Family Tree Maker 2008 Software Review

By Rick Crume Premium

Completely redesigned and sporting a modern new look, Family Tree Maker 2008 recently made its debut — and met with a chorus of complaints. While the developer, < >, touted a streamlined user interface, better Web searching and new heirloom-quality books, users complained about lost data, missing reports and program crashes.

Amid all the hubbub, we tested the program for ourselves and found some handy new features-as well as a step backward in basic functionality.

Workspace exploration

Seven “workspaces” replace Family Tree Maker’s old family and pedigree views, and most of its pull-down menus. Though it may take awhile for those used to previous versions to get their bearings, the new design organizes tasks more logically and should be easier for new users.

The People workspace, where you’ll spend most of your time, has two tabs where you can edit your data. The Family tab shows an index of names, a pedigree view, a family group view and an editing It’s nice to see all this information on your screen at once, but you can easily resize the panels or close them altogether. Click the Person tab to view more details on an individual, see the new timeline view and create a list of research tasks.

All tasks you added in the Person tab can be viewed in the Plan workspace, where you also can manage your trees (family files). You can have more than one tree open at a time, but it’s not easy to view them side by side or to copy data between trees.

Click on a locality in the Places work-space, and you’ll get a list of all the people in your file associated with that place and, if you’re connected to the Internet, a map showing its location. The online maps show county boundaries. They don’t display rural town and township boundaries, though, which limits their usefulness to genealogists. (To be fair, other software lacks this feature, too.)

A new place-name database helps you enter localities consistently and correctly. just keep in mind that county boundaries have changed over time, and it’s usually better to record the county that had jurisdiction at the time of the event.

The Sources workspace lists all your sources and the facts and people associated with them. Most genealogy programs display the complete master source record (title, author, publisher and call number) when you enter a citation detail (page number, comments and quotes). While entering a citation detail in Family Tree Maker, you can see only the master source’s title. So you might mistakenly omit an item, such as a volume number; or enter it twice.

The Media workspace shows all your photos and document images and makes it easy to attach them to multiple people or facts. Instead of adding images to your family file, Family Tree Maker now works like other genealogy software and just links to media files. That helps keep your family file from growing to an unmanageable size. The Publish workspace takes you to the Charts and Reports center.

You can do online searches from within Family Tree Maker via the Web Search workspace. If you find a match in a census record on, the program can automatically create census and birth facts, with source citations, and attach an image of the record to the facts-pretty slick. You also can clip text from any Web page and merge it into your tree.

When you’re connected to the Internet, Family Tree Maker searches for matches. Green leaf icons in the People workspace indicate possible matches.

Absence report

With this flashy new interface and improved online searching, why all the fuss? Several popular old features disappeared in version 2008, and a few longstanding problems remain.

You can now open Legacy Family Tree, Personal Ancestral File and Master Genealogist files directly, but not always accurately. For instance, photo descriptions are lost when you import a PAF file directly or via a GEDCOM transfer. And GEDCOM files created with Family Tree Maker still can’t include multimedia links.

Family Tree Maker has never put much importance on basic charts and reports useful for research. Other programs print nice family group sheets and pedigree charts with no trouble, but you need to tinker a lot with the settings to get the same results in Family Tree Maker (see instructions at <>).

The program still does a terrific job on graphical charts and posters, but this version lacks all-in-one, hourglass and fan charts. Narrative ancestor and descendant (called Genealogy Reports in Family Tree Maker), along with the whole system for combining repoas to create a book with a comprehensive index, also went AWOL.

Ancestry Press <>, a new online tool available to anyone, lets you design an attractive family history book combining your data and photos with vintage graphics. You can print it yourself for free or order a bound book with up to 24 pages for $39.95. Missing are narrative reports and an index, two key parts of a family history book.

You can upload your family tree to, but Family Tree Maker offers no tools to create HTML pages for your own Web site.

Our recommendation: Users of older versions of Family Tree Maker should skip this edition and hope for something better next time. Unless graphical family tree charts and posters are a top priority, new users should look at other programs, such as Legacy Family Tree and Roots Magic, which got the basics down pat before trying to do anything fancy.

Vital Statistics

Family Tree Maker 2008

(877) 386-2008 <>

Price: Four versions, from $39.95 to $99.95

Biggest draws: Online searching and a fresh, new look

Drawbacks: Missing charts and reports

Window on Workspaces

Take a look inside Family Tree Maker 2008’s new interface:


From the March 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine.