When I think of some of the most commonly asked questions I hear from the patrons at the Family History Centers and in discussing genealogy generally, which genealogy programs to use is always one of the most frequent questions. This question is immediately followed by the question of which genealogy program I use. Many years ago, the answer to this question would have been rather simple. For a number of years, when I was using Apple computers, there were very few programs and Personal Ancestral File (PAF) for the Mac was an easy choice. It was almost free and I considered it to be one of the best programs available. Unfortunately the last version of PAF was version 2.31 back in 1994. It only took a couple of years before advances in the Macintosh computer operating system made the program obsolete. The Windows version of the program continued to be available and during that time period, I maintained both a Macintosh system and a Windows-based computer system so I could continue to use the genealogy programs and for other business-related programs.
Over the years, dozens of different genealogy programs were developed for the DOS/Windows computers. As I continued to be involved in genealogy, my program needs became more and more complicated. The normal processes of product differentiation began to affect genealogy programs and feature creep became a reality. Every year or so, the genealogy program developers would release a new version of their programs. Because of my almost total involvement with computers, I was always tempted to try out the new programs. This developed into a constant search for the "ultimate" genealogy program.
I carefully watched the genealogy software reviews and tried almost every program I could find. When the Internet became generally available, my search for a perfect program began to expand around the world.
It is not my intention to recommend any particular program. This post is directed at the process of selecting a program that suits your particular needs. Your needs may be vastly different than my own and any program I suggest will reflect my own point of view.
Eventually a complicating factor was my need to support a variety of programs. This came about as I began to volunteer regularly in the Mesa Family History Center (now the Mesa FamilySearch Library) about ten years ago. The process became even more complicated when I started to write my Genealogy's Star blog almost eight years ago. I began the process of comparing different programs in order to answer questions and to write about the programs themselves. I decided very early on, not be become a partisan for any particular program. Most of the popular programs had similar features. Those programs that lacked basic functionality failed to interest me at all. I have never been attracted to that class of programs known as "shareware" or "freeware" that usually lacked any significant amount of support and with a few notable exceptions, came and went with the changes in operating systems for the computers.
I also recognized that there were programs that were popular in certain parts of the world that were not particularly marketed in the United States.
One criteria, because I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was whether or not the programs seemed suited to maintaining the types of records that are particular to members of the Church. In that regard, my selection of programs used that criteria as one of the make or break issues in program selection. With the release of New.FamilySearch.org (NFS), connectivity with that program became a big issue. Members of the Church who want to move on from using PAF, were attracted to programs that could share data with the online NFS program. For me, the absence of an Apple OS X operating system program that would talk to NFS became a big issue.
After the introduction of FamilySearch.org's Family Tree program, there was a period of time when none of the programs would share data with the new Family Tree program. By the time NFS was made read only, some programs had qualified as Family Tree Certified programs. But at the same time this was happening, there was another major shift in genealogical software. Online family tree programs began to develop most of the characteristics of the desktop-based programs. The issue of providing sources for facts and events in an online family tree became more and more mainstream.
The issue of adding sources to genealogical data files had been developing for a considerable period of time. In my own mind, sourcing my existing data became one, if not the top consideration. At the same time, the genealogy software developers started implementing more and more sophisticated method of citing sources and including the citations in the programs. Ultimately, the idea of adding sources became a prominent feature of the FamilySearch Family Tree.
Most recently, FamilySearch began the process of adding other major online genealogy programs as "partners." This added an entirely new aspect to the questions of the need for a particular genealogy program. Now the consideration of which program to use as a primary program became more and more complicated. In addition, the issue of searching for and adding sources to the individuals and families in a genealogical database became more and more important. The large online genealogy database programs began to automate their searching functions and integrate and attach those sources directly to the individuals in a user's family tree. I could see the advantage of this type of system immediately and my interest was further increased by claims coming from FamilySearch and the other companies that they intended to open a pathway whereby source citations obtained from these automated programs could one day be added to FamilySearch Family Tree directly.
During all this time starting with the introduction of online family trees, there was the background issue of where to store all your information; online or on the desktop or both places. This is where we are today. We have stand alone programs that do not communicate or synchronize with any online genealogical database. We have other programs that share their data with the online programs.
Where do we go from here? The sharing function of the online family tree programs and the FamilySearch Family Tree are presently limited. Meanwhile, I continue to wait for the FamilySearch Family Tree program to become fully functional. See FamilySearch Announces Milestones for Retirement of new.FamilySearch.org.
The question of which genealogy program I should use is now more complicated than ever. The question is unlikely to be settled in the near future. Meanwhile, I will keep using the desktop programs that best reflect my personal needs. This can only be determined by using the programs with real data. For the time being I am adding sources to my online family trees and waiting for the resolution of the FamilySearch issues.