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Family Tree Maker Review

by Deborah Gray

I must confess that I fall into the "lazy" genealogist category, if such a category exists. I always meant to record our family's history. During pre-computer days, the prospect of spending long hours in a library or town hall basement contributed to consigning this goal to a 'someday.'

As with many other endeavors, the computer has improved the genealogy process, particularly with a task involving a large amount of information, such as family history. The Internet has streamlined the research process, and made it possible to conduct it from the comfort of your own home avoiding those dusty town hall archives.

Of several genealogy software programs on the market, Family Tree Maker 8.0 is one of the easiest and comprehensive. I recently took the Deluxe 35-CD version for a test drive using my family history, which for the most part contains ancestors who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Starting Off

When starting a new family file, the Data Entry Wizard appears to lead you through the steps needed for basic information about your family. If you don't want to be led through the steps, cancel the Wizard and go directly to a blank Family Page.

The program's interface resembles a stack of manila file folders, with one "tab" for each family member, making it easy to navigate through the various family members.

Getting Help

A tutorial using Abraham Lincoln's family is included, but I would only recommend it for users new to computers or to using software. The help documentation included with the program is extensive and I was able to find the answers to all of my questions. In addition, the Help section includes a Genealogy How-To Guide and a Genealogy Dictionary for those new to the hobby and unfamiliar with the terms.

Researching Your Family

The Family Finder Center is the starting point for family research. The Search feature will explore the CD-ROMs and the Internet, as well as additional CD-ROMs available for purchase from Family Tree Maker. The results are gathered into a report that rates each result with a 1 to 5 star rating, based on the likelihood that the data is relevant to you.

The 35 CD-ROMs that come with Family Tree Maker 8.0 include genealogical data such as immigration records, marriage, birth and military data. They should be very helpful to someone researching their history if their ancestors have been in America for many generations. However, the most recent list of Passenger and Immigration lists begins with 1821-1850. If your family emigrated after that, you're probably out of luck unless someone related to you has created a Family Home Page and uploaded it to Genealogy.com.

The CD-ROMs are somewhat difficult to navigate; it's not possible to just simply browse them. When searching for an individual, pick a CD-ROM at random, and nine times out of 10, it will be necessary to switch to another CD-ROM. However, a nice feature of the program is it can automatically add information available on the CD-ROM to what has already been entered about the individual in the Family Home Page. You do not need to retype the information.

I was somewhat disappointed in the results that my research produced. I was only able to find information about my grandparents in the Social Security Death Index, and it was information that I already knew, for the most part. The search told me that there was someone with my great-grandfather's name in the 1900 New York City Census, but I would need to buy that CD-ROM to access the information.

Publishing Your History

Display the family's history in a variety of trees, and insert backgrounds from either included clip art and your own photos or scanned images. Information can be displayed and organized in reports showing the family's historical timeline, a map showing locations of note or a genealogy-style report.

The Publishing Center consolidates all of the publishing tools in one area. There are options to create a 'Family Book' to give as gifts or bring to family reunions. A 'Family Home Page' can be uploaded to Genealogy.com, Family Tree Maker's companion web site.

Family Tree Maker 8.0 has a number of additional features, including the ability to insert photos and scanned documents into a scrapbook, and a Research Journal to help you plan and track your research.

Positives: Easy to enter and publish information. Many helpful features are part of the program, and there is a massive amount of information on the CD-ROMs.

Negatives: Research CD-ROMs are not easy to navigate and most of the research doesn't apply to families emigrating to the U.S. after 1850.

Bottom line: A snap for beginners to use and a solid program for seasoned genealogists.

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