Everyone loves free, right? There’s good reasons for that, of course. The use of free genealogy programs can save a lot of money.
The free programs generally are not as powerful or full-featured as the programs that cost $25 to as much as $100; but, for many of us, the free programs are more than “good enough.” A free genealogy program also is very appealing to a genealogy newcomer who is not yet sure if he or she wants to invest money in what may turn out to be a passing interest. Of course, the newcomer can always later convert to a more expensive product with more features and use a GEDCOM file transfer to copy the information from the old program to a new program. See my GEDCOM Explained article at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/24/gedcom-explained for details. One free genealogy program will also synchronize its data with a cloud-based genealogy service on the World Wide Web. (That is my preferred solution.)
Dozens of small genealogy programs and utilities are available free of charge. Many of them are not full featured programs that will record almost everything about an individual, provide all sort of printouts, and include multimedia libraries. The following is a list in alphabetical order of the better (in my opinion) and more full-featured free genealogy programs available today for Windows, Macintosh, and one program for Linux.
A side-by-side comparison chart of many of the available features in these programs is included at the end of this article.
Family Tree Builder for Windows and Macintosh
Family Tree Builder for Windows and Macintosh from MyHeritage is a surprisingly powerful and full featured genealogy program that is available free of charge. It is not an entry-level program that is restricted in any manner. There is no upgrade to a paid version; everything is available in the free version. Family Tree Builder is free forever and is used by millions of people worldwide. The program helps you research your family history, build your family tree, and add photos, historical records, and more.
NOTE: MyHeritage is the sponsor of this newsletter. One of the reasons why I am delighted to have the company as a sponsor is because the company offers a number of free and reasonably-priced products and services.
Family Tree Builder allows anyone to build a family tree visually and to even add thousands of people quickly. Not all free genealogy programs can store large databases. However, Family Tree Builder can handle an unlimited number of facts, notes, sources, photos, and multimedia items to each person and family. It also easily handles same sex marriages and other non-traditional families.
I am impressed with the capabilities of this powerful free program. You can enter information about ancestors from the keyboard, one at a time, or by importing a GEDCOM file that you have created from another genealogy program, or by automatically matching your tree to millions of others online at the MyHeritage web site. The program will also export a GEDCOM file if you wish to transfer data to another program or to a cloud-based genealogy site.
I love Family Tree Builder’s capability to synchronize data with MyHeritage’s web site and to find matching records on that site. I believe it is the only free genealogy program that will synchronize data with a major genealogy web site. Family Tree Builder also takes advantage of MyHeritage’s Smart Matching feature, which searches the MyHeritage database looking for family tree profiles that match. Smart Matches check not only the name, but also the birth date, and parents of the entries in the database, and when it finds similar tree profiles, tells the user who may then confirm the match or not. This allows people to share their family trees and genealogy research with the entire MyHeritage community.
In my experience, MyHeritage’s “Smart Matches” have accurately identified relatives almost all the time, unlike some other online matching services. The accuracy appears to be the best in the industry. However, each person found by the automated software is presented as a POSSIBLE relative; the user can decide the actions to be taken for each identified potential relative: add to the database, reject the person, or save for future research without adding to the Family Tree Builder database at this time.
The free Family Tree Builder program allows you to add an unlimited number of people to your database. It will also synchronize data with the MyHeritage.com web site. However, free accounts on the web site are limited to 250 people in the web site’s database. While that is a limitation of the web site, it does not affect Family Tree Builder which always works well as a free-standing genealogy program. Again, the free Family Tree Builder program allows you to add an unlimited number of people to your database.
Family Tree Builder will create, customize, and print beautiful charts, timelines, and reports, including some gorgeous all-in-one charts. It also displays impressive maps showing where your ancestors lived and traveled. Migration paths become obvious when displayed on these maps. The program allows you to load your own discoveries back to the MyHeritage.com web site, where you can either share the information with everyone or else keep it in a private web site that only you can see.
Family Tree Builder also shares information easily with Android and Apple phones and tablets if you earlier synchrinized data with MyHeritage.com. The free apps are available from the Google Play Store and the iPhone and iPad App Stores. These apps access data you synschronized on MyHeritage.com, not directly with the desktop or laptop Family Tree Builder programs. The result is that you have your data everywhere you want it: in your desktop computer’s hard drive, in the laptop’s hard drive, in your phone, in your tablet computer, and online at MyHeritage.com in your choice of a private or public database. Family Tree Builder is a powerful solution.
Not bad for a free program! There is no “plus version” or anything else that requires payment. It bears repeating: the free version includes everything.
You can learn more about Family Tree Builder and also download the free program at: https://www.myheritage.com/family-tree-builder. Information about the free Android and Apple iOS apps for handheld devices may be found at https://www.myheritage.com/mobile.
Family Tree Builder is now my preferred free genealogy program.
