Friday, September 30, 2011

Trade Offs - Do We Really Have to Choose?

I took the family finder test in June and to date have about 150 matches. I have made contact with several of my matches so far. Much of the process involves going through my family tree and looking for the surnames that they send me. Sometimes they send me a link to their online family tree on Although my family tree is published on it is not updated because I do the updating on my desktop application. I prefer to use the desktop application because it is faster than the trees and it is easier to manage my sources which I am very particular about.

My tree is private, but when I do make a connection to a known cousin, I share my tree with them and I assign them as a “guest” which gives them the right to view the tree and to save items from my tree directly to their tree. I have also found it very convenient to view my matches’ trees and to copy their lines directly into my tree. Unfortunately, because I still maintain my most up to date information on my desktop, I then also have to copy information from their trees into my desktop application as well.

The discontinuity between my online tree and my desktop tree hasn’t really been an issue until now - since I’ve taken the DNA test - and I’ve had to rely more heavily on my genealogy database / family tree. This has really made me start thinking on how I can make the process of collaborating and determining kinship with my matches more streamlined.

Last month I read Randy Seaver’s blog posts about his beta user experience with Family Tree Maker 2012 which has the new “Tree Sync” feature between the desktop application and the online tree. I have to admit, this feature is very appealing to me. However, I do have my reservations.

1. You have to either start a NEW online tree or start a new FTM tree. You cannot merge one into the other. Clarification: You have to choose one tree to work with: either an existing tree that is in your Family Tree Maker Software that you want to upload to a NEW online family tree; Or an existing online family tree that you want to download as a NEW family tree into your Family Tree Maker software. Thanks to Russ for pointing this out in the comments below.

2. Sources created in online tree stay in a free-form like or general format. Sources created using the Evidence! Explained templates in FTM 2012 will show up in the online tree, but cannot be edited in the online tree. The only sources that can be edited in the online tree are the ones created as free-form. (From Randy Seaver’s Notes Post)

This 2nd point is a biggie for me. If I cannot access my desktop application, then I will access the online version. And half of my tree editing is done via the source citation process. My long term goal is to become a professional genealogist and in order to achieve that I have to practice writing correct source citations every chance I get, including while I’m using my genealogy software. It doesn’t seem like I can do that with this software or online version of trees and this is a limiting factor for me.

So what is the trade off? 

I switched from FTM to Rootsmagic a couple of years ago. My number one reason was RootsMagic On-The-Go. Simply said I can take it anywhere with me on my flash drive. I don’t have to have the program installed on any machine to access my files. I actually have it installed in dropbox and I can open it anywhere. I love this feature. And the file is so much smaller than FTM which means it opens up on a dime. (And no, I don’t have any media attached to my file).

I also switched to Rootsmagic because I thought the sourcing features would work better and I liked the reports. However, I am on the fence about these two things and could be happy with either FTM or RM in this regards.

So again, I ask, what is the tradeoff? It’s not that I want to be able to access my tree anywhere I go. If that were the case, I would just use an application on my android. I want to be able to fully use my application, including writing proper source citations.

What do you think? What is more important to you?  


  1. I just picked up Rootsmagic for a few reasons that I outlined in a recent blog post - but RM to go is definitely a bonus that I'm looking forward to using. I'm glad to hear you can run it from Dropbox.

    I just started setting everything up in RM- I'm doing it from scratch to try to catch any errors I made when I first started, or things I may have overlooked. Now that I've finally settled on a program, I think I'll stick with it this time for a while (this is my third switch in 3 years lol).

  2. Ginger,

    I'd like to comment on 2 items.

    1. You have to either start a NEW online tree or start a new FTM tree. You cannot merge one into the other.

    ==> Not true. You have options. a) FTM2012 will open any previous versions of Family Tree Maker file, b) FTM2012, like FTM2011, will allow you to download a Family Tree Maker "friendly" file, meaning images and all. c) you can then upload and link any FTM2012 file, no matter where it came from.

