Even if you can't pick your relatives, you can pick your genealogical software.
Earlier this year, Broderbund released a Macintosh version of Family Tree Maker (FTM), which is considered to be the best-selling genealogy-tracking software for DOS and Windows machines. The software manages information about your relatives and produces handsome reports, charts, and family trees. The software is bundled with CD-ROMs designed to jump-start genealogical research, and the company's Web site provides its customers a range of specialized services.
Meeting the Family -- The main screen in FTM is the Family page, which has fields for names, dates, and places of parents and their children. Tabs on the right side of the screen lead to each parent's family and to each child's marriage.
Secondary screens store addresses, medical data, and notes. Another screen includes fields for describing a person's relationship with his parents - whether they are his birth or adoptive parents, for example. A Facts screen provides sixteen date and sixteen text fields, which users can label to suit their needs. I use mine for tracking cemetery locations, where people lived, what occupations they had, what religion they practiced, and when and where they were baptized.
Most location and name fields use a feature called "fastfields," which works like Quicken's QuickFill feature. You type in the first few characters until FTM has correctly selected what you want, based on previous entries. This can be a real blessing. It not only eliminates some typing, it also ensures consistent data entry.
FTM offers plenty of ways to print all this data, including tree charts showing an individual's ancestors or descendants. The software provides plenty of control over how the charts will appear, letting you pick designs, fonts and point sizes, and which data to include.
Several reports are hard-wired into the program, including a calendar for the birthdays and anniversaries of living relatives, and one that lists the relationships between an individual and everyone else in the database. Here you can find out whether Cousin Tilly is your second cousin once removed or your first cousin twice removed. It also produces two Family Group Sheets, a standard form that genealogists use to present family information. One is a "just-the-facts-ma'am" style with parents, children, and dates. The other adds selected information, including what you've entered on the Facts screen.
If these reports don't suit, users have some flexibility in creating their own. It would be easy, for example, to create a report on the causes of death of your dearly departed. You can print the report or copy and paste it into a word processor.
As your FTM file grows, its information becomes more valuable. Luckily, FTM automatically backs up each time you quit the program, and the Mac and Windows platforms share the same file format, so sharing data is a snap at family reunions.
To get data into and out of FTM, the program uses GEDCOM (Genealogical Data Communications), an interchange protocol established to simplify this type of work. It handles these files with ease - even the information stored in Facts fields - though one element belies its PC heritage: a filename must end in ".ged" before FTM will try to import its data.
A few other peculiarities seem to be artifacts of the switch between operating systems. If you double-click an FTM file in the Finder, FTM opens the file that was open when you last ran the software, not the file you clicked. The close box displayed on a file's window doesn't close the file but quits the whole program, and the program uses all the function keys at the top of the keyboard and mostly ignores command keys. Few Mac users would think of pressing F1 for help, rather than the Help key.
The Mac software also doesn't include the Scrapbook function in the Windows version, which stores pictures with the database. A company spokeswoman said the feature was pulled at the last minute - that might explain why it's listed on the packaging, and the online documentation has several references to it. However, because the Mac version can read Windows files, Mac FTM users will be able to see pictures in the files of their PC cousins, even if they can't store their own.
Branching Out -- The software comes with the Social Security Death Index on CD-ROM. This information supplies the name, birth date, Social Security number, and likely residence of anyone who died more than two years ago. Using this information, you can write to the federal government for a person's SS-5, the form required to get a Social Security card, which has the names and addresses of his or her parents.
Also included are the first two CDs in Broderbund's World Family Tree project. This is an effort to encourage genealogy through Broderbund customers sharing their research. Here I was hoping to find some information about my great-great-great-grandfather Cornelison Tallman, a man who seems to have left his descendants with little record of his existence. Finding his parents, I believe, will extend my family tree back to the Netherlands.
Had one of these CDs revealed any of Corny's footprints, I'd likely be a lot more positive about them. Unfortunately, he remains a mystery. The CDs, though, can be a big help. If you can find a link between yourself and a tree, you can save plenty of time and effort re-keying information - plus the research is done at home, not in a dreary library. Additional CDs sell for about $20 or more from Broderbund. A few World Family Tree critics have sprouted on genealogy newsgroups and mailing lists, claiming trees have been submitted without their researchers' consent and erroneous information has been distributed. In my family I found data that contradicted my own trustworthy information, so I recommend verifying any information you find on the CDs.
A great many budding genealogists will benefit from Family Tree Maker's Web site, and much of the information is free. One valuable resource on the site is a collection of tips for researching in the National Archives and getting vital information out of county seats and state capitals. Broderbund has also just started offering an Internet FamilyFinder Agents service. You type in a name that you're looking for, and it searches its own index of Web sites looking for a match. The company claims the agents will periodically perform searches and send results to you via email.
The Web site gives FTM customers extra benefits, such as a discussion board, free classified ads, and their own simple Web pages. Accessing these special services requires Netscape Navigator; no other browser is currently supported, although Broderbund has gotten requests to support other browsers.
Tools to Help Your Trees Grow -- The Mac has several alternatives to FTM, including the well-received Reunion from Leister Productions Inc., and the shareware gem Gene from Diana and David Eppstein.
One thing that both of these programs do that FTM doesn't is prepare a book-style report of your genealogy. For that reason alone, it's worth downloading Gene, which easily imports the GEDCOMs that FTM creates. Broderbund, by the way, included that feature in its recently released update for its Windows software; there's no word on whether a Mac update is coming soon.
There are almost as many Web sites and mailing lists devoted to genealogy as there are to Star Trek, plus Usenet newsgroups like <alt.genealogy>.
RootsWeb maintains the ROOTS-L mailing list, which is a good starting point, plus operates a number of mailing lists tailored to specific surnames and locales, plus a list for research novices. Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet is a treasure, with more than 21,000 sites listed and indexed. The soc.genealogy.* newsgroup hierarchy encompasses 18 newsgroups; <soc.genealogy.computing> is devoted to software and Internet assistance.
Family Tree Maker comes on a CD-ROM and requires a PowerPC-based Mac with at least 16 MB of RAM (or 8 MB with virtual memory) running System 7.1.2 or later. It takes up a healthy amount of disk space, with 7 MB for the software and 4.5 MB for required Microsoft system extensions.
Broderbund Software -- 800/315-0672 -- 415/382-4419 (fax)