Modern Software Experience


RootsMagic Essentials box shot
An image of the box you do not get.



RootsMagic Inc has just announced RootsMagic Essentials, a free edition of RootsMagic that contains all the essentials.

download-only box shot

The blog post introducing RootsMagic essentials starts with a box shot of RootsMagic Essentials. However, as far as I can tell, RootsMagic Essentials is a download-only product, so I wonder whether that box really exists. I hereby invite RootsMagic to send me a box to proof it does exist, and to explain the logic of designing a box for a download-only product.

RootsMagic Trial

Ever since FormalSoft introduced RootsMagic 1.0 in 2003, the company has offered a free trial edition. That trial has all the functionality of the full product, except that you cannot edit databases larger than 50 people, and cannot export to GEDCOM either. You can import databases of any size, to see how it performs with your own data.

When you follow the Try Now link on the updated RootsMagic site, you are no longer offered a RootsMagic Trial, but directed to the download page for RootsMagic Essentials.

The RootsMagic Trial Edition is no more. It has been replaced by RootsMagic Essentials. If you install the latest free version, you get RootsMagic Essentials instead of the RootsMagic Trial Edition.

RootsMagic Essentials

The RootsMagic Trial Edition allowed you to try every feature. RootsMagic Essentials does not offer every feature of the full product, but does allow editing databases of any size. It is not time-limited either.

RootsMagic Essentials offers a basic feature set that is free to use, for as long as you like and with databases as large as you like.

RootsMagic Standard Edition

Now that RootsMagic has introduced RootsMagic Essentials it has become more important to refer to the regular RootsMagic product by the name you may already have noticed on its splash screen; RootsMagic Standard Edition.

download and installation

RootsMagic Essentials is completely free. The RootsMagic Essentials download page asks for your name and email address so that RootsMagic can mail you their newsletter, but you do not have to fill that in, you can just click the download button.

The download is about 17 MB. The RootsMagic Essentials download is exactly the same size as the RootsMagic Standard Edition download because it is the same application.
It used to be that you could upgrade from RootsMagic Trial Edition to RootsMagic Standard Edition by inputting your registration key, now you can upgrade from RootsMagic Essentials to RootsMagic Standard Edition.

RootsMagic choose between RootsMagic Essentials and Standard Edition


If you already have a previous version of RootsMagic installed, the installer will default to installing the latest version over it. If you already registered RootsMagic, the installer will merely update your installation to the latest version. Even uninstalling RootsMagic Standard Edition does not destroy your registration information.

To try RootsMagic Essentials when you already have RootsMagic Standard Edition Installed, install RootsMagic into a separate directory. When you start that new installation of RootsMagic, you will prompted to make a choice between RootsMagic Essentials and RootsMagic Standard Edition.

RootsMagic To-Go

The installation of RootsMagic Essentials is the same as that for RootsMagic Standard Edition, so the installation includes RootsMagic To-Go, but if you try to RootsMagic To-Go it, it will pop up a dialog saying that RootsMagic To-Go is a feature available in the full version of RootsMagic only.

recognising the edition

It is not difficult to distinguish RootsMagic Essentials from RootsMagic Standard Edition. The RootsMagic Essentials splash screen and About Box have the word essentials in a fairly large font that does not fit the RootsMagic logo very well.

RootsMagic Essentials Splash Screen


The RootsMagic Standard Edition splash screen only shows RootsMagic Standard Edition where the RootsMagic Essentials splash screen shows RootsMagic Essentials in the same remarkably modest small font, and its About box does not mention the edition at all. Both the RootsMagic Standard Edition splash screen and its About Box and shows the name you registered with.

erroneous refusal to run

That RootsMagic To-Go is installed but not unlocked may be understandable, but I was considerably less charmed by the insistence of RootsMagic Essentials that Running RootsMagic from a removable drive is a feature available in the full version of RootsMagic only. I had installed it on the same fixed disk as every other application.

RootsMagic Essentials refuses to run


The code that checks that whether the drive RootsMagic has been installed on is a removable disc is defective. Even unregistering RootsMagic (Ctrl+Shift+U inside RootsMagic to bring up the Master Reset dialog that lets you reset and unregister RootsMagic) did not help.

