Top 10 Genealogy Software Tricks

By Rick Crume Premium

Genealogy software is like many other technology tools: It has all kinds of features tucked away in options and menus, but most users stick with what’s right in front of them. The most popular genealogy programs on the market have tools to help you customize the software, cite your sources, organize your research and more. But if you’re a typical genealogy software user, you don’t take advantage of all of those capabilities.

If you want to become a better, more-efficient researcher, don’t overlook these 10 useful features. We’ll explain how they work in three popular desktop programs—Family Tree Maker 2012, Legacy Family Tree 7.5 and RootsMagic 6—so you can make your family tree software work for you.

1. Customize your views.

You might want to see different data fields for your ancestors depending on what type of records you’re using. Or maybe it’ll help you to see more ancestors at once or put your most-used features where you can access them fast. Follow these steps:

Family Tree Maker: The Family tab shows an index of names on the left, along with pedigree and family views in the middle. By default, the editing panel on the right shows just birth, marriage and death information. If you routinely record other types of information on your family, you can customize the editing panel to show them. Maybe you’re researching in church records, which typically give details on christening, baptism and burial, rather than birth and death. To add these items to the editing panel, click on Customize View at the lower right and add Christening (or Baptism) and Burial. Then you can put the facts in chronological order—Birth, Christening, Marriage, Death, Burial. Click OK and now all the facts you regularly use will appear in Person view.

Legacy Family Tree: You can customize just about anything in Legacy. Pick Customize from the Options menu and choose preferred file locations, screen fonts, report fonts, date format and more. To tweak the pedigree view, right-click anywhere on the background. Then you can toggle between a 4- or 5-generation display, change the color scheme and more.

RootsMagic: To customize People view, click the People tab and then Customize This View. Then you can add or remove columns to display. For instance, if you don’t use individual record numbers, you could remove that column. If you have information on christening for many people, you could add Christen Date and Christen Place.

You also can customize the toolbar. For example, the Search menu has an option to jump to the root person of the tree. If you’d like to access that function faster, add it to the toolbar: Right-click with your mouse on the toolbar and select Customize. Select the Commands tab and click on Search in the list of categories. Then hold down the left-mouse button and drag the button for Go to Root Person to any position on the toolbar.

To remove a button from the toolbar, right-click with the mouse on the toolbar and select Customize, then drag the button off the toolbar.

2. Open multiple family files (or multiple copies of a file).

It’s handy to view two copies of the same family file on the screen at once if, for instance, you want to see how two people in different branches of your tree are related. If you received a GEDCOM file from another researcher, you might want to import the information into a separate file and compare it with your own file before merging the two.

Family Tree Maker: To open a second file, go to the File menu, select Open and choose a file. (Or, in the Plan Workspace, right-click on a file under Trees and select Open Tree in New Window.) To see pedigree and family views from both files on the same screen, you might want to close the left and right panes in both files by dragging them shut with your mouse. Then resize both windows.

Legacy Family Tree: You can have up to seven family or pedigree windows open at the same time. Select Split Screen View from the View menu. Then you’ll be asked if you want to open a different family file in the new window. Answer no to view different parts of the same file at once, or yes to open another file.

To copy information from one family file to another, just drag a name from either the family or pedigree view to the position where you want it to appear in the other file.

RootsMagic: Select Open or Open Recent from the File menu, choose a file, and RootsMagic automatically resizes all the open files to fill the window. Just drag a person to copy information from one file to the other. The program will ask you which people you want to copy. If you copy someone who’s already in the destination file, RootsMagic can automatically merge the two records.

3. Create new fact types.

Want to record information about an ancestor that isn’t in your program’s list of predefined fact types? Create a custom fact type.

Family Tree Maker: Select the Person tab and click on the blue plus sign to add a fact. Hit the New button and choose from the options.

Legacy Family Tree: To add an event definition, open an Individual’s Information window and hit the Add button under Events/Facts. Click the down arrow beside Event/Fact, then click the Add button. Use the options to define the new event.

RootsMagic: Select Fact Type List from the Lists menu. Click on Design New Fact Type and you can create a new individual or family fact type. Look in RootsMagic’s help file under the topic “Sentence Template Language” for help wording sentences with the new fact type.

