Tag Archives: ancestry.com

Is a third option for transitioning from FTM on the horizon?

I know the transition from FTM doesn’t fall within the primary purpose of this blog, but I’ve always covered the technology of genealogy, and I think the FTM transition has been an important story in genealogy, and has a lot of interesting implications.

I previously reported on the retirement of FTM, what options were out there for transitioning away from FTM, and most recently about Ancestry’s selling of FTM to a third party (Software MacKiev) and licensing it’s APIs to another company (RootsMagic).

In my earliest post on the topic of FTM’s retirement, I mentioned a discontinued product called AncestorSync that had been created to move data between different genealogy programs and services. The need for something like AncestorSync existed (and still exists) because the only way to transfer data between genealogy programs and services has been to use a GEDCOM file, whose standard was last updated back in 1999. GEDCOM hasn’t evolved with genealogy programs, and because of that it cannot transfer everything we collect in our genealogy programs to another program or service without losing some data. Not every program or service interprets GEDCOM the same way either, which leads to other programs like data corruption.

This is why the FTM transition is so interesting. As if to prove how big of a problem all of the above is, we’ve seen multiple genealogy software companies modify their programs to better import GEDCOM files from FTM. So far GEDCOM is the only option available, but by the end of the year there will be the two options I recently mentioned – an updated FTM under new ownership, and a version of RootsMagic that can import FTM files directly. That two companies other than Ancestry will now have software capable of importing FTM files directly, is only because Ancestry no longer views these companies as competitors. Up until now, it wasn’t in Ancestry’s interest to allow any third-party company to be able to read the FTM file format other than themselves.

So we know have two groups of options for former FTM users. We have a slew of genealogy software companies that have updated their programs to better import FTM-generated GEDCOM files, and we have a second smaller group (pair) of companies that will be able to read FTM files directly. That brings us to the third possible option, which I mentioned way back in December, and again just up above – AncestorSync. Years ago when AncestorSync was being introduced I happened to meet the CTO of the company producing it, Dovy Paukstys. We were at a genealogy conference, and he was showing off his product. When FTM made their announcement, I fired off a tweet to Dovy, wondering if AncestorSync might be resurrected. AncestorSync fell off the radar two years ago, and Dovy had moved on to other things, but I figured he would know what happened to the technology.

Back in December I hadn’t heard a response, and didn’t think much about it until a couple of days ago when Dovy finally responded:

dovy tweet
So it seems there might now be another option for FTM users on the way. The goal of AncestorSync, as I recall, was to allow the transfer of data between programs and services while retaining all the information. AncestorSync had modules for each program or service it supposed, and allowed you to move data around between the different modules. Initially the services and programs supported included Geni, MyHeritage, FamilySearch,  ourFamilyology, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, PAF, Ancestral Quest and FTM. I do remember work was underway on The Master Genealogist (since discontinued) and MacFamilyTree.

Of course, if a new standard were to emerge to replace GEDCOM, a program like AncestorSync wouldn’t be necessary. As efforts like GEDCOM X and FHISO haven’t yet managed to come up with a format that can handle better interchange of data and get it accepted by the genealogy software ecosystem, AncestorSync might yet fill the void.

Managing the FTM transition

FTM TRANSITIONIt’s certainly an interesting story about Ancestry dropping their desktop genealogy software Family Tree Maker (FTM). Ancestry themselves claimed the software was “The #1 Selling Family Tree Program”. It would seem unusual that the #1 selling program would be discontinued. It’s possible FTM was some kind of loss-leader to get people to sign up to Ancestry.com, although it seems odd that they would need to lose money on the program. Other genealogy programs seem to make money. It would seem logical then that the transition is strategic, in order to get more people to use their online family tree product, which as part of their overall service, generates much more revenue for them. As a strategic decision, however, I think they made a mistake in not transitioning the features many genealogists rely on in desktop software to their online offering first, features like charts and reports, as well as better backups of data than the GEDCOM available from Ancestry’s online service.

Their initial blog post announcing the ‘retirement’ of FTM has so far generated over 8500 comments. A second follow-up post has generated another 950 comments so far. Cleary, people have concerns about how Ancestry is handling the transition.

Other companies, of course, are not sitting still. Pretty much every other major desktop genealogy software company has made announcements trying to get disaffected FTM users to switch over to their software. Here are the announcements I found:

Ancestral Quest (Win & Mac*): Ancestral Quest competitive upgrade for Family Tree Maker
Family Historian (Win): Family Historian Welcomes Family Tree Maker Users
Heredis (Win & Mac): Important information about genealogy
Legacy (Win): How to import Family Tree Maker into Legacy PLUS your questions answered
MacFamilyTree (Mac): Family Tree Maker discontinued – Switch to MacFamilyTree and Switch from Family Tree Maker to MacFamilyTree and import your family tree
MyHeritage Family Tree Builder (Win & Mac*): FTM Users: Join MyHeritage and get Family Tree Builder with an Unlimited Size Family Site for Free
Reunion (Mac): Moving your tree from Family Tree Maker to Reunion
RootsMagic (Win & Mac*): Family Tree Maker Upgrade
* These Mac versions run in Emulation using CrossOver or similar technology. This means they are essentially the Windows versions running on the Mac, with no special adaptation made to the user interface to fit Macintosh interface guidelines.

