Monday, January 7, 2008

Family Tree Maker 2008

The UFO Team decided to review a bit of new technology for the new year. While we continue to focus on the past, we feel it is only fitting to not trip on the present or fall over the future. So here are the thoughts of on UFO Team member about this latest program.

Family Tree Maker, via, sent me a nice email awhile back asking me to upgrade to their newest version. I have used Family Tree Maker on and off since it was in DOS. I have been a more active user of their 2006 version over the past two years and have not seen a lot of change since the DOS days. It now appears Family Tree Maker 2008 has stepped out of its basic shell and is prepared to show you what kind of powerhouse it can be.

The packaging was the standard mailer envelope. Nothing fancy and it easily fit into my mailbox. Inside I found a Quick Start Card and three discs; the program, a Training Video, and Our History in Images (a disc with historical postcards).

The installation was fairly easy and intuitive. Simply insert the disc and choose install. Once finished, it will ask you to restore an existing file or create a new one. I used an existing file and everything upgraded easily. The only drawback at this stage was that the amount of time it took to convert the data was longer than expected; nearly 10 minutes. But with a 21 MB file and nearly 30,000 individuals, I could understand the time was needed.

This is where things differ drastically from the previous version. You can clearly notice a more “Windows” feel to the main screen and for some, it might closely resemble Quicken 2008.

Across the top, is the menu bar and navigation bar. I think it would be better suited to have the menu bar on top like other Windows applications. I have found myself looking for the Help menu longer than I should because it is hidden a row lower. The navigation bar splits your workload into logical themes. Your Plan area is like your homepage. People is just that, a listing or tree of the family. Places is a map of locations. Media is a collection of photos, videos, and recordings. Sources is a listing of your references. Publish is for printing your trees, pages, or even a book. And Web Search allows you to link to from inside the program.

Below the menu bar is your current tree. It gives you some basic details about your tree like the “Home Person” (the root of your tree, usually yourself), the number of people, file size, etc. This is also where you can create a new family tree.

The Task pane takes up a very large section of this home page. Too large for me, but I may begin to use it to see how well it works. Think of it as a giant sticky note.

Then we have the standard advertising on the right, almost like Google does in their GMail application. No need to show a screen shot of that.

When you go into the People portion of the program, it defaults to a tree view of the family in the center, a list of individuals on the left, details about the highlighted person on right, and details of the family at the bottom. I was never a fan of the tree format for navigation in the 2006 version, but I am learning how to navigate the “new” way. Brought forward from the 2006 program is the Ancestry Green Leaf. When you see the leaf next to the name, you know has a potential source of information on line. When you click it, it takes you to the Web Search portion. More on that later. One other downside to this new navigation is how you switch to the spouse. You have to click on them to change the tree to reflect their ancestors, something I am not a fan of.

I do like seeing the names listed on the left. You can also go to the Person tab to enter more information about individual facts and notes. You can also look at media and tasks related to this person. One hidden feature is the timeline button. A nifty tool that gives you a quick look at where they were and what they were doing.

The Places part of the program is a wonderful new addition. You can easily highlight a person in your tree, click on the Places navigation button, and see a map of where they came from. The map is a Microsoft Virtual Earth map that has a basic road map, aerial maps, and their infamous Bird’s Eye View. One great part of this feature is the listing of people associated with a particular place on the right. Now you can see if any ancestors may have crossed paths in the past.

The Media portion is another of those great additions to the program. It provides a great place to collect photo, video, and audio files in one place. You can link them to individual people, categorize them, and even take notes about them. But you won’t be able to edit them here. In fact, Family Tree Maker does not even store the media in the file, it simply provides a link to some other location on your computer that has the data. So you can keep photos in one folder and videos in another and have both show up in Family Tree Maker.

Adding and editing information in the Sources section is about the same as in year’s past. The only big difference you will notice is the layout and the ability to add more information and to link to individuals.

Publishing is still publishing. Not much has changed here other than the new option to publish online via Ancestry’s book printing service. A great idea if you have the time to format it the way you want and the money to get it printed.

Web Search is not terribly exciting to look at, but it is very powerful. Simply put, you can search and any number of sites from inside your Family Tree Maker program. What makes it nice is the ability to bring information back into your family tree without having a number of windows being open.

The best part of the new 2008 Family Tree Maker is the Web Search and I can give you a bit of a testimonial about my own research. Within hours of installing and using the new Family Tree Maker, I had not only discovered a census record but I had downloaded the image and linked it to the individual in my tree.

I started by opening my tree and clicking on the desired relative. I then went to Web Search and pulled up the standard census records. I already had them on file with the exception of one. I was able to view the image inside the program, verify it was the person I was looking for, and merge it with my existing tree on the computer. During the merge process it automatically downloaded the scanned image of the census. All I needed to do from there was link the media file to the individual and I was done.

The map in the Places part of the program is the best of the worst. I love the idea of having a map that shows where people are born, buried, married, and lived. I can even live with using the Microsoft map over the Google map. But I am not able to select multiple people to see all of the locations associated with them. In fact, I am not even able to see multiple locations on the map. If I could pull up every location in the state of Nebraska, I might be able to see how different family members moved around. And, added to this frustration, is the program’s lack of knowledge about locations. I know Oconto, Nebraska is abbreviated Oconto, NE. So does Microsoft. But the program cannot decipher it to a logical location. Instead, it insists that it should be Oconto, Nebraska, USA. As if there were another Oconto, Nebraska in Germany. It also does not let you choose where the Oconto Cemetery is in Oconto, Nebraska. It is not in the center of town and I do not want to put it there, but if I could move my marker on the map, then I could see where the cemetery is located.

There is also a high dependency on the internet. In this day and age, if you don’t have a high speed connection, you might as well live in the stone age. And those users not connected or connected over dial-up may not get the full effect of the new design.

Family Tree Maker 2008 does have potential. A huge amount of potential. As it stands now, it has exceeded my expectations as a user. In fact, I highly recommend buying this program if you are even remotely interested in family history. From the Media center to the Places maps to the People screens to the internal Web Search, the program is very robust. While I may have gripped about the Places maps being lacking, I think it is partly my fault. I have seen the potential in this program and it looms like a great hammer ready to crush the competition into oblivion. So if I have to wait a few years to get the features I want, then so be it. History is all about waiting. But with Family Tree Maker, I can at least get some research done while I wait.

Technical Specifications
Cost - $34.95
Minimum system requirements:
- Operating system: Windows XP / Vista
- Processor: 500 MHz Intel Pentium II (or equivalent)
- Hard disk space: 400 MB for installation
- Memory: 256 MB of RAM
- Display: 800 x 600 resolution for monitor
- 2X CD-ROM (required for installation)
Recommended system requirements:
- Operating system: Windows XP/Vista
- Processor: 1GHz Intel Pentium III (or equivalent)
- Hard disk space: 400 MB for installation
- Memory: 512 MB of RAM
- Display: 1024 x 768 resolution for monitor
- 32X CD/CD-R (required for installation)
- All online features require Internet access
- Training video and Our History in Images require DVD-ROM drive

-, Retrieved on January 2, 2008 from

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