Modern Software Experience

2010-12-17

free genealogy software

Ancestral Quest

Ancestral Quest Basics is a free light edition of the full Ancestral Quest product.

When Incline Software introduced Ancestral back in 2007, I found their limited functionality trial edition less than commendable; it allowed you to import your data from a GEDCOM file, but did not allow you to export a GEDCOM file. I recommended against buying genealogy software until you had a chance to examine its GEDCOM output for your own data. I dared Incline Software: Show me the GEDCOM!
On 2008 Nov 12, Incline Software did just that. With the introduction of Ancestral Quest 12.1, they replaced their limited functionality trial edition with a fully-functional 60-day trial. Today Incline Software introduces Ancestral Quest 12.1.27, which replaces the 60-day trial with a free edition: Ancestral Quest Basics.

Incline Software managed to pick the worst possible name for their free edition.

Basics versus Basics

Ancestral Quest offers optional collaboration features. Those features are truly optional; the base product does not include the collaboration features, you need to run a separate installer to get those features. For many years, Incline Software has referred to installer for the base product as the Basic Installer and the one for the optional collaboration features as the Collaboration Support Installer. The download page tells you that the Basic Installer will give you the basic functionality of Ancestral Quest - and that it is all you need if you do not intend to use the Collaboration feature. Moreover, the filename of the Basic Installer is AQ12-Basic.exe, so it is only natural to think of the base product as Ancestral Quest Basic.

Today, Incline Software introduces Ancestral Quest Basics. That is Basics, with a Latin Small Letter S, not Basic. Ancestral Quest Basics is a free light edition of the full Ancestral Quest product. It is the light edition of the full product, but I hesitate to call it a light product. Ancestral Quest Basics is a fairly complete edition of Ancestral Quest. Even some of the collaboration features are available in Ancestral Quest Basics; You can opt to install either the Basic Ancestral Quest Basics, or Ancestral Quest Basics and Collaboration Support.
So, Incline Software is now offering Ancestral Quest Basics and Ancestral Quest Full, and both are available as the Basic product, or the Basic product including collaboration support. Incline Software managed to pick the worst possible name for their free edition. This creates confusion.

installation

Incline manages to create even more confusion. There are two download pages; one for Ancestral Quest Full and one for Ancestral Quest Basics. However, there is no real difference here; the two different pages offer exactly the same downloads.

Ancestral Quest includes limited PDF support, but it isn't native PDF support. It is one of those programs that come with a PDF printer driver. I personally dislike setup program that install yet another PDF printer driver without asking my permission, and I am happy to say that the Ancestral Quest installer does not do that, but you do need to pay attention. The installer offers three setup types: Custom, Minimal and Typical. The Typical Setup is the default and does include the PDF printer driver. Choose Minimal to get just Ancestral Quest or Custom to have full control over all installation choices.

starting up

The installer does not make you choose between Ancestral Quest Basics and Ancestral Quest Full. There is just one installer for both editions; which edition you'll be using depends on whether you have a registration key. When you start Ancestral Quest for the first time, it will throw up a dialog box prompting you to either enter your registration key for Ancestral Quest Full or to continue using Ancestral Quest Basics.

Ancestral Quest: Basics or Full

Actually, every time you start Ancestral Quest Basics will it throw up that dialog box, asking you to either register Ancestral Quest Full or continue using Ancestral Quest Basics. Ancestral Quest Basics isn't freeware, it is annoyware. It really is annoyware; it does not only annoy you with this dialog box every time you start Ancestral Quest Basics, but also throws it up whenever you select a restricted feature. Incline Software could have greyed out the restricted menu items, or left them off altogether, they chose to make you hate this dialog box.

