Sunday, February 26, 2012

Legacy Family Tree Genealogy Software

Ten years ago today I began using Legacy Family Tree Genealogy Software for my main genealogy database.

I think, if I recall correctly, that I started with version 2, and I'm now on Version 7.4, though the latest is Version 7.5.

I had tried Legacy out for a few months first to see how it worked, and to work out the best way of transferring my data. I then had about 8000 records; now I have 17212. I transferred everything to Legacy using GEDCOM, and I've been using it ever since.

Though Legacy is not perfect (no genealogy program is), Legacy meets most of my requirements.

I've usually (until very recently) kept a couple of versions behind the current one. I used Version 2 for a long time before switching to Version 3 (and by then Version 5 was already out). I bought the Deluxe version of Version 5, and used that for a long time, and never used version 6 at all.

Why was that?

The main reason was that each successive version of the program was a lot bigger than the previous one, and thus required a hardware upgrade as well. Many of the features that made it bigger were ones that I didn't need and would not be likely to use.

I liked to transfer my data between my laptop and desktop computers, originally by using a Zip disk, and later by means of a USB flash drive. The laptop I first used had 128Mb of RAM, and could cope with Legacy 2.x, but 3.x was too much for it.

In 2005 I bought a new laptop with 250 Mb of RAM, and then upgraded to Legacy 5. My son bought a new desktop computer, and gave me his old one, which had more memory, and so I got the deluxe version of Legacy 5.

By 2010, however, the laptop was struggling. Though I had not upgraded Legacy, other programs, like the Firefox web browser, upgraded automatically to bigger and more memory-hogging versions. If I wanted to switch from Legacy to Firefox to look up something on the web to add to my to-do list when I visited a library or archive, I could go and make a cup of coffee while it was swapping to disk, and when I came back it was still swapping to disk. The machine took 28 minutes to boot up, and 7 minutes to close down, the hard disk churning the whole time.

In February 2010 the laptop computer was stolen, and I bought a new one that had 2 Gigs of RAM. And later in the year the desktop computer was dying, and I bought a new one of those was well, with more memory. So at last I upgraded to Legacy 7.x, forgoing the deluxe features by doing so.

The first genealogy program I used was one called Roots/M by Commsoft, and it was limited by keeping all its data as well as the program in memory (on an Osborne CP/M machine that had 128K RAM). It was also limited by using single-sided 185K floppy disks.

When the Osborne died, I got an MS DOS machine, in 1987, and found a freeware/shareware program called Family History System (FHS). Actually there were a whole lot of genealogy programs available then, and I tried several of them. FHS seemed the best. Over the years I tried several more programs, some of which I reviewed for magazines, and I took to using several of them at once, because each had some features that the others lacked, usually in being able to produce various kinds of reports.

But I continued to use FHS for my first data entry, and then copied the database to the other programs using GEDCOM. For that purpose FHS had a very good feature that most of the other programs lacked -- it could copy a discrete set of records to GEDCOM. If I added 50 records, when there were 7000 records in the database, then I could copy records 7001-7050 to GEDCOM, and transfer them to the other programs without overwriting the data already there. And I still do that today.

FHS was distributed on the same basis as Legacy. There was a free version, which one could use as long as one wanted, and a deluxe version, with additional features that one could pay for. I'm still using the deluxe version of 1993.

I still use Family History System (FHS) as my program of first entry. When I want to transfer them to Legacy I export the new records to GEDCOM, import the .GED file into PAF 4.0, and then import the PAF 4.0 file to Legacy.

Why not import the GEDCOM file directly to Legacy?

Well I did that once, and found that it scrambled the RINs. But if I use PAF as an intermediate stage, the RINs remain in sync between FHS and Legacy.

So this shows up two shortcomings I see in Legacy.

  • Unlike FHS, it is difficult to export a specified range of RINs from Legacy.
  • When it imports data from a GEDCOM file, Legacy sometimes scrambles the RINs.

FHS had its own shortcomings, one of which is that it has inadequate provision for recording sources, and also, though it has fields for births and deaths, it does not have fields for baptisms and burials, which, in the case of earlier records, are often the only dates available.

So for a long time I used PAF 2.3, which had a somewhat clunky, but flexible, method of recording sources. It also had an amazing range of add-on programs, which could manipulate the data in several useful ways, including printing the main facts on 3x5" and 4x6" index cards.

That is one of the strange things about software writers. Some of them went to great lengths to make a computer screen look like an index card, and littered the screen with pictures of filing cabinets and paper file folders, which was totally unnecessary, but never thought to enable a computer to easily maintain card file indexes, which is quite easy to do, and very useful. They added unnecessary features, and left out the useful ones. But the PAF add-ons met that need.

But PAF 2.x was not Y2K compatible. It announced an error every time one entered a date after 31 Dec 1999. So that was when I started looking for a replacement, which could keep source records. And back in 2002, Legacy fitted the bill, and still does.

There are still ways in which I think it could be improved.

Apart from the two points mentioned above, about GEDCOM export and import, it would be nice to have a biography field. Yes, there is a notes field, and a research notes field, and one can use the Notes field for a potted biography. But sometimes one wants the notes to contain details that will be condensed in the biography, which one might want to print or report on separately.

Another feature that would be nice would be to be able to print family group reports to an RTF file (at least one other program, Family Tree Legends, can do that). That is useful for sending family group reports to relatives, asking them to add to or correct the information that is already there. Yes, one can send them the family group reports by e-mail as a PDF file, but then they either have to print it out and send the result back by snail mail, or try to scan the result, and send them back as graphics files.

But after 10 years of using it, Legacy is still good, and I haven't exhausted its capabilities yet.