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 Many years ago that used to be the norm but not anymore so already this software feel outdated.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

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