I’ve been using Family Tree Maker since the 90′s when it replaced my paper notes on the recommendation of my sister. I don’t remember what version I started with, but back when I bought it the program came with a set of World Family Tree CDs which had a bunch of personal trees. It was nice having records to search and I added a lot of them to my tree from WFT. Unfortunately years later I had to rip them back out when I realized that the records were unsourced and useless. An early lesson learned.
Anyhow, Family Tree Maker has been pretty useful all this time. They have made a lot of improvements, and the tie-in with Ancestry.com makes searching and data entry easier. In spite of that, though, I am now switching to RootsMagic.
While I have known about some other genealogy programs like RootsMagic and The Master Genealogist, I haven’t spent much time looking into them, because I was already spending a lot of time on genealogy as it was and did not want to spend the time on a conversion. I tried The Master Genealogist briefly, but it had the look of a program from the 90s and the benefits were not obvious. I got the sense that Family Tree Maker was not the favorite of serious geneologists, but it was doing the job for me so I kept using it.
Last October, though, Elizabeth Shown Mills recommended RootsMagic in a posting in the Transitional Genealogists Forum. She discussed how you can use it to better document the quality of your sources and to help differentiate weak from strong sources. That sounded helpful, since I of course have a lot of both.
I did not do anything further, though, until December when I got a new Mac. I’ve been a Mac user for years, running Family Tree Maker in a Windows virtual machine in Parallels. I did not use the Mac version because I shared my data files with my sister, and they are not compatible between the two systems. When I got my new system I did not feel like buying and setting up another copy of Parallels, and thought I would give CrossOver Office a try. I had tested it before, but it does not work well with Family Tree Maker so I did not get it. RootsMagic is supported on it, though, and I found it works pretty well. That gave me the motivation to switch to a better program that I can run on my computer with less overhead.
Converting from Family Tree Maker to RootsMagic
I was using Family Tree Maker 2012, so to move my data to RootsMagic I had to do a GEDCOM export and import.
This got most of my stuff over but I found I was missing two things: my images and the address facts. GEDCOM, of course, does not include image information. What I’m going to have to do is go through my existing sources and relink them to the photos. With 900+ images this will be a slow process.
Update 1/27/12: I was able to get my image information to go from Family Tree Maker to RootsMagic after all. Most people will not need to do what I did, unless you are moving your images to a folder outside of the regular Family Tree Maker location like I did.
To fix the images, I did another GEDCOM export and opened it in a text editor, in my case MacVim. I looked for the FILE lines and saw that I needed to change the path to my image files from their old Family Tree Maker location to the new one. The lines coming from Family Tree Maker looked like this:
1 FILE Z:\Documents\FTM\Konarski main Media\OntarioCanadaMarriages18011928_308837660.jpg
and I needed them to look like this, because I was moving them to a different location for sharing between computers (more on this in a future post):
1 FILE C:\Konarski main Media\Media0001.jpg
I replaced “Z:\Documents\FTM” with “C:” throughout the file, imported it, and was able to get to all of the images in my Media Gallery.
The other thing I found is that the address records are not treated as general facts in Roots Magic, but are treated more like a fixed address attribute for a person, I suspect living. I’ll need to find the address records and re-enter them as residence records with an associated address.
The Advantages of Roots Magic
You can mark facts as Proven, Disputed, or Proven False. Facts that are disputed or proven false are displayed in red and are struck out, making it clear which facts to focus on.
You can also add comments on your sources and build a report for analysis as Elizabeth Shown Mills explained in her post I mentioned earlier. I have commented my sources some, even in Family Tree Maker, but have not yet tried her method for generating a report.
Family Tree Maker lets you mark citations based on the common parameters of original/derivative, primary/secondary, and direct/indirect, and even includes a setting for the clarity of the material in the source. The problem is that it buries these under a rating indicator showing 1-4 stars. Adding up the individual ratings does not make any sense. While a 4-star rating is probably better than a 1-star, there are so many nuances in evaluating the quality of a citation that the star ratings are a distraction. Also, the ratings do not stay with the citation when you copy and paste it.
RootsMagic lets you rate a citation based on the quality of the Source, Information, and Evidence. It includes a setting for “Don’t know”, which is handy for things like census forms where you usually do not know who supplied the information. It displays these settings in the list of sources for a fact to help you do your analysis. Also, when you copy and paste a citation the ratings go with it, which does not happen with Family Tree Maker. You of course have to be alert to the fact that one source can have some pieces of information that are primary and some that are secondary, but that can be set in the citations when needed. Having it stick with the copied citation makes data entry faster.
