Family TreeMaker 5.0/6.0

By William Lamartin, Editor, Tampa PC Users Group

How many versions of Family TreeMaker have I purchased over the years? It is easier to count how many I haven’t bought—very few. And since my version 4.0, 4.1 or whatever, was not all that old, I didn’t plan on purchasing 5.0 when it came out sometime last year. But my sister, who does the bulk of data gathering in our genealogical searches, had version 5.0, and, as is usual in these matters, version 4.0 can not load version 5.0 files. I don’t know what new feature added makes the way the data is stored different in the newer versions, but I do know that it is a good feature for the software marketers. Since I couldn’t load version 5.0 files, I had to buy the new version also. And as I write here about version 5.0 being relatively new, guess what our friends at Family TreeMaker have done. They now have produced Version 6.0. I truly believe that within the last 12 months you could have bought the most recent versions available and produced three different versions.

It seems as if every time they think up a new way of displaying your data in a report they feel it incumbent upon themselves to produce a new version—the files of which I assume the older versions will not open. Of course, they only want $20 from me for version 6.0, but this constant updating of the program—now more often than once a year—is getting bothersome. If Microsoft updated their programs as rapidly, you would hear people cry foul.

A little history. I first bought Family TreeMaker as a DOS program made by a company called Banner Blue. Then, along came their first Windows version called Family TreeMaker for Windows. That was a welcome addition. Then came the newer and newer versions, each one adding a feature or two. I think the first version either couldn’t import or export to a GEDCOM file, and the notes and the types of reports were limited. But with each new version these deficiencies were removed. In version 5.0, for example, we got the ability to spell check our Notes (actually that was in version 4.4, I think, but I never saw that version). Before I got around this problem by first creating the note in a word processor, spell checking it there then copying it and pasting it into the Family TreeMaker note.

While all these improvements were being made to the program, the company was obviously growing due to the increasing popularity of its product. As a result, BannerBlue became the BannerBlue division of Broderbund, which in turn was gobbled up by the Learning Company. And in the past few months, the Learning Company has become part of the toy maker Mattel. Not a good situation as far as I am concerned, since I see little of value that a toy company can offer a software company. Time will tell.

Obviously this is not your standard product review. But with a bow to such, I will note that any genealogy program is nothing more than a fancy interface to a database where you have the ability to input your data and then view it in a variety of different reports. What Family TreeMaker is doing with each newer version is to give you more latitude in what sort of data you can enter and more variety in the type of reports it will produce. For example with 5.0 you got the ability to view an "hourglass" report, which displays an individual’s ancestors and descendants on the same chart. With 6.0 you get the ability to determine the relationship between any two particular individuals. With version 5 and earlier, you could only display all relationships of a particular individual; thus, to get the relationship to another particular individual, you would have to search through this list. Big deal.

With version 6.0, you have the ability to find the Soundex code for anyone in your family tree. They have also enhanced the book feature—the option that weaves the data you select into a "book". Isn’t technology great? You can now have the computer write a family book for you, weaving your genealogical data into a sensible narrative by supplying the appropriate connecting words between your basic facts.

I like Family TreeMaker. As a genealogical database, I recommend it, having used it almost from the beginning of its existence, but I am tired of these constant upgrades.

Back around Version 2 or 3, they started offering additional CDs with genealogical information: the social security database, marriages in Georgia 1776 – 1845 (I don‘t recall if this is an actual title), etc. I think they got started at this by buying a company that had been providing such CDs to libraries. And over the years, Family TreeMaker has added greatly to the list of available CDs they offer. In fact, when you buy Family TreeMaker now you are confronted with several different prices depending on how many extra CDs you would like in the package.

Once the Internet started booming, they jumped on that too with a useful site at The products they sell make up only a small part of the site, most of which is devoted to articles on genealogy. They also give you the ability to search for information on individual names. If you get a "hit" on a name, you are presented with a list of sources for more information. Quite naturally most of these sources are CDs produced by Family TreeMaker. So if you want to see the information, you know what you need to do. Buy that CD.

They also host individual Family TreeMaker users’ genealogical web sites (not mine, though). They are obviously trying to make themselves your one stop for genealogy. u