My impression was that RootsMagic was the first to come out and announce a transition plan, even launching the site ftmupgrade.com with instructional videos within a day of the announcements. Most companies have offered financial incentives to switch now as well. Ancestral Quest is offering $10 off their normal price, Family Historian is offering 20% off, Heredis is offering 50% off, MacFamilyTree is offering 50% off, MyHeritage is offering an unlimited size family tree (normally their free tree is limited to 250 people), and RootsMagic is offering their full version for $20 (instead of $44.90). Most of these deals are limited in time, so if you’re interested in taking advantage, definitely check out the programs soon.

It seems everyone suggests exporting a GEDCOM from FTM and then importing that GEDCOM. Only FTM 2012 and later support exporting media with the GEDCOM file.

One problem that seems to be common among those transitioning is how FTM handles source citations. FTM allows media to be linked to source citations, which are in turn linked to a master source. Many genealogy programs use a single master source, but not individual source citations for media. This is confusing some imports, and is not being ignored by the other software companies. I’ve noticed Reunion mentioning that they are working on a fix for this in their forum. I’m sure others are also working on this problem.

Do you use FTM? What are your plans for transitioning? Are you planning to switch to Ancestry’s online site, or moving to a different desktop program? Have you already switched? What has been your experience so far?

Ancestry just killed off Family Tree Maker

It appears that Ancestry.com just killed off their desktop genealogy software Family Tree Maker. They will continue to sell it until December 31, 2015, and will cease supporting it on January 1, 2017. That means people who use the software can continue using it for another year, and Ancestry will continue to support features like TreeSync (which allows users to sync their FTM tree with their Ancestry.com tree).
Family Tree Maker Box Personally, I was never a huge fan of the software. Of course they never fully supported the Mac platform, but I tried all their Mac versions, and even beta tested the second version for them. I had two major complaints with the software. The first was that it was buggy. That might have just been the Mac version, I’m not sure. The second, was that the user interface was very counter-intuitive to me. there were other problems, like its handling of images, and other minor complaints, but it seems pointless to go over them now. The main reasons I continued to try using it was the potential for syncing with Ancestry.com, and for sharing files with other relatives who used it, but it was never my primary genealogy software.

Unless I’m mistaken, that leaves MyHeritage’s Family Tree Builder as the only desktop genealogy software left that is paired to an online family tree site.

Interestingly both Ancestry and MyHeritage have added Mac versions of their desktop software in recent years. The only other major genealogy software to make add Mac support recently has been RootsMagic, which used the same Windows-emulation technology as MyHeritage to port their Windows software to the Mac.

I don’t know the market share of all the different genealogy programs out there, but I imagine there will be a mad scramble to try to grab abandoned FTM users. I don’t know what market share FTM had overall, but my impression is that is was significant. I don’t know if any other genealogy program is able to successfully import data from FTM files without losing any data. I imagine developers of other programs are now looking at how to improve their importing.

One technology for importing FTM files was GenBridge, which was a library developed by Wholly Genes Software, the creators of The Master Genealogist (TMG) software. GenBridge was licensed to several other genealogy software companies to allow importing of different formats, although Wholly Genes Software discontinued TMG last year, and presumably GenBridge was discontinued with it. It would be interesting if GenBridge was discontinued right before FTM users needed the capability.

I remember a company a few years ago that was developing software to sync between different genealogy programs as well as online services. The company was called Real Time Communications and the product was called AncestorSync. That product never really made it out of beta as far as I can tell (I’m pretty sure the company closed around 2012 or 2013 at the latest), but I wonder what happened to their sync technology. Someone might want to brush off some old code if it’s still able to convert FTM files.

I’m not sure Ancestry has handled the ‘retirement‘ of their desktop software so gracefully. A lot of people are undoubtedly upset about FTM being discontinued, and whether or not they will have support for a year, they still have a lot of work ahead of them to get their family trees transitioned to new software. I wonder if Ancestry’s hope is that users will just sync their trees to Ancestry’s online trees, and forget about desktop software altogether. That’s certainly the easiest option for a lot of users, but they lose a lot of the advanced features that come with desktop software (like charts, reports, media handling, etc.). I hope Ancestry will show a little more compassion for their users and provide more options in the coming year for getting their data out of FTM and into other full-featured programs. Time will tell.