4. Speed up source citation.

It’s important to record where you found your information so you can verify its accuracy and be sure you’re researching the right ancestors. This isn’t the most exciting part of genealogy, but your software’s tools can help you cite sources efficiently.

Family Tree Maker: If you find several family members in the same source, such as a census record, first cite the source for one person. In the Sources tab of the Information pane, highlight the source and click on the icon to copy the source. (It’s a picture of two copies of a page.)

Then create the same census fact for another person and highlight the fact. In the Sources tab of the Information pane, click on the down arrow by New.

Finally, select Paste Duplicate Source Citation to create a separate citation you can edit without affecting the original. Or select Paste Link to Source Citation without creating a new copy.

Legacy Family Tree: To copy a fact, highlight it in the Individual’s Information window and click the Edit button. Click on the button with two pages to copy the event to the clipboard. Click on the books icon to view the source citation. Then hit the icon on the left with two pages to Copy Source to Clipboard. Click on Close and Save.

Navigate to someone who will have the same fact, and open the individual window. Under Events/Facts, hit the Add button. Click the icon with a clipboard and paper to Paste Event from Clipboard. Then click the blue minus sign button to add the clipboard source to the current field. Edit it as necessary and click the Save button. Then hit the Save button to close the Individual window.

RootsMagic: Use MultiCite to apply a master source to multiple people at once. (A master source is a general source for a person, not just for a single fact.) Select Source List from the Lists menu. Highlight the source you want to apply to multiple people, and click the MultiCite button. Select people in the window that appears. (You can type in a last name, comma and first name to jump to someone.) Check the person’s box. Click the Mark Group button to select the highlighted person’s family, ancestors or descendants, too. Click the OK button. Optionally, add source details to each person to whom you added this master source.

5. Find relatives faster.

As your family file grows larger, it becomes harder to keep track of everyone. Use your genealogy software’s tools to search by name, date, place and other criteria.

Family Tree Maker: Select Find Individual from the Edit menu. This rudimentary tool searches the date, place and description fields for only one fact type at a time. Click on the Name button, select a fact type and enter a value in the blank. For example, select Military Service and enter Civil War. Click on the Find button and you’ll get a list of matching persons. Highlight a name and click the Go To button to go to that person.

Legacy Family Tree: Select Find from the Search menu and then the Query by Example tab. You can search on a name, a date or place of birth, christening, death and burial, and other options. For example, type Michigan in the Died In box and select the In button to find any place of death that contains Michigan. Then hit either the Find First or Create List button.

To search on multiple criteria, select Find from the Search button and click on the Detailed Search tab. For example, here’s how to find everyone in the file who was born in the town of South Worcester before 1870: As the first condition, select Birth Date under Where to Look and Before under How to Look. Enter 1870 in the box. Check the box for Second Condition and select And. For the Second Condition, select Birth Place and Contains. Enter South Worcester in the box. Then hit either the Find First or Create List button.

RootsMagic: Click on the magnifying glass on the toolbar and hit the Find button to search on multiple criteria. To find everyone in your file who was born between 1900 and 1910 in Pennsylvania, select Birth, Date and Is After in the first line, and enter 1900 in the box. In the second line, select And, Birth, Date and Is Before, and enter 1910 in the box. In the third line, select And, Birth, Place and Contains, and enter Pennsylvania in the box. Click OK. Use the Next button to view the matches one by one.

To find text anywhere in names, places, notes, sources, media, to-do items and research logs, select Find Everywhere from the Search menu. For example, enter gold in the first search box, select And on the second line and enter mine in the box to find both terms anywhere in your file.

6. Search for relatives online.

You can save time finding relatives online by letting your software search for you. To see full results in subscription databases such as and World Vital Records, you’ll need to be a subscriber.

Family Tree Maker: This program automatically searches’s databases for information on people in your family file. A green leaf beside the person’s name in Pedigree view indicates a match was found. Hover your mouse cursor over the leaf to see the number of matches from records and trees. Click on a link to view the matches. Family Tree Maker comes with a free trial subscription to, but once the trial period is over, you’ll need a subscription to see match details.

To search for information on someone in your tree, highlight the name in pedigree view and click the Web Search button on the toolbar. You can search, RootsWeb,, Google, Yahoo! or Bing.

