Genealogy on a Mac: what to choose

Tomas Ahlbeck
9 min readApr 23, 2022

In the days of Covid 19, many people try to find ways to spend their time during lockdowns. One way is to take up genealogy. Nowadays there are many programs available, but two of the main contestants are Reunion by Leisterpro and MacFamilytree by Synium.

I have been using both these on and off for many years, sometimes even side by side. I have in the past made Swedish localisations for both these programs, and I like them both.
But I now have so many persons in my genealogy file, that it just takes too much time from the genealogy itself when I sync the programs and edit the problems that have occurred when migrating the GEDCOM.

So in order to finally decide which one I will use from now on I put my own subjective pro’s and con’s for them both side by side to be able to make a decision on what path to follow in the future. I post my thoughts here and hope it may help someone to choose what is best for her or him.

First: they are BOTH very good genealogy programs. So what one person feels is best might not be the best choice for someone else. My advice is that you try out demo versions of both of them before you decide.
But in case you feel unsure even after the testperiod, here are my thoughts for what it is worth.

Basically these are two different takes on how to build a genealogy program. Reunion is built around ”cards” where you put your info in different cards depending on type of info:
This is a good way to put in info, since there is less scrolling.

On the other hand you need to know in what window/card you are supposed to put your facts. This is however not a big problem, you learn fast. It is an ”old-fashioned” way to put info into databases on a Mac. And that is essentially what you do.

MacFamilyTree uses a more ”modern” way, all info is entered in a list. Not cards, just a long list. The upside is that you don’t have to click around in different cards, the backside is that there can be a lot of scrolling when you have a lot of info.
As I see it these ways to enter input is just a matter of taste, and I can’t really say I prefer one before the other.
MacFamilyTree also has a dark mode. In v 10 you can choose between the standard setting in MacOS, always light or always dark. Myself I prefer to work in light mode in my genealogy, since I find it hard to see some of the text in the dark mode. But that is just my personal observation, it might be different for you and anyway it is no biggie. On the other hand the look/UI of Reunion doesn’t feel as if it has developed much for the last 30 years.
Both programs have a left sidebar, a main window and a right sidebar. MacFamilyTree has a way to display facts in the right sidebar that Reunion in my opinion lacks. I can display not only a list of places, but also group them after counties and countries, which I find helps me when I have thousands of places and some with similar names. In Scandinavia, the names of our villages, towns and counties can be similar, so it helps me a bit.
In general I feel the way MacFamilyTree uses the right sidebar simplifies my genealogy compared to the solution Reunion has.
A minus for MacFamilyTree is that I can’t mark twins or children born outside marriage, which I can in Reunion. I have solved that by adding labels to these two types of children. And when you get used to using labels in MacFamilyTree it is no problem.

As I understand this is just a built in “label” anyway in Reunion, it’s not a gedcom code. So the labels in MacFamilyTree are more or less the same thing, you just add them yourself. Winner: Mac family Tree

Places
The way Reunion shows places is rather basic. They are displayed in a list in the right sidebar, and you can choose to see them listed by first letter or in reverse order. That’s it.
And every place also has facts at the bottom of the sidebar: you can see which persons those places are linked to, you can add notes to them and you can geotag them. When geotagged you can also see a map over where the person has lived, which can come in handy if you want to see a persons migration pattern.

In MacfamilyTree you open Places in the main window through the menu bar in the left sidebar. As in Reunion you get a list of the places in the right sidebar, but the place you want to read about or edit also opens in the main window. As in Reunion you can geotag them, and as in Reunion you can see a map over a persons migrations. However you also-in the main window-get a map over ALL the geotagged places so you can see where ALL the persons in your database have lived. To me this is a plus, since I can see if there are any ”clusters” of migration. If they have lived in the same area for generations, and if the fact that they moved from one county to another actually only means they moved across the road to another farm or homestead. This is a function I miss in Reunion. And as I understand from an email answer I got from Leisterpro, they have no intention to add to Reunion in the foreseeable future. Winner: MacFamilyTree

Diagrams and reports
Both programs have a very good choice of diagrams and reports. MacFamilyTree has them under two different menus in the sidebar, Reunion has gathered them under just one menu. Which to me feels more obvious, since they to me just are different ways to show reports graphically. In Reunion you also find the link to the print-function, which MacFamilyTree has in a separate menu in the sidebar. As with other things, this is not really a big thing. Whatever you choose you will get used to it.
However the sorts of diagrams and reports are more in MacFamilyTree. Some of them are useful, some aren’t.
MacFamilyTre also has a meny ”Views”, where I find the Virtual Globe fun and maybe even useful. You basically get a spinning globe where all places where people in your research have lived are shown. A bit like the function in ”Places” but on a globe. The Virtual Tree is however as I see it pointless since it is difficult to get a meaningful view of it.
MacFamilyTree also have menus for Lists and Publish in the right sidebar. The listfunction in Reunion is however more developed as I see it, with more useful options.
Winner: Diagrams and Reports MacFamilyTree, Lists Reunion

iOS/iPadOS
Reunion Touch does now support more languages than just English, which is a big improvement. However there still are some minor errors in the translation. For instance, in the Mac-version I use the Swedish word ”yrke” for occupation. In Reunion Touch this shows up as ”O”. Not even Occupation, but ”O”. The same with ”education”. In Swedish that is called Utbildning but shows up with an ”E” in Reunion Touch.
MobileFamilyTree on the other hand works better for me. Language translations are good. It looks as the Mac-version (but smaller and more compact obviously).
So it is close to a tie, but nevertheless
Winner: MacFamilyTree/MobilefamilyTree

Support

Both apps have support from their developers: Synium Software (MacfamilyTree) and Leisterpro (Reunion). When I contact the support at MacFamilyTree I get answers within hours if you contact them daytime European time. If not at the latest the following day. There is also a Facebook group with thousands of members, and there are quite a lot of postings on Reddits Genealogy group.

