the program’s comprehensive edit tools, all easily accessible beneath the preview that updates in real time as you make changes. Everything is beautifully presented, and you’ve plenty of choice – for example, chart types that range from the traditional (ancestor, hourglass and fan) to non-conventional forms, such as timeline, statistics and genogram.

Mapping tools
Again, MacFamilyTree’s mapping tools are up there with the best in class. Divided between Edit (for the Places Index) and Views (a 3D virtual globe plus numerous statistical maps), all key bases are covered from tools for pinpointing geocoordinates to options for finding and merging similar or duplicate placenames.

Version 10 focuses its attention on improvements to the Virtual Globe view, delivering snappier performance, a cleaner look and new timeline control to filter what events are shown within a specified date range.

Online and mobile integration
There’s nothing new to report here other than minor performance improvements, both in backing up and syncing your tree using CloudTree and searching FamilySearch for potential matches. MFT is by far the best tool out there for integrating with FamilySearch, but it’s a shame it still hasn’t explored integration with other sites, such as Ancestry.

MacFamilyTree 10 is accompanied by a major new release for MobileFamilyTree, its companion app for iPhone and iPad. That’ll cost you an additional £29, but given it has pretty much everything you’d find in the main Mac app, that’s not bad value. Version 10 includes all major changes found in MacFamilyTree 10, plus a new stunning AR mode when viewing your virtual tree or globe on your mobile.

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Pros
• Major updates to the user interface make it slicker and easier to use
• Virtual Globe view much-improved thanks to new timeline filter
• New template-driven source management tool simplifies source creation
• Best-in-class across a range of areas, including media and FamilySearch integration

Cons
• Incremental rather than jaw-dropping changes – albeit all welcome improvements
• No upgrade pricing makes it extremely expensive for existing users
• Lags behind other tools in the web integration stakes

Verdict: MacFamilyTree continues to evolve beautifully – version 10 plays as beautifully as it looks. If it could only extend its web-integration capabilities to support the major records sites, it would be undisputed champion of genealogy programs.

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.

RootsMagic: The pros and cons

RootsMagic family history software

Company: RootsMagic Inc/ S&N Genealogy

Operating system: Mac, Windows

Integrates with: Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, MyHeritage

Price: £29.95-£59.95 (£19.95 upgrade)

User interface
RootsMagic 8’s biggest change is its overhauled user interface. It’s still outdated and somewhat clunky, but easier to navigate. Some adjustment is required, but thankfully there are enough familiar elements to ensure you never completely lose your way. Look out for welcome improvements such as the ability to open more than one person’s edit screen or the introduction of reusable citations, which can be attached to multiple people and events.

The navigation pane on the left consolidates all the program’s features into eleven distinct sections. Some are more obvious than others – Tasks neatly brings together to-do items, correspondence and your research logs, for example, but you’ll need to look under Publish to link your tree to Ancestry and/or FamilySearch. Look for a row of icons underneath the section title – click these to move between subsections (such as Places Index and Mapping Under Places).

Media management
This remains RootsMagic 8’s major shortcoming. The central Media index makes them easy to browse, link to multiple elements (including people, places, sources and events), and furnish with extra descriptive details like dates and captions. However, there are no editing tools and no means of extracting headshots.

Charts and reports
The newest version of RootsMagic has simplified and consolidated charting tools. That’s bad news if you’re a fan of the RootsMagic Chart tool, which allowed you to freely edit your chart using a series of drawing tools. On the other hand, everything is now contained within a single window, and you can make simple adjustments without having to start from scratch. You also gain a new fan chart for your troubles.

Mapping tools
The Places tool also gains welcome improvements – everything is now neatly consolidated in one spot. Viewing, managing, and editing places easier than before thanks to the fact the Edit Place dialog sits within the main interface as opposed to requiring a separate pop-up window, plus you can now edit place links to people and events from here too.

Another new feature is that the Mapping tool can now display markers for more than one person, but it’s not as intuitive as it could be. First, only the selected person’s markers are highlighted in a different colour, and there’s no chronological line between places to help you easily trace someone’s life journey.

Online and mobile integration
You can link your tree to both Ancestry and FamilySearch, allowing you to sync facts and other information between them. RootsMagic 8 also allows you to view hints from MyHeritage and Findmypast as well, but you can't directly merge those into your tree.

Pros
• Improved user interface with minor and major tweaks
• No longer restricted to editing a single person
• New fan chart option alongside simplified charting tools
• Managing places made easier than ever
• Free RootsMagic Essentials also updated to new version

Cons
• Image-editing tools remain subpar
• No major leap forward in features
• Mac version sluggish at times, plus buggy

Verdict: This new version is more a consolidation than a major leap forward. As its rivals continue to break new ground, RootsMagic is starting to look outdated.

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

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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.

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