Thursday, May 9, 2013

Legacy Family Tree : Why I Like It and You'll Like it Too

If you've never had the pleasure of compared genealogy software, I'm about to save you a whole lot of headache.  Genealogy software is not the polished application you would expect from say - Microsoft.  It's built by genealogy companies who hire a software developer or happen to know someone who does 'software stuff', not software development houses.  Software development and UI design are complex.  And so is genealogy   The combination of the two, regrettably, mostly winds up being a clunky interface with lots of features that are really difficult to use.

I took my first foray into genealogy several years ago.  And at first, there is this process of information overwhelm.  There are thousands of people out there who have done massive amounts of work and there is tons of data there for the taking - sometimes even entire family trees.  I was in internet research hog heaven!

During that phase, I collected what I could and put it together the best I could so that I could kind of wrap my head around what was there.  I found Legacy Family Tree on a free software site and used it to create my own gedcom file  so that I could send it to my grandmother to say "Hey - look what I found!"... but I didn't do much else with it.

Fast forward five years and two computers later.  I picked up genealogy as a hobby again.  This time, I was far more conscious of approaching it as actual research because I wanted to resolve some long standing questions in a couple of my lines of ancestry.  I was careful about making sure what I gathered was properly sourced and making sure anything I sent out had my information on it and all of the finite details that ensure that genealogy remains accurate.  As I realized the breadth of data I'd be collecting, storing and organizing, I realized I'd need software to do it.  And so I started doing genealogy software comparisons.  And by comparison, what I really mean is tragically crash testing my ancestry against meager feature sets with the assistance of copious amounts of Tylenol to take the pain away.

What I found where genealogy meets software was mostly a train wreck.  There are several comparison sites out there but few give real feedback on what the software is like to use.  To make comparing them absolutely maddening, you have to import all of your family tree stuff to really see how the software works - which is NOT easy.  And then, as if to add insult to injury, most genealogy software packages have tons of strings attached.  They have levels of functionality that you have to pay more for - like you can't import your WHOLE tree, just a few generations, until you pay X amount.  And who can test with that?  They are also mostly associated with ONLY a particular website or database or otherwise hobble your ability to use a variety of sources.  So it didn't matter which one I tried, I was left feeling terribly unsatisfied.

After trying several (many) software packages, I stumbled upon Legacy again.  As soon as I installed it, I recognized it from years before.  But, having a much better appreciation for all of it's features and what they can be used to accomplish this time, I kept it.

I's a free download, free to use and you can do most stuff with it for free.  It really is the best free software there is, hands down.  Let me say that again.  It's FREE.  It has ONE level at which you pay that unlocks all of it's other features, which I don't begrudge them because software this good SHOULD cost money.

Here's a quick rundown of what I love about it:
  • It's free.  You can use it to your heart's content before you decide to pay for it and really make sure it's the best software for you before you do.
  • It's not tied to any one website or database - and in fact, I found a few new databases just by using the software.  With a click of a button, I can search for a given individual on any number of online databases.  Some of the databases like do require a subscription, but that is outside of the control of Legacy... and some of them are free.  
  • It does ABSOLUTELY everything I've needed it to do where sources are concerned.  I can create a bibliography entry for any type of source and that source data follows the individual or even through the myriad of available reports - or not, if I opt not to include sources (shame, shame)
  • There are a ton of reports so that you can shape your data any way you want to.  Each report is almost infinitely customizable down to fonts and what data you want to appear on the report.
  • There are a bunch of ad hok tools 
My only gripe is that there are SO MANY things one can do with  a family tree, that the software is very complex and there is a learning curve in learning the UI.  That said, they do offer a user's guide and a training video to help with the learning curve.

So, that's why I promote Legacy here.  I wish more people knew about it.  I think it would save everyone a whole lot of heartache and it would certainly increase the veracity of the "research" I've observed in genealogy communities.

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