Citing sources: the Desktop Dilemma series

Desktop dilemma -- citing sourcesThis newest installment of the Desktop Dilemma series takes up the question of how the Big Three genealogy desktop software packages handle citing sources. How easy do they make it to leave an effective bread-crumb trail back to where you found your facts?

To view the comprehensive scorecard as it develops, see The Desktop Dilemma Series: features in a nutshell.

Citing sources: verdict in a nutshell

How well are source citations handled by the Big Three genealogical software packages: Family Tree Maker (FTM), Legacy Family Tree (LFT), and RootsMagic (RM)? I have good news. All three can get the job done. None are perfect, but all are above average. Looking at the details, though, I came to the conclusion that RootsMagic has done the best job. With a very little effort, though, either of the others could unseat them. I’d love to see the product that combines the best of all of these.

* * * * * * * * * * * * ½

The source citation feature — scores by aspect

This table gives a high-level score to each product for a number of aspects of the source citation feature. Read on below for a fuller explanation.

Feature Aspect FTM LFT RM
Ease of creating new sources * * * * * * * * * * * *½
Guidance in source creation to standards * * * ½ * * * * ½ * * * * ½
Ease of locating existing sources * * *
Attaching source citation to multiple facts * * * * ½ * * * * *
Displaying needed bibliographic formats * * * * * * * * * * * *
Syncing sources with online trees * * * * * * * * * * ½
Merging duplicate sources * * * ½ * * * * * * *
Support of GPS * * * *½ * * * *½ * * * *½
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Source citation aspect descriptions

Ease of creating new sources

I found the three products very similar in the technical creation of new sources, apart from the specific aspects discussed below. All three do the job quite well. Both FTM and LFT create situations that would confuse new users, in failing to make clear the distinction between a source and its citation detail. RM does the best job of making this distinction.

Guidance in source creation to standards

All three products offer methods to create citations that adhere to the standards of Evidence Explained, with varying degrees of success. I am impressed with LFT’s SourceWriter infrastructure, which even allows you to find your source template based on the page in Evidence Explained — very helpful. I also hit on inflexibilities in LFT, but it offers an Override option when the record is not offering the fields you need.

RM offers reasonable structure, though not as specific as LFT. It includes a top-notch tool for creating your own Source Templates, making it the most flexible of the three.

FTM does a workable job, though it offers the least specific guidance of the three, particularly at the citation detail level. In all cases, though, I think sources are best created with Evidence Explained near at hand. I have the Kindle version, so it is with me anywhere.

RootsMagic's Source Template -- Citing sources with flexibility

Ease of locating existing sources

All three products score badly on this. If you want to attach an existing source to a new fact, you have to know exactly how you titled the source — or the name of another person to whom you attached it, so you can cross-check and find it the hard way. These source lists should allow you to find any words in a title and to filter by the source type (book, document, etc.).

Attaching source citations to multiple facts

FTM allows you to paste links to a source citation you’ve copied, whether it is to another fact on the same person or a fact on another person. If a source needs different citation details, it can be copied and pasted, instead. It’s easily done.

LFT online help says it allows you to copy and paste citations from a fact on one person to a fact on another. The instructions do not show how to paste it, and I was unable to figure it out on my own.

RM’s MultiCite function allows you to attach a single source (not citation detail) to multiple people in your database — not to specific facts. To attach a citation to multiple facts you can “Memorize” a record to paste to another.

Bibliographic formats

Both RM and LFT present the formats for the initial footnote or endnote, subsequent citations, and the full bibliographic entry for each source. FTM makes its entries hard to find, and then, does not offer the short citation.

Syncing sources with online trees

RM and LFT both sync to FamilySearch, one person and one fact at a time. RM does a better job of carrying information over — making an event “Military,” while LFT labels the event “Custom Event,” and adds military to the text. RM pulls more robust source information, as well.

Syncing -- Family Tree Maker vs. Legacy Family TreeI much prefer FTM’s syncing mechanism to It syncs everything, unless I mark it private. And of course, the tree can be marked private or by invitation only. It is tedious with the LFT-to-FamilySearch sync to have to type an explanation for everything I do. With the FTM-to-Ancestry sync, the fact and its source come over together, so the explanation is not usually needed.

Reports from RM promise that it will be syncing to soon. I do hope that they plan to employ a better mechanism than one fact at a time, one person at a time. But if they become the only product to sync to both Ancestry and FamilySearch, they’ll be hard to beat.

Merge of duplicate sources

All three products successfully merge duplicate sources. RM has the smartest interface, in offering the two sources side by side before you make the final merge. It does not show how the records are attached to people, however.

