Modern Software Experience


Genealogy Software

Price Comparison

There is much more to comparing products than price alone, but price is an important factor. That is true for large corporations buying a few thousand licenses, and just as true for the individual home user.

Free products are understandably popular, as there is no up-front cost. However, it does not make sense to choose a hard to use free product that requires an expensive training over a moderately priced product that you can start using immediately.

Total Cost of Ownership

To address such concerns, smart companies do not just look at acquisition cost, but at Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which includes all the costs associated with a product, not just the direct and upfront costs, but also indirect costs such as required training, necessary level of support, the cost of downtime, insurance cost and so on.
Calculating Total Cost of Ownership is a bit of an art, and competing vendors are likely to produce somewhat contradictory TCO claims.

home user

Performing extensive calculations makes little sense for the home user, but the TCO concept makes perfect sense. After all, would people have spent lots of time and money to learn WordPerfect’s user-interface from hell, if they had known that you can start using Word for Windows without ever opening the manual?

I do not propose that you should spend hours of extensive calculations for an item that costs a few Euri. I merely want to point out that sticker price can misleading. What if you have to buy add-ons to get full functionality? What if you are expected to pay for an upgrade every year? What if you the software is so hard to use that you need an expensive training course? Things like that should factor into your buying decision.

genealogy applications

This article compares the cost of several well-known commercial genealogy applications. When there are various editions, I have listed the edition that gets you the full product. Add-ons such as optional manuals, subscriptions to web sites offering scans of original records and data CDs are excluded.

Family Tree Maker

There are multiple editions of Family Tree Maker, at least that is what pretends. The cheapest edition, Family Tree Maker Essentials, already includes the full program. These so-called editions are actually bundles instead of editions, and the other bundles include a fixed-time subscription to

Legacy Family Tree

Legacy comes in two editions. The Standard Edition is free and usable, but lacks some of the more interesting features. The price listed here is for the Deluxe Edition that includes all features. It does not include the optional training videos.


RootsMagic has two editions. RootsMagic Essentials is free, but only RootsMagic Standard Edition provides all its features. RootsMagic can be bought as part of a software bundle. The price listed here is for just RootsMagic, nothing else, not even a manual.

The Master Genealogist

There are multiple editions of The Master Genealogist. The Silver edition is limited. The Gold Edition is the full product, so the price shown here is for the Gold edition.

The Next Generation

The Next Generation of Genealogy Site Building (TNG) has just one edition.

price overview: sticker price

When we collect the prices for these product into a table, it looks like this.

producteditionnew buyerupgrade
Family Tree Maker 2010Essentials$ 39,95$ 27,96
Legacy Family Tree 7Deluxe$ 29,95$ 21,95
RootsMagic 4Standard$ 29,95$ 19,95
The Master Genealogist Gold$ 59,00$ 29,95
The Next Generation 8 $ 29,99$ 12,99

So, judging by sticker price, TMG is the most expensive of this bunch, followed by New Family Tree Maker.
However, sticker price is only part of the cost. There are additional costs to consider.

additional costs

Family Tree Maker

Most applications are available as a download, so there are no shipping & handling costs. Most applications, not all; Family Tree Maker 2010 is not available as a download. You may be able to get a better deal from online shopping companies such as, but the smallest shipping & handling fee that’s own store charges is $ 5.00.

The Master Genealogist

Wholly Genes loves to claim that The Master Genealogist (TMG) is the program that does it all, but that is simply not true. It does not produce reasonable quality web sites at all. For that, TMG users need to buy John Cardinal’s Second Site (SS) program. A new Second Site license costs $ 29,95, an upgrade from a previous version costs $ 9,95.
The joke that you need to attend a Wholly Genes cruise to learn The Master Genealogist is funny because it is only half a joke, but the cost of that cruise has not been factored into the total cost.

The Next Generation

TNG seems to be one of the cheaper applications, and it can be installed it locally, but it was designed for the world-wide web. The hosting service that Darrin Lythgoe recommends costs $ 4,99 a month, or $49.80 a year. You have to cough that up when you start out using TNG, that is why the table below simply includes that in the cost of buying a new license. A better calculation is performed further on.

price overview: total cost

producteditionextra costnew buyerupgrade
Family Tree Maker 2010EssentialsS&H$ 44,95$ 32,96
Legacy Family Tree 7Deluxe $ 29,95$ 21,95
RootsMagic 4Standard $ 29,95$ 19,95
The Master Genealogist GoldSecond Site$ 88,95$ 39,90
The Next Generation 8 web hosting$ 79,79$ 12,99

After applying the extra costs, TMG is clearly the most expensive application to buy of this bunch; it is about as expensive as Legacy Family Tree and Family Tree Maker together. That was not evident from the sticker price. TNG now is the second-most expensive application of this bunch and Family Tree Maker take third place.


Knowing the price you pay for the full application or an upgrade is only half of what you should know. The other thing you should know is just how often you are expected to pay for an upgrade. A reasonable indicator of time between upgrade payment is the length of the last release cycle; the time between the last two major upgrades. It isn't a perfect indicator, but it is a simple one, and I want to keep this simple.

length of release cycle

productthis versionprevious versiondifference
Family Tree Maker 20102009-08-192008-08-2512 months
Legacy Family Tree 72008-06-152005-09-0833 months
RootsMagic 42009-03-252005-09-0842 months
The Master Genealogist 2007-12-302004-12-2036 months
The Next Generation 82010-05-282008-06-2423 months

It took a bit of trouble to find all these dates. Sadly, most vendors do not keep a version history on their site. I've calculated the difference between the two latest releases in months. That period between releases is the period your payment is good for. After that, you're expected to pay again.

