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Family Tree Maker

Article Date: 
20 August, 2010 - 06:00

Family Tree Maker is a record manager from Ancestry.com.  Ancestry has been steadily enhancing this product for many years.  It has always been a strong product, but has grown to be one of the best record managers in the marketplace.  The cost of the software is $39.95, making it a little more expensive than most.  Ancestry is about to ship a new version of the software.
Before I step through the software I should probably point out for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Family Tree Maker does not interact with new FamilySearch.  For members of the LDS Church, this will be a big drawback.  
It means that members who use Family Tree Maker will need to maintain their family history in two places in order to submit ancestors for temple ordinances.  This lack would be a significant one for me and is the main reason I have not seriously considered Family Tree Maker as my record manager.  
The product has a straightforward and easy to use interface.  Pedigrees can be easily viewed and maintained.  The controls are clear to use and accessible.  Sometimes the screens have too much information on them.  This can make it difficult to find the item or action for which you are looking.  It can also make the screens somewhat complicated to interact with, but generally the software is intuitive.  
Family Tree Maker has excellent multi-media capabilities.  Whether it is photos, documents, audio files or videos, Family Tree Maker handles them well.  Ancestry also has a book publishing option unique to it and a publishing service that can be used to export the information you have entered and create a book. The file can be printed to any printer, and the option to publish your information is available if you want a professionally bound volume.
Family Tree Maker also has a good map interface.  The events of an ancestor’s life can be plotted on a map.  This is useful in understanding where they lived and how the geography around them might have affected their lives.  It is also good because it helps to spot errors in the data on an ancestor.  
Some events in the records of an ancestor’s life tend to stand out if they are inaccurate when they are plotted on the map because they don’t make sense to the rest of their information.  For example, if all events of an ancestor’s life are in one area of the map and one event appears far away in another state, it may be an error and should probably be reviewed.  
This type of analysis can be done by hand with plotting information on a map, but the Family Tree Maker feature makes it easy enough that it can be used frequently.  Mapping can also provide helpful clues on finding the records of an ancestor.  If an ancestor lived on a state or county line, their records might be found in the adjacent state or county rather than in the state for which you have recorded.
The reports that can be created with Family Tree Maker are many and varied.  Their reporting is probably the best of any of the other record managers.  It supports virtually every type of chart.  Also, many of the charts include support for photos.
Family Tree Maker has an excellent sourcing system.  The sourcing is flexible, easy to use, easy to maintain, and clearly documents the source used for each piece of information.  
Family Tree Maker also supports GenSmarts to help provide research help and additional records to be searched.  GenSmarts is an application that can be purchased separately.  It will provide helpful clues to help determine which records could be searched to find more information about an ancestor.  GenSmarts works with most of the common record managers.
Family Tree Maker supports searching information on Ancestry.com and other sites.  Information found on Ancestry can be easily transferred into Family Tree Maker.  This can simplify your search experience by allowing you to search right from your tree instead of retyping information.
Lastly, Family Tree Maker has built in synchronization with the Ancestry online trees.  Both the search capabilities and the tree capabilities require a subscription to Ancestry, so the price to access the search and tree synchronization features is significantly more than the 39.95.  However, if you already have an Ancestry subscription these are great features of which you can take advantage.  
The Ancestry online trees can only be accessed by those to whom you grant permission and updates to the trees can be controlled to include only those to whom you extend trust.  The online tree can be an excellent way to collaborate with family members.
If you don’t have a need to synchronize with new FamilySearch, Family Tree Maker should receive serious consideration.  It has complete features, good support, regular releases, and continues to have new features that all make it a serious contender as the possible best record manager for you.  Ancestries continued financial health also mean that it is likely that Family Tree Maker will be supported and new features will continue to be added for the foreseeable future.