The best family tree makers keep a lot of balls in the air: ease of use, data management, powerful research tools, high-quality charting and scrapbooking. Family Tree Maker comes as close to pulling it off as any program I’ve reviewed, receiving no grades below an A– in testing. While it didn’t come out on top, because of some missing features and some small issues with GEDCOM accuracy, it is still among the best options available for expert genealogists as well as beginners.
Ease of Use
Family Tree Maker received an A– on the GEDCOM tests. In these tests, I imported four GEDCOM files and evaluated the accuracy of the imported information, including the attached media files. Issues with the media files led to the low A grade. The individual information in the genealogy records, including the pedigree relationships, was very accurate, but in several instances media files (photos and text) were attached to the incorrect individual or missing altogether.
Navigating the interface earned Family Tree Maker an A+ for ease of use. Only Family Historian received a similar grade. The design is clean and modern but never gets overwhelming. The interface design is almost completely modeless – few features require opening new windows – making it nearly impossible to get lost in the program. Even if you do lose your place, an index of all the names appears in a module to the left, making it easy to find your way back to the initial person you were working on.
The software received an A+ for data entry efficiency. I tested for this by timing how long it took me to enter the information of 10 individuals. Largely because of its modeless interface, Family Tree Maker allowed me to complete the task in just under five minutes total. Data entry was seamless and required the fewest mouse clicks of all the tested software. The average time it took to enter the same information on the other ancestry software programs was between 12 and 14 minutes. Only Family Historian was as efficient as Family Tree Maker on this task.
The charts received an A for quality. Family Tree Maker lacks the style and variety of modern sites like Ancestry.com, but the charts’ lines are clean and the boxes are elegant. I especially liked the charting controls, which include information for each chart type, including a description of how genealogists typically use the chart. For example, it explains that an hourglass chart places an individual at the center and displays the person’s ancestors above and descendants below. In addition, you can color code boxes to mark various family lines and upload background images to add some flair to your charts.
The software also has 27 types of reports to help you tell your family story. It includes a genealogy book tool for combining charts and individual reports into a book format. You can then share the book with family via PDF or print it out, or even combine it with one of the best photo book services to create something unique. The tool even connects you to an online printer to make professionally bound copies.
Family Tree Maker’s scrapbooking tools received an A+ because this program emphasizes the management of family stories, a facet of genealogy too often overlooked. It does so by putting the scrapbooking tools at the top of the interface. You don’t have to go searching for the media tool for attaching photos, videos, audio and stories. The location mapping tool is also in the toolbar, letting you track your ancestors’ travels to new regions. You can also link websites to individuals, connecting them to social media accounts or archived news stories.
The data management isn’t without fault. It doesn’t provide warnings for potentially incorrect information, such as a death date that precedes the same person’s birth, resulting in what would be an apparent time traveler. It also doesn’t automatically back up your data when you close the program. Both issues are minor, however, especially if you have your own consistency checks and backup programs.
Family Tree Maker is one of the best all-around genealogy software programs available, striking a balance among ease of use, chart quality and scrapbooking. The interface is among the best designed and most efficient I reviewed. Family Tree Maker is missing a few key features, such as warnings and hints, but it’s otherwise it’s a great program for recording and telling your family’s story.