What Genealogy Software Do We Recommend?

When I tell people I don’t recommend Family Tree Maker for Mac 2, they often ask what I do recommend, which is understandable. But I really can’t recommend a genealogy program for other people without knowing what their requirements are. You must first decide what your priorities are. Then you can check on the web to see which programs meet your requirements. You can use Ben’s Feature Comparison Table or FindtheBest.com to find the features you need (but take the Smart Ratings on the latter with a grain of salt). GenSoftReviews.com lists lots of genealogy programs, although not all of them have reviews. But see Tamura Jones’ article, The Most Important Genealogy Software Feature.

I still like Reunion and use it for some tasks like searching in my tree because it’s easier and more powerful than FTMM. However, Reunion is pricey—$99, and it’s getting a bit dated. It doesn’t integrate with any of the online databases like Ancestry or FamilySearch. At least it has a demo version, albeit very limited, so you can try it out and see if it has the features you need.

I also like Gramps, which is free and Open Source, which means it’s developed by users. It imported a 33,000-record GEDCOM from FTMM2 without losing any data, despite FTMM’s failure to adhere to the GEDCOM standard. But since it was built to run on Linux, its interface is not Mac-like. It also includes many nice features that are not supported by GEDCOM. At least Gramps tells you what will happen when you export to GEDCOM.

If you try out something else, I recommend importing a small subset of your data to see how well it imports. Use records that are representative of your tree, but also use records that represent unusual cases, like having lots of spouses, adoptions, alternate names, alternate events, Evidence Explained source templates, or anything else that’s important to you. Unfortunately, the GEDCOM file standard isn’t followed very well by many programs, and they will either ignore some of your GEDCOM file that FTMM produces or they will mishandle it. But any decent program will produce a report telling you what problems it found in the GEDCOM. Be sure also to try importing your entire file, just to make sure it can do so without crashing or having any serious problems.

Lastly, you have the option of running Windows on your Mac, either using Boot Camp (if you have an Intel-based Mac) or something like VirtualBox (which is what I use). Then you can use whatever Windows genealogy program you want, as long as you have a licensed copy of Windows and the program. You could also try Crossover (or one of the versions of Wine), which is supposed to run RootsMagic 4 pretty well—without needing a copy of Windows (but you do need your licensed copy of RootsMagic). You can also search in the “What Runs?” box on their website to see if your preferred program works and, better yet, is supported by Crossover. Both Ben and I recommend VirtualBox, and Ben plans to produce some videos on how to use it.

A final note: I haven’t given up on FTMM2 yet. I’m hopeful that Ancestry and Nova Development, the actual developer of FTMM2, will fix the bugs and include all the features that are in the Windows version. But in the meantime, I’m testing other programs, both for the Mac and Windows.


  1. says

    I almost bought FTM2 for Mac, but at the last minute read some very unfavorable
    reviews for it and decided on Reunion 9 for Mac. I had used PAF forever but had not
    done a lot of active research for some time and I hated having to have Windows added to
    my Mac, because my son, the computer whiz in the family, thought it was slowing things
    down. So far, I really like Reunion 9. I am not a computer whiz, so it’s a good fit for me.
    I’m having a great time adding photos and all the multimedia I can find. I’m sure your
    review might help others make the decision that is right for them.

  2. says

    You make some great points, Keith, especially about running test files with special situations. That’s about where I am right now with FTM2 for Mac, still running test files, but I do like the interface with that always visible tree. It makes moving between people quick and easy.

  3. Keith says

    Jonathan, very good tutorial; thanks for sharing. I ran into one hiccup as after installing: when I created my first RootsMagic file, I clicked on the “File location” button, thinking I needed to change “My Documents” to “Documents.” However, it’s not necessary, as Wineskin Winery creates an alias to the current user’s Documents folder. In fact, if you click that button, you’ll get an access violation error. So all one must do is type a name in the “New file name” box, decide whether to create it from scratch or import from another program, and click “OK.” So far, everything is working fine, and I love not having to use virtualization software.

  4. Béla Foltin says

    Keith, thank you for the very informative review. I just got my FTMM2 in the mail and am afraid to load it. I was so disappointed and upset about the first one, but on different grounds than most reviewers. My huge family tree contains mostly names and texts from central Europe, land of diacriticals. I find it interesting that no review I have ever read comments on how a geneology software handles (usually not at all) diacriticals. English speakers do not seem to understand that letters with the little squiggles above or below them actually make it a different, phonemically significant, change. Meanings of words can drastically change by just one squiggle. The online tree on Ancestry handles these beautifully. I have typed them in from my Mac. When I download the GEDCOM into FTMM, it becomes garbage. I have complained about this to the developers. I hope that they listened. Please do comment on how fonts/alphabets/diacriticals are handled in future reviews.
    Thanks you. Now I am crossing my fingers and load FTMM2.

    Béla Foltin

      • Béla Foltin says

        Thanks, Ben
        I installed FTMM2 and downloaded the GEDCOM from Ancestry. So far I checked some names in Hungarian and found them OK. We will see what happens when I get to Slovakian and Polish names. Thanks for pointing me to the Comp table.
        By the way, when I loaded FTMM2 it immediately told me of an upgrade. That upgrade supposedly corrects bugs that people found with the sync function.


      • Béla Foltin says

        Well, I checked my keyboard settings and all the languages I need and the Unicode are all checked. I used these keyboards on my Mac to type my family tree into Ancestry. Everything showed fine. FTMM1 would not display correctly the Names and texts from the Ancestry GEDCOM, but FTMM2, to my delight, does. They must have done something. So far I am happy. Someone may want to look at the comp chart and correct the Unicode support box. So, now I can take names back and forth between FTMM2 and Ancestry and not worry about it turning into garbage. By the way, I have used Macfamilytree also and it has always performed perfectly on this score as noted in the comp chart.



      • Béla Foltin says

        I share one more result of an experiment. I got my tree off of Ancestry through the linking option in my FTMM2 on my iMac. Diacriticals transferred fine. Then I used the non linked installation and transfer from Ancestry via GEDCOM download to my MacBookPro. The diacriticals ended up garbage, just as they did when I tried the same on my iMac some time ago with FTMM1. I erased that tree on the MBProSo. Now I took a GEDCOM off of my good FTMM2 tree on the iMac and loaded it on my MBPro. The diacriticals were fine. It must be something in the way FTMM1 and FTMM2 handles the GEDCOM file from Ancestry that messes things up. A GEDCOM file from Ancestry always loaded fine in the Windows version of FTMM and also in Macfamilytree. So, the problem is not with the GEDCOM from Ancestry, but with the FTMM program. I am happy that things work fine between my main editing machine and Ancestry through the linking process and I see the correct text in both places. But the GEDCOM problem I illustrated is curious to me and should be corrected.

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