GRAMPS for Linux, Windows, and Macintosh
GRAMPS (an abbreviation for Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Programming System) is a free, open source genealogy software product available for Linux, Windows, and Macintosh. It was originally developed for Linux and then was ported to Windows, Macintosh, and even to BSD UNIX and to Solaris. GRAMPS is available without restriction, free of charge although donations are accepted. There is no “plus version” or anything else that requires payment. The free version includes everything.
GRAMPS includes all sorts of lists of people, places, and events. It also stores source citations, repositories, and notes, and it handles photos, videos, maps, and other media.
Installing GRAMPS on most of today’s Linux systems is simple. Ubuntu, Mint, RedHat, Debian, Fedora, and other Linux distributions usually include a built-in, simple-to-use application that will download and install Linux software automatically. With most Linux systems, you simply open the installation program (it may have various names, depending upon which version of Linux you are using), click on GRAMPS, and wait a few seconds for the program to download and automatically install itself. When completed, GRAMPS will be ready for use. That is simpler than installing most programs on Windows and is nearly as easy to use as installing programs from the Macintosh App Store.
There is one word of caution for Windows and Macintosh users however. While GRAMPS has been ported to Windows and Macintosh, installation on those computers may be a bit more complex than it is on Linux. Full details may be found at https://gramps-project.org/wiki/index.php?title=Download.
Full documentation for GRAMPS may be found at https://gramps-project.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_page if you would like to read about it before you try it.
You can learn more about GRAMPS by starting at https://gramps-project.org.
Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition for Windows
Legacy Family Tree is available in two versions: a free “Standard Edition” and a “Deluxe Edition” that sells for $29.95. (Watch for sales to see it discounted occasionally.) The free version is a powerful program all by itself. I suspect that many users of the free Standard Edition never find a need to upgrade to the extra features found in the Deluxe Edition. It is that good.
Legacy Family Tree is one of the more popular genealogy programs available for the Windows operating system. Its popularity is caused by three major factors: it is powerful, it is easy to use, and it contains most all the features that serious genealogists demand. However, it also works well for genealogy newcomers.
Legacy Family Tree is available in two versions: Legacy Family Tree Standard is a FREE genealogy program that includes all the basic functionality but omits some tools, reports, and advanced features of the full-featured Legacy Family Tree Deluxe program. You can use the free Legacy Family Tree Standard for as long as you like, and the program does meet the needs of many genealogists. However, should you decide to later upgrade to the full-featured version, your previously-entered data will be available immediately after upgrading. There is no need to re-enter all the information again.
Legacy Family Tree has a long list of features, including unlimited people in the database; unlimited alternate given and surnames; unlimited events; GEDCOM import and export as well as importing from Legacy, PAF 2.31 or 3.0, or Ancestral File; ability to specify individuals and information to be exported; onscreen views that include pedigree view, descendants view, and more; view up to six family/pedigree view windows simultaneously so that you can view different parts of the same file at one time; multimedia support for pictures, video, maps, and more; picture editing; slideshow capability; open two different family files simultaneously to compare and copy information from one to the other, including drag-and-drop feature to copy people from one file to another; source citation system; maps that plot important locations in ancestors’ lives; pre-written interview questions and memory triggers for interviewing family members; notes for general, research, and medical information; support for multiple marriages including adoptive lines, polygamous and sequential marriages, and incestuous relationships (Same sex couples are not supported either as parents or marriage.); individual and marriage tags; to-do list; up to 200 bookmarks for quick return to specific individuals; history list of the last 200 individuals displayed; a pop-up calendar containing a month and year calendar ranging from 1700 to 2099; date calculator; support for LDS-specific fields; and alternate names.
While there is no native Macintosh version of Legacy Family Tree, the Windows version reportedly runs well on Macintosh and Linux machines with a Windows virtual computer such as Parallels, VMWare or VirtualBox. VirtualBox is available free of charge at https://www.virtualbox.org while Parallels and VMWare Fusion are commercial products that cost money. All three of these products also will require a legal copy of Microsoft Windows so none of them can be considered “free” unless you already have one of them installed for other reasons and simply want to add Legacy Family Tree to the programs you are already using in the Windows virtual computer.
A video tour of the many features in Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition is available at http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/WhatsNew8.asp.
You can learn more about Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition by starting at http://www.legacyfamilytree.com. (Information about both the free Standard Edition and the $29.95 Legacy Family Tree Deluxe Edition is available on that page.)
Personal Ancestry Writer II (PAWriter II) for Macintosh
Macintosh users may be interested in Personal Ancestry Writer II. That program’s name is often abbreviated to PAWriter II. It is a native Macintosh program, not a Windows program that has been “ported” to Macintosh. PAWriter II is a rather basic program and does not have all the “bells and whistles” of the other Macintosh programs. However, it certainly has a good price tag: free!
