Genealogy programs have
come a long way since they were first unveiled almost twenty years ago. Those
first programs were limited to simple data entry, almost more trouble than the
three-by-five cards and family group sheets that most genealogists were using
then. The programs have come a long way in the intervening decades, with each
new version offering more bells and whistles.
Genealogists tend to use a genealogy program such as Family Tree Maker only
for recording the names, dates, and places they find while tracing their
ancestry. However, today’s genealogy programs offer many powerful features
designed to aid the researcher in more than just recording information.
Easy to use
When genealogy programs
were first introduced, many researchers, although perhaps already using a
computer, did not jump on the software bandwagon. They were dedicated to a
certain way of recording information on their ancestors and were not thrilled
with the idea of having to do it differently. While genealogy programs have
changed over the years, some still require thinking like a computer rather than
The easy-to-use interface of Family Tree Maker looks like the forms
genealogists have been using for years. Entry of a family is completed in the
Family View, in which there are fields for primary information about husband and
wife, as well as the names, gender, and dates of birth of the children (see
figure 1). A lot of information can be recorded on this single screen, and at
times may include everything known about the family.
Because the Family View is designed much like a family group sheet, the
researcher need not change his or her way of thinking. Perhaps the only item
missing in the Family View but available on the family group sheet is the space
for recording the parents of both husband and wife. However, a click of the
mouse on the appropriate tab for either the husband’s or wife’s name opens a new
Family View, which affords a place for recording not only the parents’ names,
but also any known birth and death information about them.
In addition to clicking on the tabs to the right to move from person to
person, the researcher can also use the index of individuals to select a
specific person. This index can be arranged alphabetically by last name, in
either ascending or descending order, or by birth date, also by ascending or
descending order. Most users rely on the ascending alphabetical order so that
they can input the first few letters of the surname and be instantly taken to
that part of the index.
While only four children are listed at a time, the program is not limited in
the number of children or spouses the researcher can record. Each Family View
page records the family unit of a given couple. As the researcher uses the
Spouses button to change the husband or wife of one of the individuals, the list
of children will also change, allowing the researcher a clear picture of which
children belong to which marriage.
Avoiding duplication and errors
When using a genealogy
program, the researcher no longer must write the same information on more than
one form. Instead, data entry allows him to enter data about an individual once
and then direct the program when to use it. For instance, when the researcher
has entered the date of birth for a child and then clicks on the tab for that
child, he does not need to type the date of birth a second time. It will be
automatically completed on the next screen.
Usually a genealogist will enter an individual’s detailed information as he
or she is entering the family’s data. As the research progresses, the
genealogist may uncover the marriages and offspring of the previously entered
family. The researcher using Family Tree Maker simply selects the child for whom
more information has been found and types in the newly-discovered data.
If a place name has been previously entered, as the researcher begins to type
the place name again, Family Tree Maker supplies possibilities from its list of
previously entered places. As the researcher types more letters, the place name
option changes or disappears altogether if the letters no longer duplicate a
previously entered place (see figure 2).
Given that genealogists usually record the town, county, state or province,
and country, the place name list is an invaluable timesaver. Because the
researcher does not need to re-enter the entire place name each time, he or she
is more likely to enter the entire place name correctly the first time. Also, by
having such a list of places, Family Tree Maker ensures consistency.
By avoiding duplication, the researcher not only saves time, but also
decreases the potential for adding errors. The more times a researcher must
retype or copy the same information by hand the more chance for transposing a
number or skipping a line.
Family Tree Maker includes a number of error correction features. When
entering a date, there are times when the fingers slip and a person is recorded
as dying before he was born. Family Tree Maker is designed to catch such
mistakes, as well as to question marriages when the involved parties are too
young or unlikely death dates. The researcher then has the opportunity to
override the error. The pop-up warning box (see figure 3) not only calls the
researcher’s attention to the problem; it also allows the researcher to enter
the correct date without having to switch to another screen.
Trees at the click of a button
Most genealogists are
familiar with the pedigree chart, known in Family Tree Maker as an Ancestor
Tree. This road map of the immediate ancestry of a given individual is a popular
chart to use when actively researching a line at a library, archive, or
courthouse. Included on the chart is the data on someone’s full known ancestry
for four or five generations (see figure 4). This tree is also the chart most
frequently shared among researchers — often accompanied by family group sheets.
In the days before genealogy programs, researchers had to complete pedigree
charts by hand or typewriter. Today, with the click of a button, a genealogist
can create and print these forms and drop them in the mail to share with other
More and more, genealogists are corresponding by email. They send information
back and forth in a fraction of the time it took to correspond through postal
mail. However, over the years these cyber-communicators have found that email
programs reformat their work, often making it a jumble of words impossible to
translate. Forget about sending photos.