Welcome Dialog

There is another dialog, which you may or may not see, depending on whether you already had Ancestral Quest installed on your system. It is the Ancestral Quest Welcome Dialog, which asks you to choose some options, such as whether to capitalise surnames (don't!), enable LDS options (don't, unless you are mormon), and PAF Compatibility Mode; it is a nice feature, but it isn't a mode, it should have been called Import my PAF setting.
The next dialog prompts you about Ancestry.com integration. Ancestral Quest, even Ancestral Quest Basics, will do background searches through the Ancestry.com database to find matches to your tree. That can be very handy. However, actually viewing those matches generally requires a rather expensive Ancestry.com subscription.

update check

When you start Ancestral Quest, it connects to the Internet without asking your permission or warning you that it is about to do so. It does so to check for program updates and get Ancestral Quest news. The dialog box that shows the update status and news already includes a pair of radio buttons to choose between daily and weekly update checks. Oddly, Ancestral Quest performs this update check while the option to Automatically check for product updates is unchecked off by default.

features

basics

Ancestral Quest Basics lacks some features, but includes all the, ahem, Basics. Ancestral Quest features includes full editing capabilities including the ability to merge individuals. It includes GEDCOM import and export, as well as database backup and restore.

PAF

Ancestral Quest and PAF are not only look and feel very similar because PAF is based on the code for Ancestral Quest 3, Ancestral Quest can also read and write PAF files. In fact, Ancestral Quest will let work with PAF files. Naturally, Ancestral Quest offers the ability to convert PAF files to AQ files.  Ancestral Quest Basics includes all those features. It even adds an Ancestral Quest menu item to PAF's Tool menu. What it lacks, and what Ancestral Quest Full offers, is the ability to convert AQ files to PAF files.

notes and sources

Ancestral Quest Basics includes almost the same support for notes and sources as Ancestral Quest Full. That includes sources designed around Evidence! (note: not the later book Evidence Explained) and the ability to share source citations between multiple events.
A nice-to-have feature that's missing from Ancestral Quest Basics is the ability to spell-check notes.

Ancestral Quest Basics does not disappoint. It really offers all the basics.

reports and charts

There's quite a difference in support for reports and charts between Ancestral Quest Basics and Ancestral Quest Full, but Ancestral Quest Basics does not disappoint. It really offers all the basics.

Ancestral Quest Basics includes a fair number of reports and charts, even wall charts. Ancestral Quest Basics includes individual summary reports, pedigree charts, family group sheets, ancestry charts and descendants charts, ancestral reports (ahnenlists) and descendant reports (modified register). Several sheets and charts can be printed as blank forms.
Ancestral Quest Basics includes reports for possible problems, end of line individuals, duplicate individuals and unlinked individuals. It even includes LDS reports. It even includes a research log, and LDS reports.

Ancestral Quest Full additionally includes fan charts, dropline descendancy charts, line of descent reports, and the ability to display siblings on ancestry charts and reports. It allows customising the boxes of wall charts, and the sentences used in narrative reports (ahnenlist and modified register). It has reports for citations and family reunion contacts, supports custom reports, and allows combining reports into a family history book. Ancestral Quest Full also includes the ability to print reports to a PDF file, a Word file or a WordPerfect file.

web

Ancestral Quest Basics includes web features; direct links to Ancestry.com, and searches on FamilySearch and WorldVitalRecords from within Ancestral Quest. It does not include the ability to search other sites, or add your own favourites. Not that it matters much, most of the web integration isn't much more than a menu that starts your browser. Ancestral Quest Basics does include integrated FamilySearch IGI search.

LDS

Ancestral Quest Basics includes LDS features. It supports LDS event and offers LDS reports. Unless you are a mormon, you probably don't care much about that. It also integrates with New FamilySearch (NFS), the decade-delayed social genealogy site. It lacks a few features that Ancestral Quest Full offers. That hardly matters, as NFS is still only accessible to mormons anyway.

GEDCOM


0 HEAD
1 SOUR AncestQuest
2 NAME Ancestral Quest
2 VERS 12.01.27
2 CORP Incline Software, LC
3 ADDR PO Box 95543
4 CONT South Jordan, UT 84095
4 CONT USA
1 DEST Ancestral Quest
1 DATE 17 DEC 2010
2 TIME 21:45:39
1 FILE AncestralQuest.ged
1 GEDC
2 VERS 5.5
2 FORM LINEAGE-LINKED
1 CHAR UTF-8

GEDCOM output

outencoding
NASCII 
YANSEL
YUTF-8
YUTF-16

Back in 2007, in my review of Ancestral 12, I counseled against buying an genealogy application that does not allow you to evaluate its GEDCOM out as a matter of principle; you need to make sure that you can not only get your data in, but also get it out again.