Personal Ancestry Writer II is also super easy to use and is based upon the now obsolete LDS Personal Ancestral File program (PAF) for the Macintosh. The Personal Ancestry Writer II has all new code, but its “look and feel” strongly resembles the old PAF for Macintosh. If you used and liked PAF for the Macintosh, you probably will like PAWriter II. Don’t look here for automated uploads to cloud-based services, searches on the web, or multimedia tools. While PAWriter II will produce a number of printed reports, there aren’t as many reports as found in other Macintosh genealogy programs.
You can learn more about Personal Ancestry Writer II by starting at http://www.lanopalera.net/Genealogy/AboutPAWriter.html.
RootsMagic Essentials for Windows and Macintosh
RootsMagic Essentials is a free Windows and Macintosh genealogy program that contains many core features from the commercial RootsMagic family tree software. A list of features comparing the two can be found at http://rootsmagic.com/RootsMagic/Features.aspx. RootsMagic Essentials is absolutely free forever although the program will occasionally invite the user to upgrade to the $29.95 version. The program has friendly screens and menus to allow even the most inexperienced computer novice to get up and running quickly. It also produces a wide variety of printed reports although not as many as can be produced with the commercial version. RootsMagic Essentials makes it easy to track multiple relationships such as adoptions, foster parents, and more.
Not all free genealogy programs can store large databases. However, RootsMagic Essentials can handle an unlimited number of facts, notes, sources, and multimedia items to each person and family. The user can add photographs, sound bites, and video clips to bring your family history to life. RootsMagic Essentials will also include your photographs in your printed reports.
RootsMagic Essentials also has an excellent SourceWizard that writes and manages sources and citations for you. Built-in templates based on Evidence Explained make citing your sources as easy as “filling in the blanks”. Even the free program includes multimedia support for photographs, sound bites, and video clips.
Not only can RootsMagic Essentials import GEDCOM files, it also can directly import databases from Family Tree Maker, PAF, Legacy, The Master Genealogist, and Family Origins without using GEDCOM. Direct imports generally provide better results than do the (imperfect) GEDCOM imports. RootsMagic Essentials will also export GEDCOM files. LDS users will appreciate that RootsMagic is also certified to reserve and request LDS temple ordinances. You can find, reserve, and track needed ordinances from the comfort of your own home.
Again, not bad for a free program! You can learn more about RootsMagic Essentials at http://www.rootsmagic.com/essentials.
As I write these words, the full commercial version of RootsMagic is available as part of a a special for Family Tree maker users who would like to switch to RootsMagic. Details may be found at http://www.FTMUpgrade.com. I have no idea how long this “special” will last.
If you are looking for a free genealogy program to run in your computer, you have choices for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux! All of the programs listed above are capable of storing unlimited numbers of people in their databases. They all have a variety of printed reports. As I wrote earlier, the free programs generally are not as powerful or full-featured as the programs that cost $25 to as much as $100 but, for many of us, the free programs are more than “good enough.”
Here is a comparison chart of many of the features available in these free genealogy programs:
|Family Tree Builder||RootsMagic Essentials||Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition||GRAMPS||Personal Ancestry Writer II|
|Available for Windows||X||X||X||X|
|Available for Macintosh||X||X||X||X|
|Unlimited people in the database||X||X||X||X||X|
|GEDCOM import and export||X||X||X||X||X|
|Can import from other genealogy programs without GEDCOM||
Yes: Family Tree Legends (.FTL), Family Tree Maker files (.FTM/*.FTW/*.FTMB) prior to the 2014 edition, Personal Ancestral File (.PAF), and Legacy (.FDB)
|Yes: Legacy, PAF 2.31 or 3.0, or Ancestral
|Onscreen views that include pedigree view, descendants view, and
|Multimedia support for pictures, video, maps, and more; picture
|Source citation system||X||X||X||X||X|
|Maps that plot important locations in ancestors’ lives||X||X||X||X|
|Notes for general, research, and medical information||X||X||X||X||X|
|Support for multiple marriages including adoptive lines,
polygamous and sequential marriages, and incestuous relationships
|Same sex marriages supported||X||X||X|
|Automatically eliminates or merges duplicate records||X|
|Support for LDS-specific fields||Not yet available but planned for a future release||X||X||X||C|
|Automatically search online and for records that match your people||X||X||X|
|Automatically finds records in FamilySearch and MyHeritage
that may match a person in your file
|MyHeritage.com plus FamilySearch.org’s tree||MyHeritage.com plus FamilySearch.org’s tree||X|
In addition, two of the listed genealogy programs also provide their own side-by-side comparison charts:
Legacy Family Tree: http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/Compare.asp
Finally, Wikipedia has a side-by-side comparison chart of both free and paid genealogy programs at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_genealogy_software. However, many of the programs listed have been obsolete and unavailable for years. It also does not list Personal Ancestry Writer II at all.