Family Tree Maker 2005 Review
9/28/2009
This isn't your old Family Tree Maker: A dramatic—and welcome—transformation takes the popular genealogy program beyond pretty charts.

Powerful charting has always been Family Tree Maker's (FTM) hallmark, but major improvements in the latest version make this program a useful tool for organizing your family history, as well. Here's what you can look forward to in FTM 2005&8212;and what still needs fixing.

Dazzling Details
FTM still lets you design and print a wide assortment of graphical family trees, all with your choice of backgrounds, borders, fonts and colors. or you can choose from several pre-designed templates with well-coordinated graphical elements. Strong photo-editing capabilities help you prepare images for use in reports and charts. These new-and-improved properties also impressed us:

  • Family view—The feeble old family veiw showing only two generations and no more than four children on screen at a time has been replaced with a superb new layout showing three generations and up to eight children without scrolling. Instead of awkwardly navigating through your family tree with tabs, now you click on buttons to edit personal details or go to a child's family view.

  • Pedigree view—Amazingly, FTM went through 10 major upgrades over 14 years and never had a pedigree view—a key component of most genealogy programs. With the impressive new pedigree view, you can hold the mouse cursor over a name, and a window pops up showing the person's dates and places of birth and death.

  • Web search—FTM 2005 ably searches Ancestry.com 's huge data collections, most of which require a subscription to see the full results. (FTM parent company MyFamily.com owns Ancestry.com; the software isn't affiliated with this magazine.) Just click on the Web Search button beside a name. FTM displays the results in a format that makes them easy to scan for the right person, even if you're looking for a common name. When I searched for John French, born in 1790 at Pittsfield, Mass., the first match was my John French, in the 1850 census of Pittsfield—a new find for me.

  • Web merge wizard—If you find a match for your forbear on Ancestry.com, click Web Merge to add the info to your family file.

Flawed Features
On the downside, FTM still lacks several basic features that have been standard in most genealogy programs for years:

  • Ordering spouses and children—If you don't have dates of birth or marriage, but know the order in which children were born, it's nice to be able to specify the correct order. FTM has a clumsy system for reordering children and no way to reorder spouses. It also ignores correct child and spouse orders when you import a GEDCOM file.

  • Printing charts—Family group sheets and letter-size pedigree charts, probably the two most important genealogy reports, are poorly designed. Unlike most genealogy software, FMT can't print "cascading" pedigree charts, which are numbered and say, for instance, "Person 1 on this chart is the same as person 16 on chart1."

    Then there are FTM's family group sheets, probably the worst you'll find in any genealogy software. Most other programs automatically include all events in a person's life on these reports, and list those events by date, creating a chronology from birth to death. By default, FTM's family group sheets show only one fact of each type, such as census data, even though you might have found the person in several census years. To top it off, facts appear in alphabetical order, and you can't print them in chronological order.

    Hint: To include all facts, displya a family group sheet, go to the Contents menu and select Items to Include. In the right panel, click on Special Section: Facts, and then click on the Options button. Uncheck "Display only preferred dates/locations."

  • Exchanging data—FTM supports GEDCOM files (the standard family tree format) but not multimedia links within them. So you can exchange multimedia only with other FTM users. And the usual method for creating a GEDCOM file—selecting Export File from the File menu—doesn't let you specify the number of generations to include.

    Hint: To work around that problem, you'll need to create a chart with the people you want to include, then select File>Export File>Copy/Export individuals in tree.

  • Creating a Web site—FTM provides free Web space at www.familytreemaker.com and makes publishing reports there easy. That's a nice bonus, but FTM can't save reports in HTML format for your own Web site.

Overall, though, the revamped FTM should start to shed its reputation as a light-weight program long on graphics and short on everything else. The new pedigree view, updated family view and Web-search options make this a far better program for researching and organizing your family history.

FTM 2005 costs $29.95 (phone support is $2 a minute) from (800) 262-3787 or www.familytreemaker.com. It requires Windows 98 or higher, 32MB RAM (128MB with Windows XP) and 150MB hard disk space.