Friday, November 21, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ancestris

Continuing in alphabetical order of free tree software reviews, this one is about Ancestris.

Upon opening Ancestris, there are options to take a tour of the software or use other learning tools. I decided to skip this and clicked on My Ancestris which then gave me the options to create a new genealogy or open an existing one. Creating a new one takes you through the first steps of setting up a new tree. Right off the bat, I didn't like this process, since under "modifications of properties" it had a section for making "jurisdictions" (locations) fields required and organizing the sort order (shown right). For new comers, this might be confusing as you may not yet be sure how to best set this up, and I found it totally unnecessary.

The fourth step is finally useful and has you enter the name and birth data for the first person in your tree, normally yourself. You also have the option to enter death data (leave blank for yourself, obviously) and occupation and residence. The last step has you enter the parents, spouse, and children details (and other relatives, oddly), but clicking on "Add his/her father/mother" first generates a popup box that basically tells you what you already know, that you're about to add the father of this person (shown left). It gives you the option of changing the person's ID number, which again is unnecessary. Just click proceed, and then you'll finally have the same options to enter the details as you did with the original person.

Another annoying feature is that when adding a mother, the married name is automatically put into the surname field (shown right). This is bad form because the standard in genealogy is to name women by their maiden names. A newcomer who doesn't know this might assume it's better to enter the married name since that is the default here so this could be very misleading and really screw things up for people who don't know better. I also noticed that surnames are automatically formatted to be in all caps (shown right). This is a format some people use but not all and there doesn't seem to be a way to change it if you prefer it without all caps. If there is a way to change this setting, like everything in this software, it's not obvious how to do so.

So far, the only positive thing about this software is that the place fields (and the name fields, though I don't know how useful this would be in practice) offer a drop down menu of previously used locations so if you have a lot of events in one place, you don't need to type them all out every time. That said, you wouldn't be typing out too many locations anyway because another let down to Ancestris is that the only facts/events that seem available are name, BMD, occupation, and residence (only one residence so you can not enter more than one location a person lived in). You can also enter a nickname and name prefix/suffix but no alternate names or any other alternate facts. All very limiting to detailing anything more than the bare, vital facts.

When you are finished with these steps, you can now view your tree, either as a pedigree (what they call a "Dynamic tree") or a family group sheet which they call a "Browser" (shown left and below). They don't make the tabs very clear what they are, they just have the title of your tree on every tab. I only figured out what they called the different views/tabs by looking at the "View" menu and matching the icons, which might be too small to make out quickly or easily for some.

On the left, you have your tree views, on the right you have the details of the individual selected, which you can view either as editable fields ("Ancestris Editor") or as an outline list ("Data Publisher") - again, the tabs for these different views aren't obvious what they are. On the "Data Publisher" view, there is another box below it titled "Individual" but it gets cut off and there is no scroll bar, you can only adjust the divider in between the two boxes to see more (shown below right).

The pedigree view (Dynamic Tree) is not much better, it's clunky looking and it took me a minute to realize the blank box below the two parents is meant to be for their marriage data. Another thing they don't exactly make very clear (shown right).

At the bottom, there's a list of immediate family members and their details. Again, the tab for it just lists the tree name instead of a description of the view type (shown right). Apparently this is called the "Entities Table", as listed under "View" in the top menu above the toolbar.

Adding more people to your tree is also not very intuitive. If I want to add the parents of an individual, that's easy enough because in the family group (Browser) view there are fields to click to add them. But let's say I want to add another child. I first looked around for an "Add" button but when I couldn't find one, I right clicked the individual while in pedigree (Dynamic tree) view and then hovered over "Individual (ID number)" in the menu that appeared. Another menu appeared from that, giving me the option to add various types of family members (shown left). This seems to be the only way to add someone who is not a parent, it's only available in pedigree view and only by right clicking and selecting an option that doesn't even describe the function it runs.

So what are the positives to this software?! Well, they do have a lot of charts and reports. If you already have a tree you build online and you're looking for some free software just to import your gedcom and generate charts and reports, this might work for you. But in terms of actual data management, especially for beginners to genealogy, this is NOT intuitive. Again, even just bringing up the charts and reports is not straight forward. It's easy enough to click on "View" and select "Lists and reports" but then it opens a blank new tab and you have to know to click on the correct icon that has a green triangle on it. That opens up a lists of reports you can choose from. Also be aware that a lot of the charts have to be output to a file like SVG and then displayed in a web browser instead of being displayed within Ancestris.

The only other positive is that it does support sources and even repositories. I know that seems like it should be standard on every tree software rather than a noted bonus, but as we've seen before, that's not always the case. However, this alone is not enough to make it worthwhile because yet again, adding a source is not intuitive. You can not add a source in the "Ancestris Editor" like you might think (isn't that what an editor is for?), even though there's a tab for it. Instead, you have to go to the pedigree view (Dynamic tree) and right click the individual, highlight "Individual (ID number)" and then choose "Add Source". But bizarrely, this won't add a source to the individual, it adds it to the whole tree! Despite the fact that each fact for each individual has a "Source" tab, I can't figure out a way to actually use these. I'm not saying it's impossible but I'm fairly computer literate so if I can't figure out how to do it, it's not intuitive in the slightest.