It is a good practice to keep a research log of what you have done on a project. You can refer back to it to help keep from checking the same thing twice, you can use it to help confirm your thorough investigation of a fact, and if you are a professional you will want to use it to show what you have done with your time.
RootsMagic 5 has added what they call the Research Manager, which is a research log. You can have different logs for different projects, and you can convert your finished to-do list items to a research log entry with just a click. You can create a report from it later on when needed. It is nice having your information in one place rather than keeping a separate spreadsheet.
RootsMagic has a lot more citation templates, allows you to search for what you want, has clearer fields to fill in, and each template includes a reference to which model in Evidence Explained the design came from. The citation templates in Family Tree Maker are loosely based on Evidence Explained but don’t really give you enough fields to make a good reference.
Does this mean you don’t need Evidence Explained if your are using RootsMagic and want to make solid citations? Unfortunately it’s not quite that good. While it breaks out more fields than Family Tree Maker, there are often some vague fields that checking EE helps. Also, of course, sometimes what you want to cite just does not have a model, as it is impossible to have a template for every kind of citation possible.
If you like to do your citations from scratch there is also a freeform template. If there is a template that matches what I’m doing, though, I will use it and just check the result in Evidence Explained. That way it will build the source list and short footnote fields and let me create master sources where I can just fill in a few details if used for another record.
Space and Time
RootsMagic helps you normalize your place names based on the time of the event. So, for example, if you have an event that happened in Whitby, Ontario, Canada in 1843 RootsMagic will suggest that you instead use “Whitby, York, Canada, British North America.” Family Tree Maker helps you normalize events, but it is based on the current political subdivisions to make the map lookups work. I don’t have a strong opinion, but it seems more accurate to have the place details from the time in question, and it saves me making a note in the description field saying what the county or country was back then.
Things I Miss from Family Tree Maker
Automated merging from Ancestry.com
Since the same company owns Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker, they have made it easy to do an Ancestry.com search from a person’s record, filling in some of their information in the fields on the web site. RootsMagic also does this, but only fills in the name. Also, since the search is done in a pane rather than a Window, you cannot have your search results in one window and type in your findings in another. You have the same issue in Family Tree Maker, but they overcome this some by the other missed feature, automated merging of records from Ancestry.com.
Ancestry.com simplifies getting data into Family Tree Maker by letting you merge an online record into the record in the program. While this is handy, in the long run it is a bit of an impediment to good genealogy. Relying on automated merging can cause several problems:
- The transcriber may read something incorrectly and if you do the merge automatically you are less likely to notice. For example, this morning I entered a marriage record from Ancestry that said that the wedding took place in Wentworth, Ontario. It turns out it was actually in Newcastle, Ontario, but the transcriber did not figure out the handwriting.
- Sometimes Ancestry associates the entry with the wrong page.
- Ancestry’s citations are so-so. If I follow Evidence Explained I often get a different style.
- Sometimes not all fields in a document get indexed.
So while I miss being able to just save a whole document’s worth of facts with just a few clicks, I’m probably better off.
Family Tree Maker has been adding features to synchronize your tree with Ancestry.com and with your smartphones and tablets. I have the app on my Android phone and Nook and it works OK but I’ve liked the tree better in FamilyBee. The main advantage here of Family Tree Maker’s synchronization is that it is automatic. I already have an arrangement set up to share my database files via Dropbox and rsync, so I don’t need the sharing for my computers, and I find I don’t need it much on my phone and Nook, so I don’t think I’ll miss this too much.
Finding What Facts Use a Source
In Family Tree Maker it is real easy to see what uses a source. This isn’t something I use every day, but some time it is handy when I’m tidying things. I suspect that there is a way to do that somewhere RootsMagic but it is not as obvious as in Family Tree Maker.
It turns out it is easy to show what facts use a source in RootsMagic, it just wasn’t as intuitive as in Family Tree Maker. All you have to do is go to the source in the Source List and hit the Print button. Thanks to Bruce from RootsMagic for the solution!
I wrote earlier how The Master Genealogist looks like a program from the 90s, and I’ll admit that RootsMagic sort of does too. Family Tree Maker was overhauled a few years ago and looks much more modern. But while I wish RootsMagic looked better, its functionality is more important.
I’m finding then, that I don’t really miss Family Tree Maker very much. I’m sure there a number of other benefits to RootsMagic that I’ll learn as I use it more.