Sunday, September 4, 2016

Genealogy Software (Cumberland Family Tree)

My interest in genealogy goes back to my teenage years. Some years later, after I began studying computers at the University of Texas, I started writing a genealogy program. This was just as Personal Computers were starting to come out in the mid-1980's and before I knew others were also writing genealogy programs.

After my first simple program was completed I entered over 2000 names in less than one week's time and printed out pedigree charts and family group sheets for two thick books of my genealogy (about 1987). To me, this was amazing, because for years I had struggled with folded over legal size sheets in a letter size typewriter. Sometimes it would take me an hour or so just to type one Family Group Sheet neatly.

By this time, I had discovered and purchased PAF (Personal Ancestral File, software by the LDS Church). However, I didn't like PAF for two main reasons:
  1. I found that in my genealogy, there were many individuals who were born, married and died in the same town for many generations. Knowing the capabilities of computers, I felt it ridiculous to enter those town names in hundreds of times. I felt that I should be able to enter the name once, and then be able to quickly select it again from an internal list for further uses. For example, in my early database of almost 3,000 names, I used place names in 8,642 locations, yet there are only 550 place names. Using this method of entering data I saved myself from typing in more than 8,000 place names, an incredible time saver. (Now, many good genealogy programs have capabilities similar to this, including PAF.)
  2. I had problems with the way PAF handled names. PAF only allowed surnames at the end of a full name. I had a wife with Chinese ancestry, where the surname always comes at the beginning of the name, rather than the end. I also had Norwegian ancestry where the patronymic surname was often followed by a farm name. I wanted to keep these names in order. PAF would have forced me to enter the surname at the end. Thus this early program of mine allowed the entry of surnames anywhere within the name and still had the capability of sorting on the surname. Sadly even today (2016), the LDS Church's is still not capable of handling Chinese names properly, still referring to "first name" and "last name" rather than the more globally acceptable "given name" and surname" and allowing the surname to appear in any order within the full name.

In 1991 I decided to release my program as shareware under the name of Cumberland Family Tree. The idea was to release the program freely to BBS's (electronic Bulletin Boards) and other shareware vendors that often sold disks with programs for a nominal fee. The software thus distributed would be accompanied with a request for the user to send payment to the author of the program. The first 4 or 5 years did not bring much, but because of my love for genealogy programming, I continued to improve the program. Then in the late 1990's the internet became popular and so I created a website for my software.  During the late 1990's and early 2000's my program did quite well.

Over the past 5 years or so (during the early 2010's) computerized software has begun to move from personal software for an individual computer to web based databases which are shared with other people. The three main websites are, and Anyone can register with familysearch for free, while the other two are subscription based websites.

So I think many people have begun moving away from even keeping their genealogy on a personal computer and simply keeping track of their genealogy online. There are some advantages to doing this, primarily the fact that these contain huge amounts of data already researched by others. So when you have your ancestry entered back far enough you begin tying your lines into work that others have already done. You then save an enormous amount of time copying data you might find on the web over to your personal database.

But there are also disadvantages. For me, there are three huge disadvantages:

  1. The ongoing subscription costs can be painful if you use or A personal database like Cumberland Family Tree costs you once and then you can use it forever after. Subscription based websites require constant monthly, quarterly or annual fees ongoing for as long as you want full access to your data.
  2. Familysearch is where most of my extended family keeps their genealogy. One reason I do not like this site is because it is aggravatingly slow. I can view and fix/add small bits of data to a dozen individuals in my personal database before I can even get access to one person on familysearch.
  3. Another reason I do not like familysearch (besides the non-Chinese name compliance mentioned earlier) is because everyone and anyone can mess with the data. Mistakes that others make cannot be undone! You can add comments to explain your reasons why you do not believe the data that others have entered but it really can become a tangled mess. I'll give two examples.
  • First, my second great-grandfather, born in England, but migrated to the USA as a teenager, was married multiple times. One of his wives existence only comes from old family tales passed down - a name only. I have searched census records and other sources to try to identify this person to no avail. Someone later connected her - a common name "Sarah Turner" with someone they discovered with the same name over in England with no proof that she had migrated to the USA. No explanation as to how this connection is made. I do not believe the connection and yet now, it is "set in stone" in familysearch with no way to undo it. I can't even figure out who did this.
  • On my Norwegian side there are some ancestors way back who now have many descendants which dozens of people had once submitted GEDCOM files to familysearch. But due to the patronymic naming system in Norway the oldest son had the same exact name (given and surname) as his grandfather. This went on for a few generations. And because there were no good primary sources for birth dates back then, the dates were estimated, with some quite varying dates that could easily get people to confuse a grandson with his grandfather, which was done often enough. So that area is such a mess with individuals being the grandfather to themselves. No way to untangle this to clarify it since so many people "own" the data. The circular genealogy makes it impossible to follow.
So how is Cumberland Family Tree doing today? Since I do not advertise and it is not well known, it is more of a hobby than a generally well known program. I use it extensively for my own database with more than 100,000 individuals. It has some really nice features that I have not seen elsewhere that make handling huge databases easier - such as the Selection Lists and colored diamond marking system, with some rather advanced features for managing and creating multiple types of Selection Lists. I have many others still using my program, some for more than 20 years since my earliest versions. All the various software programs still available have some general features that are common across all platforms, but there are pluses and minuses to each, and this includes Cumberland Family Tree. For the most part I find that whatever software a person begins with, they normally learn it so thoroughly that they do not like to switch, although I have had a number of users who have tried many other programs and still come back to CFT.  

Over the years, so many new and fancy features have been added that it is now quite feature rich and so extensive that I do not think I have a need for a "new" revision. Version 4 is the latest and perhaps the last major release. If I fix small issues/bugs or add a new feature, it is typically a small release (after the dot), the latest being Version 4.06.

CFT is still shareware, meaning you can download it and use it fully functional for FREE for 45 days, after which some more advanced functions will be disabled. After payment a code is emailed that unlocks all features again - forever. I am still here - after 25 years - and accessible via email. I always answer all questions, whether pre-sale or after-sale as quickly as possible.

Cumberland Family Tree is a very good program as attested by the fact that it has been around for 25 years and some very satisfied users have been using it for almost that long also. So if you are looking for Genealogy Software, give CFT a try. You have 45 days to simply test it for FREE!

Cumberland Family Software:

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  1. Ira,
    it's great that you mention here your wonderful Cumberland Family Tree program: I hope more people will find its name and have a chance to check how good it is.
    I use CFT for years, and my analysis of the alternatives was almost identical to what you wrote above! I could add that MyHeritage possibility of finding SmartMatches is very attractive at the beginning when you start publishing your data. Over the time, however, all the connection to cousins in the network are discovered, and then what you receive is a lot of redundant and useless matches that only eat your time.
    What I could add to the key advantages of CFT is the possibility of adding/editing data using only keyboard and not being forced to move your hand constantly from the keyboard to mouse and back! (with the small exception I emailed recently;)
    Great analysis, excellent software - big thanks!
    P.S. Do you have a register that you could find when I bought CFT code for the first time?

  2. Michal, Thanks for the comments and support! Sorry, I don't have the information about when you first bought CFT.