As for Reunion I sometimes get answers next day, which is OK since they are in a totally different time zone than the one I am in. But it has happened that I haven’t recieved any answer at all.

Groups on Facebook are there, but they don’t have many members and aren’t that active. In the Genealogy group at Reddit there are more people discussing Mac Family Tree than Reunion. Winner: MacFamilyTree

Pricing
This is the big dealbreaker for me. Since I am Swedish I prefer to use programs that have Swedish localisations. Not that I have a problem with English, but some words can be difficult to understand and then it is positive when the program is translated to your own language. My guess is that people from Norway, Denmark, Poland, Argentina and other countries feel the same.

In MacFamilyTree there is a Swedish localisation. OK, it has some minor errors, and some things are-even if correct-just not the way we express ourselves. The different ways of migration is translated correctly to Immigration and Emigration. However in Swedish that is mainly used when migrating from one country to another. When moving from one county or city to another in the same country we usually say Inflyttad andUtflyttad.
In Reunion I actually can change such translations myself without having to fiddle about in the source code. However, the localisation in MacFamilyTree is free. The price for a full version of MacFamilyTree is 59:99 USD. Which in itself is a silly price. Say 60 USD instead, nobody will run away to another program to earn one cent.

Reunion is only in English. If you want a localisation to another language, Reunion/Leisterpro does not provide that. Instead you will have to buy these elsewhere.
A Swedish localisation of Reunion 13 costs 500 SEK, which is around 48 Euros (56 USD). So if you want to buy a full version of Reunion 13 with a Swedish localisation the cost will be 1396 SEK, (156 USD/134 Euros). An upgrade from Reunion 12 including Swedish localisation costs 896 SEK (86 Euros/100 USD). The program itself without localisation costs 99 USD (85 Euros), and an upgrade 49:95 (43 Euros) from Leisterpro. So a Swedish upgrade costs almost the same as a new full version in English. Whichever program you choose you get decent translations without direct errors, but with a few things not translated. Also note: The Swedish localisation-and I guess all other non-English ones-are made by people not employed by Leisterpro and however good they might be they are not official Leisterpro products. You can’t download them from Leisterpro’s website, they are downloaded from different websites. Leisterpro has though put up links to some of the places where you can buy non-English translations . The fact that it is not a part of the Reunion installation but a separate non-official purchase can be a problem if the person/persons doing the translation drops interest for updating, there will be a problem. In MacFamilyTree the localisations are included.
And the same goes for other localisations of Reunion. Norwegian upgrade to Reunion 13 from Reunion 12 including Norwegian localisation costs 975 NOK (101 USD/88 Euros), a new full version including localisation costs 1700 NOK (178 USD/153 Euros).
At the moment I can’t find information on a Danish version, the Danish genealogy association ”Danske Slaegtsforskere” link to the Norwegian language version instead (for Reunion 12).
This is probably a problem for Reunion in non-English countries, and probably a reason why people choose MacfamilyTree (or other programs) instead.
Winner: MacFamilyTree

Conclusion
A full version of MacfamilyTree costs 59.99 USD (51 Euros/534 SEK) on Mac App Store. That includes localisations to several languages. A Swedish full version of Reunion costs (as noted above) 156 USD (1396 SEK/134 Euros). And even an upgrade from Swedish Reunion 12 to Reunion 13 costs more than a full version of MacFamilyTree, 100 USD instead of 60 USD.
Reunion has a few things that it does better than MacfamilyTree, but on the other side MacFamilyTree does a lot of things better than Reunion. A few years ago I thought Reunion was the market leader, but nowadays I would even say that Heredis is a better choise. While MacFamilyTree has continued to grow and become more and more mature, Reunion now feels like a relic.
So: if you are new to genealogy on a Mac and need a good program, choose MacFamilyTree. Even if you are a previous (or current) user of Reunion 12 my advice is not to consider upgrading to Reunion 13 if you want any other language than English. If you do it is a no-brainer: choose MacfamilyTree.

There IS a bit of work when migrating from Reunion, which is why I think it is just as good to stay on the Reunion platform if you only need English language, and if you can afford it.

As programs come they are both very good choices, but to me the things that made me drop Reunion and move in full to MacFamilyTree after this comparision are the Places/Mapfunction, support and the price.
There may be some errors or mistakes or functions I have just missed. So feel free to post comments below, that will be helpful for readers when they search info on Mac genealogy.

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Tomas Ahlbeck

Swedish Standup comedian, writer & diabetic. Published a few books, done a few gigs. ‘Sweden’s own dirty uncle, brilliant writing and some very dark humour.”