  • Locations have drop down select of previously used places
  • Supports sources and repositories (limited though)
  • Lots of charts and reports

  • Not intuitive or easy to use at all
  • Only basic, vital facts/events available to add
  • Not able to customize much (ie, no option to turn off surnames in all caps)
  • Woman's surnames default with married name (you can change it but it's bad form for the default to be married)

Conclusion: If you're willing to wrestle with the functionality of this software, the reports and charts might be worth it, for a free option, but there are probably better ones out there. I can see nothing else redeeming about this software, it's very hard to use even for a seasoned genealogist and computer user.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free Family Tree Software Review: Ancestral Quest Basics

Ancestry Quest has a free "basics" version and a full $29.95 version. They have a detailed comparison on their website but I am only going to review the free version and compare it against other free family tree software.

When you download Ancestral Quest Basics, there is a form to fill out your details but note that it is no required. You can just click the download button. One annoying feature of this software right off the bat is that once installed, you have to reboot your computer before using it. Many years ago that used to be the norm but not anymore so already this software feel outdated. Before the software opens, it asks you to set a few preferences.

One of the benefits to this software is that it has a built in option to search for records. If you have an subscription, this might be beneficial. But then, if you have an subscription, I would highly recommend using their own software, Family Tree Maker, since it has the ability to sync your online and offline tree, which isn't possible with Ancestral Quest.

Getting started options
It's also highly compatible with PAF - Personal Ancestry File which was created by They have since abandoned their PAF software but it is still supported by Ancestral Quest, Legacy Family Tree, and RootsMagic, and will link to your online FamilySearch Family Tree, just like Family Tree Maker links with your online tree. So the real benefit of Ancestral Quest is if is your favored online source.

Once you get passed all these options to enable or not, you finally have the option to create a new tree or open an existing one. There are several options, including things like importing from a gedcom or from your FamilySearch tree. I always start a new tree because I'm assuming most people interested in free software are newcomers to genealogy who may not have a tree built yet. It will ask you to name your tree and where to save it, and then again asks if you want to register (and buy) the full software.

Add/edit individual with pedigree view in background
Finally, you get a blank pedigree in which you can start filling in names. It shows you where to click to add the first person in your tree, usually yourself. This is beneficial for first time users who may never have built a tree before and don't know where to start. Clicking this brings up a popup box that allows you to input your details. I notice right away that Ancestral Quest allows you to add source citations for each fact by clicking on the "S" next to the fact. This is a definite plus over the previously reviewed Ahnenblatt software. The other benefit over Ahnenblatt is the ability to add more than just vital data and basic facts. As you can see in the screenshot to the left, you can click "add" under "other events" and get a huge list of different types of facts/events you can add to an individual. Clicking the "more" tab allows you to enter things like an AKA name, physical description, and cause of death. Some of these options are not always available with other free software. Ancestral Quest also has a tab in the individual's details for contact information, which is really only beneficial for living people in your tree. In pedigree view, when you hover over an individual's name, it displays a quick view of their BMD data (birth, marriage, death). To view more of their details, just double click their name and the window shown in the screenshot above left will appear again.

Family view tab showing immediate family of individual
Once you've created the first person in your tree, it jumps from pedigree view to the "family" tab, which basically shows the individual's immediate family. You can enter your parents from here or by going back to the pedigree view. When you click on "add father" and type in a name and click okay, a window to input his marriage details pops up, which is a little confusing because you haven't even entered the mother/wife's name yet! If you then enter the mother's name, the details of the father's marriage do seem to get added but I did not find this process intuitive at all.

The design of the software uses some largish fonts and buttons, which may be beneficial for those with poor eyesight but personally, I found that made it difficult to visually pull all the details together.

Along with the Pedigree and Family view tabs, there is a tab for "Name list" which lists all the people in your tree. The "Individual" and "Timeline" tabs are only available with the $29.95 version.

In the toolbar along the top of the screen, there are more options to play with your data. Some are restricted to the $29.95 version, such as "publish a family book" and the to-do list. The option to "edit individual" just brings up a person's details to edit, you can accomplish the same thing by double clicking their name in pedigree or family view. In addition to the list of all people in your tree, there are tools for search your tree by name, number, or relationship. There is also the option to merge two duplicate individuals, a more advanced feature you may not often see in free software.

The Basics version does allow you to create some reports and charts, though they are limited. You'll find them by clicking the printer icon in the toolbar, which may not be very intuitive. From here, there appears to be many options but once again, clicking print or preview on many of them brings up the option to upgrade to the full version. That can get annoying. Their website I linked to before details which reports and charts are available for which versions so I won't get into all that.

Exporting your tree only gives you options for various Ancestral Quest versions, Heritage Family Tree Deluxe, Family Tree Maker, PAF, and "Other", which apparently is code for gedcom. Why they couldn't call it gedcom is beyond me.

  • Overall easy to use, with only a couple exceptions
  • Links to your FamilySearch family tree
  • Will search records on
  • Has some features other free software may not, such as citations for facts and many event types
  • Offers some reports and charts

  • Has many features which are only available in paid version but doesn't indicate that you can't access them until clicking on them (they could be greyed out to indicate no access but aren't) - the constant clicking on items not available gets annoying (though they make clear on their website what features aren't available with the free version, it's not like I have an eidetic memory)
  • Upon opening the first time, it asks you to set a lot of preferences that newbies may not know much about
  • One or two features are not hugely intuitive

Conclusion: An easy to use option for beginners but also allows some growth, not only with the free version but also offering more features with the full $29.95 version, which is affordable. Biggest benefit is being able to link your Ancestral Quest tree with your FamilySearch tree. If FamilySearch (which is free) is where much of your research is going to be, and you can put up with many features not available with the free version, this software is a good option to start with.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars