Review: MacFamilyTree 6

Robust program to track your family history. (August 30th, 2011)

This genealogy program helps you organize and maintain your family history. It provides different visual graphics, easy input screens. Itís reasonably priced and works well.

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Product Manufacturer: Synium Software

Price: $59.00 US

The Good

  • Easy to understand.
  • Reads GEDCOM files well and gives report on what it couldn't handle.
  • Integration with FamilySearch.org.
  • Many charting and graphing options.
  • Virtual tree makes looking at large trees workable.
  • Inexpensive.

The Bad

  • Fails silently when importing from a locked volume.
  • FamilySearch integration does not work unless you are LDS member.

MacFamilyTree is a genealogy program by Synium Software. Genealogy programs provide a way for you to record details on relatives and trace your family lineage. This 12-year old program now supports 15 languages.

The first window in prompts you to Create, Open, or Import an existing Family Tree or open the tutorial. When you start a new Tree, you must enter a Reference Person, upon which all other family data relates, so they recommend you start with yourself. The Family Assistant walks you through setting up the whole file. The middle of the screen displays you as an animated circle with an Add button, which you click to choose the relationship and add more family members.

If you don't have an existing family tree chart, you can start from scratch. You enter yourself, your parents, siblings, children, etc. Along with the people, you can enter events, dates, places, images, sounds (MP3 files), and movies. Synium has a nice tutorial video on how to enter the different files on the site.

MacFamilyTree screen

First Record in New Tree


After you have some people entered, you can use the program's charting and visualization capabilities. MacFamilyTree shows you a traditional family tree, fan charts, descendent, and ancestor charts. You can save each of these as either a PDF or a PNG (Portable Network Graphics) file, so that you can email them to relatives or include them in a report.

Fan Chart

Fan Chart

The easiest way to put a lot of data into MacFamilyTree is to import an existing GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication) file. Most genealogy programs can export your data in GEDCOM format, which is a text file with your genealogical information and meta data. When I attempted to import a reasonably large GEDCOM file (1250 people), MacFamilyTree balked at first. I figured out that I had imported from a read-only network volume, and the program wanted to create the new file in the same folder as the original GEDCOM file. Of course, this didn't work, and the import failed, without any notice. It was as if I had never asked it to import anything. Eventually, I copied the file to a local folder, and it worked fine.

Once I got past my error, the GEDCOM imported quickly, in less than 5 seconds, and MacFamilyTree showed me a list of items that it could not handle. It appears that the tag type OFFI (which was removed from the GEDCOM standard some years ago) is not recognized. In addition, dates that are entered with a "?" (to show uncertainty) are not parsed, although an update last week may have fixed this problem. MacFamilyTree gives you a list, telling you exactly which persons in your tree are affected.

Import Error

Import Error Dialog

Most genealogical charts have a limitation, in that they can show you only a single line of descent at a time, i.e. they are limited to two dimensions. MacFamilyTree has a mode called a "Virtual Tree," which is a 3-D view of your entire family tree. This is much more flexible than a simple flat tree. Basically, the "person of interest" that you choose is always in the center of the graph, and you can tilt and zoom the graph to examine the people around him or her. When you hover the mouse over a person, information about that person is displayed. Having a trackpad makes this simpler, since gestures like two-fingered swiping or pinch to zoom work here. You can also choose a different person of interest any time you want, you just click on them.

Virtual Tree

Virtual Tree

MacFamilyTree also gives you a set of statistical graphs about your family tree. Graphs such as current age, age at marriage/first child/death/death of partner, and so on. This is nice for exploring the shape of your family. However, there is no way to get from the graph back to the underlying data-which is a shame. For example, when I graph "Parents age at Children's birth," I see one at age 12, which is probably a mistake, and one at 58 (which is curious. However, I don't see any way in MacFamilyTree to find that information - other than investigating each person; and I'm not going to do that. I would like to be able to click on the bar in the graph, and see the underlying data. Another way to do this would be to have a search feature for the tree - but that isn't implemented in MacFamilyTree either.

Graph

Graph of Parents Age at Children's Birth

MacFamilyTree comes with an extensive, easy to use manual. The 100-page PDF file is contained inside the application. When you choose Open User Guide from the Help menu, the program launches Preview (or your preferred PDF viewer) and opens the file. You can search, annotate, or print the User's Guide. Synium Software also has a long list of instructional videos on their web site.

Available Videos

Partial List of Available Videos

MacFamilyTree can use FamilySearch.org to search for your ancestors, which is easier than visiting your local records office and poring over microfilm. Unfortunately, the current version of FamilySearch.org is only open to members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Access to the general public will not be available until sometime in the future, but Synium has no control over this access. It was originally planned for mid-2010, but is delayed.

Family Search Dialog

Family Search Dialog

A "To Do" feature in, in MacFamilyTree lets you write notes to yourself about missing tidbits you want to find. There are four predefined categories: Further research, To Check, Missing Events, and Performing Cleanup.

You can give each item a priority and a due date. Once you finish a task, you can mark it closed, which leaves a record of what you were working on at various times. MacFamilyTree can generate a web site in the form of a collection of HTML files from your tree, and either save it to your hard disk, send it to MacFamilyTree.com or MobileMe, or burn it onto a CD or DVD. Exporting my 1250 person tree took about 60 seconds on an i5-based MacBookPro, and the web pages totaled about 210 MB. Once started, you cannot cancel this operation, which is annoying. Your generated web site is broken into four basic sections:
  • Persons: A page for each person in the tree
  • Families: A page for each family in the tree.
  • Sources: A list of where the information came from.
  • Statistics: Aggregate information about the family tree.
MacFamilyTree requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later, and is compatible with OS X 10.7 (Lion). I reviewed version 6.1.3, but 6.1.4 was released last week. Synium updates the program regularly - two minor updates in June, July, and August. The program checks for updates on startup, but you can disable this in the preferences.

MacFamilyTree is available in the Mac App store, or directly from Synium Software for $59.00. It is also available from various online retailers for significantly less. Owners of previous versions can upgrade for $25.00 and owners of 6.0 or later can upgrade to 6.1.4 for free.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor. Part of Rick Curran's review of MacFamilyTree 5 was used in this article.

by Marshall Clow


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