It appears that RootsMagic Essentials does not check whether the drive is removable at all, but instead checks whether it is being started from the default installation location. Merely changing the directory name from RootsMagic 4 to RootsMagic 40 is enough to change a working installation of RootsMagic Essentials into one that only shows this dialog box.

Programming tip for the RootsMagic team: a single call to the Windows GetDriveType function will tell you whether a drive is removable or not.

multiple installations

You can have multiple installations and versions of RootsMagic on the same computer. You can even run them side by side. These installations each maintain their own separate list of recently opened databases.

RootsMagic Essentials versus Standard Editions

The RootsMagic Essentials name understates its capabilities; this free product includes all the essentials, and then some.

what’s included


RootsMagic Essentials will not just import from and export to GEDCOM, it will also import directly from PAF, Family Origins, Legacy Family Tree and Family Tree Maker Classic.


The ability to create backup copies of your database and restore from these arguably isn’t truly essential either (surely you do backup your data regularly?), but it is good to see it included.


RootsMagic Essentials is a modern Unicode-based application, and that enables it to support any character you throw at it, and to provide full support for GEDCOM, not just ASCII GEDCOM and the non-standard ANSI GEDCOM.


RootsMagic Essentials will print reports, but supports only a few of the many reports that RootsMagic Standard Edition offers. When you select a reports from the Print Report dialog box, reports that are not available in RootsMagic Essentials are greyed out. Available reports include the Ahnentafel (actually ahnenlist, RootsMagic does not support ahnentafel), Pedigree Chart and several handy lists.


I am also happy to note that RootsMagic seems to agree with me that consistency checks are a fundamental feature. RootsMagic Essentials includes the consistency checks.
RootsMagic Essentials even checks for duplicates whenever you add a new individual to your database.

source templates

I am sure that some will be disappointed to learn that Source Templates are not included in RootsMagic Essentials, but however handy Source Templates are, they are not essential for creating sources.

RootsMagic Essentials includes basic support for multimedia.


Somewhat surprising is that RootsMagic Essentials does not only include full support for LDS-specific fields that are not essential to genealogy research but also for the New FamilySearch system that is only accessible to registered members of the LDS.
I’m guessing that RootsMagic is hoping that the LDS, who abandoned development of PAF years ago, will start recommending the free RootsMagic Essentials to its members.

Search & Replace

One feature I consider essential but that is only available in the Standard Edition is Search & Replace. I do consider the ability to replace all instances of a misspelled place name with the correct one an essential feature, and I hope RootsMagic will change its mind about this one feature.

what is missing

That RootsMagic Essentials does not let you customise the toolbar is hardly reason to upgrade to RootsMagic Standard Edition. More convincing reasons are the Source Templates and its ability to create web sites and wall charts. Another major feature lacking in RootsMagic Essentials is place name standardisation and geocoding.

RootsMagic Standard Edition can create reports in Adobe PDF format, and even allows you to email reports directly from the print preview. Those who do a lot of research in libraries are sure to like RootsMagic To-Go; RootsMagic and your database on an USB drive. RootsMagic Standard Edition lets you scan and adjust your photos.

RootsMagic Standard Edition has a high-quality integrated spell checker that performs live spell-checking. It also includes support for DNA tests, user-defined facts, customised sentences. The Standard Edition allows you to create custom groups of people, will colour-code groups and allows you to use these groups in selections.

feature list

The RootsMagic web site has a detailed feature list that compares RootsMagic Essentials and RootsMagic Standard Edition. That feature list is currently not as easy to discover as it should be. A direct link is included below. The same feature list is available in the RootsMagic help file.

RootsMagic Essentials versus Legacy Standard

The really interesting question is how RootsMagic Essentials compares to its main competition, Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition. Legacy Standard and RootsMagic Essentials are both free limited editions of a commercial full product. A quick comparison of those two free products makes it clear that RootsMagic Essentials is going to give Legacy Standard a run for its money.


