Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Do Family Tree Maker Users Do Now?

After the announcement yesterday of Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker Software, I wrote my own post ( Announces Retirement of Family Tree Maker software) and offered some observations and questions.  The Ancestry post has over 5,000 comments this morning, almost all negative and angry and sad.  My blog post has 25 comments that range from ho-hum to outrage.  Facebook exploded with comments from Family Tree Maker users on individual posts, in the Family Tree Maker 2014 User Group, and on the Group.  

Now that reality has set in for most of those affected, what can Family Tree Maker users do?

1)  First of all, Family Tree Maker 2014 (and earlier versions) will still work as a genealogy desktop software program.  It won't stop working, at least until new computer operating systems render it dysfunctional, or when your computer fails and you cannot download it or find your Family Tree Maker 2014 CDROM.

I sincerely doubt that they will sell Family Tree Maker software to another company because of the complex web they have weaved with the Ancestry synchronization.

2)  Family Tree Maker 2014 users can synchronize their database with their Ancestry Member Tree at least until 31 December 2016 - we have over one year to do this.  By synchronizing with their Ancestry Member Tree, the attached and uploaded media files in the Ancestry Member Tree are downloaded to your desktop computer.   After 1 January 2017, FTM 2014 may not synchronize with your Ancestry Member Tree.  It might, but it might not - we don't have that announcement yet.

So use it to capture your attached and updated media items before synchronize goes away.

3)  If you have an Ancestry Member Tree with a lot of attached and uploaded media, but don't have Family Tree Maker 2014, then the only way you will be able to efficiently download that media is o obtain Family Tree Maker 2014 and synchronize it with your Ancestry Member Tree and thereby download your attached and uploaded media. 

If this is important to you, you could purchase a copy of it, at least before 31 December 2015.  Or you could use a friend's computer that has FTM 2014, login to your Ancestry account on your friend's computer, synchronize your tree to FTM including the media, and then copy the downloaded file and the Media file folder to a flash drive to install on your computer.

4)  Long term, you need to decide if you want to use another desktop genealogy software program, like Legacy Family Tree (Windows), RootsMagic (Windows or Mac), Ancestral Quest (Windows), Family Tree Builder (Windows or Mac), Reunion (Mac), or another program. 

If you choose to use another desktop program, then you need to create and export a GEDCOM file from within Family Tree Maker 2014, and ensure that the media file links on your computer are transferred in the GEDCOM file export.  When you import the GEDCOM file into your alternate desktop program, be sure that you can see the actual media files, and note where they are located on your computer.

5)  Long term, if you decide not to use another desktop genealogy software program, then you can continue using your Ancestry Member Tree.  After 1 January 20178, you won't be able to sync with Family Tree Maker, but you can still download your Ancestry Member Tree as a GEDCOM file.  However, that GEDCOM file will not have the attached or uploaded media.  

6)  How do the other desktop genealogy software programs compare to Family Tree Maker 2014?  My shortlist of useful features on Family Tree Maker 2014 include:

a)  Can create Evidence Explained source citations using source templates.  However, the source citations created with FTM 2014 templates do not always transfer well via GEDCOM because of custom programming in FTM which is not included in other programs or online trees.  

RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree (are there others?) also have Evidence Explained quality source templates that use custom programming.  I don't know about other desktop software programs that have source templates.

b)  Can synchronize data with an Member Tree (at least until 1 January 2017).  

No other desktop genealogy program can do this with an Ancestry Member Tree.  I sincerely doubt that Ancestry will permit another desktop program to do it.  

At this time, only one other desktop software program can synchronize an entire file with an online tree - Family Tree Builder desktop software synchronizes with a MyHeritage online isolated family tree.

c)  Can create charts and reports.  FTM can create a number of useful charts and reports. can create only a Pedigree Chart (they're still working on a Family Group Sheet). gas a partner to create nicer charts and books in MyCanvas.

Other desktop genealogy programs can create most of the charts that FTM can, and offer other chart or report types.  You can see some examples on their websites.

Some online family tree websites can create charts and reports; FamilySearch Family Tree can create a Pedigree Chart, a Portrait Pedigree Chart, a Fan Chart, a Family Group Sheet, etc.  MyHeritage can create a number of different chart types, or a book, but no lists or reports. 

d)  Can import and export a GEDCOM file to transfer to or from another desktop program. 

All other desktop genealogy programs can import or export a GEDCOM file, but not every program transfers all of the data from another program due to custom programming in each program.

Not all online family trees permit a GEDCOM file import.  Ancestry Member Trees, MyHeritage trees, WikiTree, and others can import a GEDCOM file.  However, the FamilySearch Family Tree and Geni cannot import a GEDCOM file.

e)  Can search from within Family Tree Maker and can add content to or from the Ancestry Member Tree within Family Tree Maker.  

Several other desktop software program can search, and other websites, but none of them can add or capture the information directly to the program or the Ancestry tree.

