Computer Genealogy Programs

Posted Feb 27, 2019
Last Updated Feb 27, 2019

 by Robert W Penry - 2019

Posted Feb 14, 2019

Last Updated Feb 15, 2019


For a genealogy program to be useful to the majority of genealogists, it needs to be able to communicate with both and Family Search.  The main suppliers have designed their software to meet the demand and to receive Family Search Certification.

These are certified programs: Ancestral Quest, Legacy, Roots Magic and Family Tree Maker. In addition there are some other programs certified.  Family Insight is available, but the parent company is not longer in business.   MagiCensus Deluxe is available with a free trial version  but I have never seen it installed.  Gaia Family Tree has a beautiful interface but can only handle small files. 

Ancestral Quest, Legacy, Roots Magic and Family Tree Maker agreed to have a version that could do basic genealogy and connect to the Family Search owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All but Family Tree Maker produce a free version and these three produce a professional version which can do much more at the cost of about $30.

There is some basic information you need in order to understand how these programs work.

All programs that deal with information always have an underlying database (or repository of data)

Data is kept in a file and in this file are records.  The following example shows six records, two each for theee individuals.  Note that each record has a unique piece of information, the RECORD # or key, that allows information to be combined for each individual.  An individual could have several records, for instance:  Personal Information, Home Address, Payroll, Work History, Departments, Office address, etc.  

                RECORD #      NAME                     STREET                 CITY                                        STATE       ZIP      

              101                  John Smith                124 1st St              Salt Lake City                   UT          86412

304                Mary Brown             300 Elm Ave       London                                 OH         43140     

879                Jim Jones                  St Rt 119               Anytown                             NY          10314

The file contains even more information about these individuals

                RECORD #           SEX            DATE BIRTH          M-S      DEPENDENTS

              101                         M                1/22/1963            M           1                                          

304                         F                11/03/2000            S             0

879                        M               17/07/1988           M            6              

The information for each of the three people is called a record.  A collection of records is called a database.

The various elements within the record are called fields.  The fields in this example are:



All genealogy programs contain a file or database consisting of as many records are there people in the file.  Each of these records has many fields such as Surname, Given Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Baptism Live, Baptism Date, Baptism Place, Date of Marriage, Place of Marriage, etc.  A genealogy database has well over 100 fields where information can be stored on individuals.

Every person in the file is assigned a unique identifying number by the program.  This is called a RIN or Record Identifier Number.  A marriage is given a number also, called a MRIN or marriage Record Identifier Number.  Along with basic information fields, there are two pointer fields that link a person to his/her Parents’ Marriage and to his/her spouse.   So if I were person number 28 and my father and mother had MRIN 138.  The MRIN pointer in my record would read 138.  If my spouse was RIN 30 my
Spouse RIN pointer would read 30.  Thus the database not only has information, it has the ability to link everyone together into families.

Why is this so important?  Well, in order for different genealogy programs to exchange data, the basic database must be the same.  The allowable fields are defined by a standards board called the Genealogical Exchange Data Communications or GEDCOM committee.  All programs must be able to export and import data in the file/record/field format designated as a GEDCOM format.   

So in this respect, all genealogy programs are pretty much the same.  What makes them different is how they display the data.  This is called the interface.  The GEDCOM file is just raw data.  It doesn’t provide instructions as to what a pedigree chart or family group sheet looks like or what color the page should be.  Each software producer decides what the displayed information will look like.

In addition, each genealogy program may have additional fields that are unique and that do not transfer in a GEDCOM file.  An example, one program has a field called “TAGS” that allow you to put a colored marker on a record.  My program has “TAGs” and I use them to indicate which line the person is on, my Father’s line or my Mother’s line.

Each company also provides tools such as reports, books, charts, etc.  It also determines how the program will link to Family Search, the Internet, and, etc.  

In choosing a program, you need to see what it can do besides the most basic work, then decide what you like best.

Here are pictures from the four programs of the same information displayed for each:







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