Fact is, Ancestral Quest's GEDCOM support is excellent; it allows you to export your data to ANSEL, UTF-8 and UTF-16 (UNICODE). It does not support export to ASCII, but that is hardly an issue. Not only are ANSEL, UTF-8 and UTF-16 all supersets of ASCII, they are also considerably better choices, and it is a little-known fact that few genealogy applications import ASCII files correctly anyway.

When I reviewed Ancestral Quest 12, I remarked that Ancestral Quest supports all the right export formats and none of the wrong ones. That is not entirely correct. Ancestral Quest is a Unicode application, and should not export to ANSEL, as export to anything but a Unicode encoding might lose information. However, users might complain if they dropped it, because there are still many non-Unicode utilities around.

header

The GEDCOM header that Ancestral Quest writes is close to perfect. The header contains the product name and the full address of the company that created the product. The VERS tag contains nothing but a version number, the header contains the date and time it was created and its original file name. There are two thing wrong here. One, the SUBM (submitter) tag is missing. I had not entered my details yet, and Ancestral Quest did not bother to prompt me (PAF does). Secondly, this header is incorrect and technically illegal; it claims to be a PAF 5.5 header but uses UTF-8, a character set that's illegal in PAF 5.5. Ancestral Quest supports UTF-8 and several other GEDCOM 5.5.1 features, so Ancestral Quest GEDCOM header should identify the GEDCOM version as 5.5.1.

Ancestral Quest was always a safe choice for PAF users looking for something better, and now Ancestral Quest Basics is free.

requirements

Ancestral Quest is a Unicode-based 32-bit Windows application. It does not require Microsoft .NET, just Windows, and it does not have to be a very recent version. The latest version of Ancestral Quest still runs on Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000, both more than a decade old already.

The Ancestral Quest installer lacks some Microsoft and InstallShield components to reduce size, because these are probably on your system already. Some of these weren't on my Vista 64-bit system, and were downloaded almost seamlessly. Still, Incline Software should provide a complete installer that does not require any more downloading to do its thing.
Like PAF, Ancestral Quest runs fine on Vista 64-bits. That's worth mentioning, because Legacy 7.4 does not. However, the PDF-Change software that Ancestral Quest includes for printing to PDF does not work on 64-bit Windows. The Ancestral Quest web site has a page that explains the issue and provides several alternatives.

Ancestral Quest is very PAF-like. Well, actually, PAF is very Ancestral Quest-like.

conclusion

PAF

I don't particularly like Ancestral Quest. Its interface is even more dated than the of Legacy or TMG interfaces. I even feel that its user interface is some ways inferior to PAF. However, Ancestral Quest is very PAF-like. Well, actually, PAF is very Ancestral Quest-like. Ancestral Quest offers more features than PAF and its GEDCOM support is certainly as good as PAF's GEDCOM support.
Incline Software continues to maintain and support Ancestral Quest, while FamilySearch has silently abandoned PAF. Ancestral Quest was always a safe choice for PAF users looking for something better, and now Ancestral Quest Basics is free.

Family Tree Maker

Despite it dated looks, Ancestral Quest is also of interest to Family Tree Maker users. Ancestry.com has done little to address the many complaints about Family Tree Maker defects and shortcomings. Many Ancestry.com users only use Family Tree Maker because it integrates with Ancestry.com. The Ancestry.com support that Ancestral Quest has been offering for years may be a practical alternative.

free genealogy software

Ancestral Quest Basics is of interest to anyone looking for free genealogy software for Windows. The four best known free genealogy applications for Windows are FamilySearch PAF, Millennia Legacy Family Tree Standard, MyHeritage Family Tree Builder Regular and RootsMagic Essentials. Of these four, only PAF and RootsMagic are Unicode-based.

The release of Ancestral Quest Basics seems very timely. FamilySearch has finally dropped all pretense of maintaining PAF; they just revealed a new home page, and PAF is no longer on it. Incline Software is positioning Ancestral Quest Basics as the ideal PAF replacement; extremely compatible, very similar look and feel, more features and free. They just want to remind you, every time you use it, that their full product offers yet more features.

product details

propertyvalue
productAncestral Quest Basics
version12.1.27
organisationIncline Software
websiteAncestral Quest
pricefree
requirementWindows NT or better
noteannoyware
Verdictdated but solid
RatingPAF Plus

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