Family Tree Maker 10 attacks this last problem head-on and offers a method of
saving paper using the Portable Document Format (PDF) now so popular on the
Internet. While the receiver of such a file must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader
software loaded on his or her system, it is a free program, available through
the Adobe website (www.adobe.com). This feature allows the researcher to
create an elaborate family tree and save the file. Although the file was
transferred by email, its receiver will see the same display on his or her
A particularly useful way to take advantage of this feature is to highlight
specific relationships using colored lines (see figure 5). While the Ancestor
Tree shows direct lineage, there are times when other trees with more
information, such as the All-in-One, obscure the connection in question. By
using the relationship feature and saving the tree as a PDF file, the person who
receives the tree will understand the relationship just as you do.
As was mentioned earlier,
Family Tree Maker 10 offers design templates that change the formatting of
boxes, background, font, and more, making a beautiful tree or chart suitable for
framing when printed in color. Often a beautifully printed chart will grab the
attention of family members not as enamored with the research but with
information to share.
Presently there are ten different themes available (see figure 6) and they
can be applied to any of the charts except the new Standard Pedigree Tree. The
Standard Pedigree Tree, a version of the Ancestor Tree, was added to the program
at the request of those genealogists who have spent much time working with
standard preprinted pedigree forms. This tree is especially useful when
corresponding with fellow researchers. It supplies the recipient with four
generations of data as presently known. When accompanied by family group sheets
for each couple on the tree, the receiving researcher knows just where the
research stands, especially if sources have been cited (source citations can be
included on both the pedigree chart and the family group sheets).
Tracking the research
A genealogy program
should do more than just keep track of names, dates, and places — genealogists
have been tracking that data manually for years. Unfortunately, most researchers
still use their genealogy program as nothing more than a glorified three-by-five
card file — or limit themselves to just the information that would be included
in preprinted forms. One of the major benefits of Family Tree Maker is the
opportunity to record upcoming research tasks so they are not forgotten before
they can be addressed and resolved.
The Research Journal, as it is called in Family Tree Maker, is a place to
record future research objectives and save a record of completed tasks. When
used effectively, the Research Journal offers a record of past work that can
prevent duplication, especially of negative results, when there is no
documentation of the effort.
The Research Journal allows you to record in free-text the item to be
checked. It is good practice to take advantage of this free-form window, adding
the full citation if known, with the names or at least surnames sought. It is
also a good idea to note when the search is completed. While Figure 7 shows the
Research Journal with all entered items, reports can also be filtered by tasks
completed or those to be done.
Building a book
Many researchers hope at
some point to publish the family histories on which they have worked so
diligently for so long, giving their work a kind of immortality. The Family Tree
Maker book feature allows researchers to combine many different reports and
charts into a detailed family history, creating a substantial product to share
with family and friends.
The book feature saves both time and money. With a quality printer and some
creativity, the researcher can produce an informative and entertaining book. In
today’s desktop publishing world, many researchers already have this capability
right in their own home. Once the first copy has been produced, an inexpensive
local stationery or print shop can produce just the number of copies needed.
The Family Tree Maker book feature is quite flexible. The researcher is not
limited to reports of a given individual as displayed on the left of the Book
window. After selecting the desired reports on that person, the researcher need
only access the Index of Individuals to choose someone else, for whom additional
reports can be generated. In Figure 8, a number of different individuals are
highlighted in the book on the right. The author intended to show the various
relationships between Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., his niece Eleanor, and his fifth
cousin — her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
After a chart has been selected, additional formatting can be used to change
either the individuals included or the chart’s final appearance. The book
feature even offers placeholders for special photographs or maps or other items
that may not be easy to enter into the program. Placeholders keep the page
numbers intact, while accommodating the missing item. Add a table of contents
and an index, and the book is useful even to those relatives who may not yet
understand their kinship to Theodore Roosevelt.
Power at the fingertips
Family Tree Maker is an
easy-to-use but powerful program. Users often don’t take the time to investigate
its many features, keeping instead to just simple data entry and standard
reports. The addition in version 10 of the ability to save charts as PDF files
now allows researchers to communicate more easily through email, as well as to
upload documents to the Internet.
From novice to experienced researchers, every genealogist will find that
Family Tree Maker offers features and benefits that aid in family research. The
trick is to take a little time to learn what is available. From data entry to
publishing, most day-to-day tasks of genealogists are made simpler with this
program. Family Tree Maker has embraced most of those tasks so that the
genealogist can spend more time researching and less time fighting with computer
data entry or altering the recording of genealogical information.
To find out more about Family Tree Maker, visit
Rhonda R. McClure is
the author of The Genealogist’s Computer Companion and The Complete
Idiot’s Guide to Online Genealogy.