Friday, March 06, 2009

RootsMagic and Family Historian

I currently use the free PAF software from When I started out on this journey I wasn't quite sure exactly what I would want in genealogy software and I can be rather picky when it comes to software, so initially a freebie product was the smart choice.

I've never actually gotten around to moving on though! I've done the rounds of evaluating the various products out there a few times, the last time over a year ago when we moved to Vista Ultimate 64-bit, on which several products refused to install or run even when their vendors claimed they could! I came to the conclusion that I fancied Family Historian, a solid British-oriented program - but couldn't quite justify the price.

RootsMagic is currently offering their upcoming version 4 as a public beta operational to the end of this month, so I decided to take a look. It converted my PAF file without having to first export it to a GEDCOM, and seems to have a clean and efficient use of space in its user interface.

When viewing an individual there's a tab to run a websearch on that individual, with the search string optimised to increase your chances of getting a relevant hit - I will be looking at this a bit more to see exactly how optimised. I sent it looking for one of my COLES ancestors in Google, and hey presto it came back with a Methodist circuit baptism for his son, who shared the same name. Score! Then I sent it off to search Rootsweb and it came back with an Abney Park Cemetery burial entry for both father and son - I had known the son was buried there but not the father, my direct ancestor. Score! (Incidentally if anyone reading this is in London and fancies a trip to Abney Park see if they can find the memorials I'd love to hear from you) I was impressed at how quick and easy this feature was - slightly less impressed at the fact it seems to use the IE interface for the websearch, even though my computer is set to use Firefox as its default browser, but that's a minor quibble.

I was also pleased to see that the individual summary report doesn't abbreviate entries. PAF does this in order to fit any given field's contents into the space allowed in the report, leading to oddities like "Church St, W, B" printing as a residence instead of spelling out Wing Buckinghamshire in full - which, frankly, is pretty important information I want on my printouts! No problems with RootsMagic though, it will print the entire entry by scrolling onto a second line if it has to. On the negative side, the report starts a new page before beginning the source citations - why not have the option to run it directly after the main text of the report so you can save paper?

I do prefer a British-written program though, and here's an example why. RootsMagic has a gazetteer in it, which when you search for Wing will bring up both the Buckinghamshire and Rutland villages with that name - a good start. However, highlighting the Buckinghamshire entry and clicking Online Map sends you off to the LiveSearch Maps website which shows you the Rutland one, not the Bucks one. I had a similar false result when clicking on Great Tew, Oxfordshire (Great Tey Road in Colchester, Essex!). A UK-written program would be designed to integrate with UK resources and to pass instructions to those resources in a way that made sense for UK conditions. If software isn't optimised for UK genealogy I can guarantee there's going to be "features" which are either unusable or will annoy me every time I use the program, and I'm not prepared to pay for that.

I'll be downloading the demo of the next version of Family Historian once it comes out (also imminently) as a comparison.


SueM said...

Re: RootsMagic4 Individual Summary report. You mentioned that you can't get sources to start at the end of the of the document, but you can! Before you click on the Generate Report button, just click on the Sources button on the right and click the appropriate button.

Alex said...

Hmm, that's where I was clicking! I only see options for no endnotes/footnotes, or endnotes at the end of document (which seem to automatically start on a new page), or footnotes at the bottom of each page (which I find a bit disruptive unless they are short and sweet). I have one where the main data runs onto two pages (just) and the endnotes print as a third page - however the endnotes would also fit on the second page if the program would print them immediately after the main data rather than starting a new page.

Anonymous said...

Re: Family Historian. I have been using FH happily since June 2002, it was the UK authorship that attracted me in the first place. I shall almost certainly be upgrading to v4 when it is released. I'm not sure about v4, but there is very little integration (if any) with the outside world in FH at the moment, but the reporting, queries and diagrams are excellent and incredibly flexible, although not perfect by any means. Another thing I like is that the database is stored in GEDCOM format, which can by edited easily in a text editor (handy for find and replace).

template by : background by Tayler : dingbat font TackODing