The genealogy desktop software dilemma: Family Tree Maker, Legacy, or RootsMagic?

Genealogy Desktop Software Dilemma. Face confused with logos of three competing genealogy software desktop packages: Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, and Legacy Family TreeI am starting my family tree over. If I want to do it right this time, I must have the right tools. What genealogy desktop software can best support decades of intricate research and documentation? RootsMagic™? Family Tree Maker®? Legacy® Family Tree? I will begin to examine the “Big Three” products, feature by feature, until the best path becomes clear. And I encourage group participation.

Seeking the right genealogy desktop software

I find myself in a peculiarly good position to take up the challenge of analyzing the three top genealogy desktop software programs side by side. I have packed out of sight decades of research and tree climbing, because too much of it was done before I knew how. I am starting from scratch, applying all I’ve learned from trial and error, self-teaching, and formal training. This time, I want to do it right. And I want to do it with right software for me.

I realize, of course, that there are more than three genealogy desktop software programs. But my years in the computer industry taught me to put my eggs in the strongest basket. Choose the product most likely to be here in twenty years.

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Given what I hear from the field, genealogy has its Big Three: Family Tree Maker®, Legacy® Family Tree, and RootsMagic®. I am most likely to find my strongest basket from these, so they will be my short list.

Free gets expensive when acquiring genealogy desktop softwareI realize, also, that there are free options. Let me say of those, thank you, but absolutely not for me. If I’m looking for a quick utility program to accomplish a specific task, I look for free options with the best of them. But we’re not looking for a quick-fix utility.

We are choosing the infrastructure that will house, secure, organize, and report on tens of thousands of hours of meticulous work. The product must keep pace with the changes in our technology for several decades to come.

“Oh,” you may say, “I can just move a GEDCOM from my free product to a better one down the road.”

And I reply, “What are you willing to lose in the translation?”

Once I have done my family tree with excellence, as I plan to do, I am not willing to lose one sentence or even one word to an imperfect GEDCOM transfer. And so far, every GEDCOM transfer I have ever done has been imperfect. I want a product I can stick with.

Further, a lesser product will likely limit what I can capture from the treasures of genealogy I am digging up. And all respect to the cheap and free products, but I don’t want my hands tied. I’m not willing to work under the “It ain’t perfect, but it’s cheap” frame of logic.

I will pay for the best solution. And I will expect the company I pay to fix bugs and keep the product up with technology changes. That said, all three of these appear very reasonably priced for their value.

For the benefit of us all, I plan to begin rebuilding my family tree on all three platforms — the same data on all three. I will blog about my experience, feature by feature. I will also create a running comparison table, which will grow as I take up each new feature or challenge for the three products.

For simplicity, let’s refer to the three products by their initials: “RM” (RootsMagic),  “FTM” (Family Tree Maker), and “LFT” (Legacy Family Tree). For reference, I am using the latest versions of each, which as of today is:

  • RM
  • FTM
  • LFT Deluxe

I will be keeping the products up with the latest fixes from the three companies.

How you can help?

You can enrich this journey a great deal by adding your own opinions and experiences with these three products — or others, if you’ve taken a different path. The more the better. I only ask for open minds and civil discourse.

Also, please let me know what features matter most to you, and I will try to escalate the evaluation where it will be most valuable.

Let’s get started

I’m posting the first feature analysis along with this one, so no one has to wait for the real thing. Get my first impressions of the Big Three in Desktop Dilemma: First Impressions.

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8 thoughts on “The genealogy desktop software dilemma: Family Tree Maker, Legacy, or RootsMagic?”

    1. You made my day, Shirley, and welcome! Please let me know if there are subjects you’d like me to investigate for us. Thanks! — Donna

  1. Donna, Adding my 2 cents – Like RootsMagic. I used Family tree make until Ancestry add their links. Some how, info was downloaded into my tree without my knowledge. Trying to correct mistakes was way too intense, so changed to RootsMagic and re-entered all my data. It is as easy if not better than FT for submitting data and has the ability to add fields to an individual that is not on FT. I was told by several members of our genealogical society RootsMagic was the one they reccommended. I thin for the price it’s worth it.

    1. Thanks, Beth. I hear nothing but good about RootsMagic and have been impressed with it so far in my testing. The ability to sync to will be essential for me, so I have my fingers crossed that RM will deliver on that new feature as promised. Thanks so much!

  2. Great Article! I’m looking forward to additional blogs on the subject. I have just found your blog through the Alabama Heritage Magazine and are so grateful that you are beginning the digitization process of local historical magazines. My local magazine was featured in the photo (Autauga Ancestry).
    I am also looking forward to additional DNA articles.

    I want to also thank you for tackling this software dilemma. I am an iMac user and found that the choices were very limited in the software field. I held out for years before I decided on FTM for the Mac and was highly dissappointed when decided to abandon thier customers. Although another company has purchased and developed FTM 3.0 for the iMac community, we have yet to see its release.
    For this reason, I have purchased and am experimenting with different genealogical software companies, i.e. RootsMagic, Legacy, Heredis, MacFamilyTree 7, and Reunion 11. All of these programs work with the Mac even though some are not written for the Mac but use a cross platform converter (which does not always work well). I have also tried Evidentia for documentation.

    Have you considered testing Mac programs?

    1. Thanks so much, Allen. The digitization project is going to be a fabulous resource for anyone whose ancestors lived in Alabama, and I hope the Autauga publication will take its place with all the others. Please let me know who to contact (message me privately, if you don’t mind).

      Thanks, also, for letting me know you want more on DNA. I am teaching a beginning genealogy class at the University of Alabama’s OLLI program, and DNA comes up every class. It’s opening wonderful new doors. I will be pondering what I might do next, and meanwhile, let me recommend a blog called “The Genetic Genealogist.” Its blogger knows SO much.

      I have no Mac, so I’m not likely to be able to test on that platform, but I do hope you guys will pipe in with what you’re seeing on that end. Like you, I’m hoping that the new owner of Family Tree Maker does the product right. But I’m very impressed with RootsMagic, too, and would love to hear what you think of it.

      I’ve evaluated several factors on all of the Big Three — Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, and Legacy — and you can find all of the posts by going to the top of the page and looking for “Desktop Dilemma” on the menu bar. I should have a new installment in this series within the next few weeks.

      And thank you, Allen, for reading Alabama Heritage! It’s been my privilege to serve as its editor since 2002. These days, my colleague Susan Reynolds does the heavy lifting on its content, and she’s wonderful.

      Stay in touch!

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