FTM shows the record attachments and does give you one last chance to say you’re sure before the merge occurs. LFT merges without offering a last chance to change your mind about the merge.

RM and LFT both present a feature to merge all apparently duplicate records, which FTM does not do. Or, I could not find a way to do it.

Support of the Genealogical Proof Standard

LFT and RM have nearly identical Source Quality tools, in line with the GPS. Both fail to include copies or scans in the Original category. Both offer the opportunity to flag that you don’t know the answer–something missing from FTM. Both also include negative evidence, which is missing from FTM. But the definition of negative evidence appears wrong in RM.

LFT includes a Source option called “Authored,” which is not offered by the other products. It also offers a “Surety Level,” which allows you to gauge how sure you are of a conclusion, based on the record.Legacy Family Tree Source Quality Analysis -- Citing Sources

FTM offers two methods of source quality analysis. On the one hand, you can simply assign stars, based on what you define them to be. Or you can fill out an analysis similar to the other two products and the stars will be assigned for you. It is missing the things noted above, but adds a “Clarity” option (Clear or Marginal), and has a Justification field that allows you to add text, a great feature.

RM is the only one of the three that displays the quality selections on the source list screen for an ancestor, without requiring you to go into the source and then the Source Quality tool.

In parting

I gave myself a tough assignment here. But I learned a lot by the exercise. Truly, I believe the surest sign that you’re a GEG in the making comes when source citations begin to matter to you. And when they do, you start asking whether your software delivers. I hope all of the Big Three invest heavily in making theirs the software of choice for citing sources.

Because let’s face it: citing sources is the most miserable part of our beloved genealogy. Reduce our misery, Big Three, and increase your profits.

Please join in the conversation, if you have experience with these products that will be of help to others. You can comment below. I only ask open minds and civil discourse.

I evaluated the most up-to-date software builds for the Big Three, which are as of today:

Family Tree Maker:

Legacy Family Tree:



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5 thoughts on “Citing sources: the Desktop Dilemma series”

  1. I appreciate the thoughtful analysis you are putting into this. I’m a transitional genealogist. I’ve spent the past 20 years in personal research isolation and have only just now realized the vast array of options for networking and improving my skills. I’m at a great place to invest in new software as I learn the “right” way to document and cite, so this is very timely information.
    Personally, I found Legacy clunky and un-intuitive. I used FTM way back when, Ancestry in the interim as a hobbyist, and recently sync’d everything to the newer FTM about a month before the news broke that Ancestry was dumping the program. With further news that “treesync” between FTM and Ancestry will disable on Dec 1 with no known date for Mackiev to pick up that feature, I’m leaning more towards Rootsmagic. The thought of manually entering everything scares me – almost as much as the thought of going a few months without resolving those little green leaves!
    So I follow this information with earnest curiosity.
    Thanks for the assist!

    1. Thanks so much, Donna, and welcome back from isolation. It’s an amazing new world for genealogists. I went underground, too, when I started graduate school, and didn’t come back up until a few years ago, to find this marvelous revolution in how we work on our family histories. I love it!

      I had not heard that MacKiev will be disabling Ancestry’s sync. If so, this will probably knock FTM out of the running for me. MacKiev promised to have add the syncing to FamilySearch by the end of the year. I had assumed the sync to Ancestry would continue as always. If you have a web link about this, please post it for us. It would change my FTM evaluation significantly. Thanks!

      1. Actually, Donna, I found it myself. The MacKiev FAQ says:
        As Ancestry has announced, you will continue to be able to access your data through TreeSync through December 31, 2016 using current versions of Family Tree Maker. As of January 1, 2017, TreeSync will not be supported by Ancestry, but we are working with them on new technologies to replace it.
        This is not good news, and they need to communicate their plan to replace it pronto. If RM delivers on its promise to provide an Ancestry sync and FTM loses that feature, RM will be the Big One. I will revise the text on my post about syncing to reflect this, and thanks so much for making me aware of it.

        Here’s my post about syncing:

  2. Over the past several days, I’ve begun using FTM 2017 Test Drive 2.0. It syncs very well and easily to the database. It syncs the whole database bidirectionally. By way of comparison, the latest RM7.5 release, which integrates with Ancestry and offers Ancestry hints, syncs piece-by-piece and person-by-person. This I found quite tedious to use, although it offers more granular control over what gets synchronized. Personally, I prefer the all-at-once method of synchronization.

    1. Thanks, Andy. I have not yet successfully gotten the new RM to sync with Ancestry, but was very disappointed to hear that they had made it “granular,” in your very apt term. I’m glad to hear that MacKiev’s work on FTM is working well for you. I hope we will not be long in hearing that the new FTM is official, complete, and there!

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