Legacy Family Tree: Highlight a name in family or pedigree view, go to the Internet menu and select Search Internet for the Current Person. You can search subscription sites, including and World Vital Records, as well as free sites, such as RootsWeb and Click the Customize Searches button to change a site’s search parameters.

RootsMagic: Highlight a name from just about any view and click the WebSearch tab. Select from both free and subscription sites. To add a different site, select Manage Search Providers, click on the Custom Search Providers tab and hit the Add button.

7. Create to-do lists.

It’s easy to forget research tasks that occurred to you while you were doing something else, or lose the name of the book you need to get from the library. You can use your software to organize your genealogy to-dos.

Family Tree Maker: To create a list of research tasks for a person, highlight the name in Family view and click the Person tab. Then select the Tasks tab below the person’s facts and click on New. You can prioritize tasks and mark them as completed. To plan a general task, go to the Plan workspace, look in the Tasks window and click New. You can organize tasks by category or location.

Legacy Family Tree: In any view, right-click on a name and select Edit to open the Individual’s Information window. You’ll see seven icons to the right of the Surname box. Click on the second one from the right, which looks like a to-do list. Select either Individual To-Dos or General To-Dos from the drop-down list and hit the Add button to create a new task. You can organize tasks by category and place, and set reminders.

RootsMagic: Double-click on a name to open the Edit Person view and click the To-Do List button. Hit the Add task button to create a person or family task. You can indicate a repository associated with the task and prioritize tasks on a scale from 1 (highest) to 9 (lowest). When you’ve completed a task, you can transfer it to a research log to keep track of research you’ve done.

To create a general to-do item, select To-Do List from the Lists menu and hit Add Task.

8. Attach media to your tree.

Bring your family tree to life and add evidence of your research finds by attaching photos, digitized records, sound and video files to events and sources in your family file. You could attach a JPG photo of a gravestone or a PDF file of a census record so you can immediately refer to that source. Usually these attachments can’t be included in reports, but you can view or listen to them. Double-click on a media file to open it with whatever program is associated with that file type.

The three genealogy programs covered here let you attach a media item to a fact (an event), a master source or a source citation. They also let you attach pictures and other media files directly to persons. RootsMagic founder Bruce Buzbee offers these guidelines for where to attach a media item:

• Attach it to the event if it is a picture related to the event, such as a baby picture for a birth, or the place where a person worked for an occupation.
• Attach it to the source if it’s a picture that will work for all citations to that source, such as a birth certificate you are using as a source for multiple people. (Family Tree Maker suggests attaching the title page of a book or a photograph of a cemetery to a source.)
• Attach it to the citation if it’s a picture that’s unique to that particular citation, such as a specific page from a book.

The steps for attaching media to a fact, a master source or a source citation in these programs are a bit complicated.
Here’s how it works:

Family Tree Maker: To attach a media file to a fact, go to the People workspace and click on the Person tab, then click on the fact to highlight it. In the Information pane on the right, select the Media tab. Click on the down arrow to the right of New, and select either Add New Media or Link to Existing Media. (If you don’t see the Media tab there, click Options and select Show Fact Media.)

To attach a media file to a source, select Manage Sources from the Edit menu. Select a source and click Edit, then click the Media tab. Then you can Attach New Media or Link to Existing Media.

To attach a media file to a source citation, highlight a fact, then look in the editing pane and select the Sources tab. To open the Edit Source Citation window, either double-click on the source or click on it once and then click on the pencil icon. Click on the Media tab and then either Attach New Media or Link to Existing Media to select a file that’s already been added to your tree.

Legacy Family Tree: To attach a media file to a fact, double-click a name in Family or Pedigree view to open the Individual’s Information window. Click an event (fact) to highlight it and click the Edit button. Then click the icon that looks like a portrait of two people and choose your file.

To attach a media item to a master source or source citation, open an Individual’s Information window and click the books icon to open the person’s Assigned Sources. Highlight a source and select the Pictures tab below. Then you can attach a media item to the master source or the source detail.

RootsMagic: To attach a media item to a fact, open the Edit Person window. Click in a fact’s media column (the one headed by a camera icon) to attach a media item to the fact. When a media item is attached to a fact, a green check mark appears in the fact’s media column.