RootsMagic can search MyHeritage and FamilySearch for matching records, but the user has to add the content by hand.

f)  Cannot transfer information from FTM 2014 to the FamilySearch Family Tree.

RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree and Ancestral Quest can exchange information with the online FamilySearch Family Tree (a universal online tree, as opposed to an isolated online tree like an Ancestry Member Tree).  There may be others in the genealogy software world that I am unaware of.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can access their Ancestry Member Tree and can transfer information to or from the FamilySearch Family Tree. This may become available in the future to all Ancestry users, not just LDS church members.  If it does, then users could add information to their Ancestry Member Tree from the FamilySearch Family Tree, or vice versa.

7)  Fortunately, this event does not affect how I do my genealogy research and documentation at all.  I changed from Family Tree Maker 16 to RootsMagic in 2008, and have chosen to add ALL of my genealogy information to RootsMagic.  When I find a record on Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, etc., I download the record image, add it to my surname and family file folders, and create events and attach the image to persons in my RootsMagic database.  I chose to craft almost all of my source citations as free-form citations in order to avoid the custom programming of the desktop programs (which mangles the source data in GEDCOM transfers).  

I did buy and use Family Tree Maker 2014 (and earlier versions) so that I could use its unique capabilities, and to upload my RootsMagic GEDCOM into FTM 2014 (which included the attached media), and then synced that to a new Ancestry Member Tree.  This enabled me to add media to my Ancestry Member Tree.  I will lose that functionality at some point due to this change.

8)  That's more than enough, I think.  If readers have questions, please comment on this blog post or send me an email.  Stay tuned!

Obviously, if you are not a Family Tree Maker software user, and don't have an Ancestry Member Tree, your genealogy life will continue as it is.

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post.  Or contact me by email at


Linda Stufflebean said...

Randy, I love that you know so much about the user details of the various programs. This is one of the most helpful posts I've seen even though I myself had already chosen to migrate over to RootsMagic before yesterday's announcement. Thank you!

Dav Murray said...

Thanks for the write-up on this - and also for all the other things you share. (First time commenter here.)

I guess I am not surprised by this rather major development, but I have heard questioning comments about true interest. Frankly, I agree - they are about the money first and last.

For myself - I am not a fan of the 'cloud'. That ought to be a back-up storage option, and where you can interact with others. I had (and do) have Family Tree Maker, but will moving my data over to both Legacy and RootsMagic, and will avoiding as much as I can in the future.

It's a pity. What I had there was useful to others, and several copied images I had shared. I welcomed that, and now this will be gone. With a large family tree, I was about to build more fully my kinship list from Edward III of England, and now - shall not have access. Therefore - nothing for others.

Leah Smith said...

Thank you, Randy. I have no plans to ditch Family Tree Maker any time soon, and maybe not ever. I will learn to use a different desktop genealogy software program after trying a couple and weighing the pros and cons, but I will continue to use FTM for it's publishing capabilities at least.

My concern is that Ancestry may be just the first of the major companies to opt for cloud only trees. (It may be time to update to a new version of TNG.) I plan to take spend the next twelve months checking out hints and downloading documents from Ancestry to my computer, learning all the various consequences of Ancestry's decision, and taking whatever steps I need to take to preserve my research.

I look forward to reading more posts on this subject from you and other informed genealogists.

John McCall said...

Very helpful Randy. In fact, when I heard the news about FTM last evening my first thought was to ask you how best to work with it,, FamilySearch and Rootsmagic (which has been my main program for years). Is it worth scooping Ancestry hints into FTM while we can and then exporting individuals or clusters back into RM with the attached sources? I'm just not sure yet. Thanks again - we'll stay tuned.

Genbook said...

Well written and thought out. I have a "master" database on my desktop machine; mirror it to a laptop, can see it on my iPad. I also store up to date copies in several cloud locations. I use Ancestry and FamilySearch trees as cousin bait. While I love the ease that clouds provide, we have a flaky local provider that several times a month is offline/down for extended periods. I would no more have an "online-only" tree in a commercial or free host, than I would fly.

mbm1311 said...

I think you make an excellent point about how to create sources that have the best likelihood of transferring between programs.

Also I have a question on notes. Do they transfer from FTM to RootsMagic with out a problem? I'm not in a hurry to change from FTM but I will be using another software as a mirror to FTM which I also like for report and publishing capabilities. Also I will have to study up and see I can easily create the same LOOKING reports on Roots Magic. I know you and many love RootsMagic but the word I find it old fashion. Old fashion look, old fashion experience. IMHO RM doesn't need to change it's program but it does needs stylist.

theKiwi said...

Ancestral Quest also has a Macintosh version - it works the same way as RootsMagic and Family Tree Builder by being bundled into a custom version of CrossOver. See

Unlike RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest requires a separate license fee for Windows and Macintosh.


purrfectquilts said...

