Genealogy Software – How to get the most out of it

Along with millions of other people, I’m a user of Family Tree Maker and genealogy software. You can view genealogy software as a place to collect names and dates or you can really use the software to learn and capture history. The following is a list of my favorite features along with some useful tips and insights:

Family Tree Maker:

The main user interface is plain vanilla but simple to navigate. Like a car, it’s what’s under the hood that really counts. I rarely print out so I don’t find those features exciting. The following excite me:

  • Buried under the “edit” button is an area for capturing information about that person. Write down everything you learn about an individual on the “notes” page and, before you know it, that person’s life’s story takes shape. LUV this feature.
  • In the same area is a “medical” tab. If you enter the cause of death from their death certificate you can build a history of YOUR genetic tendencies. Want to know about your family medical history? Look at it there.
  • I absolutely love the merge feature. My daughter-in-law entered her known family tree while living in a different state from me. The file was transferred to me using the Messenger file transfer feature. (Good for large files). Once I had it on my computer I simply merged hers with mine. The process took a while, during which time Family Tree Maker asked me a couple of questions and presto it was done. Just like that. Awesome feature.
  • One day I found a relevant piece of a tree on someone else’s site, downloaded it and, because of standardized file types, was able to merge it.
  • The slide show feature is wonderful. Collect up all those pictures of a person and put them into the scrapbook in chronological order. Run the slide show and watch that person grow up and age. Personally I find this very moving when I watch my parent’s slideshow.
  • On the main page there is a “web search resource” button that can take you directly to relevant search records at This is powerful if your record matches’s records. If not, see my tips below.


    • The best single feature on the Ancestry site is the ability to download copies of census records. A census record provides the address, parents, siblings, jobs and place of birth. Priceless information! People would actually go door to door and sit down with the occupants to fill those out. To protect people’s privacy, census records are only released after 100 years.
    • The database search can be frustrating at times. I have found that many times it works best when less information is input. It sounds counter intuitive, but computers will search for exact matches in the data and, if yours is a little different from what the database contains, the results can get buried. Sometimes less is more. Unless you are very confident about your information, use a broader search to help narrow it down.

        I want to hear about your experience. Please use the comment box below to tell me about it.

        Another good site is Genealogy Blog Carnival