Pros / The multiple web-enabled features keep you connected to popular genealogy search sites like Ancestry and MyHeritage.

Cons / It does not support in-program searches of FamilySearch.

 Verdict / Family Tree Maker has a clean and easy-to-use interface with enough features to help you find and store thousands of family members in one place.

The best genealogy software helps beginners understand and research like pros. Family Tree Maker is easy enough for novices but provides tools strong enough for pros to use. The program guides you through important steps like importing and exporting GEDCOM files and creating charts of your family history. Beginners can quickly learn the best methods for organization, citation and charting. Easily one of the best genealogy software packages, Family Tree Maker, by the Software MacKiev Company, wins our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award for its flexible guidance that assists rather than simply instructs.

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Web Capabilities

Family Tree Maker connects to Ancestry.com's extensive database and community. One of its star features, TreeSync, synchronizes the trees you create in the software with your Ancestry.com account. When you make changes in the software, the changes carry over to your online profile. This is especially useful if you're a member of Ancestry.com's active community. This feature is optional, so you can choose to keep your information private or hide sections of your family tree.

You can also export and import entire GEDCOM files, single branches and reports directly into Family Tree Maker or Ancestry.com. We like the sharing capabilities, especially with reports and charts, because you can quickly sift through other people's work and get ideas for your own projects. When you share your work, you have more opportunities to get tips and tricks from experienced users.

When we charted a family using Family Tree Maker, the software generated hints for over half the people in our database. These web hints appear whenever the software finds matching or similar data on Ancestry.com. Available records include census, military and marriage documents, and you can also access yearbooks and old school photos. However, you won’t be able to dig into all of these resources without connecting to a genealogy search database such as Ancestry or MyHeritage, which may require a membership or subscription. Family Tree Maker is not compatible with FamilySearch, so you can't search that site directly from within the software, but it does allow you designate when it is a source of information and cite it within the program.

As we tested this family history software, we created GEDCOM files to import into the program. This is the most common file format that software and online family tree databases use for easily sharing information between programs. The GEDCOM test files we created had 68 different individuals, all connected as a family. When we imported these files into Family Tree Maker, all the information correctly transferred, and each text field was correctly auto-populated; we didn’t have to edit any of the information. The one issue we had was that the primary individual – the first person we entered in the GEDCOM file for the family tree that all other family members connected to – wasn’t displayed as the primary individual when we opened the file in Family Tree Maker. Instead, that person’s father was made the default primary individual.

Creating Connections

Family Tree Maker lets you enter information directly in your family tree. You complete standard pedigree charts with family information, including birth, death and marriage dates, as well as extra information like notes and medical records. It only takes a click to bring up a family member's profile and enter data such as remarriages, divorces and annulments.
The list maintains your family tree in a pedigree format to make it easy to enter information and follow through the generations. You can customize the required data for each person. For example, you can focus on a certain feature of your family like immigration or military service. You can even link people to multiple marriages or intermarriages with this program. Child entry options include stepchildren and adoptive or foster children.

Family Tree Maker gives you access to a physical map of your ancestors’ migrations and origins. The more information you complete on your pedigree charts, the more places are pinpointed on the map. As you move down your family line, you can see how your family got you where you are today. You can view your map in 2D, 3D, aerial or road view. A virtual map like this fits well with ancestor narratives and provides a clear demonstration of a family member's travels.

This program alerts you if you enter any information that may be wrong. For example, we added a child with a birthdate very close to his mother's. Family Tree Maker notified us that the mother would have been under 13 years old at the time she had the child, prompting us to recheck the date.

You can also add same-sex marriages in the program. However, it is a tricky process to connect same-sex couples, since the program adds a spouse of the opposite sex by default. To correct this, we needed to add individuals separately and then connect them as spouses.

Charting Capabilities

Family Tree Maker has 10 types of printable charts and 27 reports. You can combine these publications to create full books about your ancestry. Whether your genealogical research is personal or academic, publishing features are an important component to good genealogy software. Books, reports and charts are the best ways to help others with family history research overlapping yours and leave keepsakes for your own family. This genealogy software is also capable of displaying PDF images and simplified exports.

Each type of chart or report comes with a different menu for customizing fonts, colors and background themes. The skeleton of the chart is adjustable as well. You can change the spacing between names and number of generations, and you can add family photos to the chart. The backgrounds and embellishments come standard with Family Tree Maker. You can add images and backgrounds from a series of themes like seasons, symbols or words, as well as images centered on different occupations or ethnicities, military, the outdoors or tapestry patterns.

Citation & Organization

Recording and citing sources can be intimidating, but the software gives you standard fields to enter about your source and creates a citation for you. This saves time and teaches beginners how to cite sources properly. Family Tree Maker provides templates for common sources like cemetery, census, state and church records.

For example, a report card from your grandmother's elementary school fits the school records template. From there, the data fields prompt you for related information like class year, institution, record-holder names and comments. This is especially convenient if you’re doing professional or academic genealogical research. The sources tab serves as a repository for all your sources. When you add multimedia to Family Tree Maker, you can tag each entry with a caption, date and description. All of the videos, images, stories and other bits of information are collected in the media tab, which keeps your documents and other files organized and accessible.

Family Tree Maker has practical tools like a to-do list. This feature is best for the ambitious genealogist in need of a virtual assistant. Within this feature, you can create a task, such as "Find Jane Smith's birth certificate." From there, you can assign a priority level to each task and keep track of the tasks you've completed and the kinds of tasks you have yet to complete. This task list is also a helpful tool for collaboration with other genealogists. Others can access your list in the GEDCOM file and help you with tasks or add suggestions for further work.

Help & Support

Because this program is so intuitive, it's easy to breeze through tasks without consulting the help section. Though the help section within the software has some useful information, all the in-depth info is online, with a FAQs page and a phone number and email to contact customer support. Training and video tutorials for Family Tree Maker are available on the website or through the help menu. If you order the software on a disc instead of as a direct download, you also get a printed companion guide with extra tips and tricks. Family Tree Maker is compatible with other types of genealogy software, so even if your family on the other side of the country uses a different program, you can send them your work and collaborate. The software is also compatible with both Mac and PC operating systems.

Summary

Family Tree Maker has extensive sourcing, reporting and research features accessible through clearly marked tabs, as well as plenty of other features to satisfy both advanced and beginning genealogists. Data entry is easy and flexible, and if you still have a lot of research to do, this genealogy software connects with the data powerhouse Ancestry.com. It works best through Ancestry, but you'll need a full membership to the site to get the most out of this software because many documents are for Ancestry.com members only.

It doesn’t allow in-program searching of FamilySearch, but it acknowledges when you use FamilySearch as a source. The tools and features allow you to easily collect, store and organize thousands of family members' information. With its diverse tools and flexible access to an enormous database of names, this is easily one of the best family tree software packages available.

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