A green checkmark in a fact’s sources column (the one headed by a certificate icon) indicates that the fact has at least one source. To attach a media item to a master source or to a source citation, click in the fact’s sources column or highlight a fact and click on the Sources button in the details section to the right. Click on the Edit button and then on the Media tab. Select from the options to attach the media item to Source and Detail, Source Only or Detail Only.

9. Put your family tree online.

Posting family information online makes it easy to share with relatives and “catch” other genealogists researching your family. Software tools range from web-ready reports to syncing with online trees.

Family Tree Maker: Although it can’t create reports for your own website, Family Tree Maker lets you synchronize your family tree with a Member Tree on If you make your tree public, subscribers can view it. To upload your tree to, click on Upload and Link to Ancestry on the Plan workspace or click on Share in the upper right-hand corner of the People workspace.

Legacy Family Tree: Legacy gives you great flexibility to create reports in five styles to post on your website. In family or pedigree view, highlight the starting person for your report and select Create Web Pages from the Internet menu or Internet icon on the toolbar. Select a Web Page Style (ancestor, descendant, pedigree, family group or individual) and go through all the tabs to customize your report. You can specify the number of generations to include and optionally include pictures, notes and source citations.

RootsMagic: To generate reports for your own website, highlight the starting person for your report, go to the Internet menu and select Create HTML Files. Report options include family group sheets, pedigree charts and ancestor and descendant books.

Now you also can publish your family tree for free at Select Publish Online from the Internet menu and optionally include facts, photos, sources and notes. If you uncheck “Include everyone in my file,” you can specify how many generations of a person’s ancestors or descendants to include. The reports are attractive, but you can create only one tree and it can’t exceed 50MB. The reports are created on the fly, too, so they’re not indexed by Google or other search engines.

10. Use more than one program.

Why would you use multiple genealogy programs? To take advantage of the best features of each one. You might choose one program just for data entry, for example, and periodically export an updated file to other programs via a GEDCOM file (that’s the universal file format major genealogy programs use to exchange information with other programs). Or you might keep a working tree in one program and export a GEDCOM to another program when your research has confirmed your conclusions. All three of the programs covered here import some other programs’ file formats directly, so you may be able to avoid using a GEDCOM transfer. These are some of the strengths each program offers you:

Family Tree Maker: You might want to take advantage of Family Tree Maker’s automatic searches of for records pertaining to people in your tree. Family Tree Maker also produces attractive wall charts that are ideal for sharing your tree with relatives.

Legacy Family Tree: For producing well-designed reports and recording your ongoing research, it’s hard to beat Legacy’s family group sheets and pedigree charts. Creating your own website to showcase your tree takes some effort, but Google and other search engines will index your site, making it easier for anyone to view.

RootsMagic: Its quick program launch, uncluttered screens, helpful guidance for documenting sources and overall ease of use make RootsMagic an ideal program for entering family information. It handles those core functions so well that it’s a good choice for your main program.

Vital Statistics

Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Maker for Mac

• Manufacturer:
• Price: $39.99-$69.95, includes trial subscription to
• Native file format: .FTW
• Imports: Legacy Family Tree, The Master Genealogist, Personal Ancestral File (PAF), GEDCOM 5.5
• Latest version: 2012 (Windows), 2 (Mac)
• Try it free: Not available
Legacy Family Tree Deluxe

• Manufacturer: Millennia Corp.
• Price: $29.95-$39.95
• Native file format: .FDB
• Compatibility: Imports PAF, GEDCOM
• Latest version: 7.0
• Try it free: Legacy Family Tree standard version

• Manufacturer: RootsMagic
• Price: $29.95
• Native file format: .RMGC
• Compatibility: Imports Family Tree Maker 16 and earlier, Family Origins 4 and later, Legacy Family Tree 2 and later, FamilySearch Family Tree, PAF 2.x and later, GEDCOM 5.5
• Latest version: 6
• Try it free: RootsMagic Essentials
Tip: Using keyboard shortcuts can speed up data entry. Download our cheat sheet of computer keyboard shortcuts.
Tip: Check the options in your genealogy software’s Tools menu. Most programs can check your file for potential problems and inconsistencies, such as duplicate individuals,
a parent born after a child and nonstandard place names.

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