Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thoughts on Software: My Heritage Family Tree Builder

I've been downloading free genealogy programs, looking for one I like. The one I use now is FamilyTree Maker v. 16, a commercial offshoot of the free Ancestry Family Tree, which was a GOOD program. FTM v. 16 is good, I like it--among other reason because it's an program, so if you have a subscription it's easy to run searches. But it has failings, including not being able to print out a list of places. My tree has about 5300 names on it at the moment--what can I say, I get carried away and include a lot of side-branches!--and I can't always remember who's from where, which might be useful, if you find out one family has been in the same place as another, or, for instance, the *time* a family was in a certain place helps you link up historically (like the group of Musicks, Shacklefords, and Newsoms who relocated to Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century).

So I got Map My Family Tree, and what a disappointment that's been. I just haven't been able to get it to do anything I want it to do, and I'm pretty darn good with software, usually.

I also ordered Family Tree Maker 2008, which I have ranted about in a previous post. I was never able to get it to reocgnize that I was, indeed, hooked up to the Internet, in fact that I was online at that very moment. And the reviews I've read of it are almost 100% negative, so it may be just as well.

Okay. So I ran across a free download called My Heritage Family Tree Builder, which can be downloaded from I found when I read somewhere that they have a face recognition program, which I hope to be able to write about sometime in the future. It was a smooth download and installation, no problems. As you begin to set up you have a choice of 17 languages to work in.

The basic page is, I think, kind of messy, or jr. high, or something, but that could be because I'm used to the no-frills AFT/FTM pages. Male and female entries are color-coded, and you can pick the colors you want to use, and there are a number of other options to dress the working page up or down.

It's very easy to load pictures, and you can indicate which picture you would like to have come up with each person's main entry. You can also link or "associate" pictures with "person," "fact of person," "virtual cemetery of person," "family," and "fact of family." Person and Family are fairly self-explanatory, and I suppose "fact of person" could be, for instance, a birthday, and "fact of family" could be a wedding. I think it may be helpful to link a photo to the individual as well as the individual's birth family and married-into family, but initially I found it difficult to locate the families, since they're listed by ID number rather than family name. I did finally figure out that you can sort alphabetically by husband's surname or wife's surname (I'm not at all shy about pushing buttons to see what will happen!), which helps.

Overall, I would say navigation is easy and fairly intuitive, though, because of all the frippery, moving from one person to another isn't quite as smooth and easy as on FTM, at least on my computer.

There is a research feature which I have yet to find very helpful, but it does include many more sites than just Ancestry. There is a Smart Match feature which is only useable if you put your tree on the MyHeritage site, so I can't report on how that works.

It has the usual complement of reports: Family Group Sheets, Ancestors, Descendants. My favorite is not so useful, but is more fun: the Relationship Report, which starts with the obvious ("Alexander Richard Brown is the father of John Hales Brown") and goes to the esoteric
("Robert Bransford is a cousin of the wife of a brother of a grandfather of the wife of John Hales Brown"). This is the kind of thing on which I could happily spend hours for no particular reason--just the enjoyment of seeing how the various puzzle pieces fit together. Also it's a kind of "small world" effect. John Hales Brown's Relationship Report was 93 pages long (no, I didn't print it out!), and while there were a few people who were not related to him, there were far more who were, though it wasn't spelled out ("Elizabeth Schaldtl is related to John Hales Brown [16 steps]").

There is a Timeline report which has potential. It doesn't include military service, but it does include births, deaths, and marriages, including dates and places, so you can track the movement a family.

Charts include the usual: Ancestor (vertical or horizontal), Descendant (vertical or horizontal), Fan, with lots of styles and options to make them as fun and fancy or sober and professional as you want.

There's a feature that will make you a book in pdf format which is kind of neat--it does all the indexing for you, and includes photos and sections for family trees, notes, and sources--but again, it left out military service, and there are some syntactical oddities (example: "In 1959 he was educated (1 year college)"). The book report feature can be upgraded to a paid version, The Complete Genealogical Reporter v. 2008.1 ($27.95, As is, it looks pretty impressive, and if you're more judicious about your notes than I am, it would make quite a nice book to give to family members.

All in all, for a free program, you get quite a lot (although still no place report). I don't know if I'll ever use it as my main working program, but it's certainly a flexible and good-looking option.