Geneology programs

Does anyone have any experience with programs that will let you make a family tree? I tried to do some Google-fu research and ended up just finding out that there are dozens of programs out there and none of them look very good. I’d like to find something that’s free and fairly simple, but if anyone has any suggestions I’d gladly take a look.


Is it really that hard? I mean do these programs come with some sort of database you can use or something?

Using Excel to make a family tree would be just a bit less practical than using MS Paint to make a family tree.

To specify: my mother would like to use her ‘computer box’ to make a family tree. I might as well suggest she construct a family tree out of carbon nanotubes and unicorn farts than use Excel. Which is why I specified ‘simple’ up at the top.

My grandpa has been doing geneology on the PC for almost a decade. I’ll ask him what he uses and let ya know.

Years ago I used Personal Ancestral File (PAF), which is ancient, but works with the major databases and is now free –

If you’re willing to pay, on Windows there is Family Tree Maker which is made by the company that’s behind the website. Very big players. I haven’t used the program, but it looks professional.

On the Mac, the best looking one I’ve seen is Reunion, which offers some interesting little Mac-isms, like being able to export your genealogy to your iPod (?!) and seems to focus on competent charting, which is nice.

Each program uses its own internal database, I’m sure, but the format that you’re looking for when dealing with genealogical data is called GEDCOM. Any professional genealogy program is going to be able to import and export data using it. You don’t want to be stuck without a way of migrating your data.

I started out with Family Tree Maker. When I got serious, I switched to PhpGedView and am pretty happy with that. In fact, I can’t suggest anything better for most purposes, but of course that’s with a technical aptitude (or a son’s technical aptitude) in mind. Once it’s set up, it’s all down to mastering web forms.

To provide a better “bird’s eye” view, Genopro is also very good. I use it to generate visual maps and sometimes host these my PGV site. Since I still pretty much rely on import/exports whenever data is changed, I really look forward to defining a better way to work with what are effectively two systems of record right now.

In the next year or so, I plan to start doing more to take advantage of the locational capabilities of both systems. Each can work with Google Maps and I would like to do a better job of using these to provide more insight into migratory patterns etc. of the family groups I’ve been working with. And even further down the road, I think I may try to tie this into Google Earth.

PGV also has a new module dedicated to collaborative research, which looks promising.

Edit: Of course, the premium accounts offered up on and the like might be even more intuitive than some of the above solutions.

Thanks for all the responses.

She ended up grabbing something from called Family Tree Builder. She seems to be pretty happy with it, though when I looked over her shoulder it looked like it lacked some options I know she’ll want later. Also, it’s not showing death and remarriage in a very clear way. But, hey, it’s good enough for her so whatever.

I just know in two weeks I’ll get a call cos it turns out the thing is malware or something.

You could also try the experimental Windows version of GRAMPS:

  • A W I S E *

I’m about to restyle and probably rebuild a family tree site. PHPGedView has been great but there are limitations in the design and system integration departments, the documentation is pretty poor and the updates are infrequent. I want something that can be tucked into a CMS (preferably Drupal but Wordpress might be an option) without minimal or zero hacking, and The Next Generation sounds like a promising candidate.

So have any of you genealogy buffs had a chance to compare TNG with PGV? I’ve looked at websites built on both, but it’s difficult to tell from the outside how they actually measure up.

Hi. I looked into this quite some time ago.

Here is the fundamental conflict with geneology programs. They all want to claim to support some level of interchangeability (and thus minimally support the GEDCOM interchange format) but they also all want to have some level of ‘lock-in’.

Which one I’d go for depends on the amount of data bahimiron wants to manage. If all your mom wants to do is make a fairly simple family tree that goes back a few generations, then the answer is clearly “just pick the program whose UI she likes the best.”

If she wants to do something deeper and more complex, it’s a harder question to answer. I settled on GeneWeb, and not just because it’s written in OCAML and free. It’s designed from the ground up to support a number of advanced features and its GEDCOM support is superb. So exporting to some other program later is pretty easy. Furthermore, I often found that I wanted to share things with relatives, and with GeneWeb it was all there online - the web interface was the same as the live data model.

Responding to Marcus, a true geneology program handles data models that are more complex than you’d think. Most people aren’t just building a simple tree of parents and children, but also need to handle multiple marriages and divorces, children of different spouses, etc. It gets surprisingly complex surprisingly quickly.

That being said, GeneWeb might be too complex for her if your mom is anything like my mom. The actual options are easy, but you sort of have to adapt your brain to its UI (eg, if you want to add a child, you have to remember to modify a family, defined as a man + woman tuple, rather than just adding a child of either the man or the woman. It’s missing a lot of UI sugar.)

I wouldn’t mind doing some family tree stuff but I can’t find any information on my freakin’ ancestors, generally. Bastards left no blogs, no Facebook pages, nuthin. And they’re all beastly dead. Well, except Mom, and she doesn’t really know anything about either side of the family for a variety of reasons.

I’m holding to my story that I came from another dimension, then.

I use TNG for my site. It’s very moddable, and I’m currently working up the will to incorporate something of a MediaWiki into the site.

Let me know how that goes! I wasn’t going to touch MediaWiki because it is also a challenging CMS to integrate (or at least, it was as of a year or so ago when I last looked into it) but that does sound like a great idea.

My intention was to build a function into TNG that allowed me to automatically generate a “default” Wiki page for each person where I had additional information (like stories, documents, etc), as I feel the encyclopedia format really serves a genealogical entry better than simple data listing. Right now, I’m backburnered on that project, but it’s still in my todo list.

I have to say, your site fucking rocks. I’ve always wanted to make something like that for my family. Maybe … someday.

That’s really neat! I noticed an error though. Abraham Lincoln (born 1809), one of your distant relatives, is listed as being the son of Mary Shipley and another Abraham Lincoln (died 1786). Other sources insert another generation and says he’s the son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks.

Does the MediaWiki aspect mean anyone, for instance a near relative, could update and edit the genealogy?

There are a number of plugins out there for wiki builds that institute a login and tiered security system for editing. My home installation of the products right now is on hiatus as I’m diving into the code to ensure that I can merge the credentials for TNG and Wiki.

Oh, hey, thanks for the ping on the data – I rarely check the integrity (except when I’m re-exporting) of my imported stuff, and that was definitely a straight import.

I’ve been playing around with that for an hour or two now, and I can’t image how you use it with any regularity. It’s bad to the point that I feel like I must have set something up wrong, except I followed the guide directly.


I started playing around with TNG and so far, it doesn’t seem to be miles above PhpGedView from an administrative or usability perspective as I was hoping it would be, but it does appear to do some things better and the user community seems better too. Still experimenting at this point, so we’ll see. I’m glad to see that web-based solutions like these exist, at least.

Mystery, were you ever successful with MediaWiki?

I like geneweb. It’s ugly, but not facehuggy at all.