Review: MacFamilyTree

A reasonably priced tool to track your family across time. (April 7th, 2008)

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Product Manufacturer: Synium Software

Price: $49.00 US

The Good

  • Easy to use. Displays information so you can understand it. Can import and export GEDCOM formatted files. Provides for media files. Good documentation in a number of languages. Suitable for a beginner or professional.

The Bad

  • Confusing to use in places. Interface design needs some work. Small bugs still exist. Some preferences still in German.

Now that so much information is available on the Internet, Genealogy is very popular. Until recently, two Genealogy programs owned the market for their platforms, Family Tree Maker for the PC and Reunion for the Mac. Both programs start with a family history card listing husband and wife, and link to their parents and children. You can place additional information on each person's card, such as birthplace and date, death place and date, plus a space for notes. The notes section is a large text area in which you add information related to that person. There may be census information, military notes, oral family history from your grandparents, journal entries, death certificates, marriage licenses, to name a few sources. Professional and amateur Genealogists have used this process on paper for thousands of years and from this information, they create charts, reports, and publish books. MacFamilyTree is much like its predecessors. 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.

 MacFamilyTree screen


MacFamilyTree Create a Tree Window


The tutorial helps get you started, plus explains some of the interface elements. In addition, you can access a 40-page Quick Start Guide under the Help Menu. Don't let the page size fool you; the English help is only nine pages. Help in Italian, French, and German is also included in the Guide.

As you collect family information, you link more people to your tree. Soon, you develop an index with links to many of your family members. When you click on the link, you go to that person's family card and can enter additional information. If other people are researching your family members, they can export a GEDCOM formatted file from their genealogy program. Most every computer's Genealogy program can import and export selected data using the GEDCOM format, including MacFamilyTree.

 MacFamilyTree screen


MacFamilyTree Families Window


In the past, Genealogists maintained large files filled with documents, photos, copies of book pages, personal journals, letters, and other items. Today, you can scan those documents and place them into Genealogy software along with sound and movie clips. Persons, locations, and events in photos can be identified. This helps to gather each member's life in one place. My family bible is over 200 years old. To preserve the bible, I scanned it and now the genealogical information on its pages is safe. I can go to the scanned documents if I need to view information found in the Bible, and it is all stored in MacFamilyTree, and other places for safekeeping.

Features

MacFamilyTree includes a number of features and the developer listens carefully to user feedback. The latest version, 5.1.3, adds a Media Browser, in which you can view all attached pictures in one location. In addition, the World Map in version 4 is replaced by a spherical Globe view, which links to Google Earth. MacFamilyTree shows your information in a number of helpful ways, including a new Fan Chart. Eight customizable views and seven reports display your family data in a variety of charts and diagrams. The forms help you better understand the information you have researched. Time lines may also be helpful, as they answer questions, such as, why your family moved from Haiti to Charleston, SC just after the American Revolution? Hint, the French Revolution forced the immigration of French nobility from Haiti, a French colony. Noting events gives your family an historical frame of reference.

While the interface uses the familiar Mac OS X Add (plus) and Delete (minus) buttons, other elements are not quite Mac-like. For example, a small checkbox on the bottom of many Edit and View windows brings up a preference dialog, in which you click checkboxes to turn off and on various options, but no close box, OK, or Cancel buttons appear to confirm changes. You click the screen to close these preference windows. The dialog choices aren't always very clear, and no help was available. Buttons appear in the bottom of some windows, but the graphics are very small. Thankfuly, Synium included helpful tool tips that pop up when you move your mover over the buttons.

Database maintenance features let you search for different kinds of date entries, so that you can make them all compatible and one format. In addition, you can delete entries entered by mistake, or ones in which information is not valid, but you're not offered the choice to review these entries before deletion. After doing some database maintenance, Ilene created a Distinctive Persons report and discovered her living relatives had died - that day evidently. So, there are still some small bugs that need to be worked out.

MacFamilyTree includes the ability to export your information as an HTML file. You can place the web pages on MacFamilyTree's web server for others to view. This area is in its infancy, but may soon be very helpful. You can also export the HTML to post on .Mac, to CD or DVD, or to view from your hard drive. The page templates are few, with options for a Black, Dark Wood, Map, or White background, but they make viewing easy. You can import Address Book data and MacFamilyTree version 4 files.

 MacFamilyTree Web Site


MacFamilyTree Web Page


Unfamiliar with genealogical terminology, Ilene was confused by the reference to Keluké numbers. Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter explains, "The German mathematician Stephan Kekule of Stradonitz (1863-1933) was a genealogist as well as the son of famed mathematician and chemist Friedrich August Kekulé. He used a numbering system to show relationships in text format. In German-speaking counties, lists of names created with Stephan Kekule's numbers are still referred to by his name: Kekule numbers. However, in English-speaking countries the same numbers in lists would be called 'ahnentafel numbers.'" It would be nice if explanations like this were included in the program.

Overall

MacFamilyTree helps you annotate your family history including notes and narrative, photos, sound clips and movies. It provides numbers of reports and charts. These charts and reports help you understand the relationships between family members. You can easily move information from program to program using a GEDCOM formatted file.

The Family Assistant gives a graphic representation of your family tree. When you click on any of the people and you go to that branch of the tree. This can be a bit confusing with large families though. MacFamilyTree includes most of the features included in much more expensive programs and is certainly worth trying out.

by Rick Curran and ilene Hoffman


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