I should arguably assume that you buy a new license in the middle of the period between releases, but I want to keep this simple. Now, dividing by the entire period does imply the assumption that you bought the new product just after a new version was released, but that assumption is not entirely unreasonable. Many users that are using a free but limited version and have decided to buy the full product, but wait for a new version to do so. When Millennia released Legacy 7, they were swamped by the pent-up demand.

monthly cost

Once you know the total cost and the time between releases, you can calculate the monthly cost. This calculation assumes the normal, current price and immediate upgrades. Actual cost might be lower because you decide skip a version or wait for a special upgrade offer. The table below shows the results for straightforward division of the product cost by the number of months between upgrades.

The Next Generation

The total cost values for The Next Generation in the previous table included the cost of a yearly hosting subscription. That should not be divided by 23 but by 12, and you do need to keep paying for hosting after a TNG upgrade.

producteditionmonthsnew /monthupgrade /month
The Next Generation 23$ 29,99$ 1,31 $ 12,99$ 0,56
hosting49,8012$49,80$ 4,15 $ 49,80$ 4,15
TOTALStandard42 $ 5,46  $ 4,71

price overview: monthly cost

We know the total cost, we know the length of the release, and we have done a special calculation for TNG because we need to consider hosting costs. We can now we make a table listing the cost per month.

producteditionmonthsnew /monthupgrade /month
Family Tree Maker 2010Essentials12$ 44,95 $ 3,75$ 32,96$ 2,75
Legacy Family Tree 7Deluxe33$ 29,95$ 0,91$ 21,95$ 0,67
RootsMagic 4Standard42$ 29,95$ 0,71 $ 19,95 $ 0,48
The Master Genealogist Gold36$ 88,95 $ 2,47$ 39,90$ 1,11
The Next Generation 8no hosting23$ 29,99$ 1,31$ 12,99$ 0,56
The Next Generation 8with hosting23 & 12$ 79,79$ 5,46$ 12,99$ 4,71
The Next Generation

When you look at the monthly cost for this bunch of products, TNG 8 is clearly the most expensive one, costing more than $ 5 per month when you first buy it, and still costing close to $ 5 per month when you've upgraded, but that is only because the total cost includes the hosting.
There are cheaper hosts, but more importantly, there is probably no or almost no additional hosting cost if you already have a host. When you consider the cost of TNG without hosting, it isn't the most expensive product at all.

Family Tree Maker

The most expensive product in this bunch is Family Tree Maker. An important reason for that is that treats Family Tree Maker as if it were a subscription. Ancestry increases the major version number once a year, whether the extent of the product changes warrant that change or not.

The Master Genealogist

The second-most expensive product is The Master Genealogist. Wholly Genes does not try to charge you as often as Ancestry does, but their product does cost about twice as much. What the table shows is that although The Master Genealogist is more expensive to buy than Family Tree Maker, it is cheaper to own; it costs less per month. Moreover, once you are buying upgrades instead of new products, TMG becomes considerably cheaper than Family Tree Maker.

Legacy and RootsMagic

Legacy and RootsMagic are the two most affordable products of this bunch. Even at full price for a new product, the cost works out to less than one dollar per month. Once you are buying their upgrades instead of a new product, the cost is about half a dollar a month.

Genealogy software is quite affordable. You can have a full-featured desktop genealogy application for less than a dollar a per month.



Sticker price and total cost of ownership are two different things. Without a hosting contract, TNG is one of the cheapest options, but with a hosting contract, it is the most expensive one.

The average cost per month is yet another thing. TMG is more expensive to buy than Family Tree Maker, but if you opt for Family Tree Maker because of that, you'll actually be paying more in the long run.


There are various ways in which this simple price analysis could be improved, but it would not change the overall impression or conclusion.

Genealogy software is quite affordable. You can have a full-featured desktop genealogy application for less than a dollar a per month. Once you are paying for upgrades instead of buying full products, RootsMagic, the Best Genealogy Product of 2009, costs you less than half dollar a month.


That the best desktop genealogy application available today costs less than half a dollar a month is a surprising and wonderfully upbeat conclusion to end on, but there is one more thing to look at, and a more sweeping conclusion to be drawn.

social genealogy

FamilyLink Plus$ 3.95 Pro$ 4.95
MyHeritage PremiumPlus$ 8.95

These last years has seen great interest in social genealogy sites. Sadly, most of these sites do not only lack many of the advanced features that we tend to take for granted in desktop genealogy applications, many even lack basic features such as the ability to add secondary vital events or citations. In fact, FamilyLink née We're Related is hardly a genealogy application at all and does not even support GEDCOM.

All these vendors like to say their subscriptions are cheap, but it is hard to agree with that. While desktop applications cost around a dollar a month, these applications tend to cost around five dollar a month.
Even when you do include the hosting cost of the recommend host, and do not include the cost of the recently introduced MyHeritage Backup service, running your own TNG site is still cheaper than opting for a MyHeritage subscription.

price versus quality

In many product categories the best products are the most expensive ones. We tend to assume the reverse, that the most expensive product are the best ones, but in software that assumption is rarely right. Looking over these tables, there even seems to be an inverse correlation between quality and price…

If social genealogy sites are the future, then the future is overpriced.

Compare the products. Compare the prices. Whether you are on a budget or looking for the best product, desktop genealogy applications are superior to the social genealogy sites. You simply get a much better product for a lot less money. If social genealogy sites are the future, then the future is overpriced.


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