This was very helpful and I thank you. One dumb question: what does "free form citation" mean?

Also would like to know if any of these alternative genealogy tree maker programs allow one to keep the tree private if desired. I've looked at the descriptions of each software and emailed the companies. No one answered and the descriptions do not say. Before purchasing that would be good to know.

Gary Fredericksen said...

This is an excellent review. One other thought it that over the next year Ancestry will migrate some/many/most of the features of FTM into Ancestry. They have always needed to maintain product differentiation in order to sell FTM but now they don't need to do that. Over the next year we will see how much of this will come to pass. That could well change our decisions too.

Keith Riggle said...

Great point about most desktop apps mangling source citations in their GEDCOM files. That's not all they mangle, unfortunately. Family Tree Maker and other apps don't comply with the GEDCOM standard perfectly. You can lose data when you export to a GEDCOM file without even realizing it. I recommend people use a GEDCOM validator like or to see where the problems are in their files before they import them into a new app or the cloud. Fix the problems you can first. For example, FTM improperly exports AKAs using the ALIA tag. Some other apps know this and will nicely import the AKAs for you, but others will just drop them. Therefore, I don't use the "Also Known As" field in FTM. The following fields are also not recognized in the GEDCOM standard: arrival, civil, degree, elected, employment, organization; there are probably others. Also, the only thing allowed in the Description field for most events (birth, death, marriage, etc.) is the letter Y if the date and place fields are blank; otherwise, the Description should be left blank, and anything you might want to put there should go into a note field. The bottom line is that you shouldn't just export your FTM file to GEDCOM and import it into another app or website without checking it first.

jz said...

One thing I have yet to see discussed much is what it means if you are a remote user with very little and slow bandwidth. Moving to an online - in the cloud FTM application won't work. Thanks for this good article. Lots more discussion will happen between now and when the plug is pulled

Rain Man said...

One of the better (ok, the best) blog posts about FTM retirement. Thanks

Like purrfectquilts, I would also like to know how you implement these "custom events" as one of my needs is to feed gedcoms to TNG.

Do you have a post on this, or will you consider one to explain them?
Thanks again.

Rain Man said...

.. silly me. You have a site search with TONS of hits for custom events!
Nevermind. :-o

Bill Boyd said...

Very good coverage of many facets of Ancestry's decision. A couple other points from a long-time FTM/Ancestry user. There is a function to check the validity of media files and to re-download all of them to FTM. Simply go to the Media browser screen and press -F5. I have used this to fix errors and "missing" media files in FTM. Ancestry also allows media, identified as a document, to have a description and transcription comment added. BOTH are not synchronized with FTM. Oh, and one final note; a GEDCOM exported from will NOT have media images. A GEDCOM exported from FTM can also include media. Good luck!

judygengenie said...

This blog has been very helpful to this abandoned FTM user with over 15 years of work and 15,000 individuals. My file has thousands of facts, stories, obits, marriages announcements, newspaper articles and on and on. I am searching for an FTM replacement but so far I can only get any Master Source to transfer. Neither Roots Magic or Legacy import additional info: e.g. 1930 Federal Census. The 1930 Federal Census transfers but the additional items such as Enumeration District, Ward, County, State and Sheet info is lost. It would take me years and years to update all this info in a new program. I get sick to my stomach as I love genealogy and this announcement means I guess I have to stop and forget it. If anyone has any ideas I would be so happy to hear your comments.

RebeccaRoss said...

I still have Family Tree Maker 2012, and never upgraded to 2014. Do you think there is a reason to upgrade now? Is it better to have the most up to date software before they stop selling it? Would this help increase my chances of having better GEDCOMs that I could import to other programs in the future? Thanks!

Sandra Mitsler said...

Is still going to exist? I actually use the web-based Ancestry because I like the way it functions better than the software.

I do use the PC-based Ancestry to sync, of course, and for reports, even though I haven't done that for a while since I can't find a report I actually like.

OR, am I going t need to switch to another ancestry web site? Thank you...

Paul H said...

For late comers like me to your blog and this post may I also recommend Heredis software? You can see it at One reason I choose this is that is has a native OSX version which is an important factor for me in deciding what to move away from FTM. I like OSX software and don't like the visual and UI features of Windows apps running under OSX. Just my preference of course. Heredis imported my FTM Gedcom file with only a few minor quirks that were easily ironed out. One unique feature it has is that it copies any media files into its own database, rather than just linking to a file. I haven't quite made up my mind if I really like this feature or not, but once you realise this is how it works, the it is OK.

The reporting capabilities don't seem quite up to FTM standards but are adequate for most users.

Like everyone else I am extremely disappointed that Ancestry have dropped support for FTM. We are all going to move at some stage so better to do it earlier in my view. My subscription is due to renew next month but I refuse to pay them any more money. The renewal cost is about USD300 and I simply refuse to pay that amount for such reduced functionality.