The following is from the Good Web Guide at
and may help those just starting in genealogy to choose what software to use, its drawbacks and advantages.

Choosing Family History Software

Eric Probert guides you through the options and pitfalls

Tracing oneís ancestors is the fastest-growing pastime in the UK, and much of its popularity can be attributed to the increasing access to computers. Their usefulness to the family historian is twofold: for tracking down information using the internet, and for organising, storing and publishing the records you collect. The Good Web Guide to Genealogy should of course be your first port of call for using the internet, but choosing the right software program from the multitude available takes rather more thought.

Linked family history programs create a record for each person, made up of each item (field) of information (data) entered, and the records of all persons form a file.

There is an abundance of packages currently available for purchase or as shareware to enable you to document your linked family histories. So what features should you look for and how do you choose one to suit your particular present and probable future needs?

Basic features

The foremost requirements are that the program should be:

* easy to install

* simple to use

* available in a demonstration version or as shareware for you to try out before purchase or registration

They should also:

* provide a sample family file to enable you to familiarise yourself with the program before inputting your own data

* have an on-screen help facility

* user group or Internet support

* run within the limitations of processor speed, memory, free hard disk space and operating system of your computer

* record the main events in a person's life from birth to death and beyond (probate, obituaries and memorial inscriptions) and other biographical information all referenced to sources.

* be capable of including photos and graphical images.

* provide for straightforward entry of data from the keyboard and files in the LDS Church GEDCOM genealogy information transfer standard

* handle "unusual" families

* deal with incomplete, pre-fixed and dual date forms.

* produce "reports" of the entered data, on screen, printed and as files. The reports should include family group sheets, birth briefs, descendant charts and the compact drop-line family trees familiar to genealogists and understood by everyone.


Advanced features

In addition to the basic features you might want some or all of the following functions:

* include sound and video clips and photo enhancement and manipulation.

* produce statistical (average lifespan) and relationship reports

* create a family history book

* produce circular, fan shaped and all ancestorsí and descendantsí charts

* create timelines of all the events in a person's life history including the important national social, economic and historical "happenings" such as new laws and wars.

* facility to "customise" (selection of information for inclusion, typefaces, colours etc) your reports

* direct access from the program to family history on CD-ROMs and the World Wide Web via the Internet.

* publication of your family history on the programís website or your own website.


Points to consider

You will need to decide which features are important for what you are likely to want to do. Also bear in mind that many of the advanced features can be used by installing separate programs or utilities to be run with the genealogy software. Some family historians are now using more than one program, utilising the best features of each with a common GEDCOM datafile. However, it is vital that you choose a package with GEDCOM file input and output to facilitate a future change to a superior or different program without having to input all the information again through the computer keyboard.

Several of the genealogy programs come packaged with CD-ROMs of data. Note that these are mostly of relevance to research in the US and not the UK.


Further Help

S&N Genealogy Supplies produce a booklet (with comparison chart) and CD-ROM with the top 10 shareware and demonstration versions of commercial genealogy programs for Windows PC computers for just £5.99.

It is worth attending demonstrations of programs arranged by the Society of Genealogists and computer groups of Family History Societies.

Read reviews in periodicals such as Computers in Genealogy, Family Tree Magazine and Family History Monthly.

Explore information available on the internet from

1) Genealogy Forums - CompuServe at

2) E-mail Newsletters - Dick Eastman's On-line Newsletter includes reviews at with back Issues at and

3) Evaluation and comparison web sites such as Bill Mumford's objective assessments of 18 packages in Genealogical Report Cards


Leading Programs

You wonít go far wrong if you choose one of the following. Look out as we will be providing in-depth reviews of all the major programs over the coming months:

Many of these are available at discounted prices at



* Brother's Keeper

Family Origins 9

Family Tree Maker 8 UK

Generations Family Tree UK Version 8

Kith & Kin Pro

Legacy 3

Personal Ancestral File (PAF) 4

The Master Genealogist 4

* Win Family 6

* WinGenea 1.7f

* = shareware



Reunion 7



Personal Ancestral File (PAF) 3.21


Many of these are available at discounted prices at


By Eric Probert