Millennia demands that you enter an email address before they allow you to download Legacy Standard Edition, and then requires you to input an installation password that they email to you.
RootsMagic does not introduce such complications, you can just download and install it, so RootsMagic definitely wins the download and installation round.


Legacy Standard has annoying start-up wizards and uses application start-up as a trigger to advertise Legacy Deluxe. RootsMagic Essentials just starts, does not insult you with needless wizards and does not bother you with advertisements.

The RootsMagic import is smoother than Legacy’s import. Overall, the user interface is more polished, and RootsMagic is considerably faster.

unsupported features

One thing that is truly annoying about Legacy Standard is its handling of Legacy Deluxe features; Legacy will let you choose an operation, fill out all your options and only after you’ve done so tell you that the feature you are trying to use is only available in the Deluxe edition.

RootsMagic Essentials has changed the colours of the menu items that are not available in RootsMagic Essentials, so that it is clear that it is futile to select those particular menu items. When you do select one of those menu items anyway, as you probably will before you understand the meaning of the colour, you are immediately informed that the feature is not available in RootsMagic Essentials.


RootsMagic Essentials is a modern Unicode-based application, and thus supports more than hundred thousand characters. Even Legacy version 7 still supports no more than the 256 characters of Windows ANSI.

RootsMagic Essentials’s Unicode support allows it to import ANSEL and UTF-8 GEDCOM file no matter what characters the file contains, while Legacy cannot; its ANSEL and UTF-8 support is limited to the 256 characters of Windows ANSI.

multiple databases

Like RootsMagic Standard Edition, RootsMagic Essentials allows you to open multiple databases. Legacy supports just one database at once.


Legacy Deluxe features more extensive consistency checks than RootsMagic Standard Edition, but Legacy Standard does not include these consistency checks. RootsMagic Essentials does include all the same consistency checks as RootsMagic Standard Edition offers.

RootsMagic Essentials versus PAF

The free Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is easy to use and does offer more reports than RootsMagic Essentials. PAF is Unicode-based and does include Search & Replace functionality.
PAF is an LDS product, so it does not surprise that PAF includes support for LDS-specific fields, but because the LDS abandoned development of PAF years ago, PAF does not support New FamilySearch.

RootsMagic Essentials allows you to open multiple database at once while PAF will open only one database at a time. PAF sort-of supports alternative names, but in a way that deviates from the GEDCOM specification. RootsMagic Essentials supports alternative and shows these names in the Sidebar’s browse index.

RootsMagic Essentials does not try to stop you from entering same-sex marriages and includes the handy Swap Husband and Wife menu item that allows quick and easy correction of erroneous data entry; making the same correction in PAF is a cumbersome step by step process during which you must carefully avoid mistakes.

PAF does include consistency checks but it only creates a report, whereas RootsMagic allows you to click through to the record that needs editing. RootsMagic Essentials not only has a better user interface overall, but includes the option to upgrade to RootsMagic Standard Edition to gain support for modern features such as source templates and geocoding.


RootsMagic Essentials is a free edition of RootsMagic that offers the core functionality of RootsMagic Standard Edition.

RootsMagic Essentials is a fast and easy to use modern Windows applications that includes practically all you really need. It is Unicode-based, has good GEDCOM support, includes consistency checks and even performs checks for duplicates on data entry. RootsMagic Essentials does not try to stop you from entering same-sex marriages but does let you edit multiple databases at once.

RootsMagic Essentials is simply the best free genealogy application available today.


2010-04-24 ahnentafel

Added remark that RootsMagic's ahnentafel is really ahnenlist.

version overview

2003-02-04RootsMagic 1.01.03
2004-03-01FormalSoft Inc becomes RootsMagic Inc  
2004-05-24RootsMagic 2.02.0
2005-09-08RootsMagic 3.03.0
2009-01-03RootsMagic 4 Limited Beta4.0.0.27
2009-03-04RootsMagic 4 Public Beta4.0.0.158
2009-03-25RootsMagic Standard Edition
2009-11-18RootsMagic Essentials4.0.7.0