    2. Sources created in online tree stay in a free-form like or general format. Sources created using the Evidence! Explained templates in FTM 2012 will show up in the online tree, but cannot be edited in the online tree. The only sources that can be edited in the online tree are the ones created as free-form. (From Randy Seaver’s Notes Post)

    ==> Please see this blog:

    ==> if you have used the Template feature in FTM2010, FTM2011, FTM2012, to make your Sources into the Evidence Explained! format, they can not be edited in the AMT. The AMT if "free form" but you can put them into the Template format once the file has been Sync'ed.

    Should you change, cant help you with that, as Roots Magic is a very fine program.

    Let me add an experience I had the other night. I was at a genealogy meeting and someone asked a question. I had an iPad2 with WiFi in my backpack, connected to the WiFi in the building and was able to look at my AMT right there. If I had many any changes, when I got home, I would have used the TreeSync™ feature.


  3. I'm not giving up my RootsMagic, not going to happen!Those citations are why I stay, and I really like all the features of the program.

  4. Hi Lisa, the only problem I had with migrating to RootsMagic from FTM2009 was in the reporting feature: if I try to display my footnotes at the bottom of each page and they are really long, then RootsMagic crashes on me.

  5. Russ, thank you for the clarification on which tree you can sync with. I don't understand your message about the sources though, nor do I see how that blog post says anything different than what I wrote above. Please clarify.

  6. Some researchers don't choose, but work with different programs for different purposes. I find that problematic given the work required with each gedcom import.

    That said, I have ordered FTM 2012 specifically for the syncing features. Not sure if it will replace Legacy, but I'm certainly going to test it out. It would be lovely to find a program that has all the features I want, but so far none has.

  7. I had been thinking about the pros and cons for a while, and ended up deciding not to choose. I've been doing my work online at Ancestry for a while (easy to access at home or at work during down time), and consider it my "working" tree, and it's public with all the sources I've found for anyone to peruse. I tried the FTM 2012 beta briefly, and really liked being able to sync a copy of what I've been working on that's better than a GEDCOM (IMO), especially if I want or need to work offline (oh, the horror!). So, I've ordered FTM 2012 for that. My plan is to only edit online the usual way or on my iPad, but we'll see.

    In addition, I bought RM4 at FGS for (1) the citation templates and (2) the On-the-Go feature, and it's on an 8 GB flash drive along with the media folder I'm working on sorting out (another story completely). The tree I'll eventually build in RM will be my "real" tree. I think.

  8. I've had problems in the past with working between multiple software programs. There are too many differences in the way gedcoms are imported and errors pop up anytime I move the file between programs. To me, it's most important to pick a desktop software program that you like than to worry about an online tree. My Gedcom file is my family tree, my online trees are versions of that tree.

    I have trees online in multiple places, including I usually only add the big discoveries to my ancestry tree. That tree is for my research (shaky leaves) and connecting with users. For purposes of sharing with DNA "cousins" I maintain a tree on rootsweb. I can update that tree any time I want by uploading my gedcom. Since I've tested my parents, I actually have multiple trees for my maternal and paternal side. This prevents my matches from trying to find matches on the wrong side of the family.

  9. Hi Valerie, that's a good idea to have separate trees for your mother and father's side of the family. I have not had my parents tested so I don't know from what side of the family each of my matches are from.

    I don't use more than one version of software. I am only using Rootsmagic right now because I can use it in Dropbox when I'm at work or on the go and it loads so much faster than FTM.

  10. I mostly work with my tree on now, how will the citations and sources imported to FTM 2012 look? I had been using The Master Genealogist for several years but have found working with the online tree more convenient, I'd love to be able to sync that data with my software.

  11. Hi Susan, I do not have the 2012 version yet, nor did I participate in the Beta testing, but from what I've read it looks as if the source citations you've created in Ancestry trees online will be downloaded to the FTM 2012 software just fine. The problem is that the source citations that creates when you download a historical document from to a person in your online tree are often clunky when then downloaded into your FTM software. It's not a big deal within the online tree because you can just click on the historical document source and it opens right up for you. However, when you download this source to your FTM software on your desktop, you lose the link to the original document from within the database (at least this is how it is at this time - this could be fixed in upcoming updates?) and therefore you must rely on the source citation that created for you about the specific document you originally downloaded and linked to from their online database and these are often difficult to read and/or follow. Check out one of the citations that created for one of their documents and see if you can go back into and find the record cited in that citation. Were you successful?