I’ve been asked, encouraged and otherwise prompted to write about the announced demise of Family Tree Maker (FTM) genealogy software by Ancestry.com. I’ve put off writing for three reasons: many people, much more knowledgeable than I, have already written very informative pieces; I don’t know that much about Family Tree Maker; and I don’t relate to all the excitement and panic (yes panic) I hear and see posted in comments on the subject. I’ve reconsidered this last reason (after some introverted thought processing) and decided to address Ancestry’s announcement after all.

Back in December 2014 a company called Wholly Genes made a similar announcement about a software program I have used for over a decade… The Master Genealogist (TMG). I still use it every day. I began using TMG after the software I used prior – Ultimate Family Tree (UFT) – was discontinued after being bought by Genealogy.com in 2003. UFT was soon dropped by Genealogy.com – ironically, in favor of Family Tree Maker. I know of people that still use UFT today!

So, it is my perception that the worry encumbering some people now about FTM is totally unnecessary because it is NORMAL for this to happen. Look at Oldsmobile for a non-tech related example. After they announced the end of that model line in 2004, did GM remove them from the road? Did the cars all of a sudden stop operating?  If so, I missed the news; but I do still see Oldsmobiles on the road a lot. Did people worry enough to go out and buy a replacement car without taking time to research what might be best for their situation? I think not, but then I guess some may have; I just don’t know any personally. But as more years pass I know I’ll see fewer and fewer Oldsmobiles.

So, a “non-event” to me, the announcement of something that in my personal experience is NORMAL, is obviously not normal to many others. So my thoughts turned to an old adage I live by, (but often need reminding about…) is this: To always remember what it was like before I knew what I know now. So, the remainder of this article is my advice to the perplexed FTM users out there for whom this is a new predicament.

Don’t Panic – FTM is not going to stop working all of a sudden. It won’t un-install from your computer. Nor will your records be stolen or removed on some secret date. It will likely survive a number of operating system updates. Peace… be still.

Don’t be angry – It’s not healthy for you and anger doesn’t help or change anything.

Don’t make a quick change – Plan to wait before making a decision – as time goes on, more and better replacement solutions will emerge. In the case of FTM – other companies have already jumped on the opportunity to gain new customers and are offering discounts to switch now. But hold off! Ancestry has intentions to open their on-line family tress syncing secrets to developers and this will undoubtedly open more and better choices that we haven’t even thought of yet.

Look at the time line – You have years. Full support for FTM will continue “at least” to the end of this new year. Even that doesn’t mean it goes away, stops working, or you lose your data. Remember, TMG still works fine for me and there are people still running UFT twelve years after its demise. Oldsmobiles are still being driven on the roads.

In the meantime…
Keep informed – reading articles like this is helpful. Learn from others’ experiences. If you are a genealogist, use the search and re-search skills you’ve honed for family research to find articles. I am not going to provide a list here of specific FTM alternatives for two reasons. I don’t know Family Tree Maker well at all and wouldn’t even know what to look for to advise you. Second, new alternatives in this dynamic situation will cause any list I create to be outdated almost as soon as I hit the “publish” button.

What I will do is give you examples of my TMG experience.

Soon after Wholly Genes made their announcement about TMG a year ago, two companies emerged as potential replacements; Legacy Family Tree and RootsMagic. Both claimed direct import of TMG project data (a big benefit since transferring TMG data didn’t require GEDCom export/import and the inherent potential for missing information). Both offered discounts to users who switched. A year ago, there was no clear comparison data of these solutions because not enough time had passed. However, I did download and install both of their “free” versions to get a feel for the user interfaces and performance. I liked Legacy well enough to recommend to a newbie friend who was just starting collecting data on his family.

Now a year later, I revisited the TMG replacement solutions. My findings are a little different. There are still the same two contenders; however, there is now real comparison data of user experience and reviews. From that research I decided to purchase RootsMagic (who still offered a TMG user discount a year later). I won’t go into all the reasons, but Legacy wasn’t as good a match for how I use TMG. I’m sure it’s still a great solution for my friend.

I imported my entire TMG database into RootsMagic. Even though I paid a little for the program, I’m still, with an open mind, evaluating before the final switch. After all, TMG still works. But in the process of getting the data into RootsMagic, I can see how “my” data gets handled and presented. I can compare side by side how the places, names and events are “translated” into RootsMagic. Did all my media exhibits get properly connected to records? Things I observed have caused me to step back and clean up some of my TMG records. Some of this was required to make the switch to RootMagic; but most was just taking the time to fix things that just weren’t right and needed to be corrected regardless of making a software change. It helps that TMG has powerful ways to view the data (focus groups, filters, lists) to spot anomalies in order to fix or complete the information. I am also evaluating those capabilities in RootsMagic because I depend on them for data management.

  • I downloaded the TMG conversion tips sheet that RootsMagic technical folks created and from actual user experience (getting this and other hints was important – and the tip sheet apparently gets updated as time passes because reported issues from users are addressed with real answers of how to adjust the TMG data)
  • Changed my media library items from “internal exhibits” in TMG to external media that RootsMagic recognizes
  • Standardized my source library information
  • Ran report list of citations and discovering (and fixing) what I’m missing
  • Examining my places library for consistent format… things like “Co.” verses “County” spelled out
  • Went through TMG “Role” events and discovered not all were correct or populated
  • Performed database maintenance in TMG such as integrity check, re-indexing and optimization tools

The above are just a few examples. After making a change that RootsMagic “needs” it is easy to delete that database and re-import the updated TMG version to be sure the correction worked. It’s a normal process to go through. It takes time, but I have time because TMG is still working. The urgency level is in my control. It is not in the hands of a corporation making economic decisions. Your comments are welcome.